What You Monitor

Today my youngest cries out, “Mom, please tell me that you have not written your blog for today!”

“I haven’t written my blog for today,” I tell her.  “Why?”

“Well, I found the thing you are supposed to write about!”

“You did?” I ask.

“Yes!  Come with me!  There’s a little twig hanging from our balcony, and I just know it’s a bird’s nest.” 

I go out onto the balcony, and there I see all sorts of tiny bird nests tucked into the gutters, the light posts, and even in the railings.  I hadn’t noticed them before, but now, they were everywhere.  The one by the neighbor’s light post has two blue eggs in it.

“What should I write in the blog?”  I ask her.

“Tell everybody this:  I traveled a very long way to Colorado.  I found a bird’s nest, and now I have things to check on every morning like I did back in Pennsylvania.

I realize how important–how wonderful–it is for children to observe something growing.  A vegetable garden, a bird’s nest, their own bodies. . .

Adults take great delight in monitoring growth, but I think we forget the pleasure in it.  Maybe that’s why I love listening to a professor teach me the book of Romans and help me look back over my own spiritual growth.  Maybe that’s why I blog every single day.  I’m monitoring my own ability to find the one good thing each day, no matter what.  

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Journal:  What growing thing are you monitoring today?

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If Nothing Changes, Then I Don’t Either

I hate change.  It makes me anxious. 

This morning at Saturday Morning Pancakes, my neighbor (the one who showed me the lady slipper orchid)  reminds me that when I feel anxious, it’s my opportunity to have faith

I look at her as if she’s just reminded me of my own name.  Of course.  It’s so simple.  When I’m anxious about anything, it’s a bright flashing neon sign saying:  Opportunity to Trust God Right Here!

I’m anxious because I have to travel.  I’m anxious because I have to leave my environment and live in another one for a while.

As I explain all these anxieties, a boy beside me suggests that if the environment never changes, then a person cannot grow and develop.  He explains it all using a video game analogy.  You’ve got to move around!  You’ve got to change things up! He tells me how good it is for my growth and imagination to have some change.

So this thing (whatever it is) that’s causing anxiety?  It’s an opportunity to trust God.  It’s putting me in an environment for growth.  If nothing changes, then I don’t either.  And I want to change and grow into the woman God wants me to be.  That means welcoming situations that stretch me. 

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Journal: What’s causing anxiety in me, and how can I see this as an opportunity to trust and as an environment for growth?

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An Environment for Personal Growth

For years and years, I’ve tried to bake with yeast.  I’m rarely successful in getting my dough to rise like I want.  But today, I try again.  This time: pizza dough for homemade calzones.

I read a specific detail from this new recipe that explains my failure.  This new recipe insists that I add the yeast and make sure the dough rests in a 70 degree kitchen.

That’s what all the other recipes meant by “warm place!”  That’s the simple explanation for my failed efforts!   My winter kitchen isn’t always that warm (sometimes it’s actually cold), so I put my bowl on a kitchen chair right by the heater (set at 70 degrees).

We check on our dough after an hour.  It fills the bowl–abundant, glorious, fluffy!   My first successful rising! 

It keeps on growing.  Tonight, we’ll feast.

When I think about my own failed attempts at growth in various areas of my life, I have to remember the role that my environment plays.  If I’m in an environment that prevents my maturing, maybe I need to change something in order to create the kind of conditions that foster growth.

I like asking myself that question today:  What do I need in my environment to spur me on to become the person God wants me to be?  What do I need to purge?  What do I need to add?   I just asked my daughter the same question.  We have so much to talk about! 

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Journal:  What needs to change so I can grow?

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Next Time, Try This

I’m sitting next to a stack of essays, coffee in one hand, pen in the other.  As I read, I celebrate great writing with enthusiastic comments in the margin.  Bravo!  Genius!  Fantastic!

I circle mistakes; usually I find semicolons used improperly, weak verbs, or sentence patterns with no variation.  Immediately, I find myself writing, “Next time, try this,” as I scribble out a plan for their writing improvement.

I realize how discouraging a bad grade feels.  The only thing that soothes sometimes is that plan for “next time.”  These strategies for development keep our focus on growth, not setbacks.

I remember a parenting book that taught me to correct a child’s behavior and say “next time” right away.  “Next time, don’t jump on the furniture,” or “next time, don’t spread the peas all over the kitchen wall.”

It really works.   It’s like a little mantra that reminds us we are all on a journey of growing, of getting it right eventually.  “Next time” invites me to rise up to a challenge, and it keeps me from the despair of failure.

I think of that with my overeating, my fits of dark emotions, my bad choices with my time, my harsh words.  Next time, I’ll change something.  Next time, I’ll grow a little bit more into the woman I want to be.  And the beauty of the “next time” expression is that it starts immediately.  I don’t have to wait till tomorrow or next year. 

When I get it wrong, I think of an immediate plan for development.  We’re moving forward, don’t look back.  Start fresh!  It’s next time right now. 

There’s always another chance to grow.  I want to be as gentle with myself as I am with my children or my students.  If I fail today, I remember that next time, I can try this. 

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Journal:  If I’ve already messed up today, how can “next time” help me?

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Count Your Whorls

I learn this morning that you can tell the age of a pine tree by its number of “whorls.” One child stops in the woods on the walk to school, and she counts the circles of branches that shoot out from a tiny pine tree.  The top layer of branches is one whorl and represents one year of growth.  The next layer represents another.  This baby pine tree boasts seven whorls, so it’s been growing for seven years.  It stands as tall as my daughter. 

“Next year, they’ll be eight whorls!”  The children, wide-eyed, pause and look down upon the tree. 

I’m struck by the slow growth of this little pine that’s witnessed our journey to school all these years.  Now, we witness the pine tree, mark its age, and incorporate that growth into the whole system of things that grow and change about us.

These things matter so much to children.  Just last night, at Neighborhood Fitness Group, the children always gather to record their growth on my kitchen wall.  They inevitably check, every single week, if they’ve grown even a little bit. 

They record each each others’ heights, and they claim they’ve really grown each week.  The wall, smeared and nearly illegible, tempts me every Saturday morning as I stand beside it with my cleaning bucket.  I just can’t clean the wall.

We have to count our whorls.  And, even though I’m no longer getting taller, I want to count my own growth somehow–visibly, publicly.  Am I growing kinder?  More patient?  More wise?

Let me retain that child-like quality of marking my own growth.  There’s something to celebrate; there’s something to note here.  

Living with flair means I count whorls.  We’re growing–changing–and we must witness it.

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Journal:  How do I measure my own growth?  What tool might I use to track spiritual and emotional growth?

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