Tag Archives: Learning

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect … But it Sure Helps!

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I’m counting the days now.  I have five precious days between now and then. I have a tad less than 120 hours between now and then.  I have two formal lessons between now and then.  I also have two children to teach, three scheduled appointments to attend, and six youth group children to lead between now and then.

This is something I’ve prepared for over the course of the past 11 years, more heavily over the past two years, but devotedly over the past six months.  Call it a hobby, if you must, but I call it a passion; I call it part of me; I call it dedication.  What is it that lives in my future, a breath away, anticipating my appearance?

In five days, I will stand with a group of peers, before an examination board of five members to demonstrate my abilities in Soo Bahk Do while seeking a rank promotion.  Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art, is not a sport, so to suggest that my demonstration involves competition would be technically incorrect. However, on that particular night on the floor of the dojang, I will be in competition – not the competition that would bring to mind two rivals ferociously seeking to triumph over their opponent, but rather the competition that occurs within oneself. Instead of demonstrating superiority over my peers, I will be contending for outstanding execution  of all I’ve ever learned. I will be competing for my finest hour … er … three hours.

Competition. Does it conjure up a positive feeling?  If team sports, such as baseball, football, or soccer, have been part of your life, or perhaps part of the life of your children, competition can feel inspiring or motivating. Likewise, it can also feel discouraging or disheartening, probably depending upon the outcome of the event!  The same is true for those that compete in individual sports or arts, such as gymnastics, dance, golf … or martial arts.

Until recently, I’ve viewed competition as rivals attempting to triumph at the cost of defeating of the other. Both sides walk away; one having conquered, the other having surrendered. Personally, that has always presented a conundrum … how to feel completely content with that win, understanding that it came at a cost to others. At the heart of it, however, we discover that we compete with others, not against others, since we are all striving together to produce excellence. To give the opponent anything less than our best would be out of the question, as it would prohibit them from improving themselves.

Despite the fierce competition that comes from the outside, competition within ourselves can be even more intense as we know better than any other where our capabilities lie and therefore know when we’ve fallen short. While it’s true that we are typically our own worst critics, we can positively utilize that inner-striving to produce excellence. We can use both setbacks and success to improve ourselves. To use setbacks for the purpose of growth is called grace, and as we extend grace to others, we need to extend it to ourselves as well. To fail gracefully, while learning from the process, is a win. We can view our very best attempt as a win, simply because we attempted.

On my journey to this newest martial arts rank advancement, I’ve achieved so many smaller successes.  Previous rank advancements would be obvious achievements. But I’ve also learned the art of dedication and drive, the profession of perseverance and practice, the capacity to comprehend new material, and the ability to overcome adversity in training, Incrementally I have received lessons, beyond the techniques themselves, that I didn’t expect to learn inside the four walls of the dojang.

Soon I will take part in a dan classing where my technique will be showcased to five examiners. While I do not yet know the outcome of that event, I do know that I have grown through the process of preparation. I have developed in ways that far surpass my technique alone.  Fortunately, my instructor is more concerned about my development than my three hours on the floor.

Interestingly, that’s just how God works. He refines us from the inside out and cares about our growth through the process we call life.  Our striving in life mirrors our striving in the various arts and sports … and through both, we grow.

I’ve absorbed, practiced, and persevered. After all that, I still cannot claim perfection in technique. On October 11, 2013, I’ll be leaving the results to God. Like my instructor, He too is interested in the process of development and any lessons left to learn, He will be teaching me!

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LOOK UP!

Seriously. Look up, especially if there are currently others near you. You’ll find it doesn’t take much effort to direct the attention of others in the direction you look. Don’t believe me? Do it. Look up!

As I explained this concept to my younger sons, it was easy to see that they they didn’t believe that they have the power to direct anyone’s attention in any direction. So tonight I assigned them *homework* while they are at school tomorrow. All they need to do is look up while with someone. I’m confident that they will find that they are indeed capable of directing attention. In fact, even animals can direct our attention!

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It doesn’t seem very important, does it? But it carries much more weight than a simple sociology experiment carried out in the classroom of an elementary school by my children.  We’re always being observed … by our boss, colleague, teacher, peer, parent, friend  and yes, even by our foe. Those observations carry with them incredible opportunities, but if we lack awareness, they will be missed.

With the choices I make personally, I have opportunities to influence someone in either a positive or negative manner. That choice will cause others to at least momentarily direct their attention my way.

So what do I want others to see in me?

  • I want them to see someone that works hard and plays hard;
  • I want them to see someone who is trustworthy;
  • I want them to see someone that is both kind and loving;
  • I want them to see someone that lives courageously;
  • I want them to see someone who is grateful; and most importantly
  • I want them to see Christ, not really me.

That imparts so much more significance to our choices, yes? While others look at me, I need to be looking up!  I need to be Christ-centered, demonstrating godliness in my actions, behaviors, and choices because others are watching me. I want them to have what I have, to know Who I know, to love and be loved by Him.

It’s such a simple concept bearing more power than we often realize.

Look up! Others are watching you.

Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

Second Sock Syndrome (Or Do It Again! and again and again)

socksKnitting.  Apparently it’s all the rage.  I didn’t know that when I discovered my new love a little less than four months ago. But honestly I’m grateful that knitting is considered trendy right now since it opens up so many doors for me by way of local yarn shops, publications, websites, inspirations, and co-addicts  fellow knitters.

Four months into this new hobby, I have created approximately 15 scarves, 10 hats, a varied numbers of cowls, headbands, washcloths, and fingerless gloves. Yes, I am even in the process of knitting (gulp) socks.

When a friend told me she knitted her socks, my immediate questions was, “What possesses you?”  I would ogle the socks that adorned her feet, studying the micro stitches and intricate patterns, and a feeling of incapability would immediately wash over me.  Each time this happened, I would quickly dismiss the notion of knitting socks as something only attempted by the most masterful knitter or the criminally insane.  I was neither so I was safe.

It’s never really that easy though, is it?  I wounder if you are much like I am. When faced with something that appears to be essentially impossible, it becomes difficult to dismiss for more than ten minutes at a time.  An inner voice whispers in my ear, softly at first, then louder with the passage of time, like a child whose questions have gone unheard for too long.

“You can do it.” “You CAN do it.” “YOU can DO it!” “YOU CAN DO IT!”

OK.  Admittedly, THAT is about all the motivation that I require to tackle something new.  Understandably, there are things that I cannot do.  A triple twisting back flip off a 4″ ledge comes quickly to mind.  Other than that, I appreciate a challenge and typically work hard to accomplish a new goal.  In cases such as this, motivation runs naturally high for me.

For three weeks now I have knit with needles the size of toothpicks and yarn seemingly no thicker than thread. I have watched the pattern emerge as I repeatedly hold my first sock to my foot and imagine the end product, all while I question the sanity of working so hard at something that will soon be covered up by a boot!

As that first sock nears completion, however, the stark realization sets in. That exact sock needs to be knit again.  This time around will be easier since I have just proven that, in fact, I can knit a sock.  But the motivational level has dropped significantly. This is a project that I have already done. I really want to set my sights on the horizon and select a new project rather than repeating the  exact item I just completed.  In the knitting community, this is known as Second Sock Syndrome and it often strikes both the seasoned and new knitter with a vengeance.

This mirrors life, doesn’t it?  Whether in school, at work, or in the home, there are many tasks that require repetition.  A student will daily board the school bus, arrive at a prescribed time, navigate the halls to attend classes, work complicated math problems and write long papers. At home we never truly finish the laundry, meal prep, or dishes.  And even though the same carpet has been vacuumed thousands of times, it will require it again and again and again.  In the work environment, there will always be meetings to attend, customers to serve, and files to be restored.  Often these tasks will involve the same people on a daily basis.

Conversely, a two year-old will repeatedly squeal with delight, yelling, “More, more!” as you pop your head over the top of his favorite blanket in a jovial game of Peek-A-Boo!  A year later, he will plead with you, “Do it again!” as you twirl him around the backyard, helicopter fashion.  At five years-old, he will be in front of the TV at 11 a.m. to watch SpongeBob and find humor in it – even when he has watched the same episode three times already.

I have no doubt that, at a young age, there is still a freshness to much of life in just the everyday, so unless it involves potty training, self-motivation is extremely accessible.

How often do we squeal with delight, singing out, “Do it again!” as we dislodge the vacuum cleaner from the closet and prepare to vacuum the carpet? Have we ever seen anyone board a school or city bus, smiling and calling out, “More! More!”?  Do we find excitement in running the same backup tapes at work as a myriad of colorful lights flash excitedly before our eyes?

So what motivates you? Since Second Sock Syndrome set in with me, I’ve begun questioning people about their motivation in the everyday.  The answers are always varied. Some are surprising, others are more predictable. Some are internal motivators, others are external motivators. Examples include:

  • the threat of punitive measures if not completed (fear);
  • the desire to please someone else (recognition);
  • the determination to set a good example for others (futurity);
  • the opportunity to grow in both patience and persistence (progress);
  • the hope of learning new information (knowledge acquisition) ; and
  • the start-strong, finish-strong mentality (achievement).

Regardless of the motivation, I find there is always one thing that remains constant.  That constant is an end goal that the person sees and strives to attain.  The student strives for the grade in hopes of a scholarship.  The employee strives to meet or exceed expectations at the end of the day, week, month or year, in anticipation of a salary increase, promotion, or both. The stay-at-home mom strives to create an environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and physically comfortable for her family.

Motivation is really a requirement in goal accomplishment since it usually determines whether or not we will even attempt to achieve our goals. Therefore it becomes important to realize what our motivators are. What do we respond well to? From where do we draw our strength to continue?  Are we able to develop internal motivation or do we depend solely on external motivators? As individuals we all differ in what drives us, yet there is motivation in nearly everything we do.

Today I invite you to consider your motivators. Determine what moves you toward your goals. By knowing and understanding your personal motivators, you create a life line in time of need when you are able to recall WHY you are doing something – especially when it appears mundane.

That Second Sock Syndrome I refer to?  It CAN be beat … I need only put the first sock on my foot to realize how important it is to finish the task!

Philippians 3:13-14

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

The Stepping Stone in the Journey

Minnesotans … We’re a people known for our extended goodbyes. We start saying goodbye in the living room, lumber through the dining room remembering missed conversations, progress slowly to the entryway discussing plans for tomorrow, follow the guests out the the driveway while providing armfuls of hugs and ample driving advice, and then wave unceasingly as the guests drive out of view. Eventually we walk back inside and turn off the lights, resigning ourselves to the fact that our guests have left.

I’m in the process of saying goodbye now and it is tough. Incredibly tough.

I’ve had the same neighbor for over 20 years now. Rob has been a friend, a confident and quite often a role model to my children. For 18 of those 20 years, he has consistently beaten back the cancer monster. He would go into remission time and time again, only to have it rear it’s ugly head in some other form, but Rob was a fighter and no one ever thought that cancer could overcome him.

As I sat inside Rob’s living room, perched on the couch next to his bed, I made light conversation with him, hoping that he was able to hear and process at least some of the things I spoke to him. Occasionally he would open his eyes and I would see him in there, looking at me, wanting to talk but unable.

“The Cowboys won last night. It was a close game, but they pulled it off in the end.”

“You’ve been the best of neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for better.”

“Thanks for always being there when we needed you. We appreciate you.”

“We’ll be here to help JoAnne out. Don’t worry about her at all.”

“It won’t be long now and your body will be restored; healed.”

“I love you. You will be missed.”

While Rob slept on and off, I gently held his hand and talked to his wife seated across the other side of his bed.  We talked about his childhood memories, his kind nature, his football allegiances, his squirrel-shooting hobby, the length of his illness, and his incredibly valiant efforts to survive his odds.

“He didn’t deserve this.” she said.  I nodded in agreement. He so did not deserve this.

“This isn’t what it’s about. Life is just a stepping stone for what follows.” she continued.

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Bird’s Feather Stepping Stone

Amen. I could not have said that better myself. A stepping stone … intricately designed before being carefully set in place, then lovingly positioned into just the right spot, placed to   provide both direction and confidence of footing on the journey. Once established in its given path, it quickly becomes dirty with use and time, yet is easily restored to its initial beauty with one sweeping motion.

A stepping stone … just a small part of a journey along a much longer path. Over time it wears down. Through the hot sun, the brisk winds, and the seasonal storms, it gradually erodes – an unavoidable process that begins at the exact moment it is laid in place. Amid the dirt of life and the inevitable erosion, the One who laid that stone is enthralled with its beauty while understanding its very temporary nature.  Quite often, time itself will cause that stone’s mere existence to cease. Other times, there will be situations that expedite the process.  One day there may even come those that have never known of the stone’s existence.  And yet, fragments will continue to be carried along in the sands, leaving an indelible footprint; proof of its time here on earth.

It looked painfully obvious to me that Rob needed to be moving on from this life. His stepping stone had been well-utilized, but was now wearing so very thin.  Even though Rob wasn’t a Minnesota native, he (not unlike myself) had mastered the long goodbye – both in everyday life and in leaving for the next life. Now, however, was my turn to linger. In my heart, I knew this was probably my very last earthly goodbye to my friend and walking out his door was extremely difficult. I kissed my dear friend on the head, gently hugged his frail body, and told him I loved him one last time.

Today Rob’s stepping stone has served its purpose; his earthly journey complete.

A light has gone out indicating that one of earth’s guests has gone home.

God speed, my friend. You will be so very missed.

Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Math Word Problems (Or Forcing a Square Peg in a Round Hole)

My nine year-old has more homework than usual this week. That’s OK. Since I homeschooled my oldest sons, I know all too well how to teach a third grader, but every once in a while the explanation seems to elude me.  His weakest (and therefore most detested) subject is math, so I wasn’t surprised that he balked when we began the two pages of word problems. The conversation that ensued while we worked through the problems was actually quite comical.

Me (reading from the assignment): Write and solve a word problem in which you must find an unknown partner.

Aidan (a little confused): You mean like I have to do in gym?

Me (containing my smile): No, Honey. This is different. The teacher is asking you to create a word problem similar to the nine that we just worked through. Finding an unknown partner means you’re only given a portion of the information and you need to use math to find out the portion that you weren’t given.

Aidan: Does it need to be a subtraction problem?

[He sees no useful reason he should ever have to do subtraction, especially if it involves borrowing from the *neighbor*.  Wait until he opens his first checking account!]

Me: Let’s assume the answer is YES since the previous nine problems all involved subtraction.

Aidan (enthusiastically):  I know! There were 15 kids in costumes. Six kids wore ghost costumes.

Me (excitedly thinking he’d caught on quickly): Good, Aidan! I’ll write that part down for you. Now you need to end the word problem by asking a question. What would your question be?

Aidan (very confidently): The question part is really easy, Mom!  How many kids wore werewolf costumes?

Me (mental face palm): Ummm.  No. How could I answer that, Aidan, since there are still nine kids that I don’t know about?

Aidan: Easy. I could tell you.

Me (growing more confused than HIM!): Tell me what, Aidan?

Aidan: I could tell you that eight of the kids wore werewolf costumes!

Me: But eight werewolves plus six ghosts only equals 14 kids. I thought there were 15 kids in costumes.

Aidan (more than ready to make his word problem work):  OK. So let’s say that the other kid dressed as Darth Maul.

[sigh]

It’s fun to hear how Aidan processes things. He’s not a neuro-typical third grader since he navigates life with high-functioning Autism, but he is very academically adept. That said, our math lesson gave me reason to pause tonight to explain to him that somewhere in our conversation, he went off-course. It wasn’t about werewolves at all when we began the word problem, but once he introduced werewolves into the picture, he was focused on  making it work.

How often do we find ourselves doing the very same thing, whether it be with a school assignment, a work situation, or a life circumstance? After using a half page of paper on one algebra problem, it becomes obvious that the direction in which we are headed is not right. But who wants to rework that entire problem? It seems more time-efficient to chalk it up to a great, albeit failed, attempt and be thankful it was only worth five points while moving on to the following problem. At work, we find that the implementation of  a new product did not provide the company with the long-term benefits we anticipated. Rather than giving voice to this fact, we force the new product to fit into the business while we listen to our peers grumble under their breath. In life we find ourselves accumulating debt. As the interest becomes higher than the principle, we begin to realize that our credit card debt is too high, but it’s so much easier to open a new credit card and start with a zero balance than to reign in our spending habits and pay off the balance on the first card.

As we worked through Aidan’s math word problem that evening, we had to return to the base problem to ascertain how to best address it. Avoiding the problem, or simply adding new factors, was not working – no matter how hard he tried forcing that square peg into the round hole!

What are the square pegs in your life? Are you working through issues where you’ve introduced too many factors? Or are you simply ignoring that the issue exists at all? Unfortunately, the issues that are not dealt with remain, needing correction and seeking closure. Left open and uncorrected, they haunt us unceasingly.  Face the issues in your life; correct them; bring closure. It will feel fa-BOO-lous!

Philippians 3:13-15
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

It CAN Always Get Worse!

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How was your week? Mine felt unbearably long and there were many times I was sure Friday evening would never arrive – or if it did, I would somehow miss it amid the chaos of life. The proverbial nail was driven into the casket this evening as my six year old spilled his milk on the peanuts I had just spent two hours shelling while our four month old puppy pounced excitedly between his rawhide bone and the sweet, dripping kitchen table unsure which way to run in the 1.5 square feet of space available. Admittedly, bedtime could not come soon enough – if not for the young ones, for me.

OK. It can always get worse. When I’m tempted to feel tapped, I try to remind myself of that fact. For example, Rasputin, the iconic Russian religious advisor to the Romanov family, definitely dealt with greater grievances. Hated by many in a country where he held significant influence and power (not an unusual feat in and of itself), he experienced trials and tribulations beyond what I’d wish on my worst enemy. Rasputin was stabbed, poisoned, shot three times, clubbed, and drowned – and with the exception of the stabbing, it all happened in one evening!

I can’t top that. More importantly I don’t even want to try! Incomplete homework assignments, piles of laundry, sticky floors, dinner dishes, spilled milk, and puppy poo all plague my week, but I can tackle those consistent challenges that attempt to derail my days. And much like Rasputin, I don’t go down without a good fight. But his life, and subsequent death, serve as a stark reminder that it can always get worse!

So how did you say your week went?

I’m Normal. What Are You?

After a full day of playing with Legos, Matchbox Cars, Wii, and various outdoor toys, the time had come for Owen’s best friend, Alex, to go home. As we  entered the van for the fourteen mile drive, Alex chose to sit in the far reaches, the very back seat – because providing additional challenges in a conversation can make it extra interesting, right? As I chatted with Alex over the expanse of empty seats, our conversations flowed easily, especially considering Alex is only five years old and doesn’t really know me very well. We were, however, trying our best to listen to each other over the noise of both the engine and the road.

When Alex told me he was learning Spanish, my curiosity was piqued.  See, Alex is Asian – but beyond knowing THAT, I have no idea what Alex’s heritage is, so the following conversation ensued:

Me (trying to peer into the rear view mirror to occasionally establish eye contact):  That’s really cool that you’re learning Spanish, Alex.  What is your ancestry?

Alex (pausing, not quite sure of the meaning of the word):  Ummmm ….. I don’t know.

Me (trying to help him out with both an explanation and a prompt): Ancestry means lineage or where your parents and grandparents came from. Are you Korean?

Alex (quickly): No.

Me: Are you Chinese?

Alex: No.

Me: Are you Vietnamese?

Alex: No.

Me (now floundering as I was running out of options): Japanese?

Alex: No.

[Since Alex was so sure these options were not part of his ancestry, it struck me that Alex might KNOW his ancestry and I need only quit prompting him. So I continued my line of questions in a new manner:]

Me: If none of those are part of your lineage, then what ARE you, Alex?

[Alex’s reply was quick as a wink and sure as a boy could be, causing me to really hear his answer.]

Alex (simply):  I’m normal.

Touche, Alex.

Pause for consideration, Reader. How do you see YOURself? It occurs to me that we all too often view our differences in a manner that set us apart from others, in both a positive and negative manner. If you’re seated across from a potential employer in a job interview, that may be a necessity to secure employment.  More often, however, we need to look for commonalities that enable us to be ONE with each other.  At the tender age of five, Alex seemed to understand that commonalities make for both a confident person and a more peaceful community. Additionally, it is what Christ calls us to do.

1 Cor 12: 24-26:  But God has so composed the body … 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Are you normal, Reader? It IS a more excellent way!