Avoiding Dirty Laundry

positivityThe other morning I was driving to work and that Luke Bryan song came on where he sings about how he believes most people are good.  I’m not a big fan of country (even though my playlist may prove otherwise), but that song resonated with me.  Instead of following the theme of his lyrics, I found myself wondering about how much negativity, criticism, and finger pointing are in the world today.  I couldn’t get my mind off of how the good in the world is constantly buried under a growing pile of negativity.  The news, the internet, and social media seem to be dominated with complaint, cynicism, and devastation.  Where are all the good people?  There is more than that out there, right?  In his song “Dirty Laundry,” Don Henley basically calls us out on how much we love sensationalizing the drama, the grief, and the painful spectacle.  Are we really like that?  Is that actually what we want or is that just what we’re fed?  It feels like the world is constantly filtering us towards the disapproval, the hatred, and the unconstructive tension.  What if – instead of piling on and feeding the negativity – we became known as beacons of light and positivity?    

I know, I know.  It sounds like sitting around the campfire and singing kumbaya, but hear me out.  Imagine if people saw us as a source of encouragement, grace, and promise.  It’s ideal to visualize, but it won’t happen by accident.  Intentional positive thinking is more important than ever because we are already up against so much.  Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”  Simply put, the world needs our positivity and our courage to stand by our convictions.  Being positive is more than being in a good mood, reciting optimistic mantras, or posting inspirational quotes on Instagram.  It’s about a deeper faith in a vision of a world where we lift each other up, find the good in each other, and purposefully utilize the good that is in each of us.  We don’t have to set out to change the world, just start with the world around us.  Whether it’s mental health, influencing others, or maintaining good relationships; being intentionally positive can score victories. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I have negative thoughts, daily doubts, and plenty of things that test my patience.  However, I can confidently testify that being intentional about my positive thinking enables me to consistently overcome the negativity.  As an educator in a middle school where I work with at-risk students, I must renew my focus on positive thinking every single morning.  As a husband and leader of my family, I can’t successfully guide my most important people without dedicating myself to intentional positive thinking.  My struggle with OCD and anxiety would absolutely consume me if I didn’t harness the power of intentional positive thinking.  It’s possible that my societal influence is negligible, but my convictions will carry my positivity even if it only impacts a few.  Whether you’re looking for ways to be more intentional about your positive thinking or you are just plain curious, here are 5 principles that I use every single day to power mine:            

1.  All things are possible.

When we live from a positive frame of reference we are more likely to overcome obstacles.  Will we accomplish everything we dream of?  Maybe not.  Will life be perfect just because we have a positive outlook?  Definitely not.  But will we find success?  Will we grow?  Can we get better?  The answer is yes.  At the first sign of an obstacle, our character takes over and it helps determine the outcome.  If you’re weak, you’ll run.  Weak people give up or even pretend it doesn’t matter.  If our character is strong, we will dig in and try to find a way.  The reality is that positive thinking can strengthen our character.  For me, this has been a powerful weapon to overcoming obstacles. 

2.  Peace generates power.

It’s impossible to accomplish even the simplest of tasks when we are struggling with inner conflict. Anger, yelling, and pitching a fit will not get us anywhere.  It is extremely important to find peace.  When we are at peace, we have a greater ability to focus and to utilize our resources. Peace enables us to move forward from a position of strength and confidence.  I taught 3rd grade for 17 years, and amidst that patience-testing environment, never once did I yell.  Peace is powerful! 

3.  Prayer changes things.

Maybe your beliefs are not the same as mine.  My daily walk with Jesus is what empowers and sustains me.  Prayer can be an effective practice that adds strength, confidence, and peace to any experience. The idea that “prayer changes things” is rooted in the positive affirmations of literally millions of people. It makes practical sense to tap into the power that created the universe. God doesn’t require a membership card; God simply listens.

4.  Happiness depends on you.

When we begin to understand that other people are not responsible for our happiness, we are freed to experience more satisfaction, meaning, and happiness than ever before.  Setbacks and obstacles may frustrate us, but our character must be strong enough to overcome them without impacting our long-term happiness.  Obviously, seasons of struggle may require us to lean on others for encouragement, support, and advice.  However, we can’t blame the world for our unhappiness and we certainly can’t wait around for others to make us happy.  We must find our own happiness and be strong enough to maintain it.    

5.  Expect the best.

Regardless of the circumstance, we tend to get what we expect. Pessimists and optimists both tend to confirm their points of view. When we expect the best from our experiences, our challenges, our day-to-day lives, then we will experience more positive outcomes than going in with a negative attitude.  The same environment exists around us, regardless of how we choose to see it.  We make ongoing choices about how we interpret our environment, and those interpretations are based on our attitude.    Our attitudes really do determine the outcome of the experiences in our life. 

Positivity 3Intentional positive thinking is not only an avenue for enjoying a more peaceful life, but our positive choices also impact those around us.  My wife’s boss recently told her that she is a blessing to have at work.  This compliment goes so much deeper than being told she’s a good employee, a knowledgeable professional, or even simply a nice lady.  If we are to be a blessing, it requires intentional positive thinking.  We would all like to be considered one of the good people Luke Bryan sings about, but we are only one choice away from being included in Don Henley’s dirty laundry.   

I Love You More

IMGP1673-16As with most couples, my wife and I have certain sayings and expressions that are embedded into our daily routine.  Drive safely.  Have a good day.  Be safe.  Hey babe.  Hey babe?  Sweet dreams.  I love you.  You get the point.  However, my favorite phrase is one that has taken on more meaning and significance now that my wife is pregnant.  It’s the phrase I love you more.  It’s a phrase that I started saying to my wife when we first fell in love.  When I say it I mean that I love her more today than yesterday and I love her more than I ever thought I could.  Cheesy?  Perhaps.  But the message is sincere and it’s a blessing to be able to fall deeper in love with my best friend as our marriage grows.  The added significance of that phrase could easily be linked to the pregnancy.  More accurately, the pregnancy has provided me a new lens through which I see my wife.  I see her in ways I’ve never seen before and it simply yet emphatically makes me love her more than I ever thought I could.

thumbnail_IMG-4312My wife has gracefully navigated the predictable obstacles and the unexpected turbulence throughout this pregnancy and I couldn’t be prouder.  I watched her battle the flu with sheer determination because all the best meds are not on the baby’s safe list.  I learned how “morning sickness” actually means “all day” sickness and it sucks as bad as I thought.  She experiences sudden tiredness, extreme fatigue, and daily soreness.  There are specific cravings for Firehouse subs and Waffle House, but mostly for ketchup.  The opposite is also true with strange food aversions, even if it’s only the smell of something trapped in my beard (apparently).  Most of her clothing is no longer comfortable, her sleeping patterns have changed, and the baby appears to be using her bladder as a trampoline.  My respect for moms and moms-to-be has grown exponentially!  It is obvious that the arrival of a baby changes a family, but the baby changes a mom’s life long before that moment.

I readily admit that I could never handle all of these pregnancy symptoms and changes with the grace and beauty that my wife does.  In addition to sacrificing her own body and lifestyle, the invasive doctor’s appointments constantly put her in vulnerable positions.  I’ve seen my wife strip down to a hospital gown at least five times in the past two months.  I know she is uncomfortable each time, so in those moments I can’t help but love her more.  I cringe each time she has to give blood or talk about platelet treatments, but then I love her a little more.  When the nurse asks her to step on the scale I remind her that she is beautiful and I love her.  Then, as she hesitantly steps on the scale with a sigh of surrender, I love her more.  When the technician shows the ultrasound on the monitor and I can see the baby, it is indescribably amazing!  But then I look over at my wife’s situation with the poking, prodding, and cold jelly and I can’t help but love her more.  I am constantly reminded that the most vulnerable moments create the biggest opportunities for our love to grow.  Life is full of vulnerable moments, but I’m learning quickly that pregnancies are predicated on them!

thumbnail_IMG-5256Witnessing the miracle of a human growing inside of another human being is mind blowing.  Granted, my view of the process is likely more up close and personal than most because my wife is a sonographer who performs ultrasounds for a living.  In other words, I have been able to watch our baby on the ultrasound monitor at home like I’m watching a reality TV show.  It might only be a few times a week, but for the past 17 weeks it’s been my favorite show.  However, it’s not the best thing I’ve seen.  The best thing I’ve seen is my wife’s amazing ability to embrace the vulnerability.  It takes courage because vulnerability involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  My wife’s courage through this season of our lives is inspiring and undeniably attractive!  That’s why it’s never been easier and it’s never been clearer…I love her more.

Words Worth Holding

pen-and-paperA friend once told me that a written note can be more powerful than telling someone in person because a note can be read and reread forever.  I realize that notes can’t replace the unspoken emotional connection that exists during a face-to-face conversation, but I agree that a note can be like a sweet little souvenir for the soul.  Notes don’t even need to be pretty or professional.  Use a sticky note, a napkin, or that notepad lying around your house.  It’s not about what the note is written on, but what is written on the note.  Even the simplest notes are extremely effective at putting a smile on someone’s face.  A note can be a sweet surprise and it also helps others feel our presence when we are not with them.  There is a special sense of importance, connection, and love that comes along with a note; felt both by the person who received it and the person who wrote it.

I definitely find joy in leaving notes for others, but what is it that makes me feel so good about it?  On a deep, psychological level I feel like Mother Teresa would remind me that achieving fulfillment and happiness comes from making others happy.  I may have gotten too deep with that reasoning, but I do believe that the truth lies somewhere in that nerdy thought.  On a much more realistic level, I feel like leaving a note for someone is kind of like planning a miniature surprise party for their emotions.  That’s when my warm and fuzzy feels are heightened as I begin to anticipate the surprised reaction and emotion I just set up.  After all, it’s unexpected and it makes your intended target feel good.  It may even change the trajectory of their day!  And who doesn’t love that kind of surprise, right?

As a dad, I enjoy leaving notes for my daughter, especially in her lunch box.  Some of the notes I leave her are reminders while others are written with the purpose of encouragement.  I think her favorite notes are the ones that involve inside jokes.  One time, my wife and I took a selfie with our daughter’s Instamax camera, wrote a silly inside joke on it, and snuck it into her lunch box.  I’m pretty sure we got the eye roll for which we were hoping.  I’m also pretty sure we made her feel special and loved the way we intended.

Image-9 (2)Writing notes to my wife is a blast because she’s my best friend.  I put them in her lunchbox, on the kitchen counter, on the bathroom mirror, and even in her underwear drawer.  I always want to encourage her, make her laugh, help her feel good about herself, and remind her how much I love her.  Leaving notes for her allows me to do that even when we’re apart.  Before we were married, I snuck into her house while she was at work just to leave some sweet notes for her.  I hid them around the house, left some in obvious places, and didn’t say a word about it.  She spent weeks uncovering those surprises.  It made me happy to picture the smile on her face as I envisioned her finding them.

Not all notes are going to change your life, but they can be food for the soul.  I realize that receiving a note may not solve all of your problems, but it might improve your outlook and make you feel better about yourself.  For me personally, I feel invigorated and confident whenever I am the recipient of someone’s kindly written or well-timed words.  A sweet note makes me feel special and it’s a pleasant reminder of how the person writing it feels about me.  The notes my wife leaves me are simply amazing because they are so personal and loving.  Back when we were engaged, she totally surprised me by sneaking a reminder onto my phone.  She secretly set it up so that her sweet message would find its way to my notifications while I was at work.  In that moment, it wasn’t just about the message.  It was about the effort and love she put in to making that reminder happen.  Over a year later, that weekly reminder remains on my phone.  Not only is it still effective, but it is a sweet memory of falling in love.

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You don’t have to be an amazing author to harness the power of writing a note.  This is absolutely one of those times in life when it’s the thought that counts.  Leaving a simple “I love you” on your child’s napkin for them to find at lunch is a day maker and it provides meaningful encouragement.  When it comes down to it, it’s not even about the actual words you use; rather the feelings and emotions you create.  Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Without a doubt, writing a note can be a powerful way to spread the feels.  It’s not only a gift of meaningful words, but it’s also a way for someone to hold your words in their hands, even if for just a little while.

 

Droppin’ Beats and Barbie

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My daughter loves to DJ with me, but I’m banned from Barbie (except for this photo shoot I snuck in while she was at camp).

As a new stepdad there are many things I have to learn on the fly.  The lessons are coming at me with relentless speed because I’m trying to catch up to a 10 year old girl who has 8 ½ years of life experiences without me around.  It’s the reality of being a step-parent to a child who has spent her lifetime developing her personality and character before we met.  She knows what she likes and she definitely likes what she likes.  However, the flip side to that reality is that she and I have a long life ahead of us in which we can learn and grow together.  There is a lot of love to share and a lifetime of memories to make.

My stepdaughter and I have a great, loving relationship.  We share inside jokes and we enjoy many activities together.  I’m a kid at heart, so I enjoy posing her stuffed animals in various situations to make her laugh.  She laughs at my dad jokes.  More accurately, she rolls her eyes at my dad jokes.  We even team up to play jokes on my wife.  We ride bikes together, cook together, solve life’s problems together, and pray together.  My daughter’s favorite activity with me is definitely droppin’ beats!  She loves music and dancing so I often let her have a turn on the DJ decks when I’m practicing at home.  I enjoy being involved in her activities (except making slime) and I do my best to participate in sync with her preferences and style.  However, the cold hard truth is that I sometimes get kicked out of things because I don’t do it right or simply because I’m a boy.

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During a recent trip to IKEA we found this prop more interesting than the furniture.

Let’s face it.  Kids are apt to kick others out for not playing the right way.  I can recall times as a child when I told my mom or dad, “You’re not playing it right!”  After all, imaginations change as we develop and grow.  I also have flashbacks to the daily battles with my brother in which I reminded him to keep his hands off of my Lego creations.  Kids have preferences and they stick to ‘em!  They often create their own little world in which they can make the rules, design the layout, and do things their way.  Humorously, I believe I crossed this boundary with my daughter during a game of Barbie.  Do you even call Barbie a game?  I don’t even know.  Anyway, my apparent antics got me quickly escorted from a game when all I was doing was using my imagination.  Yep!  I got kicked out of Barbie.

I’m not sure if it’s a rite of passage for dads or if I made a naive rookie mistake.  I see now that I should have known better, but let me explain how I was duped.  My daughter was having a sleepover with two other girls at our house.  My wife and I were having a good time with the girls and all was well.  We had all enjoyed dinner together, gone out for shaved ice, and even watched a movie.  The point is, we were all getting along together beautifully.  So, when the girls invited me to play Barbie, I gladly accepted.  Of course, I went straight for Ken because that felt like the right move.  I immediately made him start flirting with Barbie using a deep manly voice.  To my surprise, that didn’t go over well.  Strike one.  Next, I decided that Ken should get in the car to drive around for a while.  Again, I was terribly mistaken.  Strike two.  The final strike came quickly after that when I tried to manipulate Ken’s legs in an attempt to make him walk.   Anyone with experience here knows that without bendable knees, Ken does not move very well.  Thus, Ken awkwardly moved like Frankenstein as he made his way across the play room floor.  In less than a minute’s time, it was over for me.

The manner in which I was asked to leave this playful gathering around the Barbie house was quite unexpected, but highly entertaining.  My daughter’s seven year old friend, as sweet and tiny as can be, gave me the tap on the arm.  As she repeatedly tapped my arm and looked me squarely in the eyes, she said, “Um…um…mister?  You can be done now.”  Wow!  I got the tap from a seven year old!  It reminded me of the scene in Grease where Coach Calhoun tells the dance-off contestants, “If you’re tapped on the shoulder, leave the floor, or else.  I mean it!”  I guess sometimes you just don’t’ have what it takes and this time I got told.

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Right before I married her mom, my daughter and I had a prayerful moment that belonged only to us.

I am figuring out quickly that parenting can be a humbling experience.  My daughter’s influence on me is clearly life changing, and there are many lessons I will learn as our paths continue together.  In this case, I learned that everything has unwritten rules, including Barbie.  I had never played before so how was I supposed to know?  These girls were the Barbie experts and I didn’t even come close to their expectations.  It’s quite humorous, but in a way, I felt like a failure.  I would have appreciated a little feedback.  It made me think about what we ask of our children when they find themselves in unfamiliar situations.  Many times, they have no clue how to act.  As parents, we must communicate the expectations and provide examples of undesirable behaviors that will receive consequences.  Barbie helped me realize how confusing life can be when trying to act appropriately in someone else’s clearly defined world.  Another take-away for me was the feeling I had when the experts had no patience with me.  Being patient and responding patiently is a life skill.  We must not only teach it to our children, but never forget it ourselves.

What’s on Your Plate?

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It’s not always easy to tune out all the distractions, but we must be intentional about keeping family as the center of our world.

It seems that the pace of the world in which we live has become so fast that a meal around the dinner table is tough to come by for many families.  Whether we are motivated by the proverbially good life or the happiness of our children, we often end up with way too much on our plates.  The more we involve our kids in activities, the more we seem to race all over town trying to keep up.  Intentions are good, but we can quickly get in over our heads.  It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, dance, music lessons, clubs, or friends; the time we spend at home as a family can easily evaporate if we are not intentional about keeping it sacred.  As if parenting wasn’t already a schedule filler, the stressors and time constraints associated with being an adult slap us in the face each time the alarm clock goes off in the morning.  Husbands and wives juggle work, errands, bills, laundry, and kids.  But a date once in a while would be nice, right?  And single parents face these same obstacles at an exponentially more difficult rate!  Nobody ever said that raising a child was easy.  They don’t come with instructions and they certainly do not come with a pause button.  However, the dinner table can be that place where life slows down enough to provide the quality time necessary to cultivate healthy family values and relationships.

Growing up, the dinner table in my house was an important part of the family routine.  It was the place where we practiced manners, talked about our day, and ate our biggest meal.  Most importantly, it was the place where distractions were tossed aside in favor of quality family time.  There was no TV during dinner, permission was needed to leave the table, and even the dog was not allowed in the room.  It was that time of day where things slowed down for a little bit and the family could focus on each other.  My mom and dad taught us some of our most valuable lessons during our dinner table conversations.  I learned about emotions, good character, and how to be responsible for my own behaviors.  I learned how to be sympathetic when my brother or sister talked about their disappointments or hardships.  I also learned how share in the happiness of a celebratory moment when I was not the one being celebrated.  That’s tough for a child!  The dinner table was filled with laughter, but also with tears.  It was a place to voice frustration, but also a place to collectively solve problems.  We all knew that we could talk and we would be heard.  Above all, the dinner table was a safe meeting place where we could learn and grow together.  We supported each other, offered encouragement, and held each other accountable.

Today, my wife and I continue the dinner table experience as one of our intentional ways of leading our family.  My 10-year old daughter has many of the same responsibilities that I had growing up.  She helps set the table, she practices manners, and she takes her turn in the conversation.  As part of our nightly dinner conversations, my wife and I ditched the age-old “How was your day?” question in favor of something we call POWs and WOWs.  A POW is the worst thing that happened to you that day or simply something that bothered you.  On the other hand, a WOW is the best thing about your day or something that made you extremely happy.  Each of us gets our turn to share, and it provides valuable insight into one another’s day.  My daughter’s POW often presents an appropriate opening for a valuable life lesson or character building moment.  My wife’s POW usually helps me understand how I can best support her feelings and most effectively love and serve her.  Just like POWs, our WOWs can be simple or huge.  But the most important aspect of the WOWs is the daily reminder they provide us about what makes each other happy.  The POWs and WOWs routine is an asset to our family relationship because it provides an avenue into our most personal space.  This type of sharing requires some level of vulnerability, but it also empowers each of us to become a supportive listener and a loving encourager.  Quite simply, it is the feedback that fuels our daily teamwork and support system.  Our dinner table helps us grow individually and collectively.  It makes us a better family.

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She’s not always this happy to set the table, but you get the point.

Being a family requires many things and it takes determination to keep all the moving pieces in sync.  Life can get busy in the blink of an eye and you can quickly get pulled in a thousand different directions.  It is important to guard what you love and be intentional about protecting the time you have to enjoy it.  As for my wife and I, we are very intentional about protecting the time spent around the dinner table because of the incredible return on investment for our family.  It is certainly not easy to nail those daily dinners, but we work hard to make it happen because we value the opportunities they provide for growth, stability, and a deep-rooted sense of belonging.  Like most families, we are susceptible to being consumed by the hustle and bustle, especially during the week.  My wife and I both work full-time, we exercise at the gym regularly, and we most definitely make time for dates!  On top of that, our 10-year old daughter plays volleyball, takes dance, plays the violin, and is getting into theatre.  There are certainly moments when time is fleeting and we are forced into a bold tag team attempt to cook as fast as we can.  I’m not sure what goes on in your house, but I feel like we are probably pretty similar because life has a way of consuming all of us.  Therefore, as a last line of defense against the elimination of quality family time, we make the dinner table a priority.