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What Gets You Out of Balance?

A couple of days ago, everybody complained about the water in the pool.  After a rainstorm, the pH levels of our public pool were “off.”  Our eyes stung, the water felt weird, and some people complained that their bathing suits were changing color.  It was strange. The pool staff adjusted the pH, but it still took time to stabilize.

I learned how sensitive a swimming pool can be.  Did you know the pool levels need to be monitored daily, sometimes several times a day?  Did you know how easily the pH levels change?  I had no idea.  I had no idea the delicate balance of chemicals involved in daily pool maintenance.  It’s a lot of work!  And results don’t come immediately.  Sometimes it takes 24 hours for a pool’s normal pH to be restored after an imbalance.

I liked learning that about my pool.  My pool’s imbalances remind me of my own.  It’s not so strange to monitor my well-being daily, sometimes several times a day, and recalibrate based on what’s out of balance. I’m like a lifeguard holding that chemical kit and pH tester.  I’m armed with tools to get myself back in balance.

If I’m not feeling good, if the family is stressed out, or if we aren’t experiencing peace and joy, we stop and ask:  “What’s out of balance?”

Then we recalibrate.  Sometimes, we recalibrate twice a day.  We make any and all adjustments to find balance again. 

Just as rainwater and outside chemicals and debris radically alter the pool’s functioning, I’ve learned after all these years 10 things that get me “out of balance.”  I wonder if you could add something to my list.

I don’t feel so happy!   I wonder:  

1.  Have I had too much junk food, sugar, or processed food?
2.  Have I had enough sleep?
3.  Have I had time to pray and connect with God?
4.  Have I exercised in the last 48 hours?
5.  Have I deeply connected with my husband and each child recently? 
6.  Have I had enough social time with friends?  Have I had too much? 
7.  Have I had a creative outlet in the last few days?
8.  Have I conversed with too many toxic people (manipulative, guilt-trippers, complainers, gossipers) in my day?
9.  Have I assumed too many responsibilities and not delegated enough?  (Especially when it comes to keeping an organized and clean home. . . I don’t have to do all the housework, ever)
10. Have I let my mind wander and create irrational future scenarios of doom (finances, health, etc.)?

What sort of things get you out of balance?  What brings your mood down most of all?  I’d love to hear what else we could ask ourselves to check our “balance levels.”   Living with flair means learning to monitor myself, ask what’s out of balance, and then, recalibrate.

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Remember This and Mark the Day!

Yesterday my 8 year old announced she needed a diary to keep all her deep thoughts and secrets.  “I’m a 3rd grader now.  I have to write what happens to me in a diary,” she said. 

I love her instincts to mark the transition to a new phase of her life with a special gift–one that involves recording her life’s moments.

Children naturally celebrate rites of passage.  They are so aware when they change status somehow.  They know what it means to write their own name, lose a tooth, ride without training wheels, swim across the pool, read a chapter book,  or make toast by themselves.  

My children insist on celebrating their growth.  They dance, they make announcements, they write it down, they throw parties.  In fact, we have a “celebrate plate”  that we use whenever somebody accomplishes something.  We end up using it a lot. (Special thanks to my friend who gave this as a wedding gift 10 years ago!)
   

But all day, I wondered about this childhood awareness of personal growth.  I want to be as keen to my own process of growing because it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop into adulthood.  I want to be more deliberate about adult rites of passage ceremonies.  In what ways am I celebrating my own transitions from one status to another?  And how I am celebrating other adults in my neighborhood? 

I want to celebrate new:  new roles I assume, new friendships I enter, new goals I set (and achieve), any breakthroughs I experience–emotionally, physically, spiritually, or socially.  I want to acknowledge new changes and new experiences.

There’s a reason why this matters so much.  

I’ll never forget the day I started feeling hopeful for the first time in years.  My doctor said, “Mark this day. Buy a piece of jewelry or a special candle or a piece of art.  Do something to remember it.  Every time you see that thing, you will remember what has happened today.”   

There’s an ancient Biblical tradition of “marking the day.”  Whenever the Israelites experienced a special deliverance from God, they “marked the day” by building an altar (even just a pile of rocks) so that whenever anybody saw it, they would remember the wonders of God.  It was for their children and the children after them.  It was so important to remember the work of God (because they kept forgetting!)

They knew and proclaimed, according to Isaiah 26:12, that all they had came from the Lord.  The writer insists: “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.”

My daughter’s desire to mark her graduation from 2nd grade, to remember it, under lock and key, in her diary, challenges me to remember, with various celebrations, what God has accomplished in my own life. We aren’t building altars of rocks in our home (maybe we should!), but we are learning to “mark the day” when one of us experiences growth in any form.  I want to keep growing and marking many days of God’s wonders in my life.  I want to be the neighbor that throws ceremonies for both childhood and adult growth. 

Living with flair, for me, means marking each day with a blog entry.  Thank you for celebrating with me each time you read one.  It’s changed my life.

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Some Science Behind Happiness

The more I read about the brain, the more I have to admit I sabotage my own happiness on most days.

If you knew how lazy I really am, if you knew how much I detest exercise, and if you knew how my arms are really flabby noodles pretending to be arms, you’d be amazed right now.  Collective flair bells would ring all over the world.

I’ve never been able to do push-ups.  I’ve tried.  I can maybe do 4 on my absolute best days.

But with Jillian Michaels encouraging (yelling) at me from my basement television screen, I get down (in girl style on my knees), and start to lower myself only to push myself back up with the strength of my little frail arms.

It hurt.  It hurt, hurt, hurt.   But I did it.  And then I did it again and again. 

Here’s the story I told myself as I suffered through it:

“Do this, Heather.  Do this because you are investing in your future happiness.  You are gathering in happiness by changing brain chemistry right this very minute.  You wouldn’t forget to take your thyroid medication, right?  Swallowing that pill makes your body work for the whole day.  This next push up is your medication for mood control.  Do it, Heather.  You are earning 48 hours of elevated mood, scientifically proven, confirmed by neuroscience and brain scans.  There’s no getting out of this.  You have no choice, here.  You know the science.  Exercise trumps nearly everything else when it comes to long-term elevated mood.  You can’t ignore the science, girl.  Do it.”

And so I did it.  It didn’t feel like flair while I was in the thick of it, but the fact that I was investing in a future mood pay-off mattered so much.  We aren’t used to future returns.  We want immediate.  But living with flair means I don’t always have the luxury of automatic happiness.

Maybe it means understanding the science behind happiness.

I have to invest in mood-control activities that, scientifically, will change brain chemistry–maybe not right now, but soon.  The more neuroscience I read, the more I’m amazed with how much I sabotage myself every day.  The brain works best with certain foods and certain activities (keeping a flair journal is one of those things for me).  I don’t have a choice when it comes to this kind of living with flair.

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Lesson from Neighborhood Boy in 100 Words

We can’t find the mountain trail for our evening hike. 

Some kids pass by. One calls out:   “You looking for something?”  We describe the trail.   He nods.   “Follow me.  I can show you.”

He delivers us to our destination.  He mentions different paths to avoid and various landmarks to spot. Then he returns to his friends. He didn’t have to help.  There was no reward for him.  He was just helpful.  

The boy had flair.  Would I have done that for somebody? 

I thought about who might be lost and needs me to say, “Follow me. I can show you.”

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How to Relax in Church

I walk into the sanctuary today, and, like a wave coming over me, I’m hit with the reality of my own frail self.  I’m not good, I’m not peaceful, and I’m not close to God.  He’s somewhere over there, and I’m struggling against the current to reach Him.  I’m flailing my arms and legs.  I’m taking in water.  I’m choking. 

But then I remember what it was like to teach my daughter to float on her back.  “Just rest your head on the water, like it’s a great pillow, and relax.”  She couldn’t do it.  Her little neck strained, and her arms and legs thrashed about.  I need to train her, day by day, to relax into the water.  Her instinct is to somehow contribute to this process, but really, she just needs to be still. 

So I’m standing there, listening to the worship music, and I’m frantic with what to do.

I’m my daughter, flailing when I need to be still.  For once I lay my head back and relax into what I know.  God is with me; God sees me; God knows and loves me.   And then, I’m just worshiping, pure and simple.

Later, I’m with friends at a state park, and I’m invited to ride on a waverunner.  I put on my life jacket, hold on to the handles, and I’m off to see the most amazing sights: the expanse of water bordered by mountains and sky and banks with baby geese just testing the water.  I’m nearly crying I’m so happy to ride these waves in this sun and with this wind on my face.

I tilt my head back against the sky, like it’s a great pillow.  God’s training me to relax.

He’s right here, and I pause, floating on the waves with flair.

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My Morning Conversation with an Amish Man

This morning on the walk to school, we passed a neighbor’s house.  We live not so far from Amish communities, but still, I’m shocked at what I see.  20 or so workers (mostly Amish men) stood on the roof of my neighbors house, working fast.  On the ground, one Amish man directed the rest.  We walked by a little sheepishly–I felt like I was interrupting something.  “Wow, you have a lot of workers up there,” I said to him.  (I’ve never had a conversation with an Amish man before, so I’m standing there wondering what he’s thinking about me in my jean shorts and sleeveless top.  All of a sudden, I’m so aware of what I look like.  I’m so aware of my daughters and their clothing, the sparkles on their shirts, their shorts.)

“We’ll have that roof finished by the end of the day,” he smiled proudly, his arms crossed.

We walk on.  I’m thinking about flair as I look back because what I encounter with the Amish man seems so important, so potentially blog-worthy.  But the Amish, on the surface, seem devoid of physical flair.  The whole community shuns ornamentation, embellishment, glitz, and glam.  The women cover themselves completely–they don’t wear patterns, even.  They don’t wear jewelry.

 So why are the flair bells ringing?  

A few days ago I asked my husband what he thinks it requires for Amish parents to maintain that counter-cultural lifestyle in their children when living adjacent to us modern folk. Do they constantly reinforce cultural standards at every opportunity? 

Just this morning, my daughter and I had a conversation about modesty.  She wants to wear the tiny tank tops and “short shorts” of her peers, and I told her that God wants us to be modest and not show too much of our bodies.   I ask her to change into some longer shorts. 

So before we see that Amish man, I’m telling her that her body is precious and special and she doesn’t need to wear clothes that make her seem older.  And even when she’s older, I want the most important thing about her to be her sweet heart and not her curves.

Then we look up and see the Amish people right smack in the middle of my street.

It’s not so hard to go against the culture.  It’s not so hard to be a parent and instill rules about clothing.  My encounter with the Amish this morning was a well-timed flair moment, right on the heels of my own counter-cultural discussion with my daughter.   We may not have the same task as our Amish friends, but we do go against the culture in some ways.   And we should.

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The Fame That Lasts Till Lunch

My daughter tried out for the talent show yesterday. 

I’m amazed that she would do this.  Amazed.  Last year, she didn’t receive even one vote from her class for her dance routine. (It was freestylin’ to “Accidentally in Love”–the worm, the spins on your bottom–I’ll spare you the details because she would want me to.)

And this year has been heartbreak. The mean girls!  The fickle crowd!  When she told me she planned to audition in front of her class, I wanted to scream:  “Are you crazy, foolish child?  Will you cast yourself to the lions?  Let’s preserve what little reputation you have left!  You will be devoured and humiliated!  Stay safe in my arms!  You’ve endured enough!”  I knew she’d be competing against a kid with magic tricks and a girl with years of elite gymnastics training.

She had no chance. 

But she really wanted to audition.  So there I am, preparing mentally all day for her sure failure.  I’m visualizing my parking space, closest to the school, so I can pick her up in my arms and carry her to the car so nobody can see her tears.  I’m imagining a special comforting dessert that will await her homecoming. What helps a child recover from. . . losing? 

She walks out of the school building, and I can hardly face her.  She calmly approaches me with a little folded piece of paper.  She doesn’t say anything but just points to the note.  I unfold it and she’s written in yellow marker: “I won the vote.  Yay!”

Oh, me of little faith.

As we drive home, she tells me about the other acts and how nobody was that good.  But when she performed her piano act (after dragging the class to the auditorium just so they could hear her 1 minute of music), everybody started cheering.  They voted for her.  The hands went up in the air!

What world is this where things go well for her?  Did God hear my prayer, her music teacher’s prayer, and all my frantic text message prayer requests to please pray for my daughter today?


I think so.

“How did it feel?  Did you feel just great?”  I asked her, beaming but definitely trying to hide my proud parent, over-the-top enthusiasm.

“It was awesome.”  She paused and looked out the window.

“But my fame ended by lunch time.  People forget you.”

She changed the subject and told me to look back to see her amazing ceramic turtle she made in art class. We were on to new adventures, new topics–art, her summer reading plan, and what computer games she wanted to play. 

Whatever it was that allowed her to walk down that hallway to the auditorium, her little chin up, it’s another thing I’m putting on my version of her resume.  Right next to “Survived Recess,” I’m putting, “Auditioned in Front of Hostile 2nd Grade Crowd to Win Spot in School Talent Show Despite Totally Bombing Last Year’s Dance Routine.”

And I might add:  “Learned that Fame Ends By Lunchtime so Don’t Bother Wanting it So Badly”

That girl has flair.  I would have never had the guts to do what she did.

And God answered an even better prayer than my superficial “grant her success.”  He showed my daughter that winning the love of the crowd doesn’t last. And it shouldn’t.  There are much better adventures awaiting.

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Small Town, Big World (in Pictures)

I live in a town where you can take pictures of things like newborn foals.  Skipped Emotion had her little one almost a week late, and here she is just 4 days old.  Today, both horses were released to the meadow.

I live in a town where you can take your little girls strawberry picking (just down the road) from a local fruit farm.  We picked 9 pounds and ate maybe 2 pounds along the way.  The owners don’t care; we go to church together, and they told me they care more about us coming back year after year than whether we eat strawberries. 
I live in a little town where you run around huge trees in the twilight.   But lest you worry about the scope of what my children do in this little town, I offer this:
Yesterday I went to the elementary school assembly.  Children reported, not so much on local news, but on international concerns.  They celebrated how much money they’d all raised for oil spill clean up efforts.  They recalled their collective attempts to sell “Hearts for Haiti” and donate money for hurricane victims.  And then, as a group, they sang their anthem for the year:  “We Are the World” (complete with the modern version’s rap sequence–thank you 5th graders!)
They sang so loud the walls seemed to shake. 
  You can be small town and big world. 
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What I Don’t Want to Share

I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to tell you about this flair moment, but it’s the real one for today.

At the gym, I do the minimum and hide as far back into the machines as I can with my iPod and earphones keeping me in a safe cocoon away from any trainers.  But today I walk in, and two trainers greet me and insist that I try this new Body Combat class. One literally escorts me upstairs as I’m mumbling excuses and pulling away from her.  All of a sudden, I’m in this classroom of incredibly beautiful and muscular people.  She closes the door, and I find a corner, terrified. 

The trainer in front has a headset and looks like a drill sergeant.  He’s ripped and already sweating.  His sidekick is a petite blond woman who is absolutely gorgeous.  Every muscle is sleek and defined, she’s smiling, and she looks like a Cover Girl model.  They adjust their headsets, pump up loud techno music, and start teaching everybody these complicated combinations of squats, kicks, and punches.

I try to work the room and introduce myself to everybody.  My defense mechanism of encouraging all the others kicks in.  Maybe I could set up a table up front and talk to people as they exercise.  Maybe I could write a narrative or lay on the ground and pray for all those people. 

I’m dying.  I can’t even figure out the moves.  The class lasts an hour, and every millisecond is absolute pain and humiliation. I cling to my water bottle like a security blanket.

And then, it’s almost over.  But before we stretch, the instructors come over and give each of us a high-five.

Oh, come on!  A high-five?  A high-five like I’m a child?  And I totally failed in that class.  I couldn’t even do the push up thing where you put one hand in the air.

But when the woman comes over and looks me in the eye and gives me that high-five, I burst into tears.  The drill sergeant gives me not one, but two high-fives.  I cry harder.

What was wrong with me?  I’ve been humiliated before, but something about physical fitness strikes a nerve.  There’s no defense mechanism, no personality gift that aids me in my own body’s response to exercise.  It’s just me, my own muscles, and my own heart and blood out there.

I feel lost at sea every time.  It’s the real me stripped of all the flair.

That’s why I cried.  I was there, with nothing to offer, and those trainers still gave the high-five.  I felt like saying, “Are you kidding?  Do you know what a loser I am?”  But they did know–they saw every uncoordinated move.  And what makes the whole thing even better is that they bowed to us at the end to show how honored they were to have exercised with us.

I learned that living with flair means deliberately embracing situations that strip me of all my coping mechanisms.  It’s good to feel lost at sea so I can receive love and instruction from somebody else.  I don’t have to always be the teacher, the encourager, or the one with the flair. 

I’m a loser at the gym, crying in my minivan afterward because of a silly high-five.  But it felt like the best flair possible for someone like me.

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Waking Up Happy

Something so small, something that takes only a few minutes, made me immeasurably happy this morning.  It’s a little ridiculous, really, how happy it made me.

I want to wake up happy, not just for me, but for everybody else. I want to be self-aware enough to manage my moods and know what it’s going to take to set the scene for flair.  I know that feelings of happiness and security for everybody else often depend on Mom’s Mood.  I’ve been working on this for 10 years.

And all it was?  Chopped veggies in a bag for an omelet waiting in the refrigerator.  The whole morning seemed to pass so smoothly, like we were all skating on ice, gliding peacefully through the morning routine.  No rush, no yelling.

It started last night.  I do things like put out all the clothes we are going to wear and line up the backpacks by the door–anything I can do to make the morning work better.  But at my Weight Watchers meeting, I learned that you can chop up vegetables, put them in a bag, and dump everything in your pan with eggs for a quick breakfast.  It seemed easy enough.

So in a mere 3 minutes, I found I had flipped the world’s most perfect omelet, complete with three different vegetables.  I paraded that omelet around the kitchen.  I imagined that omelet makers who have gone before me were rejoicing in heaven over this omelet.

When I do these little things–these little preparations the night before–I’m setting the scene for a good mood.  I know what it takes to keep myself pleasant for everybody else.  I know about exercise, about healthy eating, about a good night’s sleep, about spiritual disciplines.  But what I sometimes forget is all the little night before preparations that, although consume time and effort, yield happiness benefits for me.

I think it’s because when I opened the fridge and saw my breakfast nearly ready, I felt cared for and nurtured.  I wasn’t in breakfast panic mode.  Everything was already taken care of.  Even though it was me caring for myself in advance (stay with me…), it still felt like a gesture of love.  It’s how I feel when my husband has the coffee ready before I’m even out of bed (he’s so great). 

Living with flair is being in a good mood for my family and my neighbors.  If it means chopping veggies the night before, I’m adding that to the good mood recipe.   And I’ll do it as a gift to all the other folks around my table who appreciate a peaceful morning.  

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