Thursday, April 28, 2016

Work Life Balance

On the fourth Thursday of each April, more than 37 million Americans at over 3.5 million workplaces participate in "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day."(source: Forbes.com)

This year marks the program’s twenty-first anniversary. Initially, this day was called "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," but then it was recognized that parents, not just mothers, probably wanted to model working for their children, not just their daughters. Regardless of what is called, when I worked in corporate America I found this day very interesting.

First, companies embraced it with gusto and planned activities for children and even provided childcare. Then the gusto faded - and as an employee, it was OK to have your children with you on this day. It wasn't an off day as you were at work, but how much work got accomplished was anyone's guess. I don't know what happens nowadays since I currently work from home or consult.

Ironically, when children were at work it was harder to work. Depending on the age of your children, it was hard for them to grasp the concept that you sitting at your desk and "working" was actually work. For example, they did not get all the details that went into making a decision, so there were questions and other interruptions. The organization I worked with pampered the kids - they had the best chocolate chip cookies and fun activities throughout the day. My children were well behaved (and cute) so other adults wanted to engage them in conversation. The mother in me would encourage the conversation while at the same time being wary of kids being kids. Work-life balance was not achieved on this day.

The premise of this day may be convoluted but the old adage,"children learn what they live," is true; children model the behaviors we have demonstrated for them in all areas - not just at home or at work.

I grew up in the Bahamas and this day did not exist back then. My father was the Foreman/Manager at the Bahamas Electric Company. He had a good rapport with his employees for as children we knew many of them by name. Oftentimes they would pick us up and drive us to school. It was then we realized how well-respected he was. I never went to his place of work but the way he spoke about his job and the respect shown to him by his employees were indicators that he enjoyed what he did. He was also generally happy in those days. On the other hand, my mom stayed home. My primary impressions of my mom were that she was a hard worker - she was not lazy; she was resourceful and she loved to sew. My mother seemed happiest at her sewing machine. I absorbed the skill of sewing from my mom. I think at one point my mother also attended secretarial school. One of the skills she learned was shorthand. She taught me shorthand;I wish I still remembered it today. I learned important lessons from my parents and how they handled work. My parents were aspirational - I saw from their example that a willingness to work opened up a world of possibilities.

Work is a part of life; it's not only something that you do outside of the home. Work is valuable and its worth is seen in how we are compensated. When children are very young, as a mother, work-life balance seems to be in the forefront of your brain. Everyone struggles with finding a balance but men view work-life balance differently from women. Many women are often thinking of tasks to be done even while at work. I hear it's no easier being a SAHM (so as an aside, I wish the motherhood wars would end; there's no need to pit moms against each other and it's even worse when it comes from other Christians). But children grow up and the balance shifts over time.

You are responsible for your life and therefore how you balance your priorities. It's nice to have companies recognize that striking a balance is important, but it's even more important that you do so.

My priorities start with God, and then I would say everything else falls into place. If I were a bit more specific I think it might look something like this: God, Me, Family, and Everything else.  My faith is central to who I am, so if God is not first in my life, I don't know where or what I would be. He's been first in my life for a long time and that's not changing. But I've noticed that when I don't prioritize myself, many of the other priorities fall apart. Over time I've learned how important it is to take care of me. This may be  oversimplified, but this is how I attempt to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance.


Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33 [NLT]


And yet, 
“Better to have one handful with quietness
than two handfuls with hard work
and chasing the wind. Ecclesiastes 4:6 [NLT]

How do you achieve a semblance of balance? What were your experiences with "Take Our Children to Work Day?"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Adjustments - Small Changes Huge Dividends

Nothing stays the same over time.  In nature, plants go through a cycle. There are cycles in our bodies, nature, the economy, relationships and many more things. It's why being an athlete is somewhat challenging - your aim is to have your best performance consistently over a period of time. It's also what makes sports so exciting - as a spectator you wonder how long an athlete will remain at the top of their field. Think Serena Williams, Mo Farah or Usain Bolt.

As someone who runs, I think of the many adjustments I make to perform with a modicum of decency consistently, and then I imagine this multiplied by a huge factor for the professional athlete. You're always trying to improve or reach capacity. In popular culture this is sometimes phrased in the form of a question - "Are you your best you?"

An adjustment is a small alteration, done with the intention of producing a better result. As a runner, I've learned to shorten my stride, change my gait, temper my breathing all with the intention of going longer, faster. I don't make all these changes at once but over time. As I get better at one thing or see an improvement in my times, I am tempted to become comfortable, but then circumstance or choice forces me to adjust again. For example, after making an improvement due to some small changes, I noticed that after long runs I would eventually get a headache.  I had to make another adjustment - increase my intake of electrolytes and stay hydrated well before a run. Sometimes the little changes don't seem to make any sense, but in the long run, they usually do.

And that's the point of life - just when we think we've arrived, there's another adjustment to be made. As long as we're living it's an opportunity for constant progressive change.

Though adjustments are small or incremental it does not mean that they are easy; changing my breathing pattern is not easy nor is learning to change aspects of my personality. I have spent a lifetime attempting to speak softer or use my inside voice in certain situations. My volume can be misinterpreted, therefore, I try different techniques. Some work, some don't but it requires effort because I want a different response and a different outcome.

No area of our life can escape this need for adjustment so that we are maximizing our value and living out our purpose. Our faith gets tested by circumstance. These circumstances provide opportunities for adjustments and recalibration. These adjustments keep us humble, keep us seeking and searching and ultimately relying on God. That never changes, but how we rely on God is up to us. In the many stages of life, there are times when we think we've figured out how to trust, how to pray, how to navigate this path. But then life throws us for a loop in many forms and it seems that all of a sudden we don't know how to pray or our faith seems small. These are opportunities for adjustments.

As a believer, we have what we need to make these changes.  God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7  In the prior verse, Paul told Timothy to fan the flames - put in the effort, but you don't have to figure this out on your own. Love implies relationship - we're not in this race alone; power indicates a Force that will allow us to make the changes that are necessary, and a sound mind means we can think and use resources available to us - all for the goal of constant improvement and movement.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 [NLT]

Wherever you are on this journey, make the necessary adjustment - don't give up.

What adjustments have you made recently?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Sounds of Home

Without fail, by 10 o'clock on most nights, my body decides it has had enough for the day and shuts down. If I'm on the couch all of a sudden I am sound asleep. Last night I fell asleep on the couch while watching TV. I kept going in and out of sleep until I finally went to my bed. At some point, before I went into deep REM sleep, I heard the sound of a guitar and beautiful singing accompanying it. I smiled and thought about all the sounds that emanate from a home and what they mean.

As a newlywed, it was just me and my husband enjoying each other's company. I learned he was a movie buff, and so I broadened my horizons and watched a lot of movies. As a newlywed there was the sound of laughter, love, and conversation with the background noise of TV.

Soon after, we had our first child. Now there were the sounds  of a baby - crying, pooping, laughing, aahing cooing, interspersed with the sounds of us. Us figuring it out, us talking to each other, and us sleeping. Oh, the joy of sleep. Sleep became more essential and movies took a back seat. But we kept talking and always tried to laugh. The background noise of TV receded for a bit.

More children and more sounds - until my quiver was full.

There's now some constant sounds in my world - Family Radio playing Christian music, the whistle of the kettle daily for a cup of tea, the pages turning as we all read various books, horsing around with Dad on a Friday night; board game battles; the crinkling of a bag to get to a beef patty; the popping sound as we opened the Styrofoam container that contained jerk chicken from our favorite place; the wind chimes on the front door signalling another person has arrived or left; sometimes the slamming of doors (but not often). On Saturdays, there was music - oldies, and Jamaican music played loudly throughout the house. The sound of housework was a constant also - cooking, cleaning, mopping, dusting, organising. These things weren't done in a vacuum, so more talking, and sometimes bickering. TV noise increased again as we would watch movies in my bedroom as a family because that's where the DVD was.  Of course, as we all grew and changed we all produced different sounds - boo hoos, achoos, hmms, uh-ohs, groans, moans, stomps, claps, singing, snoring, shouting, yelling and hahas; always haha. Sometimes we whispered but mostly we were loud. Our love is loud.

Noticeably absent from our lives was the sound of pets - we never had any.

And now I am here - guitar playing and singing. This moment makes me realize that all those sounds brought us here to a point of exploration, growth and creativity.

As I close my eyes, smile and drift off to sleep, I am grateful for the sounds that come from my house today; the sounds that make my house a home.

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! Psalms 127:1,3-5 [NLT]

What sounds come from your home?


Monday, April 11, 2016

Two Pounds of Gratitude


Now that I live on the West Coast, friends and acquaintances are more multicultural, in particular, I am blessed by many from the continent of Asia. Recently, the Little One had some friends over during spring break, so I planned an outing to the beach. The parents were grateful for this time as were the girls. We had a beautiful day; we even saw a seal at the beach. As I returned the girls to their parents, each parent expressed their gratitude. One mother expressed her gratitude in what appeared to be a most unconventional manner - she gave me a container of 2 pounds of sliced seasoned beef from the Korean market.

I don't mind receiving a gift of food, but I'd never gotten raw beef before. It turns out, this was quite tasty! So tasty, I am now becoming a regular at the Korean market for Bulgogi - the actual name of the dish.

But this simple gesture made me realize two things:


  • It's OK to express gratitude in a way that is unique to you. It must be liberating to be so sure of yourself, that you would buy beef for someone as an expression of thanks.


  • I appreciated the expression of gratitude more than the beef itself; the beef was icing on the cake! Her simple act made me realize that my actions were important to her and therefore I was important to her.


Being grateful is contagious - because of this, I will try to demonstrate my thanks in more realistic and practical ways. A card is nice, but if more can be done, it will be. A thankful mindset allows you to see the beauty in the ordinary; over time being grateful can become second nature.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:18 [NLT]

Have you ever received an unexpected gift of gratitude? How did it make you feel?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Book Review - Humans of New York

Source
For 29 years, I lived in New York. I was never overwhelmed by NY, but rather I always found it intriguing and interesting. I arrived at the age of 12, and shortly after that, I was taking public transportation to go to elementary school. Riding the bus started a life long love affair with people watching and people listening (if that is a thing). There were so many dialects, juxtaposed with people from all walks of life. As I grew, all modes of public transportation became the vehicle for which I learned the city and this knowledge translated into love.

I don't know how I started reading Humans of New York on Facebook, but I do know once I started I was hooked. In its simplest form, it's a chronicling of humanity. It displays the complexity of the human spirit, and even in flawed humans, we see bits of ourselves. Because I was so enamored by the HONY FB page I requested this book  - Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton, for Christmas.

This book does not disappoint though it has a slightly different format than the FB page. There are images of people from every facet of life, every race, each gender, every age and stage, frozen at a point in time. Sometimes there are unexpected captions and stories associated with each photo and sometimes the portrait tells a story. Ultimately Humans of New York is about people and their city. Though I've lived a couple of places, I can truthfully say there is no place like New York and the portraits in this book do a superb job of capturing the essence of the city.

If you'd like an all-encompassing view of NY through the eyes of the people that live or pass through there, this book is a great place to start.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Fear and Faith


Source
Recently, the LAUSD schools were closed due to a "credible threat" that would have impacted a significant number of schools. This closure had a domino effect on surrounding schools, so as a result the Little One's private school was also closed.

We are living in dangerous times because I remember a time when I would not let my children stay home for any reason; you had to be extremely ill to warrant staying home. Today when I heard this announcement, I realized I had changed. I was able to rationalize why the LO should stay home before receiving the official notification of the school closure.

Everyone was saying, "better safe than sorry," but many of the responses seem to reflect the repercussions of the times we are living in. In December, San Bernadino happened. When Sandy Hook happened to innocent first graders I think I cried in my car and went home and hugged my children.

Fear makes us fearful therefore, fear can not be the primary motivator of our thoughts. Living in fear is draining, exhaustive, and crippling. Faith produces the opposite effects - rejuvenation, revitalization, and growth. I would like to suggest we live by faith instead.

Fear is the opposite of faith. If we only trust in the things that we can see in this world we will be fearful. On a regular basis, we are dealing with terrorism - domestic and international, economic downturns, natural disasters, health scares, unemployment. We are consumed by what the future will look like for our children. There is always something to worry about! However, the Bible provides great comfort on why we need not live in fear.

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Deuteronomy 31:6[NLT]
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,[a]I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Psalms 23:4 [NLT]
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Psalms 118:6 [NLT]
Ultimately, when we are fearful or living in fear we are only relying on ourselves and we know our limitations. We can only think with a limited mindset. But God is not like that - He's not like us in this regard - He is above all, understands all, and controls it all. Instead of relying on my limited self, I will trust and hold on to an unlimited God and in so doing live by faith instead of fear.
If we are ever in fearful situations, I know God gives us the faith and what comes with it, to make the best decisions at the time.

The verses above are only a snippet of what God says about fear. If you spend significant time poring over the Word and take these words to heart you will recognize how much God cares for us and does not want us to be fearful regardless of what we are dealing with. You will have to choose to believe what He says, not what you think. This will take time; new circumstances will always provide opportunities for choosing faith. You won't perfect this on this earth, but you can get pretty close, because you are not doing this alone.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 [KJV]

Faith or fear - what will it be for you?


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Attention To Detail



"The devil is in the details." This phrase is often used when we've planned but have overlooked a minute factor that can cause our plans to fail. Because our plans fail, hence the phrase.
Human nature tends to be big picture – we don't want to think of the minutiae, as it's too mind-boggling.

So it is always amazing to me that God cares about everything in our lives - from the trivial to the grand. When God told Moses how to build the Tabernacle and its accouterments He provided minuscule detail. God was the first architect and he provided a clear blueprint as to how the Tabernacle should be built.

In Exodus 24:18, Moses went up to Mount Sinai and communed with God for forty days and nights. At this time, God provided Moses with instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a place where God's people would worship him. Every physical detail listed in the book of Exodus has some spiritual correlation, but I am in awe when I observe how God spells out the physical aspect.

In stark detail, God conveyed to Moses the following:

The Tabernacle and its building materials. The Lord specified that gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple linen, oil and precious stones be used to build the Tabernacle. These would come as an offering from the Israelites (Exodus 25:3-7).
Accouterments for the Tabernacle - The Ark of the Covenant – The Ark was to contain the tables of the law and was to be kept in the holiest place: The Holy of Holies. God provided the measurements, the materials and the design (Exodus 25:10-22).
The Table of Showbread – a table to constantly display bread. This table symbolizes how God nourishes us all the time. Again, God provided Moses with measurements, materials and design (Exodus 25:23-30).
The Golden Lamp stand – provided constant light for the Tabernacle and was resplendent. The Lamp stand is a type of Christ. It was to have 6 branches, 3 on each side and one stand in the middle. God specified that it be made with a talent of pure gold, and provided Moses with the specifications for the shape of the lamp stand (Exodus 25:31-40).
Curtains of Linen – The curtains were to be hung throughout the Tabernacle in three colors – blue, purple and scarlet. The linen curtains symbolize Christ's righteousness. God told Moses the length, how they should be folded, where the selvedge should be located (did you know God was a seamstress?), the loops, and the clasps for the curtains (Exodus 26:1-9).
Other items are also specified for the Tabernacle and are laid out in astonishing detail. There are: the Curtain of Goats Hair, the Covering of Rams Skin, the Boards & Sockets, the Inner Veil, the Outer Veil, the Gate of the Court and Oil for the Lamp (Exodus 26).
Since God leaves nothing to chance, He then delineated the priestly garments: (breastplate, robe, ephod, embroidered coat, miter and a girdle), how the priests should be consecrated, the types of sacrifices, food for the priests and finally who may worship (Exodus 28,29).

Once God provided Moses with the layout of the Tabernacle, God recognized that he would need knowledgeable people to build the Tabernacle. Moses didn't have to scratch his head for too long because God then provided spirit filled craftsmen, contractors who were good at their work. They had a talent for working with their hands that God used and blessed. He provided Bezalel and Oholiab who had knowledge in all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:1-6). According to all that the Lord commanded, they did (Exodus 31:11).

Ultimately, the Tabernacle was a place of worship and adoration to God Himself. It was also a place for mercy and atonement.

In the same way, God provided an exact blueprint for the Tabernacle, He has a blueprint for each of our lives, right down to what we would consider inconsequential.

The next time you have a quandary in your life, commune with God. Set aside a time to talk and listen to what He has to say. God is detail oriented as evidenced throughout His Word, but in particular in providing the specifications for the Tabernacle. God leaves nothing to chance; He is aware of every situation. He cares about every aspect of your life. Listen, and He will provide all the necessary details for your life. He will even send the right people along to assist you, individuals who have exactly what you need, when you need it, blessed by God.

Your plans won't fail if God is in the details.

Do you invite God into every aspect of your life?

P.S. I wrote this many years ago, but only decided to share it again today.








Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Proverbs Challenge Reflections

One of the reasons I did the Proverbs Challenge was because I’d never seen it done in the blog world. In the blog world, there are all sorts of challenges – no makeup for 7 days, a different hairstyle every day, eating with no sugar, reading a book a month, body toning exercises, etc. – so I thought, why not a daily Bible reading challenge?

A challenge on its face seems hard, but by its very nature is also doable. It’s called a challenge because it requires some discipline and thought on the individual’s part – it won’t happen by itself. The definition of challenge is a test of one's abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking. At the end of a challenge, there’s the satisfaction of completion (this may be the only reward), but there’s also knowledge gained about yourself or the process, and a feeling of accomplishment.

Here’s what I gained from doing the Proverbs Challenge:

·        God’s word has our best interests at heart; we fight it because we think we know better, but when you get right down to it if we choose to live the way outlined in the Bible, we’d be better for it, happier and wiser.

·        The Bible guides all the interactions in my life. We saw practical application for dealing with all of our relationships, our vices, our mindsets, and so much more. There is no situation that is outside of the purview of God’s word.

·        Humility before honor – it seems like we all want to be lauded, without putting in the hard work. No one wants to submit to authority, rules, and principles. Everyone wants to do it their way. Surprisingly it is those that are truly humble that are exalted. It is counter to worldly wisdom but it works.

·        Now that I’ve done it, I can encourage others to attempt it. Oftentimes, we are able to help another down the same path because we have gone that way before. This works for trials and successes – we can encourage and help each other. We can bear each other’s burdens.

·        It provided focus – This challenge provided something to look forward to on a daily basis. As a result, my time with God each day became special.

·        God is faithful – He always comes through. I never knew what I would write until I actually started typing. I typically pray before I read, asking God to make his word clear to me; to keep it in my memory; and for opportunities throughout the day to use what I’ve read. Every day He came through for me.

·        It gave me a new thirst for God’s Word – The Bible is an amazing book. I may have read it a thousand times, but each time it’s as if I’m reading something new. It’s because I’m not the same person I was in the past, combined with the fact that God’s Word is powerful and contains everything we need. God’s Word will always edify.

·        Use the gifts that you are given – I’ve always loved reading and writing and this challenge was another way to do both.

·        Gaining a heavenly perspective – this challenge refined my focus by allowing me to look at things through my father’s eyesHave you ever heard this song?

·        Wisdom is available – all you have to do is ask for it and it’s available in boundless supply. As Proverbs wisely states, wisdom is the principal thing therefore with all thy getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

·        Women are special and have more influence than we are aware of. As a wife, we are a good thing. We can be odious, and contemptible and drive those we live with far from us, or we can be virtuous and wise and reap priceless rewards. This theme was repeated often throughout the book of Proverbs.


Did you participate in this challenge? How did this challenge help you?