Category Archives: Inspirational

Pool philosophy

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Take that leap--now!

So I’m in the pool at Innsbrook Country Club, and I challenge my son Max, 6, to a hop-like-a-frog race. Immediately, he bobbed to the end of the pool, beating me by at least four yards.

“No fair!” I yelled. “I want a rematch!”

Not until I drank a glass of Pinot did I realize the match *was* fair, after all. I told him we would race, and he began. I wanted to go backward to the opposite edge of the pool and wait for a ceremonial “ready-set-go!” so I could hop my fastest.

By differently interpreting the rules of our race, Max was pretty smart; when he didn’t procrastinate like I did, he didn’t need to race as fast or hop as far.

My son—who incidentally likes to pretend he’s a cat—knows something many sixtysomethings don’t: Don’t wait until you think all conditions are right. Start *now* toward your goals.

I’ve been working on this myself. Instead of telling myself, “Because I cheated on my diet with that Ho-Ho today, I’ll start eating better tomorrow,” I’ve been saying, “I caught myself snacking on that Ho-Ho instead of eating it mindlessly. What an improvement!”

That is, I didn’t make a mistake; I made a start.

I wish I would’ve thought that way when I was 23, in the midst of a recession, and struggling to find a media job in Minneapolis-St. Paul—where everybody in the Northern Hemisphere seemingly also wanted a job.

One day, after getting my sixty-seventh rejection, I lay on the sofa, stared at the ceiling, and cried. On my breaks at my $4.25-an-hour temp jobs, I would call back to the companies who said, “Call back in a few weeks, and maybe–”

I did. One day, a managing editor named Harvey Rockwood (really, that’s his name) blurted, “I’m glad you called. I found out an hour ago that I need a copy editor—fast!”

Now, as I train myself to live more healthfully, I’ve been retraining myself to envision success as a process, not a state. We watch “Cribs” on MTV and think celebrities were born with some celestial tuba’s “oompah” that rendered them superstars.

By the way, not even the fabulous live so fabulously. Frequently they joke on camera about the designer they hired to clean their refrigerator and arrange products on its shelves so you think they really do swill the energy drinks they endorse. We don’t see or consider the years of practice and rejection stars endured to *become.*

Even negatives bring us closer to a positive. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Reverse that statement, and you’ll realize that if you keep trying, eventually, you’ll score a goal.

As a postscript, if you think it’s weird that a woman my age is conducting hop-like-a-frog races, according to livestrong.com, I lost 300 calories playing in the water that day. So there!

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First printed Winter 2009, but seems more relevant today

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This image was...interesting, for many reasons.

You’ve heard our economic condition called “the Great Recession,” but I wonder if the Greatest Generation gets offended by our being presumptuous and self-indulgent enough to compare today’s economy to what they endured. Are you wearing cardboard in the soles of your shoes?

I write much about thriving through crisis, and I think one way is to realize how soft our lives today are. But there are many other ways to brighten this darkest part of the year.

First, remember you’re probably not busy. Telling people you’re busy might offend people who are.

How do you know if you’re busy? If you’re caring for a child with Down syndrome or a housebound parent, you’re busy. If you can watch TV for an hour, you’re not. So if you’re not, your life is better than you thought.

When I had four children under age 4, I felt I was serving a life sentence. I felt better when I learned you can be on the mountaintop for one facet of life but in the valley for another—for example, maybe you’re jobless, but your relationships are good.

No experiences go to waste unless they go unexamined. The longer I’m a teacher and parent, the more I realize life isn’t linear, events sequential. Rather, events are linked by memory and meaning.

A new professor recently approached me about her anxiety to guide each student to that “aha!” moment. I told her not to stress—she couldn’t maintain that anxiety for decades.

“You’re not just your students’ teacher for a semester,” I said. “You’ll be teaching them the rest of their lives.”

I remember reading Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey” when I was 20, but I didn’t get it until I was 30, when it moved me to tears. But how wrong Wordsworth was—passion only gains momentum with wisdom. Time without journey is meaningless.

Back to that new professor. Show the students their goal, what you want them to learn, I said. Show them a few ways to get there. Tell them to keep their minds open that other avenues might exist. Do your best, but realize only the students can journey to that truth.

Journeys are encoded into many religions. The three wise men journeyed to Jesus. Muslims undertake Hajj to Mecca.

Journeys aren’t supposed to be easy. If they were, the three wise men wouldn’t have followed a star; they would’ve teleported to Jesus–nothing resonant about that.

Parents, don’t despair with your children; undertake your journey with them at peace. Teachers, realize you may only teach your students one lesson—but it may be the one lesson they really need.

Amidst these holidays, may your journey begin.

The best way to get ready for spring

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It all started with a satin sleep mask.

In the complete darkness, I snoozed beautifully. Then I realized my old green toile apron held a bazillion doodads in its pockets. Now I never stay home without it.

The step from convenience to comfort is small, but the drop to self-indulgence is long, even for parents, who ruefully remember how easy life was in the years BC (Before Children).

“Why don’t horror movies scare you?” my oldest son just asked.

“Because the devil is too smart to resemble a B-movie monster. He’s more likely to be a drive-through window.”

When I counted how often I indulge myself or work toward convenience, I didn’t like the results. I decided to give up junk food for Lent, the 40 days in which Christians prepare for Easter. I also fast every Tuesday.

Disclaimers: I passed a full physical. Fasting is an unhealthy diet, and the Gospel of Matthew advocates nobody know you’re fasting. I hope readers recognize I’m not fasting for self-aggrandizement.

Moreover, fasting isn’t a very Lutheran idea. Lutherans do give up for Lent, but they’re likely to take on, too—say, volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter.

My problem is that I take on too much: Should I teach the kids French? Oui! Enroll them in soccer? Bien sûr!

Besides, fasting is a fitting way to atone for every time I’ve shoved food in my mouth without concern for people who are hungry, even in Schererville. Discomfort? A reminder of Christ’s much-worse suffering on the cross.

The first day I fasted was Ash Wednesday. By evening, I was a little lightheaded, but my stomach didn’t growl. If I distract myself while I run, time compresses. Likewise, I decided that, once I make up my mind, I ignore negatives that occur while I’m achieving the expected.

The next day, I realized if I could endure those 30 hungry hours, I could conquer other challenges that, reconsidered, are merely a matter of willpower.

Our society often equates success with luxury or ease, but my readers probably live better than the multimillionaires of 1890–air conditioning and aspirin, anyone? Most Americans thus are successful, but unless they’re inventors, the success was someone else’s.

If your idea of success is buying stuff or getting comfortable, you’re thinking small.

You don’t need to be religious to conduct spiritual warfare: You are the final frontier. You should solve big problems. Achieve what you consider impossible. Help people you consider beyond your help. If you’ve got big problems, that’s part of being human, so parents, you’re good.

Whether or not you observe Lent, start solving a big problem now. Then you can truly celebrate when spring blooms.

Woo hoo!

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Me finishing my first 5K at the Midwinter Cruise in Park Forest, IL. Hugely inspirational coach Misty Chandos is on my right, and Jen Ryman is wearing the lime green jacket.

Color me purple and white: I am faithful unto death.

Yup, that’s right: I joined an alumnae chapter of my college social sorority, Sigma Sigma Sigma. I joined Tri-Sigma at Indiana University in the late eighties. During that spending boom, every young woman wanted to join one: When I was a freshman, talk of boys and parties died during rush, replaced with endless obsession about what house had what reputation.

By the time I graduated, I rolled my eyes at all the clapping and cheering—and now that I’m a mom, with my own Tri-Sigma legacy, Madeline—I realize all the clapping and cheering was seriously awesome.

I’ve written before that our culture is based on discontent. So adults come home and, after cooking a five-course, gourmet meal, your partner says, “That was good.”

Good? There are people in this world living on a handful of rice a day. That meal was great!

I didn’t understand the value of cheering until I took my toddlers to Kindermusik. After every activity, we adults cheered, even if our child spent the whole time in the bathroom. We were celebrating progress, however small.

Humans need to belong; we’re social creatures. Without support from others, we die. Individuals as a whole aren’t particularly smart—it took me 42 years to eat more than three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Our species isn’t the strongest or the toughest. Without medical care, we don’t live very long.

Our survivalistic advantage comes from the ability to adapt and form emotional bonds.

Being a pastor’s spouse is extraordinarily lonely and difficult. We usually live a day’s drive from family and childhood friends, and new acquaintances rarely want to share their Friday nights with us when they’ve already established all the friends they need or their family lives close. Or maybe they’re busy on the one night off a pastor gets.

Most folks apologize for cursing, or they apologize for perceived faults, which is totally hilarious because we’ve heard it all and are more tolerant than anybody else you know. We spend so much time in our congregations, it’s hard to make friends outside them. Yes, we do make friends within our congregations, but it’s still different because those friends need us to be clergy first.

I got used to the loneliness until I took part in a 5K race in Illinois a couple weeks ago. People, I ran the whole race in 56:51—the nearest finishers had already walked inside by the time I was done.

The FleetFeet coaches clustered around me as I neared the red arch over the finish line. They cheered me the whole way. And then something happened that took me a couple weeks to digest.

I turned to my coaches and said, “Oh, no, I’m going to come in last!”

The team’s Jen Ryman promptly said, “No, you won’t. I’ll come in last.”

And she fell back behind me to cross the finish line.

Now, I doubt she’s thought about that incident twice, but yesterday, I realized what a sisterly, noble act it was. Jen is a true athlete, a trained runner who has probably never even contemplated finishing last.

For it to even occur to her to finish behind a runner who must seem frustratingly slow to some was a truly sisterly, noble act. I had accepted I would be late, so her thoughtfulness gave me a dignity I’d already accepted I wouldn’t have.

Now, I’ve talked to Jen a lot, and I know she’s a product of the Greek system—she’s a Kappa Delta—good job, KD!—and in the past few days, I realized it was exactly the kind of thing sisters would do for each other.

Yes, I get the stereotype of sorority sisters being shallow snobs. Sometimes it’s true, but only at the start. Sisters see each other get fat, get sick, and eventually, get old. The only person I keep in contact with from college is my sorority sister, Caroline Nietert.

Yesterday I sent an e-mail to my key alumna introducing myself, and before I knew it, I had all kinds of e-mails in my inbox signed, “Sisterly love.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a joiner, only with being a mindless conformist. People, our winter has been super hard this year, bitterly cold and super snowy. More than ever, we need to cheer each other on.

I am become kitten, the destroyer of worlds

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Wouldn't this kitten be a great logo for a death metal band? (Say, DethKatte.)

I got the idea for this column after a bad dream last night. I don’t remember what it was about—it involved monsters, no bad omens—but I awoke at 3:15 a.m.

Walking to the bathroom to splash my face with water, I was shocked by the shaft of golden light streaming through the open door. Silhouetted in it was the long shadow of something watching me. And, and—

It mewed.

I screamed. Then I realized the horror was a fluffy, adorable, 3-month-old kitten. Who wanted to snuggle, despite the hour. That’s right: The Kitten of Doom scared a grown woman. I’m still laughing at myself.

But this morning, I wonder how many crises would be lessened if we took a step back and laughed at them. That’s one reason I make watching comedy part of my day, often while I work out or do laundry.

Laughing at a situation means you’re in control, that you’re strong enough to minimize the situation with joking. OK, the situation might not be comedic—who really feels like cracking jokes after a spouse dies?—but you can remember funny times you had with the deceased. Or you can tease your children at some silly thing they’ve done.

Children are natural comics, but sometimes I get so absorbed in work that I only smile at their antics, not join in. When I do join in, my mood gets boosted, and I think they’re happier and more secure because Mom is lighthearted.

If you’re facing crises, start toward adopting a more optimistic attitude, maybe by subscribing to a joke of the day service on the Web. Seek out happy people; listen to happy music.

Sometimes I wonder if Americans think all their circumstances must be right to be happy: They must have a big house or car, great job, et cetera. Nothing is wrong with striving toward those, but you needn’t depend on outside conditions to feel good inside. You’re in control; you can make yourself happy now, even if only for a few seconds.

Death is bad for your health

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Death is bad for your health.

That’s what I told a friend when she questioned my joining a running team. “Isn’t running hard on your joints” as a waaay overweight person? I knew she was silently adding. I knew it was a big project, but I figured working on my heart’s health was more important than babying my knees.

Flashback: Rebecca jogging around her high-school track, thudding to a halt at three-fourths mile. “Don’t quit,” yelled my gym teacher. “You can do it.”

But I stopped jogging anyway. In 2010, at age 41, I’d never run a mile. But on impulse, I joined FleetFeet Sports’ No Boundaries program. Their plan called for us to start by running one minute and walking four.

I did it. I couldn’t believe it. It was like the sky turned purple, and my whole world changed. We kept increasing our intervals. Maybe I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I jogged when they told me and walked when they told me. In the end, I realized how little we really know about ourselves.

Everybody’s seen two fighting fish separated by a wall to keep them battling to the death. Turns out that, after they learn the barrier’s impassible, you can remove it, and they won’t attack each other, though nothing prevents them. How many of us are no smarter than fish?

When I was 15, I ate horribly and never exercised. Now, I try to eat well and exercise daily. For 26 years I could’ve enjoyed running, but I didn’t realize a barrier I had then no longer existed.

And I do enjoy running. Rocky’s got nothing on any parent with determination. I downloaded LLCoolJ’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” onto my iPod and wear a black headband like I’m starring in “Move Your Boogie Body,” a terrifying Jazzercise video from 1982, which you can see below.

Fast forward three months, and imagine me jogging thirty laps around my health club’s track–three miles. I was in tears; I wanted to call my ex-gym teacher and tell him that maybe I stopped running that day, but I didn’t quit. It just took me longer to do it than the other kids.

So here’s my challenge for you: Imagine something you don’t think you can do, and do it. Then, inspire other parents at my new blog at http://www.wormsoup.wordpress.com. There, local parents can contribute their opinions on certain topics, and I’ll draw from their experiences–giving proper credit, of course–in future Times columns.

Problem is, I need a slogan to run beneath the “Crazy Mom” blog headline. Sooo, go to the blog, and leave your slogan as a comment. If I pick yours, you’ll get a $50 CVS gift card. You only have until Oct. 15.