Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Should You Quit While You're Ahead? ~ Life Lessons From The Olympics

Phelps with one of his
Beijing Gold Medals
Have you been following the Olympics? If you have then you saw the unthinkable happen in the pool Saturday. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, head to head in the 400m IM (That's the one where they go back and forth four times with four different strokes.) Phelps and Lochte were expected to duel it out for gold and silver, leaving everyone else to chase the bronze.

That isn't what happened.

Instead, Phelps barely scraped into the finals and didn't manage to make it onto the medal stand at all.

Does that less than spectacular showing take anything away from his stellar performance four years ago?

Or consider Nastia Liukin, the winner of the gold medal in women's gymnastics individual all around competition in Beijing. She attempted to make the team again this year and was unsuccessful.

Nastia Liukin at 2008
National Championships
(Photo by TheBostonianLonghorn)
Do people now think less of her as a gymnast because she was unable to achieve the same thing she had four years prior?

Unfortunately, for some people it does.

I was sitting next to my brother when Phelps touched the wall fourth in his race. He remarked, "Well, there goes Phelps."

Two of the most amazing athletes of the past decade and their memory could be forever marred by the fact that their last attempts were not as incredible as their most successful one.

That begs the question, should you quit while you're ahead? For most things, I think no. If you're a person who gambles, however, it's probably pretty sound advice.

Personally, I applaud Liukin and Phelps for continuing in their sports. Why should an incredible accomplishment mark the end of a career?

What if JK Rowling never wrote another book? What is George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had stopped making movies after their first big hits?

No one expects actors to stop acting just because they won an Oscar, so I'm not sure where this idea that athletes should stop at the height of their game came from. I don't think we should ever stop doing what we are passionate about and what we love.

What do you think? Has Phelps diminished in your view because of his loss? Do you think people should stop while they're ahead, leaving the last impression as a spectacular one?

Friday, July 27, 2012


So I know I'm supposed to be turning some mundane experience into an insightful and interesting life lesson. Today, however, I can only offer you this...


Yes, people, the Olympics starts today and I could not be more excited. I adore the Olympics. I don't really watch sports any other time. Even the same sports that occur during the Olympics don't grip me - though I'll watch the occasional gymnastics competition. There's just something about the Olympics... Every two years I soak it all up.

So get ready, faithful readers! There will probably be a few extra posts coming your way over the next two weeks. And you can join me over on my Facebook page where I'll be glad to discuss the events surrounding the rings with you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Future Is Bright

I spent last week cut off from the world at camp with teenagers from my church. Yes, my blog still posted, but they were scheduled ahead of time. I spent the week with no internet or computer. No real contact at all except for a daily phone call to check on my children. 

When we got back in town Friday afternoon, it was to discover that tragedy had occurred while we were in our little bubble. The horror of the Colorado shootings clashed with the glow of returning from camp. 

If you ever went to church camp as a teen or have been around students at your church when they return, you know the glow I'm talking about. Like Moses after he conversed with God, these teens radiate the effects of their encounter with Christ. They have learned new truths, discovered new convictions, and faced fears and issues that the busyness of the real world has let them ignore for far too long. 

When you hear the stories of the shooter and everything that happened in that theater, it's so easy to wonder what has happened to the world. If we're not careful, we can fall into the trap of thinking that the future is bleak and God is not in it. 

What else are we to think when nowhere is sacred, nothing is guaranteed safe? Schools, movies, political speeches, all of them sources of horrific violence by young people. It's easy to look at the younger generation and be scared. 

But we shouldn't be. 

I spent the week with about sixty teenagers. 

Sixty teenagers that spent their week building Habitat for Humanity homes, painting fingernails at nursing homes, cleaning houses of the elderly, and eating lunch with the homeless. 

Sixty teenagers that gave up cell phones, mirrors, and air conditioning for a chance to get closer to Jesus.

Sixty teenagers that climbed the mountain, bowed before God and their fellow students, and vowed to be different, to be Daniels in this world. 

I watched teenage girls kneel and wash each other's feet in forgiveness. 

I saw tears as a young man stood before his peers and apologized for his "stupid teenage actions" and vowed to be a man. 

I witnessed young people encouraging and building one another up when they hardly knew each other, instead of tearing each other down and trying to impress everyone with the best insult or cutting remark. 

I've worked with teenagers for ten years. I am aware that many of these students will fall back in to a few of their old habits. The convictions of camp may not hold up to the pressure of school when it starts back in a few weeks. But some of it will. Pieces of it will hold fast and some will stand a little taller, speak a little louder, and change their little corner of the world. 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking our future is doomed, that God is forgotten by the younger generation. 

I have seen the face of the future and it is glorious. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Turns Out Freud Was Right ~ Life Lessons from Public Restrooms

While Freud may have stretched logic and been a bit of a nut job about some things, it is certainly true that things you see and experience as a child stick with you and shape who you are as an adult. Sometimes without you even realizing it.

My Public Restroom Rule

Had someone asked me, and I really stopped to think about it, I'm sure I would have realized my public restroom usage issues a long time ago. As it happens, it didn't really come to light until my oldest was potty training.

No, I don't have an issue using a public restroom. Unless the seat is, um, wet, or something inherently gross like that, I don't even get the willies about the actual using of them.

My hang up has more to do with the establishment in which the restroom is housed. I have to be a customer. I must buy something while I'm there. It's a compulsion. Be it a gas station or a fast food restaurant, a purchase must be made or I find it physically impossible to walk back out to the car.

The first time I took my daughter into a gas station to relieve herself, I came out with a pack of those miniature powdered donuts for my husband. After several minutes staring at the donuts, he just looked at me and asked, "Why?" To me, the answer was simple, "Because we used their restroom." To him, I was just weird.

The Exceptions To The Rule

After that, I started paying more attention. Curiosity prompted me to consider if there were times I could use a facilities restroom and not make a purchase. I was surprised to learn the many exceptions to my self-imposed rule.

1. "Shopping" Stores
Generally speaking, unless you're a teenager traveling with your youth group, you don't browse a gas station. You don't stroll the aisles, casually shopping. You go in, get what you want, and get out.

Lots of stores are the opposite. Department stores, for example. Plenty of people go in, look around, and leave without making a single purchase. I have no problem using the restroom without making a purchase in these stores.

2. Rest Areas
Not a single compulsion to hit the vending machine. I don't even feel a need to use the water fountain.

3. Large Stores
I feel a bit of a twinge when I go in a grocery store, but it is easily suppressed and I can go in, do my business, and get out.

4. Busy Stores
This one, I think, surprised me the most. If a fast food restaurant is six or seven people deep in line, I can use the restroom and leave without a care in the world.

All of this got me thinking about why I end up with stockpiled Starbursts and drink cups in my car.

It's All My Dad's Fault

See? It's getting Freudian here. Turns out, it all goes back to my dad and stories he told about growing up. For a while, my grandfather owned a service station and my dad would often work the counter.

He really hated watching people come in, use the restroom, and leave without buying anything. That meant that he didn't go anywhere without being a customer. Normally, we would be purchasing gas or food anyway so it wasn't an issue, but somewhere along the way it sunk into my psyche and I am now physically incapable of using the restroom in an establishment where someone can see that I didn't patronize the store.

It's weird, but there you have it.

The Benefit of Knowing Why

Now that I know why I feel this way, I can manage it. I select my establishments with better care. I consider my purchasing options as I pull into the parking lot. I know all the cheapest items at our usual locations. (Our second is recently potty trained. We have to stop at least once a trip and there's no telling her to "hold it".)

While this is a funny example - my husband laughs at me for it all the time - it shows that digging down to the root of our idiosyncrasies can sometimes help us manage them.

Do you always have to sit in the same spot at church? Can you only park in pull-through spots? Does everything have to be clean before you can leave the house?

These compulsions are not always a bad thing. It's not a bad thing to be the customer of a place where you are using the restroom. However, anything that you can't control about yourself can haunt you or hurt you at a later time. For example, our budget is really tight and we really don't need to spend $10 a month on candy and drinks.

Many times things that are ingrained to the point of compulsion will take a lot of digging to find the root cause. But it's worth it to know that you can take back control of your decisions and your life.

Even if it is only in the area of public restrooms.

What about you? Do you have any strange compulsions? What created them?

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

That Crazy English Language ~ What Almost Kept Me From Becoming A Writer

Confession time! I don't know how to diagram a sentence. I don't actually know what a participle is, dangling or otherwise. Whatever it is that makes a tense perfect eludes me completely.

In short, other than spelling, the crazy ins and outs of the English language and it's accompanying grammar befuddle me. I think it's a combination of the fact that it's complicated and that I've never learned it.

My husband can't even spell, so he frequently bemoans our native language.

I saw this picture on Facebook last week:

I laughed so hard because it is completely true! 

The thing is, the intricacies and absurdities of the language kept me from pursuing writing for years. I have always wanted to write. I have a box of stories and book projects from when I was in school, but somewhere along the way, the passion to write got dampened by my inability to properly place a comma. 

Now, nearly twenty years after my first attempt to write a novel, I've learned something. You can't let what you can't do keep you from doing what you can do, especially if it's something you love. Most of the time what you can't do, is something you can learn or can bring someone in to help you with. 

What have you wanted to do but felt a major roadblock stood in your way? Did you find a way to move it?

Because of spammer problems I have had to close the comments on this post. I apologize for the inconvenience. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Would I Do This If.... ~ Life Lessons from Chemistry

High school had a lot of chemistry. Sometimes we even learned about it in the classroom.

Like most people, I took a chemistry class that had a classroom portion and a lab portion. One of the more interesting things I saw in lab was litmus paper. When litmus paper is dipped in acid it turns red, when it encounters a base it turns blue. It's a simple test to help you identify what you're working with.

Life Needs More Litmus

We need litmus tests in life. Ideally, we'll hold everything up to the Bible Sometimes that's easy. There are verses that pretty clearly speak out against going on a drunken bender or sleeping around. Other times is can be difficult. God didn't have Paul write a letter to the future church about how to drive or what books to read or what to watch on TV.

This is where I think litmus tests are valuable. Gauges that we use to keep us from crossing a line. These can be determined ahead of time, when our thinking is clear, instead of in the heat of the moment, when that movie looks really appealing and we have to decide whether or not to watch it.

Selecting A Test

When selecting your Life Litmus, it needs to meet the following criteria:

1. It needs to be important to you. If the test doesn't mean anything to you, it won't be strong enough to grab your attention when you need it to.

2. It needs to be simple. Litmus paper is either red or blue. Yes or No questions work best as litmus tests. If your test is too complicated, it's easy to justify your way around it.

3. It needs to hold you accountable. If your test includes consequences such as disappointing looks from (enter your chosen celebrity here) and you don't actually know that person, your test is pretty invalid. Because the potential consequences are never going to happen.

4. It needs to keep you holy.  Select a test that's going to keep you as close to Biblical principles as possible. Avoid the world's standards.

An Example

When I was in high school, I developed a litmus test for my television watching. If I couldn't sit with my parents and watch a show, then I didn't need to be watching it. I remember a distinct moment when this test forced me to drop a show I had been watching for years.

I used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Several seasons in, I was watching an episode with my dad and all I wanted to do was change the channel. The show had degraded (or I had matured... probably a bit of both) to the point that it no longer passed the test. I gave it up.

Now my test is my husband. Can I watch the show while holding hands with my husband on the couch? Would I take him to see this movie with me?

Why We Need It

Life is easy to get caught up in. We get distracted by our friends or forget to stop and think things through. We need a gut check, a way to keep ourselves on the right path.

Because life doesn't have a rewind button.

Suggestions for Litmus Tests

There are a few tests I think everyone needs. Think about your life, consider your priorities, and make some tests for yourself in these areas.

1. Media Television, movies, music, and other forms of entertainment are really easy to get swept up in. And you can't unsee/unhear anything. Once it's in your head, Satan can remind you of it at the least convenient moments.

2. Social Media Cyberspace is forever. Have a test you consider before you update your status or post that picture. Job opportunities have been lost because of indiscreet postings on facebook. Mine is leftover from the corporate world. When I worked for a large company, we had the New York Times test. Would it be okay if that email you're about to send got published on the front page of the New York Times? If not, don't send it. That one has worked really well for me.

3. Hangouts This can include companions and locations. Falling in with the wrong crowd will get you in more trouble faster than anything else. Have a test to keep you from falling in the first place.

Do you have litmus tests? Are you creating some? I'd love for you to share them in the comments below.

Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Trip Down Fantasy Lane ~ Peek At My Bookshelf

The book I'm highlighting today is not written from a Christian perspective. Please use your own discretion when choosing your reading material. 

Today I'm taking you on a journey into the imagination. I've always had an affinity for fairy tales. Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, these were all stories that fascinated me growing up and then again as an adult.

If you love fairy tales, then you need to check out some of Robin McKinley's older books. She has reworked several classic stories with a novel twist. While I highly recommend both of her renditions of Beauty and the Beast (books entitled Beauty and Rose Daughter) my favorite is Spindle's End which is based off the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Spindle's End takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and turns it on it's head. Unlike traditional versions of the story, the protective fairy godmothers have no connection to the royal family and gain the custodianship of the princess almost by accident.

I don't wish to ruin the book for anyone, so I will simply tell you that everything from the gifts bestowed by other fairy godmothers to the confrontation with the evil fairy gets a unique twist. Romance, friendship, family, and community are entertwined with communicating animals and a magic-infested land in a quirky, fresh story.

Robin McKinley with her hellhounds. 
Robin McKinley was unable to stop by today, but you can learn more about her and her life in England filled with gardening, dogs, and handbells by visiting her webpage. Visit her FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and enjoy reading her rather long-winded but entertaining answers to questions such as "Where do you get your ideas?" and "If you weren't a writer what would you be?"

Some of my favorite giggles came with the questions "Why are all your answers so long?" and "Will you read my manuscript?"

If you're looking for something new to read and enjoy the fantasy genre, pick up a copy of Spindle's End.

Do you read any fantasy? Have you read Spindle's End or a different Robin McKinley book before?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Something is Better Than Nothing ~ Life Lessons from Sunscreen

One of my boyfriends in college loved The Sunscreen Song. If you've never heard it, it's a collection of advice to young people (couched as a commencement address) that starts with the admonition to wear sunscreen.

Sunscreen is one of those things that we all know we are supposed to use but rarely do. It wasn't that I was opposed to wearing sunscreen or had a burning (pun intended) desire to acquire a tan. I suppose it was sheer laziness and the avoidance of the yucky greasy feeling it left on my skin. Even after I washed my hands, my hot dog bore traces of artificial coconut and whatever other overbearing scent they put in to try to make the stuff more appealing.

I was delighted when spray sunscreen made an appearance on the market. I brought home of can of Coppertone Sport, telling my husband that it was one of the best inventions ever.

Is it a worthy substitute? 

Now, I know there's a lot of discussion around whether spray sunscreen is better than lotion sunscreen. When I looked it up, the basic answer seems to be no. Both sunscreens are capable of protecting your skin from most of the harmful spectrum of sunlight.

However, nothing in life is ever that simple. The many factors of spray sunscreen - such as wind carrying excessive amounts off and people being unsure of where they've put it or how much they've really put on - can effect it's usefulness. There's also the question of whether or not breathing in little particles of sunscreen stuff is bad for you. And you are going to breathe them in. Unless you hold your breath while you spray and then run away breathing heavily out of your nose and mouth. Wouldn't that be a fun sight on your next beach trip?

It certainly beats the alternative. 

Here's what I know about my sunscreen usage:

By Kelly Sue DeConnick via Wikimedia Commons
- I go through five or six bottles of spray sunscreen every summer. And I mean big bottles. Bought them at Costco in a multipack kind of bottles.

- I threw away my last bottle of lotion-type sunscreen during a cabinet clean out three years ago. At the time is was nearly seven years old. At that age it was utterly useless as a sunscreen, but it does indicate the change in my level of usage.

Some of that increased usage is due to maturity and realizing that if I put on sunscreen I can enjoy my outing and not be miserable for the next six days. Shocking isn't it? But a lot of it is related to the fact that it is now easy and not yucky to put on the sunscreen.

So if my option is to buy lotion and not put it on and burn or buy spray and miss a spot or two and just have a couple square inches of burn... I'll buy the spray.

Same goes for Spiritual Sonscreen

Wow. That subtitle is really sad, in a cutesy kind of way. Think I'll keep it.

photo by www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Anyway, the same is true in our spiritual life. Yes, it would be fabulous if you read through the Bible entirely every year and spent a full hour on your knees before you started your day so you and God could be set up to commune for the next twenty-four hours. That's the ideal and if you can do it - more power to you. Literally.

But what if you can't? What if, despite every good intention you have ever possessed you turn off the alarm clock in your sleep or hit snooze until you're rushing to the car and scarfing down coffee on your way to work, hoping there will be donuts and bagels at the morning meeting because you missed breakfast. Again.

What if you finally find time to sit down and crack open the Bible, but it doesn't happen until evening and the kids keep popping out of bed for water or bathroom trips or scary dreams and over the course of an hour you read seven verses and a prayer that God helps you not to kill your children?

Something is better that nothing. 

photo by www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It's okay. Some days you'll get more in than others, some days you won't. But if you don't get anything in, then there will never be days when you manage to get full coverage, so to speak. If you've been doing nothing and you start by listening to a devotional podcast (I have several I can recommend, by the way) then at least you've taken a step forward.

You can build up to studying the podcast passage on your own over lunch or maybe even discussing it with your roommate or spouse.

The point is, that it's better to get a little bit than nothing at all.

What about you? Do you wear sunscreen? Do you have an easy time getting that daily God connection in or do you scramble to get minimum exposure?

Today, you can have a double dose of my savvy blogging. I'm also over on Regency Reflections today! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Lure of Free

This is a "thinking out loud" kind of post, so it's a bit rambly. My apologies. 

Do you download free e-books? Take free samples at the store? What is it about "free" stuff that makes us so giddy?

I was reminded this week that sometimes you get what you pay for. Free e-books are a big draw for me. I download several a week. Yesterday I started reading one and couldn't make it past the third page. It was pretty clear that the author had rushed the book to self-publication without having it edited by, well, anyone. It switched back and forth from past to present tense, the name of one of the characters changed, and in general the book was a bit hapless.

So I downloaded a different free book.

What makes the word "free" such a draw for us? I am so guilty of picking things up just because they were free, even though I didn't need them, want them, or have any use for them. They were free, so I took them. Just in case.

I sometimes think it's the laziness that makes us want something for nothing, until I see people willing to stand in line for hours to get the free gift for the first 100 customers at an after Thanksgiving sale. Most of the time if you divide the value of the item by the number of hours spent waiting or working for it, the person made less than minimum wage.

But it was free.

Or was it? I think we need to adjust our gauge of what is "free". Too many of us think about only the money aspect. Do we value our time so little? Our friendships?

I have friends that I have hidden on Facebook because they were constantly bombarding me with requests from little Facebook games to come join in the play. If you haven't ever played one of these games, to advance you have to collect certain items - a cow, paint, whatever - and you can either buy these items or get them for free by sending friend requests to people.

So the virtual item is free at the expense of driving your friends insane with more Facebook game requests.

I challenge you to adjust your definition of "free". Will it clutter up your home, stealing your peace of mind and comfort? Will it distract you from what you really enjoy? Will it require you to invest large amounts of time for a reward you don't really want? (Like Free Puppies. That sign always makes me laugh. That puppy is anything but free!)

Remember that more things in life have value than just money.

What is something you got for free that was more hassle than it was worth?