friendship, giving

Listen Up!

I often talk about active listening skills in professional settings. I often challenge many participants (especially males) in those environments to engage in activities that test their ability to actively listen.

It may not be every male who can’t listen but it is definitely a higher number than women by far. I often think about the why of this…

Listening is the greatest gift you can give to another human. Anyone can give quick advice when somebody has a problem but those who are actively listening can hear your emotion, feel your pain and generally connect with you. Listening takes time. Listening requires one to be patient.

When I think of my own life and frustrations, I think of how my spouse doesn’t listen a lot of time. Doesn’t engage or empathize with anyone who has an issue or struggle. This makes me think back to something my mom taught me at a young age. Never pass judgment on somebody until you have walked a day in their shoes.

In order to be supportive or helpful one has to be willing to set their own feelings to the side, get down on your level, listen and really relate to your issues or struggles. This doesn’t even have to occur face to face!

If you are struggling and you text your life partner, one would hope they could read your words and really listen to your hurt. Unfortunately, I have seen first hand that many close to me are grossly incapable of doing this. 

I think this honestly comes down to their inability to get down on your level. Feel the hurt. It’s a lack of genuineness. Ask yourself, who do your reach out to when you need to talk? Is it your mom? Your best friend? Your sibling? Your spouse? Who?

Then ask yourself who will listen to you when you feel troubled? Is it the same person? Maybe it’s more than one person. The point is you are never going to reach out to the person who lectures you, passes judgment on you, or just brushes you off.

In order to be a better listener you need to give of yourself. You need to put the phone down and listen to the person in front of you. Maybe you need to stop playing a video game to read the words of a loved one.

Today more than ever our words are powerful. In today’s digital world words are a big way of communicating. Sending a note of praise. Sending a text of good will. Even sending an emoji with a smile is positive communication. We are all capable but not everyone does it.
Positive communication opens the door for building trust. One day somebody may need you. They may need you to hear or read their words. They may need you when they are struggling.

If you are not capable of using your active listening skills you may never hear or read those words. It’s unfortunate that many I know struggle in this area. This why I am opting to write this post.

If one person can make a change based on this blog, I feel like I have made an impact. Listen up. Turn on your antennas. Today’s world is hectic and crazy. We are all busy. We are all trapped in a digital world. But we are all capable of listening to words spoken or words written or even emailed / texted if we just slow down, pause and think about what another is saying. 

Remember “tell me more” offers the one person with words hope that somebody is there to listen to them. Offering hope is free.

I know I am making it a point to listen more listen to all around me and I encourage you to do the same. It’s a new year. Why not make it a goal to be a better listener?

Listen up!

friendship, giving

Longest Night

When became an adult, got married, moved into a house and had kids (not necessarily in that order), I joined a Methodist church. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so this was a big change. One of the first new traditions I embraced was the Longest Night. Each year, on Winter Solstice, the Methodist church had a service that focused on the darker times of the past year. People came who had experienced loss, depression. grief.

At that point, I had recently lost my mother. I had a new baby, a new home, and was overwhelmed and heavy-hearted. I joined the bell choir and played for that service. That first year, I remember just crying through the whole thing.

As you can imagine, the service is not just about loss. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Once Solstice is over, brighter days are literally ahead. So the service is also about finding hope. About persistence. About the triumph of good and light.

I love symbolism so this service always meant a lot to me. I like the idea of things getting better. Of marking time. The cycle of increasing light. And it always comes just before Christmas, a time of frantic preparation. It is a moment to just be still and reflect.

I don’t attend that church these days, but I still take time to reflect every Solstice and remind myself that lighter days are ahead.

This year the Solstice seemed both especially poignant and especially necessary. COVID has wreaked havoc on many lives. So many in my circle have lost loved ones this year. Some due to COVID, others for other natural reasons, but COVID took away our ability to gather and mourn in the way we all want and need to. Still others are hunkered down at home to protect themselves and loved ones, which brings all the pain and challenge of isolation, disruption of routine, and more.

It has just been a heavy year.

I started hearing about the “Christmas Star” (or Great Conjunction) a few weeks before Solstice. Again, the symbolism of Solstice, this unique astronomical happening, and the stars were literally aligned.

I also had it in my mind to go caroling this year. I say every year I want to sing for people more (and not just the poor people at the gym who have to hear me sing along to the soundtrack when I’m squatting). I don’t know why I expect opportunities to be a backup singer for Yacht Rock Revue to fall out of the sky. This Solstice I see I need to create those opportunities.

Who could I bring some light to? We decided to visit two special Moms who have had challenging years, each in their own ways.

I loaded my car and started the night by going out to see the Christmas Star. I went to a parking lot in a remote park about 15 minutes from my house. I was surprised to find about 25 other cars in the lot, all there to view this planetary wonder. I just took some time to quietly look and think about this year and its gifts.

Then, it was over the river and through the woods to the first grandmother’s house. A couple of friends and family members joined in. We dressed silly, I brought my sleigh bells and song books, and off we set to spread some cheer. Our living room concerts brought laughter and tears, smiles and singing along. We took requests. We flubbed the lyrics and stumbled over melodies. We jingled our bells, giggled, swayed and twinkled. In the end, we brought cheer and good tidings and light. On the way to grandmother two’s house we saw lights and so many other holiday sights.

Both these women have lived through this challenging year. They’ve made the most of it. I hope we brought some light and hope to their lives this December. I know their smiles and delight lifted me up. As one of them put it, when we said our goodbyes, “same time next year!”

It’s a date.

giving

Cheering People On Who Need It

You never know who it might be.

Maybe it’s the co-worker everyone finds annoying because they seem to be so hypersensitive about the pandemic and germs and social distancing and sanitizer.

Maybe it’s the colleague who shows up on time every day to his job, doesn’t necessarily go above and beyond but quietly and dutifully does what is required.

Maybe it’s the person who is constantly cheering everyone else on. Posting photos with wide smiles. Positive quotes.

I know each of these people. And I know they are each suffering in their own ways. Do you know these people? When you look around, really look, do you see them?

Yes, I have that co-worker who keeps his door closed. Who was afraid to come back to work and still has those fears but needs the income and benefits. Who people roll their eyes about in conversation because he wants his room cleaned multiple times per day.

So what did I do? I wrote him a thank you note. I complimented his work to my boss. I went out of my way to appreciate him. He is not having an easy time.

The person who is always positive? Once in a while she gives a glimpse into her struggles. She drops a hint. But then she keeps on encouraging. I see a bit of myself in her. Or the person I hope to be. I try to tell her often how much she is a light in my life. It reminds me of someone like Robin Williams, among others, who seemed so funny and light and full of life. Sometime there is struggle there. Who might be putting on a brave face?

It’s the “in the middle” or “under the radar” people I have been trying to look out for lately. Those who are just going through the motions. Nothing unusual. No big highs or red flags. Maybe they’re just kind of invisible.

How are they holding up? Are they barely holding it together? I worry about forgetting people. I worry about people feeling alone and forgotten. When I text to check in on someone and it’s been a month since I’ve heard, I know I need to do better.

I have the fatigue that many others do. The whole thing is wearing on me. My gratitude muscles are sort of flabby. They aren’t as strong as they used to be. I need to keep reaching, stretching, and extending them.

Look around you. Do you see any of these people? How can you give them a lift, show appreciation, let them know they are seen?

The holidays will continue. Think of some unique ways you can lift people up in these draggy times.

giving, health

Feeling Good

I’m feeling good today. The best I’ve been in a while. I’m firing on all cylinders and nobody is generally up my ass. Not sure how long this peaceful state will last but I’ll take it for even five to ten minutes.

Since I was feeling good today I thought I would write a post about being thankful since Thanksgiving is approaching. 

First and foremost I am thankful for my health. My general ability to rise each day and move freely without mobility restrictions.

I am then thankful for my family and friends. Without them I wouldn’t have the support I need to carry the heavy load I do each week. Each person is placed in my life for a reason not a season.

I am thankful for opportunities. The opportunity to serve others. The opportunity to inspire and motivate those around me.

The list goes on and on. Take some time to yourself and reflect on what and who you are thankful for this holiday. Drop a note, make a call, drop by for a visit and let your circle know how valued they are. This is free but many won’t do it.

Be thankful this year for something or someone. If you’re not thankful make a donation. Somebody will benefit and be thankful for you!

giving

The Gifts that Keep on Giving

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Since we’ve been at home more in recent days (following social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines), passing the time has presented challenges. Yup, to put it bluntly, at times we are just plain bored.

My daughter had been asking to go shopping for painting supplies for about a month, well before the virus hit our home state. Then, like many other families, we went from extremely busy to having very little to do, but unable to go out and get much of anything that isn’t truly necessary.

So, I started rummaging.

And out came…watercolor paints (metallic, matte, at least 4 sets!), watercolor pads (in 2 sizes!), paintbrushes, pastels.  Voila! Art is possible.

Where did it all come from? When my kids were younger, in addition to the toys and candy-stuffed eggs, I would always put an art supply or two in their Easter baskets. Who knows why?  Just to balance things out.  Most of these art supplies were left on the living room floor along with the torn candy wrappers and cracked plastic eggs.  I’d eventually tuck the artsy stuff in a drawer along with the ones from the year before and all the other art supplies I’d collected through years of teaching, student-ing, and projects galore. Now, it’s all coming out to play.

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In these times of slower pace and waiting, many people are taking up old-fashioned pleasures.

Friends are asking, too…the group chat question about sidewalk chalk…so many people are chalking messages of encouragement or just drawing on the driveway with extra time.  And, lo and behold, of course I have a shiny unopened box of 48 Crayola sidewalk chalks! (I’ve probably had it for 5 years!) Sure, I will share them! Don’t thank me, thank the Easter bunny! (and, okay, my hoarding tendencies…which this whole situation does not help, by the way. But that’s a different post.)

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(Seriously, that big box of sidewalk chalk is in this Easter photo from 2011. Yes, 2011!  Over a decade ago!  Yikes!!!)

Add in a long-ago purchased rolling table from Ikea that I never set up and presto, it’s our own little mobile art station.  And we’re using the portion of the chalk we kept to cheer up outside.

Making stuff and sharing art and time are doing our hearts and minds good.  When I think of Easter coming in a couple of weeks, I am not sure what it will look like.  But for now, we are celebrating and sharing with creativity, with gifts from Easters past that are suddenly gifts all over again.

How are you passing any idle time, in old ways or new? Board games, card games?  Share in the comments!