If I pause and reflect daily, I might get an inaccurate representation of how things are going. A bad day could feel like the world is falling apart. One good day could give me an inflated sense of self and delusional success. But a friend reminded me that reflecting at the end of every week and at the end of every month is frequent enough to make important changes, and infrequent enough to see patterns, and the bigger trend of how life is going. It smooths out the bad and the good and reveals a trend line.
Things are trending in the right direction. Lessons are being learned. Decisions are being made. And along the way I’m feeding the birds, buying the flowers, making the sandwich and becoming a regular. Now if only I could learn to go of the never returned Gameboy from my childhood…
Lesson 1: Feed the birds.
Sitting outside during the spring and summer months, I paid more attention to the birds. What they looked like and sounded like. I allowed myself to slow down in the morning as I read my Bible and asked God to help me see the world he created that was right in front of me. They became a small source of joy. And of course now it’s Illinois ice-winter. Cold and blustery. But the little birds that live in my overgrown trees have stuck around. I bought a bag of bird seed and I fill little bowls I leave on my porch for them. When it snows I see little bird prints clearly hopping around the table I set for them. Our friend’s son noticed the last time they were over, and he made me a bird house. It is one of my favorite gifts. And now sits right next to the birdseed.
Don’t over complicate it. Don’t tell yourself it’s silly. Yes, I feed the birds. I’m not even 40. It brings me joy. I do not have to apoligize for that or feel silly about it. I can learn from all of God’s creation. God sustains them every day. He sustains me, too.
2. Be a regular.
We need advocates. The people who show up. The people who know us. Who come back. Who bring friends.
There is a relatively new restaurant/bar not far from where I work. In the summer, I walked down the hill and ate at their picnic tables outside. When we could be inside, I sat at the bar. When we couldn’t, I got takeout for the team over lunch.
Last week, with indoor dining being an allowable thing again where I live, a friend and I met for drinks. We chatted with the bartender and the staff. The kitchen was experimenting because it was slow. We got to taste their creation. It was awesome. We got to encourage them. They offered to name the sandwich after us. I can’t wait until it hits the menu. I’ll tell everyone about it.
Why? Because we all need an ambassador. Someone who cheers us on. Who sticks around when times are weird. Not because we get a sandwich with our name on it. But because they are a business made of people and all people are valuable… worthy of time and effort and support.
Possibly not a popular opinion, but instead of spreading a little love everywhere, pick a place and go deep. Find a restaurant or bar (or two) that is not a chain, not a franchise. A local business doing their best that you genuinely love and would hate to see be another statistic of a folded-their-cards-couldn’t-make-it-any-longer.
Be their ambassador. Over time, try everything on the menu. When they can allow in person, go and encourage the staff. When they can’t, order takeout, and encourage the staff. Post about them. Be their ambassador. Be their cheerleader. Every business is made of people.
Love the people in your community through your loyalty and advocacy.
3. Make the sandwich.
Sundays are prep day.
- I read the Bible for a long time. I take my time. I’m preparing for the week, filling my head with God’s words.
- I plan out dinners. When work days are long, there is no brain space left and takeout is inevitable. Unless I chop the veggies, organize the fridge and stick a lovely note for myself of what to cook (or eat as leftovers) each day.
- I lay out my clothes. Sure some mornings I change my mind, but I don’t want to wake up any earlier than I have to. By doing this I also know I have enough clean <insert clothing item here> and don’t have to do another load of laundry last minute.
- I forget to do these things some weeks. It happens. I forgive myself.
- I make the sandwich. I have the best of intentions. I’ll come home! And then I don’t. Because… “things”. So I make the sandwich. For me. For my husband. He doesn’t ask. He doesn’t expect it. It’s a way I lovingly surprise him when he hasn’t left his desk at work, and there is a little something to give him energy, with his name on it.
Chop the veggies. Plan the meal. Make the sandwich.
4. Let it go.
My mom found a fanny pack I used as a kid, that perfectly held my Gameboy and all its games (and batteries because chargers weren’t a thing yet). This little relic of 80s fashion accompanied me on every snowmobile trip to northern Wisconsin. It was my companion on the five and a half hour car ride. It was the holder of my quarters when we went snowmobiling, from bar to bar where I learned to play pool, darts and waste countless dollars on the claw machine.
Seeing this lovely faded fanny pack sparked a memory… in High School I let my boyfriend’s his little brother borrow my Gameboy and all of my games for a family trip they were going on.
Not too long after, boyfriend broke up with me (ridiculous story I’ll tell another time). Most importantly, I never got the Gameboy back! I never got the games back! You can tell by the exclamation points that I’m still a little bitter. I REALLY need to let it go. I know this. But I’m nostalgic. I still have my original Nintendo, an original working Sony Walkman, an abundance of Beanie Babies I should have sold… and a host of other silly things because they make me smile or laugh when I look at them.
Chris was a terrible boyfriend. But I did the right thing. I loved his family, and his little brother through a small act of sharing.
5. Keep going.
I burned quinoa tonight. If you don’t know what quinoa (keen-wah) is, it’s like little balls of rice, sort of. It’s a grain. It’s typically good for you. It’s REALLY easy to cook. I messed it up because I wasn’t paying attention. My kitchen smells atrocious.
Look, some days you’ll mess it up. You won’t pay enough attention. You’ll wish you could re-word what you said. Unsend an email. Take back a comment. Turn off the stove sooner. You’ll wish you had returned a phone call faster. Spent more time with someone.
Time will keep going. The world will keep going. So you… please keep going, too. You’ll make mistakes and that’s okay. You’ll burn quinoa. You’ll miss a voicemail. You’ll miss a deadline. Here’s a secret… EVERYONE makes mistakes every day. Every. Day. Don’t let their highlight reels confuse you. Keep going. You have ambassadors. They may be quiet but they see you, they’re praying for you, they are on your side.
6. Buy the flowers.
ALDI has $3.99 small bouquets of flowers every day. I buy them every Saturday. I trim the ones from the week before that I think can make it a little longer. Together they make a beautiful hodgepodge on my dining room table.
It brings me joy. Like the bird footprints in the snow.
Some days are going to be amazing. Some days are going to be tough. Others will be remarkably mediocre. Find something small that makes you smile. Put it in a place you can’t ignore. Don’t discount its power to give you strength and courage and joy.
7. Habits > Goals
This could be a controversial one, so hear me out first.
I LOVE goals. I love To-Do Lists. Especially ones with checkboxes. Resolutions. Targets. (I can’t hit a dart board accurately to save my life but I still love targets.)
But I’ve noticed the things that have really helped me, that have really sustained me, that have resulted in the most growth… have not been setting and hitting goals. It’s been habits.
January 1, 2020 I decided to start a new daily ritual that became a habit. There were days I missed. Then I jumped back on.
I started reading the Bible. Genesis 1 on January 1. I didn’t try to read a chapter every day, I wasn’t trying to finish it in a year. The only task was to read a little bit every morning and take notes. To learn the story. In context. With context. To read God’s words with context, not as snippets and memes. That’s it.
Some mornings I woke up early. Other mornings I slept in. Some times I read a chapter, other times an entire book. Some days it made sense. Other days I was entirely confused. There were occasions I sat outside and watched the sun rise. There were frigid Midwest mornings I sat on my window bench inside as the snow fell.
I did it before and during the pandemic.
It is now February 2, 2021. I just started Ezekiel. I’m 59.7% of the way through the entire Christian bible. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, I’m still in the Old Testament after a year. I haven’t even gotten to Jesus yet. I don’t know how ya’ll “Bible in a Year” people do it.
But I’m at the beginning of a major prophet, who is telling people what God told him to say. He’s saying it to a bunch of people who ignored and abandoned God prior to this moment and are going through really rough times now (because of that). God tells Ezekiel what to tell them, and what to keep telling them, even if they don’t listen. (Spoiler, they do not listen.)
But I’m trying really hard to listen. This little habit led me to a lot of time to reflect. A lot of time to pray. To plan. To wander in the woods. To figure out what I was afraid of. To have tough conversation. To walk away. To start something new.
One daily morning habit, led me to this moment. Wow, am I grateful. Even when I make mistakes. Burn quinoa. Miss a voicemail. Sleep in.
God, help me to keep the good habits. To let go of the bad. To let go of the past hurts, especially when they involved 90s handheld gaming technology. Help me be an ambassador. Help me prepare, but not obsess. Help me see joy in your creation whether they be the birds on my deck or the flowers on my table.
Show me how to share this life.
Thank you for the people you place in my path to guide me, remind me, and encourage me.
I pray that I can be a fraction of that… even 59.7% of the way.