Are There Questions You Need to Change?

I remember when my mother was ill and near the end of her life, I tried to make an intentional change in the questions I asked.

This is what was different now: normal Q&A. “What are you doing this weekend?” “Do you have bridge club today?” “How’s your garden?” “When are you coming to Montgomery?”

Questions like that just weren’t a good fit under the circumstances. But this one question was the one that stood out: “How are you feeling today?” Or the variation: “Are you feeling better?”

There was just so much I was bringing to questions like these, and I knew she knew that. The answer I wanted was something like: “I’m fine. I’m getting better every day. This will be over soon.”

I could feel how complicated this was getting, and I could tell as well that putting pressure on her to give me the answer I wanted to hear wasn’t helpful.

So I tried to discipline myself to change the questions. It wasn’t easy. Because the instinct for “Are you better?” was strong.

I thought of this need to change the questions yesterday after I got home from volunteering with Respite Ministry. (This is the caregiver support ministry at First Methodist, where participants with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia spend four hours enjoying social, recreational and mental engagement while their caregivers get a respite.)

I had read about a storytelling process to create engagement without pressure – designed by an organization called TimeSlips – and I was glad to see that we were going to use that process in one of the activities.

Basically you show an image and ask people to use their imagination and tell a story about the image. It removes the pressure of “remember when we did this?” and creates an opportunity for engagement and interaction by changing the questions.

It’s similar to creative prompts I’ve done many times in coaching groups I’ve been in. You take yourself out of the way you usually do things and ask a different question, and for those moments of creativity, the imagination becomes a source of delight and joy.

It’s not easy to change the questions. But I did hear someone yesterday say, “That was fun. I enjoyed that.” I’m glad I had a chance to see how creativity brings moments of healing.   

How Do You Move Forward?

To get unstuck, take a step. / Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

I have long believed in the principle of incremental progress. That’s how I wrote a novel in 30 minutes – or rather in 30 minutes a day over a much longer period of time. I would get up a half hour earlier, work on a project that had a lot of meaning to me, then I’d dress and head to my other job.

When I was seeking an agent or publisher for that novel, I kept a list going of the next thing to try if my effort didn’t meet with success. I kept adding to the list as I went along – names of people to contact. That was where I fed my resilience: “If this thing doesn’t work out, I’ll do this other thing.” “If this person doesn’t respond, I’ll move on to the next one.”

Keeping the next step in focus is how I brought another publishing project down to size. When I felt overwhelmed by everything I needed to do to move an idea from manuscript to finished product, I could ask and answer smaller questions: “What size should the book be?” “How much space should be in the page gutters?” This process provided the sense of progress and accomplishment that kept me moving forward.

Also this was important: I had faith that the work had value. I had a belief that I was called for a purpose.

That’s the other thing needed for incremental progress – confidence that what you’re doing matters, that it makes a difference.

It does. If you’re called to a purpose, don’t stop. Keep going. If you’re stuck, start moving again.

Don’t worry how far you’ve got to go. If you’re doing the work you were designed to do, you’re already there. If you’re getting better at it, you’re on your way. If you have an idea, congratulations. Take a small step and rejoice.

How Do You Learn to Care about Others?

I was reading stories I wrote in my early days – high school, college and early adulthood. In these stories I can tell that I am trying to work through issues of faith, belief, morality, empathy. Writing has always been the way I work through the puzzles of life. These are the rough drafts of who I will become and how I will find meaning.    

The puzzle of empathy was one of the things that stood out in my re-reading. I remembered that an elderly relative passed away when I was a young child. I didn’t know her well or relate to her personally, so I didn’t understand the sadness that people felt when she died.

In the first draft of a 30-year-old story, “Jesus Is a Big Name for a Little Girl,” I had written about someone else’s loss then concluded: “I know you can be sad for other people if you really think about it hard, but it’s just easier to push it all away. It just is.”

I am a whole lot older now, and I can see what I am trying to figure out. How do you hold your heart open to what other people are experiencing?

I had a chance to do that this week when I volunteered with First Methodist’s Respite Ministry, where participants are in various stages of dementia. I sat next to someone deeply loved by her family, and I could feel the desire for this time at Respite to go well for her. My heart opened in the presence of someone else’s treasure.

Perhaps empathy is aided by recognizing that everyone is loved by someone and certainly by our heavenly Father, if earthly connections have gone awry. Is there a way today that you can care for someone loved by someone else?

What Are You Asking Today?

Thirty years ago my short story, “Jesus Is a Big Name for a Little Girl,” was published in a Christian youth magazine. I had returned to church in my young adult life, and I was sorting through various feelings about that experience. Is this a good fit, or is it not? In some ways I still ask myself that question.

There’s a section in the short story that reads: “All I can figure is that you can’t let Jesus in your heart without letting the whole world in too. I mean, it’s not like He’s going to sneak into the backdoor. I would think He would throw the doors wide open, walk right in, announce Himself, and say ‘and here are some of My friends.’ Then, one by one, every person you meet for the rest of your life comes into your heart too because Jesus keeps inviting them in. I just really don’t think that Jesus wants to stay in your heart all by Himself. It would be a lot easier if He would, but I don’t think that’s the way it works.”

Since then, I have rewritten this same story several times. I continue to work through the same issues. Is this a good fit, or is it not? Where is my place within the faith? Frederick Beuchner’s famous quote hits home: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is.”

I continue to ask, seek and knock. How about you?

Are You Ready to Begin Again?

This morning there’s a kid waiting for the school bus at the corner of my street. He stands silent at this early hour – ready with backpack and pencils and notebooks and what have you, and waiting for the next year’s experience.

His life story is still in its first few chapters. I hope this story will go well for him.

This world is a tough place. Knowing how to read will help. Bumping up math skills is useful. A knowledge of history provides context. Science leads to discovery. Insight into who he is and what he’s meant to do, however, will provide the frame for applying what he is learning.

I hope this will go well for him.

The earliest moments of life begin with optimism. Babies don’t enter the world saying, “Is this all there is?” Belief that we’re here for a purpose and that good things are ahead is a lot easier to grasp.

Struggles intervene over the years, certainly. But knowing your purpose makes the losses, changes and transitions easier. Or if not easier, at least more meaningful. Tying your purpose to the larger story helps you see that there’s still beauty to behold, and you can see that beauty as your own story unfolds.

The kid on my street has been at the bus stop before – for several years now – and it’s time for him to begin again. How about you?

Who’s Telling Your Story?

I was talking to a colleague earlier who was asking very generally about my help with articles for his website. Trying to figure out the most efficient process, I asked, “Do you want to write over what I begin? Or do you want me to write over what you begin?”

This is about creating a stem of a story. For some people, resistance comes when you face a blank screen. But if the words have already begun to be formed, you’ll get prodded into a reaction: “Wait, that’s not who I am. That’s not what I want to say. I want to go in a new direction.” So you start making edits that bring your own thoughts to fruition.

The other way is when you know what you want to say. You just don’t have time to finesse your point. So you jot down your stem – the heart of the matter – and a copywriter finishes your thought and smooths out your creative process.

Shifting the business point to the personal, some of us need help telling our story. We get overwhelmed by the minutia of daily demands that we don’t take time to dig into the details and draw out the meaning. Yet the beauty, joy, worthiness and belonging that have been with us from the beginning are there to be found. Watch and see.

Is There a Dream You Can’t Give Up?

“Is this it? Is this all there is?”

My first boss told me I would ask myself that question. I was an advertising copywriter at an ad agency. This was my dream job. I loved the work. My entry level salary, however, was low. When I had a chance to leave the agency and take a job in state government, I turned in my notice.

That’s when my boss said to me, “You’ll be back. You think you’ll be happy getting out from all these deadlines and all this pressure, but one day you’ll look around and say, ‘Is this it? Is this all there is?’ And you’ll be back.”

He was a smart man. I didn’t like working in state government. I eventually came back… if not to an ad agency to being an independent copywriter.

I have been pursuing my creative purpose for a long time. I wrote and published a novel. I tried my hand at art and oil painting. I created videos. I worked in mixed media. I painted mini-portraits of children.

There’s one reason I could never stop doing what I do: this is how I am designed.

Is there a dream you can’t give up… that you are still trying to bring to fruition? When you are drawn to a career or to a calling, it’s hard to walk away even when the going gets tough. One thing that can help is to not focus so much on how far you’ve got to go, but on how far you’ve already come.

TAKEAWAY: Is the story you’re telling yourself how far you’ve got to go, or how close you’ve already come? How close are you to the dream you’d like to achieve?

Did You See that Close Call?

I’ve been working on a project this summer. I was getting so close and it was almost done. Then I had a scare.

On Sunday morning, I was headed to the 8:30 church service. I exited at Union Street and stopped at the traffic signal. When the light turned green, I moved forward. Then I slammed on my breaks as hard as I could.

A car was speeding up Union, not even slowing at the red light. He or she barreled through just a short distance away from the front of my car.

I escaped contact. I did not have a wreck. I was not injured. I did not go to the hospital, or worse. I was not even sore. I was not out a deductible or the use of my car. I did not experience a big insurance headache (auto or health).

Nothing bad happened to me. Not a single thing.

I continued to move through the rest of my day. But I knew I’d faced an almost. A close call. A “could have been bad.”

I know that’s true because the man who was in the car behind me was also headed to the same church. He came up to me in the sanctuary and said, “I thought I was going to be presiding over your funeral.”  

He said, “God was on your side.”

That was such a sweet thing to hear because that thought is in the project I’m working on, the one I wanted to finish that is almost ready.

I get a chance to do that. Because I’ve been working on it this week, and it’s even more “almost ready” since Sunday.

Now it’s “really almost ready.”

I can’t wait to tell you about it.

In any case, on Monday, when I received the email with the church prayer list, I opened it up and reviewed the names with concerns. I was so thankful that my own name was not anywhere to be seen. How glorious to not be on that list.

I think many of us are aware that we have missed some close calls but don’t know when or what they might have been. I just happened to see mine. To have been a witness. And I was able to turn that experience into a great appreciation for being able to walk back into my house and say hey to Trixie.

Uninjured, unbroken, not even sore.

Hope you’re enjoying your magnificent journey this week. I sure am enjoying mine.

— Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 14

What Would Your PowerPoint Be About?

Do you ever think about how little bits of your heart and pieces of your knowledge and wisdom from your experiences are, let’s say, leaking out of you as you carry on through your day?

By leaking, I mean it’s not something you’re intentionally doing, where you announce:

“Here, take these little bits of my heart and pieces of my knowledge and wisdom from my experience and apply it to this situation.”

Because it seems that launching a lecture series isn’t always well received, though I’m sure we’ve all got a PowerPoint within us that we could take on the road.

My personal expertise, for example, ranges from “How to Get Gas at Costco with the Most Efficiency” to “Don’t Set Your Phone on the Floor at Planet Fitness.”

Probably someone out there has a series on “Why the Left Lane Is the Passing Lane.” Or “How to Avoid Letters from the Homeowners Association (It’s Not that Hard).”  

But anyway, this leaking is not like pushing out a lot of information in a PowerPoint. It’s more like someone in your office asks, “What should we do?” They turn to you because they figure you know an answer that can help.

Or maybe you taught your kids something important, a high value for you, and you see them applying it in their own lives.

Or just as humbling if you reach a certain age, a parent is sorting through an option and asks, “What do you think?”

You might be surprised how much of your heart, your knowledge and your experience has already gotten out there. Hopefully we’d all be surprised (because if our influence were easy to count or track, that number might be a bit low).  

So I’m just saying, keep going… keep helping, advising, serving.

Because it’s getting out there, day by day.

And what you’re doing has value.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 13

P.S. If you did a PowerPoint of your expertise, what topics would you cover?

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash  

How Do You Become Who You Are Meant to Be?

The other night I watched a movie called Shooting Star. Available through Amazon Prime, this is an independent, subtitled film from South Africa but easy enough to read your way through.  

Phillip Schuman, apparently a real person, was a piano prodigy whose mother was dying of cancer and whose father forbid him from playing the piano. Phillip pays a high price for the childhood pain his own father never resolved. Yet he senses and believes that the higher price would be to abandon his gifts. Indeed Phillip needs music as much as he needs air or water or food, and he cannot resist or bury this call inside. On brick steps, he draws the chalk outline of piano keys to help him with his compositions. He completes them in his bedroom, nowhere near the locked-away instrument.

You can imagine what this is like for him – the complex emotions he feels for the unbelieving father who is denying him the life he is called to live, and for the mother who believes in him and prays for him even as her own life is slipping away.  

There are religious elements in the story similar to the manner in which faith was treated in Chariots of Fire or Unbroken – as part of a real life dealing with real struggles.

You want to ask the father, “Don’t you see what you are doing here?” He does see, actually. He sees that he has become the father he promised himself he would never become. Yet he did. The price is terrible.  

There are two struggles often at work in our lives – the kind of questions that fill a night sky when someone looks to the heavens and wonders what is ahead. How do you become the person you are meant to become? How do you keep from becoming the person you have promised yourself you would never be?

Both of these questions are asked but not answered in this poignant film. That’s found in the living and choosing that become the answers.

“A shooting star doesn’t mind the dark; isn’t scared of falling, or of going its own way, isn’t afraid of standing out above the rest,” Phillip explains to a friend. A shooting star becomes what it was always intended to be – a light shining in the darkness. That is certainly something we all need to see.

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 3, Issue 12

Photo by Hugo Kemmel on Unsplash