The Lesson I Keep on Learning

all of the things melissajenna

You can’t do all of the things, all of the time. It’s simple, but it’s so so hard for me to remember.

Typically, I’m a fast learner, but with this lesson, it’s like I’m stuck in a repetitive loop. The majority of it has to do with the fact that I have not yet made peace with my newish reality. I’ve been living this life of working parenthood for about a year and a half now,  and I just can’t get down with the idea that I’m going to have to let some things go. I still feel like there’s a trick I’m not aware of. As if someday I’ll read a post about “5 things working parents can do optimize their efficiency,” and BOOM. The problem will be solved.

But my brain knows it doesn’t work like that. My brain has a firm understanding of timelines, and workloads, and resource availability…but my heart? My heart has not let go, and I’m not sure that it will.

I was wondering to myself how the writers I admire do it. How do they work full-time(+), remain engaged with their spouse and children, give to their community, maintain their spiritual and physical health, AND maintain their awesome blog and social presence? It was a mystery to me. Until I realized that they don’t.

Of all the writers I read and admire, none of them do what I just described. Some of them are stay-at-home parents, but for many of them, their writing is their job. Many of them even have assistants! People to answer their emails, manage their social, and do their design. There isn’t a single prominent blogger in my world whose full-time job isn’t related to their blog. In a way, that’s comforting. But also, it’s another reminder that you can’t do all of the things, all of the time.

Somehow, that’s a relief.

So that’s where I’m at, and where I’ve been since I went back to work full-time. What I long for is alignment between my brain and my heart. That I can have peace in the circumstance, and enough grace for myself to take me from day to day.

And it would be pretty tone-deaf of me to not openly acknowledge and celebrate that I live an amazing life, full of love, and inspiring people, and beautiful experiences. I’m endlessly grateful. I have more than I deserve, or would ever have dreamed to ask for. My angst has nothing to do with my beautiful life, but everything to do with my heaven-high expectations for myself (which, strangely, I never asked for).

 

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Young Men, Sex, and Urge Ownership (And Why It’s Not The Girl’s Problem)

Loved this quote “Sometimes, doing what’s right toward someone, even needs to transcend their attitude about themselves. If a girl you know shows too much, advertises too much, and offers too much, it doesn’t mean you can take too much, because it’s about the value you assign to her, and to yourself.”

john pavlovitz

GuysWatchingGirls
Young men, I need to tell you something; something that maybe your fathers, or your coaches, or your uncles, or your buddies never told you, but something that you really need to hear.

Your sex drive? It’s your problem.

I know you’ve been led to believe that it’s the girl’s fault; the way she dresses, the shape of her body, her flirtatious nature, her mixed messages.

I know you’ve grown-up reading and hearing that since guys are really “visual”, that the ladies need to manage all of that by covering-up and keeping it hidden; that they need to drive this whole physical relationship deal, because we’re not capable.

That’s a load of crap.

You and me, we are visual.
We do love the shape of women’s bodies.
We are tempted and aroused by their physicality.

And all of that, is on us, not on them.

You see, we actually live…

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Dove Recognizes that Fathers are Not Inept, Mouth-Breathing, Man-Children

Join me in having a cleansing, happy-cry at your desk, won’t you?

This is such a beautiful advertisement. I don’t know about you, but as a wife, and mother, and human being, I am sick to death of seeing dads (and men in general) portrayed as inept, mouth-breathing, man-children in media. The ad above? That’s more like it. And it’s sad that it should stand out so much, don’t you think?

Is it possible that maybe (just maybe) our culture is ready to acknowledge fathers as true partners in parenthood, and not inept babysitters of their own children? Gosh, I hope so. It’s about time. Round of applause to Dove for once again pushing advertising in a more positive, healthy direction!

On Rock Hunting, and People-Tumbling

Rocks I collected south of San Simeon

Rocks I collected south of San Simeon

Lately, I really suck at having hobbies. Gardening has been reduced to sometimes remembering to water my succulents; writing has been reduced to tweeting on an (almost) daily basis, and cooking? Well. I made some instant oatmeal this morning. Let me say this, in no uncertain terms: having a full time job, and a family, is hard. (Duh.) So, that’s basically what’s kept me away from here lately. (There’s more I’d like to say about that, but it’ll have to wait for another time.)

The one hobby that I can stick to, with my demanding schedule, is rock hunting. (Bonafide dork status, right there.) I’ve been into rocks since I was a kid, and last year, for my 29th birthday, my husband bought me my very first rock tumbler (because he is a dear). So I’ve been collecting rocks, and tumbling them, for the past few months, and every time I’m doing something rock-related, I think of you guys. Rock hunting (and tumbling) takes time, and I’ve come to realize there’s a few reasons I enjoy it as much as I do, and I’ve been wanting to share them with you all for a while.

Here are the real basic-basics about rock hunting.

The best place to find rocks, in my area of California, is at the beach. Specifically, just south of San Simeon, where the creek dumps into the ocean. You want to go there after a good storm (which we don’t get often), and at low-tide, for the best pickings. So step number one in rock hunting, for me, is head to the beach. Once you get there, you survey the landscape for the most promising-looking piles, then set yourself down, and…well…just start looking for the good stuff. With all the sights and smells of the ocean, and the warm sun on your back, you could easily spend a few hours, looking for the best specimens.

If you’re new to rock hunting, here’s how you tell which rocks will polish-up nicely: get them wet. If you don’t have a bucket of water handy, you can just use your own spit. Don’t worry about how silly you look, because, hello, you’re sitting on the ground, playing in rocks. You already look pretty silly.

Once you’re satisfied with the amount of rocks you’ve collected (hint: you’ll never be satisfied with the amount of rocks you’ve collected), it’s time to go home and get them into the tumbler, along with the coarsest grit you have. Over the next few weeks, you’ll continue changing out the grit, until eventually your rocks are polished up to a glossy shine. What you do with them after that, I’m not so sure. I mean, that’s not really the point. Not for me, anyway.

Now let me tell you why I actually enjoy rock hunting.

There’s something exciting about looking at a shore covered in dusty (some would say ugly) beach rocks, and knowing that buried amongst them are agates, and jaspers, and moonstones, and quartz. Precious stones that, after a little TLC, will shine with an effortless beauty reserved for nature’s pure creations. But what moves me even more is that even the plain rocks are beautiful, once they’ve had their dust and rough edges worn away.

It’s hard to collect rocks, and tumble them, and not think of the people who’ve “tumbled” me over the years. And not think of the people I’m “tumbling”/will “tumble.”

It feels good to be chosen, doesn’t it? For someone to see the value in you, underneath the grime and the rough edges, and think to themselves “this one. This one could really shine, with a little help.” And it feels good to be the one doing the choosing. To have the vision to see the beauty and opportunity and potential in someone, and to continue to invest in them with no alternative motive, other than to leave that person better off than they were when you first met them.

Now let me tell you what we’re going to do about this.

I’m asking you to do a few things. First, take a moment to identify someone (or a few people) who have “tumbled” you over the years. Do your best to remember some specifics about that experience. Then reflect on how grateful you are to have had their influence in your life. Next, if you’re able, reach out to that person, and say thank you, in whatever way you can muster up. Sometimes this can be hard, but it’ll mean a whole lot to them, so take the time and do it right. Lastly, take a moment to identify someone in your life that you could use your influence, and commit to doing something to act on that. Could be just taking them out for coffee and asking them how they’ve been. That’s always a good start.

I would be nowhere if people in my past hadn’t taken the time to see something inside me worth surfacing, and gently assert themselves in bringing that change about. It’s my hope that by reflecting on the people who have influenced your life, you walk away with a renewed sense of gratitude, and perhaps a new desire to invest in others, the way you have been invested in.

Whaddaya think? Is it a worthy exercise?

xoxo, mj

3 Secrets to Squashing Vacation-Envy

Image Credit: Melissa Godsey

Image Credit: Melissa Godsey

(I’m delighted to be guest-posting over on ShareSLO.com today! This is just an excerpt, so make sure you click over and get my 3 Secrets to Squashing Vacation-Envy.)

I can tell it’s really summer when celebrity vacation photos are splashed all over the covers of magazines at the grocery store. While waiting in the checkout line, you see pictures of Rachel Bilson skipping along a beach in Barbados, Heidi Klum in Hawaii, and Jessica Alba in St. Barts, each of them tan, smiling, and glowing with a radiance that only comes from a jaunt to a far-flung locale. But before you’re overcome with vacation-envy, I have a trick that just might put some glow back in those office-weary cheeks of yours. I call it “Vacation Living,” and it’s my number one weapon in combating the 9-to-5 blues.

The idea behind Vacation Living is pretty simple: put your tourist glasses on, and rediscover your hometown. Approach your free time with the same gusto you have when you’re on vacation.

For most of us, the simple act of being on vacation brings out our adventurous side. With some distance between yourself and your routine, you’re suddenly tasting new foods, seeking out new experiences, and sometimes even trying your hand at a new language. There’s something about being away from home that gives us fresh eyes for the world around us. How would your quality of life improve if you had the same adventurous spirit at home that you do when you’re away?

Routine is the enemy of Vacation Living, so to help you expand your horizons, I’ll share a few challenges I’ve given myself, to help push you out of your bubble, and into your new Vacation Life. Click on over to read the remainder!

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Thriving Through Transition

I’m the type of person who is most comfortable when following a routine. But I also know that I grow the most when I’m not comfortable. For me, discomfort is a catalyst for growth. My heart wants consistency, and finds security it knowing what comes next, but my head needs variety, ambiguity, and unexpected challenges in order to level-up, leadership wise. Learning to intentionally put myself outside of my comfort-zone, to embrace risk, and to value potential for growth over comfort, has been one of the great lessons of my late-20s.

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Motherhood has a way of teaching you how to thrive through transition. Pre-motherhood MJ was on a conquest for peace, routine, and balance. Mom-MJ has since recognized the value in finding the peace within times of uncertainty, transition, and discomfort. It’s all very zen, I suppose.

This is all to say that transitioning back to working full-time has been quite the time of growth for me. (In case you’re wondering if it’s as a hard as they say, transitioning from stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, to 9-5 working parent, let me just tell you: yes. Yes, it is.) Elle, on the other hand, has never been better. She loves all the time she gets to spend with her Nana, and is just as much the little angel as she always has been. I think it’s hilarious how differently Elle and I react to my being away from home.

Lest any of this is taken as complaining, I suppose I need to say: I’m over-the-moon about my new job, and I’m delighted with how easily Elle has transitioned. Life is good, all around. Am I a little heartbroken, watching my little love grow more and more independent every day? Of course. But at the same time, I’m just so proud of her. One thing is clear: I’m the one with separation anxiety, not the child.

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It’s beautiful, the way motherhood simultaneously softens your heart like an overripe piece of fruit, yet at the same time thickens your skin, and toughens you up, and increases your strength. I’m the toughest and the softest I’ve ever been, all at the same time. And it’s a great–albeit uncomfortable–feeling.

mj

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Let’s Get Real: I Probably Should Hire a Housekeeper

Probably the number one thing I’ve had to learn, since becoming a somewhat stay-at-home-mom, is to cut myself a break. And yet, even though I DO do some work outside the home, I’m having the hardest time admitting that I am not a super hero. That I just can’t keep all of these balls in the air without some outside help.

Do any of you have “help?” Some folks I know will pay some of the high school girls at their church to come over once a week and play with their kids, while they get some work done. Even that would help. But what about a housekeeper? I’m not going to lie: I want one. BADLY. What’s your experience? Can you recommend it?

The Problem With Blogging (There Are No Secrets on The Internet)

Probably my least favorite thing about blogging, is that I can’t share everything. I feel like I can talk to you guys about everything and anything under the sun. (I mean, let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more personal than talking about family-planning methods, or posting pictures of expressed breast milk.) We’ve covered a lot of sensitive and personal ground. But yet, there are subjects that are off-limits. Basically anything that involves people I actually know in real life—unless it’s gleamingly positive—is a no-no zone.

I want to tell you all about what’s happened since the ShareSLO contest ended (SO MUCH good stuff!!!!!!!), but I can’t. I want to tell you why I feel so positively about them choosing Bentley over the other 8 candidates, but I can’t. I want to tell you about the little conversations I’ve had with friends of other contestants, and the hilarious and delightful stuff they said, but I just can’t.

And that’s all positive, happy stuff! What if my marriage was in trouble? (It’s totally not, which is why I feel comfortable using that as an example.) What if I wanted to reach out to you, my brain trust, for your marriage-wisdom? I mean, I look at someone like Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com, and how totally shocked I was when she announced that she and Jon were divorcing. There’s a tragic sort of irony in sharing your life with people, growing intimate and close with them, yet being unable to disclose the really meaningful stuff.

I guess the only solution is to really become besties with everyone. Chat on the phone, text during the middle of the day, the whole nine.

I know many of you keep blogs of your own. Where do you draw the line with regards to what’s appropriate or inappropriate to share?

Basically, just you so you guys know my philosophy, here’s my where I stand: if it’s likely to hurt someone’s feelings, I won’t share it on my blog. Note, though, that this is different than disagreeing. You guys know I don’t shy away from sharing my opinion, and I love hearing the opinions of others. But clashing opinions is totally different than hurting someone’s feelings. Where’s your line?

My cup runneth over with ideas for upcoming posts. It’s actually somewhat overwhelming. I’m going to do my best to bring two of those ideas to life next week.

mj

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“All I Want is a Beach-Chair Somewhere…”

A lot has happened since I last updated. For starters, I finished in the top 10 in the ShareSLO Social Ambassador contest! And I owe that to each of you that voted, even just once, but especially those of you that voted on a daily basis. Thank you so much for your support, and for joining me on that journey.

I had my official interview for the position on Saturday. The interview went well, though on the drive home I did think of a couple of questions that I could have given better answers to. You know how that is, I’m sure. You hop in the shower the day after an interview, and suddenly, BAM! The right answer just pops into your head. C’est la vie. Like I said, even considering that, it went well. Plus, you guys should have seen my resume. I reformatted it in the form of an infograph, and MAN. It’s good. The copy clerk at Staples said it was the best she’d ever seen, and that’s not nothing. 🙂 If you’re into well-formatted graphic documents, let me know and I’ll send you a blank copy for your own personal use.

Then I got sick. (Like one does after staying up until 1AM working on a thing like the contest for a month.) Last night I had a fever of 102.something, though today I’m feeling slightly better. No fever at least.

And tomorrow. Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary! Here’s to hoping that I miraculously kick this thing in time to spend a relaxing evening with my husband (without coughing all over him).

Also, tomorrow is when they choose who will be the ShareSLO Ambassador. No big deal. The official announcement is public on Thursday, but if the hiring process for this job is like others in my experience, they’re going to have to notify the applicant tomorrow (Wednesday), in order to process their new-hire paperwork and run a proper background check. If that’s the case, then the applicant will be notified tomorrow. But they could gamble, and not notify the applicant until Thursday, under the assumption that the background check will clear. Needless to say, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the announcement on Thursday.

If you think applying for a job, and interviewing, and everything that comes with that is stressful, try doing it in front of your family, and friends, and thousands of loving supporters. For OVER A MONTH. This must be, like, .03% of what it feels like to run in a Presidential election. (Maybe .003%.)

I’m serious. It’s hard, in our culture, to admit that one cares about anything at all, let alone putting yourself way out on a limb that has a 90% chance of snapping, and dropping you to the ground. IN FRONT OF EVERYONE YOU KNOW. I’m telling you, after the “campaign” portion of the process was done, all I wanted was a beach-chair somewhere far, far from the Internet. How the heck is Mitt Romney handling it? I don’t even know.

Feeling feverish again. Bring on the Nyquil. Breaking out the big guns. 😉

Talk soon! xoxo, mj

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“Balance” as a Process, Not a Destination

So here is a really basic thing I learned recently:

My idea of what “work/life balance” is, is wrong. I’ve always thought of “balance” as a destination, as a sort of nirvana to be achieved if I would only get more sleep, drink more water, and follow all of the rules set out for me in well-meaning blogs by women who “have it all together.” And if I could just do those things, I could “have it all.” I thought that it was my failure to follow those rules that was holding me back from achieving “balance.”

But it’s not like that, is it? This whole time I’ve been stressing myself out, trying to achieve balance, without realizing that balance isn’t a singular achievement, so much as how you walk out your days. Individually. Curveballs and all. Balance is not a destination that I can reach, and from thenceforth live in perfect tranquility. Balance is more like making the best choices I can, as they come, and trying not to let things get too out of hand.

I’ve been driving myself crazy, chasing down this mirage of “balance,” which would suddenly disappear once I reached it, only to reappear way over there, in the gluten-free aisle of the health food store, and again, over there in the books about Attachment Parenting, and again, over there on a Pinterest board full of crock-pot recipes/seasonal wreaths/crap made out of mason jars. And chasing down the ever-elusive mirage of “balance” was freaking exhausting.

Adjusting My Expectations

So lately, I’ve had this image of a tight-rope walker in my head. As she’s walking the tightrope, she expects to be wobbly, and she knows that the feat isn’t simply making it to the other side of the rope, but taking each step as well as she can. She does not expect perfection. She does not expect to “figure out” balance halfway through, and walk, perfectly balanced down the remainder of the length of the tight-rope.  And I think she has this balance thing a bit more figured out than I do.

Adjusting my expectation and understanding of balance has given me a much needed shift in perspective. It’s going to take some repeating for me to completely unlearn my unhealthy understanding of balance, but the more I reflect on my image of the tightrope walker, the less anxiety I feel about not getting things just right all of the time. Wobbles are totally okay. And I know that’s not a revelation to most of you, but it is one to me, and I am so grateful to be continually discovering that I don’t have everything all figured out.

Young and Foolish

When I was younger, I thought I knew everything. There’s something in the combination of book-knowledge and untested theories and ideologies that affords young adults a powerful sense of intellectual superiority. Learning that I do not, in fact, know everything, has been simultaneously one of the great joys/disturbing truths of growing up. It’s such an adventure, constantly re-exploring my beliefs and opinions, and understanding of the world, but at the same time, it’s somewhat frightening. I feel as if my character is in a constant state of revision, and that sensation, of never really knowing who, exactly, you are (and who you are becoming) is ultimately humbling.

How about you guys? Do you ever find yourself struggling to live up to an unhealthy expectation? What’s been your most recent “revelation?” You guys are so wise, I usually learn a lot from what you’ve got to say. 🙂

xoxo,

mj
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  • Balance, uncertainity, and blessings  via visibleandreal.wordpress.com (I found this post literally moments after I write the post above, and when I went through the pages in her site, I definitely became internet-infatuated with Stephanie. And if you check out her resources page, I can vouch for basically all of the titles listed. (She has great taste.) I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, and maybe even signing up for one of her classes!)

Lessons From My 20s: Motherhood is Not Necessarily a Lifetime Commitment

via

I celebrated my 29th birthday on Saturday (the 1st), and because I’m the introspective type, I’ve been thinking a lot about my 20s.

I kind of can’t wait to put some more distance between today-me, and 20 year old me. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that the first half of my 20s was turbulent, and dramatic, and full of questionable decisions and behavior (whose wasn’t?), and the more distance that I have from that season of my life, the more my perspective has improved. And the more I can cut young-me some slack. (She was a hot-mess, for sure.)

The second half of my 20s has been absolutely amazing. It’s been a season of growth, and discovery, and renewal. For the first time in my life, I feel comfortable in who I am, and who I’m becoming. Not that it has been easy. I’ve been working harder in the past 4 years than I ever have, and it never lets up. Only now I’m working for me, and I’m investing my time in things that bring me ultimate gratification, namely my family.

On Family

Speaking of family, I’ve learned some lessons about family, too. In early 2011, my mom quit speaking to me. (It’s a longish story as to why, but she has her reasons.) Dealing with the loss of my mother was (and continues to be) really difficult. I’ve experienced loss as a result of death before, but loss of a person that is alive and well is a totally different thing. Grieving the loss of a relationship with someone who is still alive, but chooses to be out of your life, comes with its own set of issues. Especially when that person is your mother. But here’s what that’s taught me about family, specifically mothers and daughters: my mother does not owe me anything. Just because I have an idea in my head of the kind of relationship I’d like to have with my mother, doesn’t mean that my actual mother is the person who is going to fill that need for me. Just because she is my biological mother, doesn’t mean she will mother me, if that makes sense. Just like many fathers don’t actually father their children, mothers can be the same way, and it’s selfish of me to expect that from my mother, just because I was born to her. Motherhood, evidently, is not necessarily a lifetime commitment.

In the same way, it’s conceivable that one day, Ellie (my daughter) might not want a relationship with me. I hate to imagine that, but it’s certainly a possibility. Knowing that she isn’t bound to me for life, I cherish our time together even more. Don’t get me wrong: I hope and pray that we’ll grow closer and closer as we both age, and I want to be active in her life until the day I die, but I know now that she doesn’t owe me a relationship, just because she was born to me. I’d be obliterated if she cut herself off from me one day, but recognizing her agency as an individual has helped me appreciate her as a person with her own identity. I cannot control what kind of person she will become, or what kind of life she will choose for herself, but I can ensure that she will always feel loved and cherished by her mother.

Going Forward

So as I kick-off year 29, I’m reflecting a bit on how I can best communicate to Ellie and Mike that they are ultimately loved, and that they will always have me, both as a mother, and as a wife. No, there’s no law in place saying I have to continue loving and mothering my daughter, or loving my husband, but those are two things that I commit to doing for the rest of my life, not just because it comes naturally, but because it’s my choice. It’s the great joy of my life to love my family, and I’m so blessed to go into my 29th year with the two of them by my side.

On a parting note, did any of you church-folks ever sing that song “His Banner Over Me is Love”? I didn’t grow up in church, so the first time I heard it was in a Sunday School class I was leading. Our speakers weren’t working, so we didn’t have any music for worship. One of the other leaders taught the song to the kids, and I learned it right along with them. I kind of want to paint something for our living room, inspired by that scripture. (Song of Solomon, 2:4: “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”) If I come up with something I’m not too embarrassed by, I’ll share it with you guys when I’m finished. 🙂

I’ll be back Wednesday to announce a giveaway for a thing that I LOVE so much. I can’t wait!

xoxo, mj

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A Few More Words on Sarcasm/Snark

Last Monday, I posted a bit about why I almost always choose sincerity over employing sarcasm or snark. The comments (as always) were fantastic. Commenter Thomas Allen Gardner made a great point, that by juxtaposing Sincerity against Sarcasm/Snark, I’m saying that Sarcasm/Snark cannot ever be sincere, and I thought that was interesting. Here’s a small example I used in my initial post, about how sarcasm usually misses the mark with me, which I’ll elaborate on below:

(Husband hands me a breakfast burrito, and I bite into it.)

Me: Wow, this is delicious! You should teach me how to make these!

Husband: I dunno, it’s pretty complicated. Not sure I can replicate it, actually.

Me: Oh. Well, next time, let me watch you, and I’ll write it down.

Husband: … … What? I was joking. I just throw things together, and it takes me about three minutes. It’s a completely ghetto breakfast burrito.

Now, Thomas might say that my husband sincerely wanted me to know that it really was simple to fix that breakfast burrito, and Thomas would be right. I was wrong to contrast Sincerity against Sarcasm/Snark, in that regard. Here’s what I meant, now that I’ve had a few more days to mull this over.

In the circumstance above, it’s not necessarily the sarcasm that rubs me the wrong way–as a denizen of the Internet, I can, and do, accept sarcasm regularly–it’s the subjugation of what I was trying to communicate. I was–albeit passively–trying to pay my husband a compliment. “Wow, this is delicious! You should teach me how to make these!” means both “I really think this is tasty,” and “this is better than anything I cook for breakfast, and I’m acknowledging your skills.” Had I said “I am hereby acknowledging your breakfast-making skills,” maybe I wouldn’t have left myself as open to a sarcastic reply, but also? I’d have sounded like a complete dork.

By responding with sarcasm, he’s effectively deflecting my compliment, and making the conversation about my poor judgement of his culinary skills. And what’s with that? Let’s look at a hypothetical comparison.

(It’s 6:00 PM, and my husband has just arrived home from work.)

Husband: Wow, you look gorgeous. How do you always manage to look so beautiful at the end of the day?

Me: Oh let me tell you, it’s a strict regimen never getting enough sleep, and running myself ragged. It’s a celebrity secret.

Rather than simply accepting a sweet and sincere compliment, I make my husband feel foolish for apparently misjudging my appearance. Rather than listening to what he was trying to say, I’ve made it all about me, and turned a positive interaction into a negative one. That’s what bothers me about sarcasm.

Hope that clarifies what I said initially. And thanks to Thomas for the thoughtful comment! As always, if you have anything to add to the discussion, I welcome your contribution in the comments (and though I don’t get a chance to respond to everything, I do read each comment).

(I’ll be back tomorrow with a sponsored post.)

xoxo,

mj

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What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind? (Resisting the Term “Flip-Flopper”)

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I love words, and because I love words, I get defensive when they are misused. (And yes, I know how dorky this sounds.)

I don’t mean that I’m the type who gets all bent-out-of-shape when someone uses “who” instead of “whom,” or “can I” instead of “may I.” I get defensive when people use terms like “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice,” or “anti-family” instead of “pro-equality.” It irks me so much, I find myself defending groups I do not even associate or agree with, when they are mischaracterized by the willful abuse of language. Calling the pro-choice movement “pro-abortion,” for example, immediately creates a hostile environment in which to carry on a conversation. No one that I’ve ever met that identifies themselves as pro-choice has ever been pro-abortion, and to insinuate that they are is insulting, and is evidence of how disinterested one is in hearing the convictions of others. Just because we do not agree does not give me the right to characterize you as something that you’re not.

“Flip-Flopping”

So. When I hear the term “flip-flopping” being tossed around (in the context of political or moral convictions or beliefs), I usually become irritated. Because when people say so-and-so is a “flip-flopper,” the connotation is usually that the person in question is pandering to their audience, in an effort to remain likable by all involved parties. The connotation is that the person in question is a shill. Or a ideological whore. Whatever floats your boat. And sometimes that is genuinely the case, and in those circumstances, I’m all for “calling a spade, a spade.” But usually? Usually people throw out the term “flip-flopping” as a way of discounting the journey one has made to come to the conclusion one is at.

A personal example: I’ve often been called a flip-flopper because of my conversion from Atheism to Christianity. Those that label me a flip-flipper, in that regard, are looking to devalue the experiences that led me to a point of conversion. They are establishing security in their beliefs, by choosing not to acknowledge my experiences, and instead, insinuating that I haven’t thought the whole thing through entirely, or that I am weak-minded, because I changed my mind. It is much easier to label me as as weak-minded, spiritual flip-flopper, than to consider that I’ve actually changed my mind based off new information and experiences.

In the same way, I hear people calling politicians flip-floppers all the time. Yes, sometimes politicians are flip-floppers–in that they’re compromising themselves for the sake of winning votes–but often, they’re just changing their minds based off of new and better information. (The way any sane person should.)

What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind?

To acknowledge that someone weighed an issue thoroughly, and then changed their mind, is to acknowledge that you might change your mind also. And for many, many of us, the very idea that there is a possibility that we might someday change our mind, is all-out frightening, because so much of our identity is wrapped-up in the labels we stick on ourselves. So, as a preemptive defense, rather than asking someone how they came to a point where they changed their mind, we quickly call them a “flip-flopper,” and continue sheltering ourselves from new experiences and information. (And if you ask me, that’s no way to live.) And please understand that I am not pointing fingers here: just as many Christians do this as Atheists, and just as many Republicans do this as Democrats. We are all equally guilty of not listening to the stories and journeys of others, and considering their implications.

Seeing the Value in Others’ Experiences

This is all to ask that the next time you’re about to label someone as a “flip-flopper,” that you stop for a moment and consider what you’re saying. Do you really believe that the person in question is pandering to an audience, or is there a chance that the person actually changed their mind? And if there’s a chance that the person legitimately changed their mind, what makes their journey any less worthy or valid than your own? And, if you’re in a place to speak directly to the person in question, maybe ask them how they came to their decision, because I guarantee you there is a great story there. There is so much to be learned from the journeys of others, if we would only ask them. We will find ourselves much better able to communicate with others, if we simply make an effort to understand their story, rather than shutting them down, and moving on. We will find ourselves better able to love others if we would only listen to their journeys with open hearts.

When we humble ourselves, and open our ears to those that we do not typically align with, we’re venturing out into fertile ground, and that’s the first step to cultivating a non-adversarial relationship. And if there is anything this country needs, its fewer adversaries, and more allies.

When was the last time you listened to the journey of someone with an opposing perspective? Have you ever shared an unexpected connection with someone of an opposing perspective? What was that like? Share your stories in the comments below. 🙂

(I’ll be back tomorrow with a little bit more on Sincerity.)

xoxo,

mj

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Let’s be friends!

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Long Live Sincerity: Dealing With Snark and Hostility on The Internet

Sincerity Is a Prized Commodity

Sincerity Is a Prized Commodity (Photo credit: nme421)

Love is the virtue of the Heart,

Sincerity is the virtue of the Mind,

Decision is the virtue of the Will,

Courage is the virtue of the Spirit.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Hello, friends! I am so happy to be back. The move was…challenging (perhaps more on that later), and now that it is behind us, I am getting back into the swing of things. Thank you so much for your supportive and encouraging words. Though I have not responded much, I have read all of them, and they have been a source of renewal for me and my family. We really appreciate you, and your hearts. 🙂

Onto the b’iness.

Before I took a break for the big move, I asked you all some questions:

  • In what type of situations are snark/sarcasm/contempt your “instinct” reaction?
  • Is it possible to have a productive dialogue when snark/sarcasm/contempt is being employed by the involved parties?
  • Why is it sometimes difficult for us to speak sincerely? Do you think that, culturally, sincerity is perceived as weakness?

And you guys really came through with answers. In order to be succinct, I’m going to distill the responses down to three main points:

  1. Snark/Sarcasm are often employed, harmlessly, among close friends, as an expression of acceptance into the “group.” In these instances, it’s a form of friendly verbal-jousting that doesn’t often lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
  2. Snark/Sarcasm, when flowing from a spirit of malice, frustration or anger, is never productive. It’s often an instinct reaction in situations in which one feels threatened, insecure, or misunderstood. And contempt is never productive, period.
  3. Sincerity is becoming rare, and it’s often avoided because it’s powerful, and because many of us aren’t sure how to respond to it. It can be off-putting.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on the virtue of sincerity. (It seems we all understand how snark and sarcasm can get out of hand, so no need to dig into that much further.)

My Sense of Humor is Broken

Here’s an annoying trait of my personality: I usually don’t “get it” when people are joking sarcastically with me, or are saying something snarky. Here’s how a situation like this might play out:

(Husband hands me a breakfast burrito, and I bite into it.)
Me: Wow, this is delicious! You should teach me how to make these!
Husband: I dunno, it’s pretty complicated. Not sure I can replicate it, actually.
Me: Oh. Well, next time, let me watch you, and I’ll write it down.
Husband: … … What? I was joking. I just throw things together, and it takes me about three minutes. It’s a completely ghetto breakfast burrito.
 

See what happens there? I look like a dummy, because I can’t hear that he’s kidding. This kind of thing happens nearly daily (though usually not with my husband, because he’s aware of my “condition”). I don’t know what happened to me, because I used to be sarcastic to the point of intentionally hurting people’s feelings (not proud of that), and now I just can’t hear it. It’s as if my ears are broken. Nowadays, I just believe people, because why would they lie to me, you know? (This is far more problematic and embarrassing than you might initially imagine.) When this happens, my standard line is “sorry, my sense of humor is broken.” (I say it a lot.) I’m not sure why, but my instinct reaction is to believe that everyone is being sincere, all of the time, which is almost never the case, so I end up looking foolish quite a bit. So, let’s talk about sincerity.

I’m Bringing Sincerity Back

I like what Frank Lloyd Wright said, about sincerity being the virtue of the mind. Back when I was a Big Fat Snarker, it was so much easier to respond quickly with a sarcastic barb than to actually process something and respond with sincerity. Not only that, but sincerity felt uncomfortable, and uncool. And it was so easy to tease someone who was being sincere. (Is there anything more weak than snarking on someone who is being totally sincere? Blech. Please God, don’t let me become that person again.)

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin lists 13 virtues by which he lived his life, one of which, was Sincerity. Here’s Franklin’s working explanation of Sincerity:

Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Doesn’t that sound beautiful, and fair? But what about conversations that occur outside of one’s usual friend-group? What about interactions that turn into arguments/debates? What about Sincerity on the Internet?

Something is Broken

Sincerity is the four-leaf-clover of the Internet landscape. It exists, but it’s rare, and when you find it, you better consider yourself fortunate. But why is that? The Internet offers us the ability to communicate with, and learn from, people of all different backgrounds and perspectives. We should have the broadest understanding of people-groups and their beliefs of any culture in history, yet it feels as if we’re the most insulated, and the most hostile.

Something is wrong. Something isn’t working the way that it should. I propose that part of what’s broken is our ability to accept and process sincerity, and to respond in-kind. Sincerity takes more effort than sarcasm and snark. Sincerity requires the suppression of one’s ego, and the investment of one’s mind, to give due and equal weight to an idea that one does not agree with. Accepting and processing sincerity takes work, and requires some amount of respect.

Trading Up

What would happen if we traded our malicious sarcasm and snark for sincerity?  What would happen if we quit expending our energy on tearing things down, and attacking, and entered into every interaction thinking “innocently and justly”? Rather than instinctively snarking in response (and then giving ourselves a mental high-five for our amazing wit), what if we stopped, processed, and then formed a sincere thought in response? What if we sacrificed the self-gratification of doling out a particularly spicy one-liner, in order to sincerely demonstrate love and respect for someone whose beliefs are different than ours?

I really like what Rick Warren had to say in this regard:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Though Warren never said the word “sincerity,” I feel like the ideas are parallel. It is possible, even in a completely detached, anonymous conversation on a message-board, to disagree with someone, while extending love and respect. It is possible to receive another’s sincere thoughts and feelings, without compromising your own beliefs. That is how bridges are built. That is how we nurture and cultivate relationships with those that are on opposite sides of the belief-spectrum.

Dealing With Hostility

“But what about when the other person is being a sarcastic, disrespectful jerk?” I can hear you asking. Well, words are not like math, where a negative times a negative makes a positive; in other words, two wrongs do not make a right. If you’ve read through some of the vitriolic comments I’ve responded to, and ever thought I did a decent job at handling nasty criticism, let me tell you this: responding well, without bitterness, or snark, or sarcasm, or contempt, does not often come naturally to me. Not when I’m being viciously attacked. In those moments–and I know how cheesy I sound–I pray and ask God for his wisdom, peace, grace and mercy in the situation, and I keep petitioning for those things until I feel moved by the Holy Spirit to say whatever it is I should say in response. I pray that God helps me to love the other person more than I love myself, and my ego, and my desire to be “right,” and to have the last word–and I ask him to speak through me. And when I’m faithful to that prayer, God always comes through. Always. (I cannot emphasize that enough.) And it’s awesome! (Though sometimes it pains me to write the sincere, loving response that’s put on my heart.)

Do I execute this perfectly every time? Absolutely not. Do I sometimes get so worked-up that I have to let it go for a few days (or weeks) before I can form a loving, respectful, sincere response? You betcha. But let me be clear about this: when I fail at being sincere, it’s because I failed at being faithful. When I say snarky, sarcastic, ugly things, that is not God speaking through me. In fact, that casts a terrible impression of the God who doesn’t need snark, or sarcasm to speak the truth.

So what do you think? Do you see the value in sincerity? What prevents you from speaking sincerely? Can we all agree to strive for greater sincerity in our interactions, especially on the Internet? It’s definitely uncommon, and as such it often feels like an uphill slog, but sincerity paves the way for authentic, loving interaction, so isn’t it worth it? The comments section is all yours, so have at it. I love reading what you all have to say. 🙂

xoxo,

mj

(I’ll be back again on Wednesday with a sponsored post.)

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Let’s be friends!

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All The Good Ones Aren’t Taken: A Letter to Single Ladies

All The Single Ladies

“All the good ones are taken.” If you’re a single gal, or you’ve ever been a single gal, you’ve either A) said this yourself, or B) heard another single gal say it, and nodded your head in agreement. (Maybe even adding a sassy little “Mmm-Hmm.”)

Well, it’s not true. And? It’s offensive.

All The Single Fellas

I, personally, know of several upstanding, successful guys, who have been single for at least a year, minimum. Why? Because they’re waiting for the “right” lady to come along, and aren’t interested in dating, just for the sport of it. You heard me right: they are not looking for a hookup. They are looking for the real-deal. “Single, mature young men, without commitment issues? Openly looking for a long-term relationship?” They are not unicorns, ladies; they are real, and when you hear what they have to say, maybe you’ll think twice about all of that “all the good ones are taken” business. (Before I go too far, what I have to say is aimed at Christian young women, but regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the struggle I’ve described is universal, and is worth some consideration.)

Let me share with you something that a male reader recently wrote me, in regards to 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike (don’t worry, I have his permission to post this quote):

It is hard enough being expected to be a respectful, godly, and upstanding man on one hand, and seeing the women that we are interested in often fall for the exact opposite of what they say they want. But it is completely maddening to see women fall for the same type of cheap objectification and destructive appeals to venal human nature that men have been plagued by for generations, and to have that celebrated as progress rather than being viewed for what it truly is: degrading for both the producer and the consumer.

Hindsight is 20-20

When I read this, I got so frustrated, not because it’s not true, but because I see it happening all around me. I WAS one of those girls, falling for the exact opposite of what I said I wanted. Honestly, his comment was simultaneously a slap-in-the-face, and a push forward. Immediately I was confronted with visions of my past-self, and I figure that two or three of you out there might be able to relate, so allow me to get real vulnerable, real fast.

Facing visions of my past-self is always difficult. It’s getting easier, but I can’t help but hurt for young-me. How many times had I compromised myself in an attempt to win the affection of someone that was totally undeserving? How many times had I turned my back on what I knew was right, just because I wanted some cute guy to think I was cool? How many times had I made myself ultimately vulnerable to a guy who I knew wasn’t interested in me in a “real” way? (All the while griping about how “all the good ones are taken.”) Looking back on it, I see that I was looking to other people to define my value, rather than knowing my value, and standing firm on it. In retrospect, I thank God that he didn’t introduce me to my husband in that season of my life, because I hadn’t even become myself yet. I feel like God was waiting for me to get my act together before he’d deliver me a “good one.”

A Disposable Heart

If you allow an unworthy guy to define your value, do you know what your value will be? Zero. Nothing. Less than nothing. Disposable. And that’s exactly how I felt. And when you allow yourself to be treated as if you’re disposable, you begin to believe that you are disposable, so that when you do cross-paths with a really amazing, godly guy, you will not feel worthy of his affection. Not only that, but I’m convinced guys have a sixth-sense about this kind of thing; they can “smell” when a girl doesn’t value herself, and generally, they keep their distance. Like I said, the “good ones” are looking for the real-deal. Are you preparing yourself for that, or are you caught-up in pursuing guys who will ultimately treat you like you’re disposable? When you meet a “good one,” will he see a girl who knows her value and stands firm on it, or will he see a girl exhausted from chasing down the shadows of her self-worth?

(Some quick questions: If you are identifying with me at all right now: do you see the extent to which this cycle is damaging your ability to begin and maintain new, lasting relationships? Are you ready to dramatically shift your way of thinking? What will it take for you to be ready?)

Maybe all of the “good ones” aren’t taken. Maybe you’re blind to them, because you’re involved with a bad crowd. Or maybe they’re blind to you, because they’re looking for a girl with maturity and self-respect, and a solid foundation.

I know these might sound like harsh words, but here’s the thing: I know how you feel, because I have been there. Maybe I’m subconsciously writing this to my past-self, because the fact of the matter is that no one in my life was telling me the truth about this kind of stuff. (Even some distant stranger’s voice from across the Internet would have been better than nothing.) So I figured it out on my own, and was completely obliterated along the way, and eventually came back to square one: where, and what is my identity?

Living In The Tension

Before we get there, let’s address a very real tension that exists for women: from day one, many (most?) of us feel “less than,” as compared to women in the media. Many of us had fathers who openly lusted after women that the culture deemed worthy (or our fathers flat-out abandoned us), and though that’s not the only cause, it’s one reason why many women feel that they NEED to be more like women “of the world” than women of God. We’ve seen our fathers, step-fathers, church leaders, political officials, etc live in a way that says they place more value on “worldly women” than godly women. And over time it has caused many of us to harden our hearts, and choose to live in a way that says “Oh yeah? Well two can play at this game.” (Therapist-types call this “acting out.”)

Whose Am I?

No matter how hard you push back, nothing you do will ever undo anything that has happened to you. It won’t bring your father back; it won’t restore your trust in men. All “acting out” does do is move you further and further away from the truth, and build massive walls around your heart. It prevents you from healing, from growing up, and from moving forward. What’s left, after all of this trauma and subsequent acting-out, is a population of young women who have very little of their identity rooted in God, and most of it rooted in their worldly value.

Reversing this cycle of brokenness, claiming your identity in God, and discovering your real value takes time. But just in case you’re thinking you can cut corners and “fix it” as soon as you meet Mr. Right, let me prepare you: I’ve seen it happen so many times (I’m one of them) where a “worldly” Christian girl meets a godly guy, and changes her tune SO FAST. Suddenly she believes in modesty, purity, the whole shebang. The problem is that she is doing it to win a man’s heart, and once that has happened, she no longer has an identity. She has abandoned her worldly ways (which often means severing ties with poisonous friends), but has no identity in God; usually the relationship fails because she gets drawn back into “the world,” and the guy leaves, or she puts her identity in the relationship, and that scares the guy away. Then he leaves, she feels betrayed by (yet another) man, and the cycle repeats itself.

This cycle might be the greatest tragedy facing the young women of my generation, and the next generation, and it breaks my heart.

And lest I forget to mention them: I do know that there are young women out there who do have their identity firmly rooted in the love of God their father, alone. They are beautiful in their security, and they are choosing not to approach dating as a sport. They are serving God with their time and talent, thereby blessing their future husband and future family with a life spent in truth and light. And what an example they are to those around them!

Decisions, and Moving Forward

It is never too late to choose to begin making right decisions, and there is no shame in recognizing your mistakes, turning your back on them, and starting fresh. And depending on what, exactly, you’ve been through, I highly recommend seeing a therapist*. Most insurance plans have coverage for therapy, and it will cost you a minimal amount of money.

I would love to see a real call-to-action for change in this regard. I have this vision of fathers who have blown-it coming forward and confessing to God, and then to their daughters, and of daughters choosing forgiveness and allowing God to soften their hearts, and confessing themselves to their Father in heaven. It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s realistic. It’d be amazing if we all reconciled with our fathers, but in real-life we often have to choose forgiveness, even if the other person hasn’t seen their error. Even if the other person isn’t apologetic. And it’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Does any of this resonate with you, or am I just shouting into the wind, here? Though I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through the kind of junk I put myself through in my late teens/early 20s, I think one of the reasons it all happened is so that I can share my experiences with others, for their benefit. From that perspective, I’m very happy everything happened as it did, and I hope you were able to glean something from my experiences.

As always, feel free to say whatever you want in the comments below. 🙂

xoxo,

mj

PS- Well after posting this, I was brushing my teeth and remembered this verse in Proverbs 31 (sorry to trot out Proverbs 31 :/). It’s verses 11 and 12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Emphasis mine.) For some reason I never understood that ALL means ALL. That means she brings her husband good and not harm before she ever meets him. So simple, but so profound. 🙂

*A quick note on therapy: Therapy was able to provide me with the tools I needed to understand what I had been through, and cope with it on an intellectual level. I couldn’t have healed if not for therapy. But even after therapy, my heart still didn’t feel right. I was bitter, and cynical, and couldn’t seem to forgive. Therapy was only one big piece of the puzzle, but the other piece was God. God was able (and continues) to restore and revive my heart. He has, as the cliché goes “created beauty from ashes.” I could not be the person, wife and mother that I am today if not for the work God did in my heart, and the work he continues to do in my heart. (I put it in bold because I am that serious.)

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Let’s be friends!

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