The Holidays Are a Magnifier

The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc. This is true for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.

For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives.  Continue reading “The Holidays Are a Magnifier”

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Living on 1 Dollar Per Day

Young people in America need to know more about real poverty, and this video is possibly the best I have ever seen at getting kids to relate to abject poverty. It’s entertaining and educational. They pack a lot of information and experiences into just 28 minutes. Plus, it’s appropriate for kids age 11 and up, since there are no deeply disturbing images.

 

Discussion Questions for Kids

1. How would you describe these men and their lifestyle in America?

2. Why do you think they decided to set such strict rules for their time in Haiti?

3. Does this sort of adventure appeal to you in any way? In what ways?

4. What would worry you the most about living in a tent in Haiti for a month?

5. How tolerant are you of being hungry and eating only simple foods like rice and beans?

6. What is the longest you have ever been hungry? Describe that time.

7. Describe the most grueling physical work you have ever done. What was it? How long did you work? Did you get paid (or fed or anything) for your work?

8. What part of this 28 day experience do you find most intimidating or terrifying? Explain why.

 

Ordinary Parenting

Parenting is messy. It’s often a blender full of emotions, tasks, and conflicts. That why we so often feel pureed by our family life.

Parenting is mundane. It requires incessant planning, cleaning, cooking, driving, laundry, arguing, more driving, phone calls, filling in forms, more driving, more cleaning, on and on.

But parenting is also a “glorious ordinary.” It is a beautiful mess.

This video illustrates this well.

Do you look for beauty in your messy everyday life? It’s there, but you have to look for it. Slow down, look around, and ponder the mundane elements in your home. Find some everyday wonders.

Look at your dog. Really look at him. He may need a bath, and he causes problems, but what a loyal companion he is, putting up with your inconsistent love.

Look at your messy kitchen. It looks better when clean, but a clean kitchen is not alive. A dirty kitchen exhibits nourishment. It’s the scene of the best aromas of life and some of your greatest meltdowns. The kitchen is the heart of the home, where real drama plays out and real food feeds the weary. Continue reading “Ordinary Parenting”

The Peril of Productionism

 

Busy MomMy wife and I struggle with what I call productionism. It is a variation of perfectionism. It is the belief that a man’s value comes from his ability to accomplish or produce something, or that a woman’s worth is found in the amount that she can get done in a day. In other words, a good man is productive every day, while a lazy man is a lousy man. A good day for a good woman is measured in the amount of to do’s accomplished before her head hits the pillow at night.

Productionism is a little different than perfectionism because things don’t have to be done perfectly, they just need to be done efficiently. A productionist is practical and efficient, always trying to accomplish a lot in a little time.

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets to work.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, just do the next thing. You can do that much.
  • If you can’t do a big thing, just do a few small things. You will feel better then.

Appointments - list of day's appointments written on a spiral paProductionists brag to others about how much they accomplish. They make lists, check them off, and congratulate themselves. Some will even keep as trophies their old lists with all the crossed out tasks.

Being a productionist is not all bad, of course, but it’s a major problem when tasks overwhelm the ability to love others and enjoy life along the way. When tasks are more important than people, we are way off track. Unfortunately, the productionist will often choose the tasks over people, since there is more control and more pride in doing than in being. Continue reading “The Peril of Productionism”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Anne Lamott says that in her experience the two most powerful prayers are “Help me, help me, help me.” and “Thank you, thank, you, thank you.”

We are so grateful for our recent trip to Laguna Beach, California.  The Dream Factory granted our family a first-class vacation that would suit the special needs and wishes of our daughter, Kathryn.  They paid for and arranged all the details of a trip that we unanimously hail as the best family vacation we have ever had. Thank you, Bene Messmer and all the volunteers and donors at The Dream Factory!

Continue reading “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”

The Power of No (Part 1)

Anthony Bourdain, is an American chef, author, and television personality. He is well-known as the host of the Travel Channel‘s culinary and cultural adventure program Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Tony is a rebel; it’s in his blood, and he has used that iconoclastic attitude in a largely positive way – as an aspiring international chef and as an entertainer.  In addition to his often-abrasive personality, Tony has a soft heart for people. There is a kindness in him that shines through, even when he is putting on a tough front. He is sweet and sour, you might say.

In his wildly-popular and critically-acclaimed book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he recounts a crucial moment in his young life when he realized that the universe did not revolve around him.

My first indication that food was something more than a substance one stuffed in one’s face when hungry – like filling up at a gas station – came after fourth grade in elementary school.  It was on a family vacation to Europe…our first trip to my father’s ancestral homeland, France.

“I was largely unimpressed by the food…Centuries of French cuisine had yet to make an impression. What I noticed about food, French style, was what they didn’t have…I was quickly becoming a sullen, moody, difficult little bastard.  I fought constantly with my brother, carped about everything, and was in every possible way a drag on my mother’s Glorious Expedition.

Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 1)”

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

Finding Significance

I’ve had the blues for a few weeks now.  It’s not a full-blown depression.  It’s just a nagging funk that doesn’t seem to have a good reason for its existence and doesn’t seem to have an end.  I get it once or twice a year, often on the backside of winter.  Since I haven’t been able to just get over it, my wife offered a solution.  She kindly told me to get lost.

So, Saturday morning I headed out of town to get lost in the country.  I needed to get away for a few hours to a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of my life and pray about what in the world to do about it.  I headed south and ended up at this old cemetery.

Continue reading “Finding Significance”

Realistic Expectations for Life

Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is quite good, but the end of chapter 29 is truly great.  In it, he refers to a recent episode of 60 Minutes, which I vividly recall seeing myself a few years ago.  It was about the happiest people in the world, and I found it tremendously thought-provoking and memorable.  Here is Don’s take on it.

A study done by a British university ranked the happiest countries, and America was far down the list, but Denmark was at the top.  Morley Safer explored why.  Ruling out financial status, physical health, and even social freedom, he landed on a single characteristic of the Danes that allowed then such contentment.  The reasons the Danes are so happy was this: they had low expectations.

I’m not making that up.  There is something in Denmark’s culture that allows them to look at life realistically.  They don’t expect products to fulfill them or relationships to end all their problems.”

From my recollection of the study, there is another important aspect of Danish culture – their involvement in their own local communities.  More than any of the other developed nations in the study, people in Denmark have a sense of equality and connectedness to each other.  In fact, their values are so community-oriented that they have a popular government program which pays for citizens to get involved in local recreational and social groups.  As a result, they are far less competitive than Americans.  They are more likely to view success as a community, not as individuals in competition with one another.  The Danes are a reasonable and communal people, which seems to make them significantly more content and happy than other people groups.

Donald Miller concludes his chapter with, “I’m trying to be a more Danish, I guess.  And the thing is, it works.  When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.  And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions.  And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.

Therefore, if American parents, teachers, and coaches were to adopt a more Danish approach to life, we might just be happier and more effective in helping the young people in our care.  And isn’t that what we all want?  But what would that look like?

Continue reading “Realistic Expectations for Life”

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