Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Summer Solstice and other stuff

Tomorrow will be the Summer Solstice.

Today I awoke to thunder.  It is a dreary, rainy day.

Tomorrow, the Summer Solstice, is the longest day of the year.  I hope the weather clears.  It is a shame to lose the longest daylight day to dark thunderheads.

I love the Summer Solstice... and I dread it.  I love it, because I love light, and daytime.  I love summer: sunshine, flowers, hamburgers on the grill, walking, swimming, and not dealing with school.

But the summer solstice also signals the beginning of the end.  After tomorrow, the days will begin to shorten again.  It will be imperceptible at first, but even so, the descent to winter will have begun.

And school isn't even over yet.  Jon has his last test tomorrow.  I cannot even begin to describe the outrage in my soul over the NYS school calender.  I've lived here for twenty-four years, more than half my life, but the Minnesota in my soul still tells me that there is a fundamental sin in continuing school more than a week beyond Memorial Day.

Summer is funny, you know.  Here, especially, it goes so fast... stupid WalMart practically has their back-to-school displays up before school has finished in June.  (One year I went to buy Valentines at WalMart and found that they had already replaced all their red velvet hearts with shiny green shamrocks, on about February 12.  So I went over to Wegman's and found a lovely assortment of Valentines still stocked and available.  I love Wegman's.)

I realized that one reason summer goes so fast is this:  every week is completely different.  You never settle into a routine where you know that Monday will bring X, Tuesday will bring Y, and Friday will bring Z.  No, each summer week (and there are not many of them) has a flavor all its own.  There is the week Shawn is in Montreal (that would be this one).  The week we go on our 25th anniversary trip.  The week Shannon comes to visit.  The week Laura goes to training at SU.  The week Jon goes to camp.  The week of VBS.  The week we are at the beach.  See what I mean?  Every week is different, and it puts the rhythm of the season into a state of extreme acceleration.

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, and I wish everything would just slow down.

I wish everyone could take the day off and be home.  I wish we could sit out by the pool, swim, eat grilled chicken and red peppers.  I wish we could talk and laugh, lazy and slow.  I wish we could rest, relax, and metabolize beatific quantities of vitamin D under the sun.  I wish the longest day of the year would last forever.

I think, actually, that heaven will be like that: the longest day of summer, lasting forever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

...and speaking of before and after



Schubert BEFORE

Schubert AFTER

And here is Schubert's poor, shorn tail, 
which is hard to get in focus
because it is always on the move.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Before or after?

A wise woman once told me...  "All jobs can be divided into two types: those which require that you shower before you go to work, and those which require that you shower as soon as you get home."

House-guests can also be divided into two types: those for whom you clean before they come, and those who necessitate that you clean after they leave.  I could have saved myself much angst if I had realized years ago that Early Childhood Birthday Parties fall into the latter category.

And then there is my friend Marie who, when she used to come over, would tidy my kitchen so nicely that when she left it was in much finer order than I ever could have attained before she came, no matter how hard I tried.  She moved to Michigan, which is a shame.

Weather reports

I could check the weather at any time on the internet.

When I was young and growing up in a small town that lay just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, my mother played WCCO most of the day long.  We heard the weather numerous times each hour, plus a recap of the actual high and low at the end of the day.  There is no station in the Syracuse area that gives you that kind of weather information.  I suppose Minnesota had more farmers who cared about the meteorological details.

But, since we now have the internet, I could check the weather at any time.

I don't.

This is how I keep track of the weather:

(1)  My coconut oil.

I keep coconut oil in a recycled glass jar in my bathroom.  It is a fabulous moisturizer.  Each morning as I moisturize, I get a read on what the weather is going to bring me that day.

If the coconut oil is hard and white,  I have to use my fingernails to dig out chips of it and warm it in my palm before spreading it on my skin... then I know I should wear a few layers of clothing and a warm-but-stylish scarf around my neck.

If the coconut oil is thick and creamy, it's going to be a gorgeous day!  (My heart sings when I open the jar and find it all soft and swirly...)

If the coconut oil has melted down to a clear liquid, it's time to turn on the air-conditioning.

(2)  My legs (and other joints and muscles).

If my body aches and twitches, there will be precipitation.

I usually realize this after the fact, as in, "Wow, look at that rain come down!  I should have known... my legs were driving me crazy last night."

I have faith that some day I will begin to put this information to use before the fact.

(There are three legs in the foreground of this picture, 
and the hairy one belongs to my husband.)

As long as I have coconut oil and legs, I guess I don't need the internet.  Not for weather reports, anyhow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Giving Criticism--5 questions to ask yourself

This is a difficult post to write. It's a sequel to a post I wrote about taking criticism, which was also difficult, but not nearly as difficult as this.

I am not an expert on giving criticism.  Actually, I am probably worse at it than anyone.  I think I usually give it when I should not, and I withhold it when I should speak up.

But the fact remains, we all give criticism all the time.  Even people who say, "You shouldn't criticize me!" are offering a type of criticism: criticism of the people who criticized them.

Since we criticize, often unconsciously, all the time, I think it is worth examining the phenomenon so that we can recognize it and make strides towards improving how we handle it.

Here is a list of 5 questions to ask yourself when you think you feel compelled to give criticism:

(1)  Why do I feel compelled to confront this issue? 

Is it because I am annoyed?  If so, I would be wise to slow down, think it through, pray about it, and perhaps not say anything.  Personal annoyance is rarely a credible reason for confronting someone.

Is it because I fear that the person will do himself harm?  If so, there may be cause to confront.  But be honest!  Often we hide our personal pride in quasi-concern for others.  Perhaps we fear how something our spouse or our children do will reflect on us.

Is it because I fear for the welfare of a third party, or third parties?  If so, there may be good reason to take action, but the best action might not be the first one that comes to mind.  People whose behaviors affect others are often the most angry and defensive because they feel publicly humiliated.  Keep in mind, too, that you may not know the whole story and might be prone to misinterpret.  Be careful!!

Is it because I am suffering hurt?  We must be aware that the line between annoyance and hurt is very thin.  We must take the utmost care to avoid being selfish.  Sometimes we feel that an issue drives a wedge in the relationship we have with someone.  If so, we must carefully consider whether our method of confronting the issue will help to remove the wedge, or whether it will drive the wedge deeper.  It often requires great wisdom to discern the difference. 

(2)  Have I taken the log out of my own eye?  (Matthew 7:3)

Often the things that bother us most in others are the things we fail at most ourselves.  We must make sure that we are not being hypocrites by condemning in others the very faults with which we ourselves are beset.

At the same time (if we are honest and humble) if we do suffer from the same failures and temptations, it provides an opportunity to confront with sympathy rather than condemnation.   We can share stories of personal failures that later turned into triumphs, and perhaps encourage someone more than we had ever imagined.  This requires transparency and vulnerability, and the ability to talk openly about our own past shortcomings.

(3)  Am I the right person to address this? 

Sometimes we see something happen, something we perceive as a wrong, and we rush in to "right" it... where angels fear to tread, as the saying goes.

Sometimes it would be better left for someone else to handle.

One way to figure out whether you are the right person to address an issue:  Assess your relationship with the other party.  Has God put you in a position of authority over this person?  Do you share a fairly close, trusting relationship?  If not, is there someone else who is in authority or who does have a close relationship, whose life also overlaps into this issue?

If you have no authority, and you are not particularly close to someone, and if others exist who meet these criteria, then often it is best to wait and pray.  Let God move the heart of His chosen instrument.  On the other hand, if you are the only person around to confront something, sometimes you have to do it, whether you want to or not.  Ask God for clear leading.

Ironically, often the more you desire to confront an issue, the more likely it is that you probably should not.  And the more you dread confronting, the more likely it is that you actually ought to.   Often.  Not always.

(4)  Can I do this in love?

We are supposed to speak the truth in love, with a loving motivation for the other person's best interest.  It's all about restoration, about helping another person get back on the right path, back into a healthy relationship.  It's not about humiliating or punishing someone.

We need to ask ourselves, in brutal honesty, Bibles open and hearts lifted to God in prayer, whether we are motivated by love or revenge. 

If you can't do it in love, filled with compassion and hoping for a good result, then you probably ought not do it at all.

But if you can approach the person in love, honesty, transparency and (very important) privacy... God may use your words in a powerful way for good.

(5)  Is there a point to confronting this?

The Bible is full of warnings against reproving a scoffer and casting your pearls before swine.

If there is little to no chance of a favorable outcome, you should probably save your breath.  Apply your energy in a more productive direction.

Pointing out the error of someone's ways is not something you do to prove that you are a wise, discerning person with a burning need to exhibit your finely developed sense of justice.  You do it to save a brother or sister (Galatians 6:1-2, James 5:19-20).  Unless you have hope that your words can effect a positive outcome, you should not speak them.

If people only ever criticized while believing that there is great hope for good, it might drastically change how people receive criticism.  Put yourself in the position of the person being criticized:  how would you feel when someone criticized you if you knew that he was only confronting you because he had faith in your potential?  What if being criticized meant that someone was confident that you could receive correction and benefit from it?  It's an interesting thing to ponder, and makes one think of Hebrews 12:5-11.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 12:15(ESV)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Happy June

I didn't do so well blogging in May.

I wrote a post called "Taking Criticism."  I sort of alluded to the idea of writing a companion post called "Giving Criticism."  I can't get excited about writing it, though.

We give criticism all the time, and we would do well to think about whether we are doing it appropriately or well.  Somehow, we don't seem to notice when we give criticism as much as we notice when we receive it.  So maybe I will write that post.  Maybe tomorrow.

June arrived here cold and rainy.  I don't mind.  It felt wonderful to pull socks onto my feet this morning.  It is a good day for tea and blankets, naps and novels.  DJ is asking for coffee.  I'll brew up a pot of strong stuff, relishing the aroma.

This morning I studied Ephesians 1 with a beautiful little group of women.  I got to hold a baby, too, a gorgeous one.  And she didn't cry, even though her mama left the house for a few minutes!

It's Friday.  It's June.  And despite the rain, my peonies are still mostly upright, thanks to a marvelous staking job by my husband and the bountiful grace of God.