Friday, September 30, 2011


Today is our Five Year Wedding Anniversary.  Leading up to this day, I scrolled through Facebook and looked back on some of the pictures and events that we have experienced in our marriage.  There were many memories I had completely forgotten about!  All at once I realized how quickly I could overlook the blessings that have been bestowed on our marriage and family in the past.

At times, I find myself so busy that I fail to simply remember the moments that got us to where we are as a family today.  We all fly through life at a break-neck pace during some seasons of life.  We can go days, weeks, or even longer without reflecting upon our relationships.  When we don’t take time to think upon family relationships, it becomes increasingly easy for us to take them for granted.  All of us need to press the pause button on life at one time or another and remember.

Memories are so vitally important to the health of relationships.  They can become the heart’s fuel to stay committed even when circumstances are not the best in our families.  Reflecting on the past inspires us to continue on toward even better days in the future.  We could all do better at the following…

Take Some Time To Remember – Pull out that photo album (whether electronic or on paper).  Look at pictures from the early days of your family relationships.  Take time to be reminded of all the wonderful things that have come your family’s way in the past.  Invite other family members to look along with you; it can also be a great time to bond.  You may even consider printing off a picture and writing a note to your spouse or child to encourage them.

Make New Memories – While the past may inspire us, we cannot live in it.  Be intentional about making new memories.  You cannot manufacture every memory-worthy moment, but you can certainly set the conditions.  Plan a short trip, play a board game, or do something completely out of the ordinary.  Be the catalyst in your family for a world of new memories.

Remembering is powerful.  Take a few moments today remember why you love the one’s closest to you.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Admit It, Own It, Compensate For It

Leaders struggle with the urge to put on the perception that they are good at everything.  This is especially true early on in our leadership journey.  We some how believe people will see us as less credible if they know there is something we are not good at, so we attempt to hide all our shortcomings.  However, refusal to allow others (and yourself) to acknowledge your weaknesses never ends well.  Eventually, the weakness will come out and people will be much more disappointed that you led them under the false pretense that you knew what you were doing.

There is a different pathway for leaders, one where you don’t have to be perfect at everything.  It is the path of humility.  As someone once remarked, “It is better for you to humble yourself than to be humbled by another.”  Humility means being forthright with your areas of struggle as a leader.  It could be organization, communication, big picture planning, or in another facet of leadership. The humble leader learns to lay all this out on the table in three ways.

Admit It – Your team already knows where your weaknesses are.  They see them first-hand whether or not you have told them.  When you admit your weaknesses as a leader, it makes you transparent to those who follow you.  It also gives them permission to begin planning with your weaknesses in mind, which can benefit you and the overall organization.

Own It – Once admitted, the humble leader learns to own their weakness.  He or she begins to allow others who are more gifted in those areas to bring forth their best ideas.  Owning your weaknesses is one of the hardest parts of leadership because it requires you to do things differently.  As hard as it may be, it goes a long way in building trust with the team surrounding you.

Compensate For It – If you know that you are not an organizer, you have to get an organizational mind on your team.  If you know that you struggle in communication, you need someone alongside you who can communicate.  Find someone who is gifted in the area of your weakness and give him or her the freedom to excel where you cannot.  It is important that this person be intensely loyal to you and the organization.

We all have weaknesses… Learning to admit, own, and compensate for them is one of the most freeing and productive things you can do as a leader.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Our one-year-old is the most brilliant person I know.  He is learning a new language, expanding his motor-skills to heightened levels each day, and has even picked up a little sign language.  Amazingly, with a day’s worth of intentional instruction he can pick up a new skill.  Sure, he may not boast the same knowledge base as most people, but he is learning at an astounding rate.  As my wife put it the other day, “He is a sponge.”

Anyone who has been around a toddler recently can relate to their “Sponge-like” ability to learn.  Somewhere along the way, our ability to absorb information and skills naturally slows.  We slip into ruts of thinking and reasoning.  We settle for the current status of our potential giftedness, because we do not expect to be able to rise to new heights.

So the question becomes, are we doomed to a steady decline in our personal growth?  Not necessarily.  However, if we want to grow, intentionality is key.  We have to choose to soak in the things that will challenge us toward positive change. 

The average adult will read only two books per year following graduation.  Most halt their education after they receive a diploma.  Because the academic framework is no longer in place, the drive to be intentional in growth fades.  We have to re-capture our “spongey-ness”. 

Here are a few suggestions so begin soaking in…

1. Read – Just like the body, the mind needs to be extended daily for growth.  Reading accomplishes this, especially when we interact with text outside of our established knowledge.

2. Converse – Go beyond the “how is your day” conversation and dive into a topic with someone else.  Have the kind of conversation that kept you up late.  Talk with someone that thinks differently with you and practice talking without arguing.

3. Study – Pat Williams once said, “Read five books on a particular topic and you will be an expert on it.”  Whether or not you will obtain expert status from reading five books, you will surely be more knowledgeable about a topic than another person who has not studied as deeply on the issue.  Choose something to study that will be valuable to you and the world around you.

Personal growth is possible at any age or life stage.  It is a choice to increase your “spongey-ness” so let’s choose to make that choice today!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Time Investment sure to pay off!

When we were first married, Steve and I were broke.  We were rich in love (honeymoon stage for sure!), but completely broke!  Steve tells the story often of how he survived on 2 chicken nuggets mixed in with a packet of ramen noodles for dinner each day for weeks leading up to our wedding.  Thankfully, it wasn't long before someone told us about the wonderful world of couponing!

Everyone seems to have their own opinion on it, but for us, it has become the standard.  On our minimum wage paychecks we were forced to get extremely creative in the way that we lived, and couponing was one of the ways that we survived!  We would spend Sunday evenings going to local dumpsters, where Steve would bravely "dive in" and pull out as many of the treasured coupon inserts he could find, and then we would bring them back to cut out, sort through, and even import our coupons into an excel spreadsheet, preparing for our grocery shopping early the next morning.  (I say early, because it was important for us to beat everyone else to the grocery, so we would be waiting in the parking lot when the doors opened -- talk about extreme!)  With a monthly grocery budget of about $20, coupons became a way of life for us, and a hobby we learned to enjoy.

Things have changed a bit (luckily), and our grocery budget is a bit more than $20 a month, but our desire to coupon remains the same.  Today, instead of offering some quick financial suggestion that we've found to make our own household budget work better, I decided to provide my top 5 couponing sites.  Couponing takes time, and because of that, so many people immediately write it off.  However, if you learn to use the tools that are already made available to you, you can allow someone else to do the work for you, and limit your couponing "time investment" to a minimum.  In this way, you are saving money in record time -- something we all want!

Here's my top 5 sites:

Give it a try!  Click on those links above, and I bet you'll be surprised at how easy couponing quickly becomes!

Monday, September 26, 2011

More Than A Moment

For years I yo-yoed up and down when it came to physical fitness.  

Freshman year of college, I got together with a few buddies and went to the gym at our school on a regular basis.  I got into biking.  My goal was to look fit when I went home for the holidays and I reached it.  After the holidays came and went, I was less consistent.

I got engaged in my senior year of college.  With the wedding just a few months away, I got motivated and started working out again.  On my wedding day, I didn’t look nearly as good as my bride, but I was in decent shape.  By the time our first anniversary rolled around I had already put on some significant pounds.

The following year, my wife and I decided to run a ten-mile race on Thanksgiving Day.  We trained up for weeks and when race day came we were able to finish without any problems.  We weren’t the fastest, but we were good shape.  When the New Year came just a few weeks later, I had already fallen out of the habit of running.

With each goal I set out to accomplish, I excelled to new heights of healthy living.  Once the goal was achieved it was a quick slide back into bad habits.  The rollercoaster of ups and downs was created by a mistake in my thinking.  For a long time, I thought goal setting was the only key to creating fitness.  However, goals usually only last a moment.  After they are completed, there is still a need to continue on toward breaking through the next barrier or maintaining the health that you have created.

This is why dieting/exercising toward an event almost never works in the long term.  Once the high school reunion, wedding day, or beach vacation is over the motivation is gone.  While these kinds of goals and deadlines are helpful and often necessary to get started, they are here today and gone tomorrow.

Healthy living is a lifestyle change.  Several months ago, I watched the Biggest Loser as they revisited some of the past contestants.  Some had maintained their weight-loss and looked great.  Others did not.  It was only the people who had committed to continual exercise, new goals, and healthier eating habits that looked great.

Maybe you have been on the rollercoaster of health and unhealthy living for a while.  It is time to get off.  Choose a goal, accomplish it, and then choose the next one.  Focus on maintaining the changes that you have made.  Commit to a healthier lifestyle for the long term.  Health has to be more than a moment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dream Big

"Shoot for the stars!"  "Don't ever give up!"  "Be the best you can be!"
These phrases sound like they came straight out of a 90's episode of Full House or Family Matters, but the truth is that the reality behind them should ring loud in our homes every day!  Because of the unique situation we're placed in, Steve and I are blessed to serve with Students week after week.  It's not uncommon for us to hear from students who feel as though they are unworthy to do great things, or incapable of accomplishing much.  It's unfortunate, because just 20 years ago, our culture was driven through media and otherwise that you could do anything you put your mind to.  Kids were challenged to be the best, to never give up, and mainly to dream big.

In the home I grew up in, it was not unusual for our dinner conversations, or evening discussions to include plans for the future, and hopes of what could be.  My parents challenged me to dream big about all of the great things that God wanted me to be.  They constantly reminded me that I was designed, on purpose, to be great, and because of that it was my responsibility to live out that calling.  It breaks my heart when I talk with students today who tell me that they want to settle for mediocrity at best.  They don't desire to live a life bigger than themselves, and they are convinced that they couldn't do much even if they wanted to.  I talked with a school teacher, a few months back, from another city who told me that the majority of her graduating students would not head off to college, or even leave the town they grew up in.  They would work to make ends meet for the rest of their life, and be discouraged by what they "could have been" but never accomplished.

Please don't hear me say that I think that those that don't go to college are throwing away their life.  Far from it!  A friend of mine has started his own non-profit organization in which he has set up numerous clinics for aids patients in Africa -- and he did all of that without ever having a college degree.  My point is that the students of today are our future.  The children of today will soon lead our nation, and unless we are committing our own time, energy and effort to instill in them a desire to do great things, and to accomplish their dreams, we're failing to equip them to lead our world after us.  Great things are just waiting to happen and they have all of the traits necessary to accomplish those great things....but they need us to encourage and challenge them to never give up in chasing after their dreams.

Here are a few things that you can do, this week, to help encourage the students and children around you:
1. Write a note telling them what you see in them!  Let them know the qualities that you recognize that set them apart from the pack, and challenge them to be great.  Encourage them to chase after their dreams, and explain to them why you know they can accomplish them!

2. Dream with them!  When was the last time you sat down with your kids and helped them develop their own mission statement?  When, for that matter, was the last time that you sat down and wrote out your own life mission statement?  Perhaps this week would be a good time to sit down, as a family and flesh out ambitions, goals, and aspirations.

3. Encourage them when they stumble!  Bumps along the road will come, and the best thing that you can do is commit your time to your kids (or students in your life), encouraging them to pick right back up where they left off and press on!  The truth is that adversity will come and attack them -- so be there as their cheerleader reminding them why they chose their dreams in the first place.  Remind them of the end goal they stated originally.

When kids come into our lives we often have our own big dreams for them.  As they transition towards adulthood it's time for us to help them dream big dreams for themselves!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Big Ask

Leaders are unafraid of “the big ask”.  It is asking the question that appears outside the boundaries of what is reasonable or expected.  It is one step in putting action to a seemingly impossible dream.  Recently, the organization I work for made “the big ask”.  We were in need of staffing a crucial executive leader.  Our point leader knew who he wanted for the job, but the reality of that person coming to fill the role seemed beyond possibility.  Even so, he approached him.  To everyone’s surprise, the potential person prayerfully accepted the new role within our church.

Often we are paralyzed by fear of being turned down.  It seems a little unwise to pursue a long-shot possibility.  However, there is no harm and barely any time lost in asking.  Maybe you are in need of additional budget dollars in the coming year, but you are almost sure your department will be turned down.  But why not at least ask?  The worst that could happen is getting the answer you were expecting, “No”.  But unless you ask, there is no chance that you could hear the answer you were never expecting, “Yes”.

Years ago, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church (the third largest church in America) was speaking at a Leadership event.  He gave the audience a nugget of wisdom I have never forgotten. 

“Never say no for someone else.”

He went on to explain how leaders get so accustomed to thinking critically we rarely go outside the norm to ask for something greater than expected.  His admonition was to stop saying no for others and at least ask them.  Whether it is a boss, potential volunteer, board, or some other entity go ahead and make “the big ask”.

When you do, make sure that you are prepared for questions.  You will need to have done your homework.  No one will take you seriously unless you can present a compelling case, especially when asking for something out of the norm.  When you combine “the big ask” with thoughtful analysis you have a much greater chance of getting the outcome you hope for.

So ask.  You will be glad that you did.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who Will You Be In 2016?

“Five years from now you will be the same person that you are today except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books that you read.”  I first heard this quote from Dr. Jay Strack at a leadership event.  Some attribute the original quote to the legendary Coach John Wooden, however Dr. Strack added the phrase “the places you go”.  When you stop to think about the person that you have become you realize the truth in those words. 

Places – The places that we go impact us more than we can fathom.  Memories are forged.  Cultures are absorbed.  Perspectives are changed as we see it first hand.  Staying in the same pathways of life creates a narrow view of the world around us.  Getting out of those pathways literally expands our horizons.  Where will you go in the next 5 years that will shape you?  On a mission trip? To a new culture? The world has never been more accessible.

People – Each of us has people who have changed the way we thought, lived, and dreamed.  People we interact with influence us.  A mentor, a friendship, or even casual acquaintance can make a real difference.  This can be a positive OR negative thing.  The key to being sure it is a positive influence is to be intentional in your relationships. Make sure you form at least a couple of relationships that add value to your life in addition to all the other relationships life throws at you.  Who are the people you will take with you over the next 5 years?  They may be the catalyst to creating change in your life.

Books – Whether you are an avid, recreational, or occasional reader, books have a way of getting inside of us.  You probably still remember some of your childhood favorites.  It has become a part of your story over the years.  The same is true for any book you pick up and push through today.  Books have the power to strengthen your resolve on an issue or challenge your thinking.  People of incredible personal depth are most often readers.  What will you read in the coming days that will lead your thinking over the next 5 years?  Pick up a good book and start reading.

All of us will change and grow into a slightly different version of ourselves in the next 5 years.  Choosing wisely in the above categories will ensure that the future version of you is a better one.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Insurance Trap

Several years back I worked to meet with and supply individuals insurance coverage based on their needs and wants for the life stage they were in.  I was astounded at the majority of people who would come meet with me and have no idea of the insurance that they currently held, or the holes that were not yet being met.  I, myself, have even found myself in that trap at times where we were looped into an insurance policy, or encouraged to enroll in something that we really didn’t understand the needs for in the first place.

Case and point.  I spoke with someone on the phone just this morning who told me that he had been paying HUNDREDS of dollars into a “maternity rider” that they understood would help them significantly once they became pregnant.  Well, there’s now a baby, with a due-date, and now that they’re looking more carefully into the maternity benefits they had been investing hundreds toward, they’re discovering the benefit really isn’t very good at all.  In fact, they probably would have saved money in the long run if they would have just saved and invested the premium they were paying and paid the costs of delivery out of pocket, rather than depending on a worthless policy.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, and unless you’re willing to spend some time on the front-end, closely looking into the policy you select, you too could find yourself in this same boat.  Here are a few things to look for, when analyzing whether or not you need that insurance plan:

1.     Premium Paid vs. Benefit Paid:  As obvious as it sounds, you should not pay more for your insurance premium, than you may receive from the insurance policy benefits.  (Keep in mind that many times the doctor’s see the benefit money, and you don’t.)  IN other words, the next time you’re encouraged to consider that dental plan, go ahead and calculate out the benefits you’ll receive from the upcoming/ or a normal dental year.  (A filling, a few exams/cleanings, some x-rays, etc.)  If the benefit you’ll be receiving is less than a years worth of premium, you may want to look carefully at why you want to enroll in the policy.
2.     Consider the need:  Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”  A trap that I found many people fall into was the concern that they may need something in the future, but knew it would not be a need for today.  In some cases, this is true.  You may be diagnosed with some type of horrific disease in the future, but if you are surrounding yourself and covering yourself with policies to help the “maybe’s” you may find yourself shelling out hundreds a month toward a policy you may never use.  Please know I am not telling you to never get those policies – I actually do think it’s important to look critically and plan for the future.  However, if you are paying for insurance policies covering every possible scenario, you may be overpaying.
3.     Plan Ahead:  There are several insurance policies that are incredibly helpful, but they do take some pre-planning.  For example, Aflac offers an incredible policy for maternity coverage that will pay you hundreds cash once your baby is born, and you’ll only invest about $30 a month toward it.  It’s a great benefit, but the catch is that you cannot be pregnant when you enroll in the policy, meaning you have to plan ahead.  Short-term disability works the same way – pre-planning brings assistance when you need it. 

Looking to save some cash?  Try taking a closer look at your insurance plan this month and making adjustments as needed.   I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what you find!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inspiring Health in the Workplace

This past November, the organization I worked for decided to do something outside the box.  Realizing that churches, corporations, and other organizations all across the country are bulging with employees who are over-weight and under-active my employers set out to do something about it.  They hosted the first-ever company heath fair.

I remember walking into the morning of required fitness with a less than positive attitude thinking about the long list of productive activities I could have been involved in.  Soon, the carnival like atmosphere began to break down the walls I put up in personal protest to the experience.  Some of the elements of the morning were…

·      Free 15 minute massages – with education on spinal care
·      Free pedometers to compete in month long step contest – with an emphasis on staying active
·      Free Body Mass Index (BMI) readings – helping you understand if you are over or underweight
·      Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Screening
·      Nurses on hand to give medical advice for office related ailments
·      Skin-cancer screenings
·      Insurance Benefit Advisers
·      And a lot more!

The morning was full of free (healthy) food and giveaways.  So here is the real question… did it inspire any change?  I cannot speak for everyone in the organization, but I know it inspired me.  During my Body Mass Index reading I realized for the first time that I was overweight… by a lot.  I knew that I was pushing it, but when they showed me on a chart where a healthy weight was I was shocked.

A nurse on-hand explained some of the complications she had personally seen with over-weight patients who came to her doctor’s office.  After our discussion, I was convinced a change needed to be made.  It was just the catalyst I needed to get me going on a successful weight-loss and fitness journey.

If you are responsible for a team in the workplace or even in the community, consider the influence that you may have in helping your people reach their personal fitness goals.  The results of healthier individuals can only benefit the whole team.  It could be a fun way to raise awareness, create health, and build better working relationships!  Start today!

Note: Many company insurance providers already have programs like the one described above in place.  Talk with your representative about it.  If you are lucky, they may even pitch in a little to offset the cost of a company-wide health fair. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Who are you cheering for?

Our home is filled with constant laughter.  Most recently, we’ve started laughing especially hard because our son has learned to “cheer” for himself whenever he does something right! 

We determined that in addition to disciplining him when he did something wrong, he would equally as much cheer for him when he did something great!  So for instance, if we asked him to step away from the coffee table and he did, we would clap our hands and cheer telling him that he made a wise decision!  As minor as it may seem, we clap and cheer for many things!  Choosing to eat that final bite of food, leaving our poor dog alone when asked, and helping to put away his toys at the end of the day are just a few of the times that we’ll find ourselves cheering for Caleb.  Recently, he has learned how fun it is to cheer for himself, so when he makes a “wise choice” we’ll watch him turn to us, bust out a smile that reaches ear-to-ear, and start clapping his hands, expecting us to join in with him!  Each time it makes us laugh to watch our son’s healthy self-esteem overwhelm his actions.

Last night I got to thinking about other relationships I held, specifically my husband, and I realized that I recognize and cheer for the accomplishments of my one year old, and often times don’t do the same for my husband.  My expectations for Steve are so much higher, and I’ve come to a place where I expect him to cut the grass, take out the trash, and empty the diaper genie.  Because I just expect him to do these things, I forget to take note of when they are done and I (many times!) completely miss the opportunity to stop and thank him for the help he was to me, in keeping our home picked up.  Sometimes I think that my life becomes such a whirlwind that I feel as though if I stopped to recognize his incredible help, I would end up not able to accomplish something else I need to do. -- Silly, I know!

I’ve resolved this morning, to try to start “cheering” for Steve more, and thanking him specifically for the things he does to make my life easier.  I may not clap my hands for him, and yell “Yay Steve!” as I do for little Caleb, but a simple word of “Thanks!” , and the occasional explanation of why it was an especially big help to me would go a long way…I’m sure of it!  Everyone likes to hear that what they do is making a difference.  Everyone likes to know that their efforts are being noticed.  

Why don’t you join me?  Let’s all spend the next week thanking our spouse, or anyone in your life that works hard to help you! Whether it is something simple like taking out the trash, or something huge that they have done purposefully to serve you, let’s try to take note of these things and fill our homes with praise and encouragement for those around us!  "Thank you" goes a long way....just watch and see!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Listening for Leadership Growth

Every good leader knows personal leadership growth is essential to staying relevant.  “Leadership development” is not just a fad; it is a belief that input from credible sources into an influencer’s life pays big dividends over time.  However, the world of leadership development is ever-changing and expanding.  What was once the “hot” hardbound leadership book that every young leader had to read has become the most downloaded e-book.  Leadership texts can be in your hands via Kindle in less than the time it takes to answer a couple of emails. 

Another innovation is podcasting.  Certainly sports programs, churches, and a myriad of other life genres have benefited from this innovation.  Leadership is no different.  What was once an expensive tape series or CD package on leadership is now available for free, for download via iTunes.  The best part... Because the content is regularly uploaded it is fresh and meaningful for the leader in current environments.

Maybe you are relatively new to listening to some of the best and brightest leaders of our day through the world of podcasting.  Maybe you have been a part of this for a while, but you are looking for some new content.  Whatever the case may be here are three podcasts that are worth a listen if you have not already downloaded them. 

The EntreLeadership Podcast – Dave Ramsey is the powerhouse behind this podcast.  There have only been three podcasts so far, but it has been well received.  At the time of this writing, this podcast is at the top of the “Business” podcast rankings on iTunes.  It includes excerpts from some of Dave’s talks and interviews with top exec’s in thriving organizations.  The podcast takes the leadership development conversation a step beyond the principles discussed in Dave Ramsey’s book, EntreLeadership.

Catalyst Podcast – You may already know Catalyst puts together one of the finest leadership conferences in America, but they also produce a fantastic podcast.  Hosted by Ken Coleman and Brad Lomenick, this podcast is mostly interview based.  They talk with all kinds of leaders in organizational, church, and sports-life. Guests include Craig Groeschel, Jim Collins, David Platt, Mack Brown, Tony Romo (and that is just in 2011).  A new podcast comes out every two weeks or less.  Great insights from credible sources.

The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – Having led one of the most groundbreaking churches in North America, Andy Stanley has a lot of wisdom to impart on leadership.  This podcast usually includes and excerpt from one of Andy’s messages and a follow up interview with Andy to further flesh out a principle.  It is almost always near the top of the “Religion and Spirituality” iTunes rankings.  This is perhaps the most influential podcast from one of the most influential people in the church today.

Grab your iPod, iPhone, or iTunes and get these podcasts if you do not already.  Carve out some time to listen while you run, drive, or work.  You will be a better leader because of it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are you a fixer?

There are many days when Steve comes home from work and asks me how my day has been.  I’ll rant and go on and on about whatever situation while working on dinner, and he’ll sit and listen carefully while drinking his Coke Zero on the couch.  Finally, when I finish my ranting, I’ll look up, look at him in the eyes and ask, “Well?  What do you think?”  After he’s spent time listening carefully to my complete opinion of the situation, he’ll give me a calm response that usually involves something along the lines of “Beth, you already know the answer.”

The bottom line is that I usually DO know what the correct response or answer to my problem is, but I like to voice it and “flesh it out” by telling Steve every detail he really doesn’t need to know.  I like to be heard, and feel as though my opinion matters.

In my opinion, Steve has mastered Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit, from the book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  Want to know what that habit is?  Simple.  “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.”

Steve does a tremendous job of listening to my side of a situation, before providing his obvious solution.  And not only does he choose to hear what I’ve said, which makes me feel valued, but he also chooses carefully his response, based on what I have said, allowing me to know he’s really listened.

I can honestly admit that I am not near as good at this habit as my husband is, but I’m working on it.  How about you?  How well do you listen to others, and try to understand their opinion, and their side before developing an opinion of your own? 

Here are a few tips I’m trying to put into practice, in order to improve my “Habit #5.”
1.     Listen closely when someone else is talking.  I know it sounds almost silly, but it is so easy for me to become distracted when someone else is speaking to me.  Whether there are other individuals walking around nearby, or my child who is chasing the dog while I’m on the phone, distractions always seem to be in place.  I am trying hard to listen closely to what others are saying when they speak to me.
2.     Repeat it back.  One of the best ways that I can be sure I truly understood someone is by repeating back what they just told me.  Now, I don’t mean for this to come across as repetitive and obnoxious, but just enough of a “rewind” for you to be sure you understood, and the person you’re talking with to know you listened.
3.     Put myself in their shoes.  Whenever I’m listening to someone tell me about a situation they are seeking advice with, I usually try and put myself in their shoes.  I try to imagine how I would feel about the situation, and how I would naturally want to react.  That doesn’t give me a license to react that way, but for me, trying to really understand the emotions I would hold because of a situation generally helps me to empathize with the person I’m talking to.
4.     Only give advice when asked.  Sometimes people just need to have a sounding board.  I know I’m that way.  Sometimes I just want to rant and get something off my chest, but never actually need any kind of advice or steps of action to conquer my problem.  That’s something I try to keep in mind, and I try to only offer my suggestions and my opinions when they are asked for.  Other than that, I try very hard to keep my mouth shut, and serve as a sounding board for the person I’m talking with.

Okay, well that’s it.  Let’s all work on Habit #5 together this week, what do you say?  If you’ve got tips that have helped you “Seek First to understand, and then to be understood” please send them over!  I’d love any advice you can give me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Look Closely

Some of the greatest advice we were given, upon getting married, was to eliminate all debt in our life.  We walked into our marriage with quite a bit of debt when we added up all of our student loans, and car loans.  Inspired with the mission to eliminate our debt, we decided to tackle debt that we thought we could pay off first --- our student loans.  It was a manageable sum and therefore we thought that if we just saved as much as possible, within several months we could eliminate it completely.

We spend the next several months steadily paying the amounts due on our other debts, but focusing large amounts of cash toward the student loan debts that we had.  Well, within the year we smiled when we realized that we had completely paid it off!  What an accomplishment – we eliminated our student loans completely!

It wasn’t until tax-time came around that we realized the foolish error that we had made!  Not only would we have been able to deduct a portion of the interest from our student loans, but our student loans carried the smallest interest rate of ALL of our loans!  What a terrible mistake!  We should have been putting all of that money toward our loan with the highest interest rate attached – our car! 

It was then that we learned an extremely valuable lesson – one that I would keep with me from that point forward.  The lesson was to be aware of the details of our loans!  If I would have just taken a few minutes to read the loan terms, I would have quickly noticed that the interest rate was smaller on our student loans, and therefore would have saved our family hundreds in the long run!

So that’s my advice for you!  This week, take a close look at your debt and pay careful attention to all of the details of your loans!  Notice the interest rates, annual fees, and any other important details.  Then, set them side-by-side and determine which ones to pay off first!  Then, put your head to the ground, and glue your wallet closed and pay them off!  You can do it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Healthy living…on the go!

Trying to make healthy options, while living a busy life, can seem impossible at times!  Whether you work a 9-5 desk job, or are a mom-on-the-go healthy eating habits often take a back-seat to our full planner of activities.  I was talking to a mom this past week who was expressing to me how she spends her entire Saturday’s at the ball field, watching her kids.  That’s right – from 9AM until 5PM on Saturday’s (during season) she never leaves the field!  Talk about a long day!  After a wild week of work and getting everything done, I can’t imagine spending my entire “day-off” at a ball field  --- whew!

For the first year and a half, while we lived in Virginia, I maintained my job in North Carolina and commuted back and forth.  With a 3-hour drive each way, I found myself walking out the door by 5AM each morning, and back in the door that night around 7 or 8PM.  Trying to eat healthy, and live a healthy life with this schedule seemed impossible at first, as I would grab a breakfast burrito on my way out of town, eat a candy bar and some other sugary snacks for lunch and hit up McDonald’s as I stopped for gas on the way home.  With minimal exercise throughout the day, I can safely say I was packing in hundreds of calories, and burning very few!

Do you ever feel like your life is always on the go?  Feel like you’re living out of your car, more than you are in your home?  Here are a few tips that I learned, which helped me feel healthier, in the midst of a wild life!

1.  Plan for healthy snacks.  I quickly learned that the breakfast burrito I would grab at 5AM just didn’t last, leaving me feeling empty and hungry by about 9:30/10AM. After several weeks went by I discovered the value of packing a cup of yogurt or a fruit to munch on mid-morning, as I drove to my next appointment.  The truth is that if you wake up early, and even get a protein-packed breakfast in, you still will find yourself in a slump hours later because your body needs food in order to make energy.  Think low-calorie, energy rich foods (Fruits, nuts, etc!) when packing your snacks, then, when that craving comes you’ll have something already stashed away and ready for you!

2.  Drink LOTS of water!  I feel as though I have heard a million times that often times your body feels hungry, when it is actually just thirsty for water!  BUT, did you also know that Soda’s and other beverages don’t actually quench your body’s thirst?  Try packing a water bottle, filled with ice-cold water that you can drink throughout the day.  Then, when you get that hunger craving, drink some water and wait 15 minutes before diving into your snack stash.  I bet you’ll be surprised that many times you weren’t actually even hungry in the first place.

      3.     Exercise on the go.  At Steve’s office in Virginia, many of the ladies he worked with were masters at this!  It was a usual day for me to drive up to the church finding them walking back from their lunchtime stroll outside.  They would pack their tennis shoes and spend their lunch break getting some great exercise in!  Give it a try!  The weather is getting to be beautiful outside – why don’t you try to find a break at work or during your day, and get up and walk around!

      4.     Avoid going to the junk food aisles.  Did you know that the perimeter of the grocery store is your healthiest place to be?  The more “inside” you shop, the more processed and sugary snacks you’ll find!  Whenever I head to the grocery store, I try very hard to stay out of what we call the “delicious aisles.”  You know, the ones with the Famous Amos cookies, and Doritos.  I’ve found that if I spend my time walking around the perimeter of the grocery store, (with a few exceptions, of course), I fill my cart with much healthier options.  I’ll see delicious pears and blueberries that we can use as mid-day snacks, and I forget all about the Keebler Cookies calling my name!  Then, once you get home and that craving hits, the empty calories won’t be available for you to choose.

      5.     Bring herbal tea bags with you.  Sometimes, I’m just craving a “time-out.” I just need to feel like getting away for a few minutes from the stresses of my day.  I used to run to a coffee joint and grab some delicious treat “with whip!” in order to “drink away my stress!”  It was a wonderful chance to just soothe my soul whenever my day got tough.  Well, after I looked at the calorie content of my “soothe my soul” moment, (along with the price tag!) I realized it would have been better to eat a Big Mac than it was to drink down that frappe.  Recently I’ve switched to a hot cup of herbal tea.  Not only am I drinking down some wonderful vitamins and antioxidants, but also I’m soothing my “soul” with less than a 10th of the calories and pennies for the price of hot water!   Talk about truly soothing!

What other tips do you have for living a healthy life on the go?  We’d love to hear them!

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's time to get away

Prior to our son being born, everyone told us that we had to make time for our marriage.  I couldn’t imagine having a problem with wanting to spend time with just Steve, as we had spent the last several years together, developing an incredible best friendship!  Being homebody’s at heart, it made it easy for he and I to want to spend time with one another which resulted in a marriage that, although I won’t claim it’s perfection, remains very strong in the midst of an ever-changing world around us!

July 23rd, 2010, enter Caleb and oh my goodness, everything has changed!  Caleb, although we ADORE having him around, requires our full attention and so dinner discussions of “How we want to change our world” and “How God is clearly working in our lives” has now changed to “How cute Caleb was when..” or “what are we going to do to entertain Caleb once he’s finished eating.”  We have to be incredibly intentional in order to spend time with one another talking about things other than that sweet little smile.

Taking the advice we were given pre-Caleb, we made a commitment, several months ago, to choose our marriage.  We booked a cruise get-away, cashed in our “points” to make airline reservations, and headed south to enjoy a few days away. I went early to spend a few days with Caleb, making sure that my heart was comforted knowing that he was going to be well cared for.  Then Steve arrived; we dropped Caleb off in capable hands, and headed out. 

Being a first-time mom, and the first time we left my baby for any extended period of time, I’m not going to say it was easy to drive off.  However, I knew in the back of my heart, it was necessary, knowing that my marriage depended on it.  Steve and I sailed away, and spent the next several days returning to our roots and treasuring our time spent together!  We dreamed together, talked about future plans, and loved our uninterrupted time talking about our Big God and the great things He has done in our lives!  The 4 days flew by, and before I knew it we were driving back across the state to reunite with my baby boy.

Our reunion was sweet, but the confirmation in my heart, knowing we had made the right decision was even sweeter!  Marriages across our nation our failing by the hundreds, and although I’m no expert, I believe it’s because in the busyness that we all struggle to balance, we’re allowing this important element to get pushed aside.  That “loving’ feeling” we all had in our dating days is getting replaced by honey-do lists, and dinner drive-thru’s.

Steve and I have made the commitment to “choose our marriage” above anything else that we can place on our calendar.  That means we have to say “no” sometimes, to things we love, and “yes” to time away.

What about you?  When was the last time that you chose your spouse? Have you two been able to get away, recently, and commit valuable, uninterrupted time to your marriage?  Why don’t you try putting something on the calendar today?  I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Close the Conversation...Move to Action

“So are you going to do that?”

The question came as somewhat of a shock to me.  I was new on the team.  It was my first real job.   This was one of my first meetings.  Up to this point I made observations and stayed quiet because I didn’t have the history with the organization that my co-workers had.  On this particular day, I had listened to the conversation roll on about a process within our organization.  When the moment came, I injected an observation and possible solution to the discussion.

Almost immediately the response came back to me… “So are you going to do that?”

It came from my point leader.  He was not being cute or sarcastic. He sincerely wanted to know if I intended to back up my words with action and execution.  On that day I learned a valuable lesson.  Close the conversation… move to action. 

Far too often teams talk about an issue from all perspectives without creating a game plan.  The topic becomes an ongoing string of conversations in which little to no action takes place.  This is because the conversation is wide open on a particular problem and it never gets closed.  While some issues require time, wisdom, and discussion many issues are long over-due for action.

Here are two helpful questions that are essential in closing the conversation and moving toward action…

Who is going to do it?  Every solution involves a “who”.  This is actually more important than what has to happen.  Without the right person doing the right job, you will fail to actually execute the solution your team created.  This is the person that will be accountable to solving the problem.

When is it going to happen?  If you don’t put the “who” on a timeline, expectations are often unmet.  Unmet expectations foster disappointment and frustration.  Establishing when the solution should be in place helps the whole team communicate clearly about expectations.

Productive teams know how to close the circle on crucial conversations.  After the problem has been raised, ideas have been floated, and possible solutions discussed it is time to close the conversation and move to action. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Take a moment to be inspired

We exist in a world with endless to-do lists, bombarded email inboxes, and ever increasing relational demands.  In this environment imbalance reigns over the lives of most people.  We are constantly challenged to give more, be more, and do it all faster.  The pace can be hard to sustain, especially if you are not being poured into.  Let’s press the pause button for just moment on our hectic world and ask a simple question… When was the last time you took a moment to be inspired?

Personal inspiration is one of the keys to staying mentally and emotionally healthy.  If you give yourself away but never receive any kind of encouragement from inspirational sources you could be heading for burnout… quickly.   The problem is that most people wait for others to inject inspiration into their lives and never seek it for themselves.  Therefore, if no one offers any inspiration then most individuals just go without.  There is a better way.

Try making a commitment to carve out a brief moment to get inspired and encouraged.  Make it daily.  Make it a habit.  Soon you will find that you have more to give and less to be exasperated about.  Feeding your own needs is part of managing your personal growth. 

Here are a few things people I respect are doing to stay inspired…

Listen – With an ever-expanding source of podcasts and media online, there are several inspirational speakers to download.  Listen on the way to work, during an errand, or on your desktop computer while you chip away at email.

Read – Spend $10 or less to get a really good book to inspire your heart.  It could be a biography about someone that you look up to.  It could something with a collection of stories that encourage your heart.  Find something you can read for 15 minutes a day that will really impact you. 

Spiritual Habits – Prayer works, there is no doubt about it.  The most balanced and inspired people I know spend time daily in prayer.  Additionally, reading and memorizing scripture from the Bible can be a source of inspiration that gets into your head but also transforms your heart.

Talk – We all have people in our lives that are inspirational powerhouses.  Schedule a lunch or coffee with someone like this regularly.  Listen carefully to their words as they speak and allow them to speak truth into your life.

There are more strategies to stay inspired out there.  Any one of these above would be a good place to start.  They key is to get going.  Start seeking out moments of inspiration daily.  You and those around your will be grateful that you did.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Planning for the Unplanned

As we pulled out of the driveway it was apparent that something was wrong with our vehicle.  A grinding sound, like metal on metal, resounded throughout garage.  After a quick check around the exterior of the car we knew this was something a mechanic would have to explore.  A few hours later we were faced with several hundred dollars worth of automotive repairs.  While no one likes to part with that kind of money, we were prepared.

Several years ago, a brief segment on a radio show challenged listeners to prepare for those “unexpected, but expected expenses.”  As we listened to the broadcast, the financial guru used the example of a vehicle.  Everyone who drives will eventually have maintenance and repair expenses.  This is not “if it will happen” but “when will it happen”.  When these kinds of expenses arise they may be unexpected in the moment, but we can foresee them coming as part of life.  His answer?  Set aside funds to offset the blow in certain categories. 

We adopted the principle the radio host talked about and began setting aside funds in order to plan for the unplanned.  Here are a few of the areas we have committed to prepare for…

Auto Maintenance and Repair – Oil Changes, scheduled maintenance, and the occasional repair are always associated with driving a vehicle.  This is especially true of a car as it ages.  If you put aside a few dollars each month you can offset the blow that these kinds of expenses make to your budget.

Health Care – You and/or a family member will get sick at some point in the next 12 months.  Hopefully you have insurance to help with the expenses.  Still, co-pays and prescriptions can add up quickly.  If you put aside funds ahead of the sickness, it will help you avoid financial heartburn when the healthcare bill comes.

Occasions – Whether it is school supplies at the beginning of the year, travel during the holidays, or a gift for a wedding you can count on certain occasions that will impact your budget as well as your calendar. Begin looking at your calendar to count the cost.  As you identify costly dates months away you can plan expenses accordingly.

It can be financially jarring to take on an expense that you were not planning for.  While we cannot foresee every surprise that comes our way, we can still count on life’s inevitabilities.  When we plan for these moments we provide a more stable financial base for our families and ourselves.