Make Smiling Your Favorite

Over the holidays, we enjoyed one of our favorite movies, Elf. There’s a scene that always makes me chuckle.

The department manager sees Buddy’s big grin and asks, “Why are you smiling?”

“Smiling is my favorite,” he says with joy.

The department manager scowls, “Make work your favorite. Work is your new favorite!”

Work is certainly important. I happen to be in a very busy time at work right now, which has prevented much else, including writing my blog. Sorry.

As I’m working, whether it be for my job or at home, my face appears pretty serious. After all, I’m an introvert, so I’m all about the internal processing. With an unsmiling face, I’m usually working things out in my mind or even just recharging. It has nothing to do with what or who’s around me.

Now I know we don’t just walk around smiling all the time. That would be exhausting! Okay, it seems like some people do this, and they’re awesome! But I would be wiped out.

But I realize this can be a problem…forgetting to smile. And though family tops the priority list, I’ve noticed it missing at home.

41 - smiling

As I’m recovering from a long day at work, or mentally checking my to-do list, or sorting through laundry, I’ve got that serious grimace face.

So one random day, I tracked the number of times I caught myself smiling. It was six. Six, people! So not good. I’m hoping I just missed some.

I even noticed once when I gave encouragement, “Hey, you did a really good job of…,” I still remained straight-faced. Hmmm.

It got me thinking. When my kids are not with me, and picture their Mom, what does that picture in their head look like? Am I smiling in that picture? If not, this was definitely worth changing.

I remembered a company that uses unconventional methods to measure their business success. The customer service team measures success by number of smiles. Not the number they give…they measure success by the number of smiles received. How appropriate!

I decided to try this approach at home. Track the number of smiles I receive from my kiddos. If I didn’t get many, I would purposely smile at them…even for no reason whatsoever.

Being a mom feels like being a servant at times, am I right? With little gratitude along the way. Our brain is constantly processing all we need to do, and we sometimes forget what our faces look like while thinking. Or at least I do.

Reminding myself to be like Jesus, I imagine he always has a smile for children. And one way we can serve God is by serving our children. Doing it with a smile makes such a difference.


     “Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones.” 
                                       Proverbs 15:30


So I started smiling as often as possible, while doing chores, answering the kids’ requests, getting dinner made…

What an improvement smiling made. Not only with them, but also in my own perception of the day.

I’ve even found that a smile can make the difference between a command and a request, resulting in acceptance versus rejection. In fact, I took this a step further by combining a smile with super positive and unexpected words.

Here’s my new trick. When I want to get my kids’ attention, I say with a big smile on my face, “Beautiful faces!”

They turn, and beam up at me. I ask for a favor. It could be to pick up their puzzle pieces, or put away their breakfast dishes. So far, I keep getting the response I’m looking for – immediate action with no complaints.

I see the difference a smile can make. And it’s the lasting impression I want in my kids’ memories when they think of me.

Today, I asked my toddler, “When is your Mom happiest?”

He answered, “She smiles when she says, ‘Beautiful faces.’” Yes!

A constant smile for my greatest treasures (my kids) is a smile worth seeking.

Today, make smiling your favorite. 🙂

Time Should Be Wasted

Time is a precious thing. There’s never enough of it.

I manage life like each passing minute needs to be tackled. Gotcha! I knock it to the ground, clutch it in my sweaty hands, ground it together with the other minutes I snatched, and hope I can get a full ½ hour to vacuum and mop the kitchen floor until it gleams like an ice sculpture.

Not buying the gleaming floor? Yeah, I just want to remove the crumbs I keep picking up with my bare feet. Ick!

I took some extra time from work while school was out. I dreamed up all the things I could get done.

40 - waste time

The house would be neat and tidy for full consecutive days because I would have time to keep up with it. Did I really think that?

I’d place wonderful new meals on the table. Everyone would come running, take a whiff of delicious aromas, and mumble ‘Thank you, Mama’ while stuffing their faces. But they like ham and cheese sandwiches.

The laundry would be completely caught up, folded, and put away. With just one or two things added to the basket each day, I could forgo the next load of wash for at least a week. Yeah, I’m still laughing at this one, too.

I realized I wouldn’t get these wishes for Christmas. But I did have extra time. What could I cross off the to-do list? What could I catch up on? What sense of accomplishment could I achieve? How best to use this extra time?

Waste it.

Yes, you heard that from me. Just like many of you, a woman who never has enough time to get things done. And when she finally has a little extra, she wants to waste it? Yep!

I wasted a couple hours watching APL’s River Monsters with my older son. We both found the episodes on eels and sawfish interesting. It was finally some down time from the decibel levels of play, and I got to witness his brain at work as we wondered about the things we saw.

I wasted more time looking through old home decor magazines. Even though I saw them before, I still enjoyed the eye candy. And now I get to treat a friend to them next.

I took my time on a new project: designing a desk for my son. I hand washed the plastic drawers I bought at a garage sale last summer, removing the old sticky labels with Goo Gone. I used the lazy action to visualize my design and work through how best to execute it.

There’s so much I should be doing. Catch up on the Shutterfly albums I’ve neglected. I’m over a year behind right now – ugh! Figure out why some of the basement lights aren’t working. Look for more recipes to try with the family. Find ways to promote my blog.

But I didn’t feel like it. In the words of a friend of mine that very week, “I have a huge case of the, I don’t wanna’s.” I felt the same, and I think I know why.

Rest is a basic need. It’s next to air, water, and food at the base of Maslow’s hierarchical triangle of fundamental needs.

Without doubt, our Father knows how important it is.


     “In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat – for He grants sleep
to those He loves.”
 
                                       Psalm 127:2


I get two things from this verse. First, that when we live a life with God, He will give us rest when we need it. And second, that we should take it. He’s giving it to us for good reason.

It’s not just physical rest that we need. Possibly even more important in today’s technology-driven world is the mental rest we all need. Our brains need the down time.

Time to let our thoughts wander, work out problems, or dream of new things. Time to connect with Him to make sure we stay on track. Time to connect with our loved ones to make them feel what they are..the most important part of our lives.

Even time to do nothing.

Or what seems like nothing, but is actually something.

Like write out a pretend check to the wildlife store to buy two cute little bear cubs and take them home to raise myself. Their idea, not mine. Thank goodness they’re already potty trained. 🙂

And then build a nest of fur and grass with a fuzzy green blanket to put my little bear cubs down for a nap like they asked. Bummer! It was only a pretend nap.

What seems like wasting time to us is the time our kids treasure most.

It’s back to the grind now, where I’m snatching time to get things done in the midst of work, school, and everyday routine. So now’s my chance to waste some of it.

In fact, I think the bear cubs need some air. We’ll surface from the den and slide down the driveway a bit. Then I’ll waste some time frying up some salmon from the river. Good thing they like Goldfish crackers!

How will you waste time this year?

Listening to Heartbeats

Falling short of the loving, though not perfect, parent my kids deserve does not express how much I realize what a gift He’s given me. Because they truly are a gift.

Here’s a look-back at my discoveries in 2015 from looking a little closer in the rear-view mirror and listening a little closer to my heart.

2015 Heartbeats List_FINAL

Which is your favorite?

Please Let My Child Cry

This post has no eggnog. No holiday bliss. No ribbons and bows.

It’s not about making memories. It isn’t even very Christmasy.

This post is for those moms trying to shop while dragging little ones along.

And for the unfortunate shoppers around you during inevitable meltdowns.

Recently, my toddler formed this bad habit of saying “stupid” when he’s not happy. While it’s not the worst word in the world, we have been working diligently on his vocabulary choice.

It bubbled to the surface while grocery shopping, and I warned him that if he continued choosing to say bad words, he would not get the donut I offered earlier.

Well, guess what? He said it again. So I calmly told him we couldn’t get a donut. I encouraged him that next time he would use the right words and get a donut then.

Well, what do you think happened? Yep, meltdown.

38 - let him cry

Now he doesn’t normally do this. Maybe it was close to naptime. Maybe it was too much shopping at once (I had already been to one other store). Who knows what triggered it, but it came on full force.

I’m pretty sure he complained “I want a donut” 27 times. I’m not even exaggerating. Some were small whines, some were unrecognizable with tears, and others were full-fledged shouts that bounced up and down every aisle in the store.

Imagine my embarrassment. Heading to the checkout lane with a full cart, I hesitated. Do I take him out of here and leave my cart, or try to get the groceries? I opted to check out, as I didn’t want the employees to have to return all my food. Plus, I needed the groceries.

Rather than throw my stuff on the conveyer belt, I moved quickly but calmly, to show him he wasn’t getting to me. But my toddler was not deterred. He can be pretty stubborn. I don’t know where he gets it. 🙂

Someone behind me hightailed it to a different checkout lane. I didn’t blame her.

I tried to talk to him, but honestly, he was in that zone. Do you know that zone? The zone of I’m-not-ready-to-be-calmed-down-yet. Heck, I’m not sure he could hear me through his repetitious, “I want a donut” cries.

So I focused on finishing my task and paying as quickly as I could.

“Would you like a candy cane?”

I whirled around when I heard this. Someone had approached him. An employee, I think.

“Oh, I’m sorry. He can’t have that.” I quickly said, handing the candy back to her. “He isn’t acting the right way.”

Please understand, I begged her silently. I’m sorry you have to hear his crying. You have no idea how sorry I am. And I know you’re just trying to help. But…

I can’t give in.

Besides the fact that I don’t want him thinking strangers are nicer than his mama, or heaven forbid, that he should ever accept candy from a stranger, he cannot be rewarded for his behavior. He didn’t get the donut for bad behavior, and ending up with a candy cane is not going to fix that.

I beg you, please just let him cry. Trust me, I know how hard it is.

Moms, I’m warning you now. You will have people give you dirty looks. Perhaps they’re thinking, Why can’t you make your kid shut up? I’m hoping those are the non-parents. But I guess it’s possible other parents’ kids don’t ever have meltdowns. Maybe?

As a parent, I would never judge, only look on with empathy and try to tell another mom that I understand.

In fact, several grocery employees, bless them, shared their understanding, when I said, “I’m sorry.”

The woman bagging my food looked at me. “Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ve all been there.” Then she added, looking at another counter, “Well, Shelly hasn’t yet, but she will soon,” she teased.

“Then I’m sorry for you, too.” I smiled at Shelly.

Because it will happen to most of us. At least once, probably more.

Dealing with meltdowns at home isn’t fun, but the ones in public are worse.

It’s because I love him dearly that I can’t give in. Even in public.

Adults can have meltdowns, too. We might not be repeating “I want a donut” over and over, but we may be thinking other things.

Like, why can’t I just go to the bathroom once by myself? Seriously, why can’t I be alone for two seconds?

Or, why can’t the house be free of clutter for more than a couple hours after I spent four cleaning it up?

Or, why do I have to ask hubby for some time to run errands while he grabs time whenever he likes – alone, mind you?

Rather than cry, whine, and kick our legs, we pout, disengage, or show our cranky selves.

It’s hard not to grumble once in a while. And while we may be justified in feeling slighted, or taken for granted, does it really make us feel any better? Does it improve our situation, or make it worse? Just as I tell my son his whining will only make things worse, I need to take my own advice. I need to take His advice.


     “A joyful heart is good medicine, but
a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” 
                                       Proverbs 17:22


So shoppers, store clerks, and anyone else around me, please understand. I’m not being mean. I’m not mistreating him. I’m trying to teach him right and wrong. And do my best to keep a joyful heart as I’m doing so.

So please just let him cry.

Next time I go to my grocery store, I think I’ll hand out candy canes to those employees who were so understanding.

Or ear plugs. They might be more useful. 🙂

Up Close and Personal

UPDATE: Since writing this post, our local police department shared information that many of these panhandlers are frauds, often turning down job offers or offers to take them to homeless shelters, and consciously choose to live this lifestyle. Although panhandling is legal and I may have fallen for a fraudulent one, I won’t let it dampen what I did. The spirit of giving is still worthy. I’ve also shared this with my son so that he can be aware of the best and safest way to help those in need: give to our local charities, warming shelters, and food pantries. May you continue to bless others through giving.

 

I did something I’ve never done before.

I responded to a homeless man’s plea.

My older son and I were waiting at a stoplight. The traffic was evidence that Christmas is just 2 weeks away. A man with a cardboard sign stood at the corner of my left turn lane. I didn’t make the green light, so I was now stopped directly next to the man.

I admit I didn’t read his whole sign. I tend to avert my eyes.

And that day I asked myself why. Why do we pretend they aren’t there? Why do we assume someone else will take care of it? Why do so many cars drive right by?

Then, my signal turned green, and countless cars behind me were ready to go.

As I drove away, I was itching for action. I asked my son if he saw the man. He had. I asked if he read the sign. He did not.

I told him the words I had caught while glancing at it.

HOMELESS

HAVE CHILDREN

ANYTHING WILL HELP

36 - up close copy

I remember my first trip to a big city. I was warned by someone familiar with the area not to make eye contact with the beggars on the street. That they would take advantage of anyone who responded, that they might even steal or harm someone.

I do not live in a big city. Seldom do we see beggars on the street. There are absolutely homeless in our city – I’m not naïve in thinking there aren’t – but they are often not in view of everyday life.

I am a safety girl at all times. But this seemed like an act of kindness that would cause no risk to me or my child. God must have been speaking to my heart. And it was an opportunity to actionably share something important with my son.

COMPASSION.

[Me: Do you think we should help him?]

[Him: Yes.]

[Me: Really?] I think I still needed a little encouragement.

[Him: Yes, Mom. His kids need help, too.]

[Me: Let’s give him something he could definitely use then.]

We stopped up the road at a convenience store. I wasn’t sure how long the man planned to be there, nor how long it would take him to return to his family, nor what kind of situation he was in. So we grabbed essentials that could be outside and could be used without modern conveniences like microwaves and the fridge. A loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, bunch of bananas, and applesauce packets. I prayed no one had peanut allergies.

With a small bag of what felt much less than I hoped it would mean for him, we turned around.

We got back in that left turn lane, along with the countless shoppers. I worried he wouldn’t see me because I noticed before that his eyes remained downcast, as though ashamed of being there, holding his sign.

This time, we were stopped about 4 cars up. I rolled down my window and wondered how to get his attention. He was on the move this time, nearing car #2 who he must have thought was going to offer something, but when they didn’t roll down their window, he waved apologetically and started to return.

I waved frantically out my window. He came toward us, and I handed the bag to him.

“Could I give you this?” I asked.

He answered, “Yes. Bless you.”

I added, “I hope it helps.” Because, honestly, it was so very little, I was embarrassed.

He said, “It does. It really does. Everything helps.” I felt miserable for him. How hard it must be to swallow your pride.

Before he returned to the end of the street, he said to me, “It’s people like you that make me proud to be a Marine.”

I teared up and wondered at his situation. It would take extremely dire circumstances to find ourselves begging, wouldn’t it? But wouldn’t we do that for our families if we had no other means? Honestly, homelessness could happen to any one of us. All it takes is a lost job, months of bills that can’t be paid, and no family or friends to bail us out. Any one of us could be in his shoes.

How fortunate for those of us that aren’t. We are truly blessed.

I am thankful for the opportunity for my son to see compassion at work. I am thankful that God must have tugged at my heart to take action this time.


     “Give to the one who begs from you, and
do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
 
                                       Matthew 5:42


I pray our small bag of food was useful. I pray others offered him something, too.

But more than anything, I pray it gave him HOPE. Hope for tomorrow, for his family, for their future.

That night, my son prayed for the man. Then he looked to me.

[Him: I think he really was homeless, Mom.]

[Me: Why do you say that?]

[Him: Because his coat was torn.]

Bless my son’s innocence. And bless the message I was able to share with him that afternoon. I knew he would not forget the decision we made. I hope the up close and personal experience builds compassion in his heart.

And I pray my heart doesn’t forget compassion the next time someone needs it from me.

Bless all of you who work up close and personal every day with those in need. Bless each man and woman who serves our country. And bless the man who graciously took the small bag of hope I offered.

Hands Free Mama

Letting Go...To Grasp What Really Matters

Butterfly Heart

life in progress

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