Archive | January 2013

The Art of Leadership (and a Book Giveaway)

Shortly before we married, my husband’s grandmother attempted to teach me how to tat.

For those unfamiliar with this dying art form, tatting is a very tedious, time-consuming method of handcrafting intricate lace using fine cotton thread wound about a two-inch shuttle. This shuttle is woven in and out and around the loose end of string until a delicate web of loops and knots begins to take shape.

At least, that is how it’s supposed to work. I never got the hang of it myself. Nanny refused to let me keep the shuttle in my hands long enough to figure it out. No sooner did I get the cotton threaded through my fingers than she would snatch it away.

“Not like that! Like this! Now watch!”

I was allowed three fleeting attempts before she announced that “some people just aren’t cut out for this sort of thing,” plucked the shuttle from my fingers, and locked it away in her secretary for good. So my first and only tatting lesson was a miserable failure.

It wasn’t because I lacked coordination—my fine motor skills were superb. It wasn’t because I hadn’t the patience for such intricate work—I’d been making fine lace for years using a crochet needle with a microscopic hook. It wasn’t because my mind couldn’t grasp the complicated stitches — I’d done needlework (with a pen in hand for taking notes) through all my college classes and still graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mathematics. It wasn’t because I lacked interest or time or aptitude or creativity or resolve.

No, the only reason I failed at tatting is because my husband’s spirited little grandma — bless her heart — couldn’t stand to watch me struggle. She insisted on showing me how to do it again and again and again, and in the process prevented my ever learning how to do it myself.

I wonder how many husbands feel in their marriages the way I felt on the couch next to Nanny that night?

How many men would love to lead their families — they’re capable, ready, and willing to do so — but their wives refuse to hand over the reins? How many are never given the opportunity to prove themselves, because their wives fear they’ll fail, or won’t do things the way the wife thinks they should be done? How many find the power struggle that ensues so enormously frustrating that they’re ready to give up even trying?

Few men enter marriage as experts in the management of a household. Whatever experience they get must be gained through on-the-job training.

Do your husband a favor and follow his lead. Be supportive of the decisions he makes instead of arguing for your own way or trying to second-guess him. Cheer him on enthusiastically, give him room to grow, and you will find that his skill for leadership — like any other artistic ability — will improve with practice.

"Fathers who lead need families who'll follow." - Jennifer Flanders
The above post is adapted from my book, Love Your Husband/Love Yourself: Embracing God’s Purpose for Passion in Marriage. Haven’t read it yet? Then enter this giveaway for a chance to win a free copy.

Lesson #4: Perfectionism is a Trap

Perfectionism is a TrapMy father was a general contractor. He was also a perfectionist — not a perfectionist about everything, mind you, but certainly a perfectionist about his work.

When Daddy did a job, he did it right. When he built something, he built it to last. If you hired my father to do a project, he’d deliver beautiful results… but it would take him forever and a day to finish it.

That’s because perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing.

I didn’t understand that fact when I first married. Back then, perfectionism seemed to me a good thing. Why, I wanted to do everything perfectly.

And that included ironing.

My goal: to keep my husband’s closet stocked with painstakingly-pressed, wrinkle-free clothes, so that anything he needed would always be clean and ready to wear.

My reality: I’d spend a full hour at the ironing board and have only two shirts to show for it. Doug would wear the first, the second would hang in an otherwise empty closet, and the rest of his wardrobe would languish in the bottom of a laundry basket awaiting my next regularly scheduled ironing day.

This frustratingly inefficient pattern continued until my husband convinced me to change my technique.

“You can’t spend thirty minutes ironing a single shirt,” he insisted. “Spend three minutes max. I’d rather have ten shirts with the biggest wrinkles ironed out than one that’s pressed to perfection and nine more that look like I’ve slept in them.”

That sounded reasonable enough. So I tried it his way, and — guess what? — it worked.

But old habits die hard, and I’ve needed (and received) more than a few reminders over the years — and not only as the principle pertains to ironing.

I am grateful for my husband’s balancing influence. He has a no-nonsense approach to most chores, and his tactics have forced me to rethink a lot of the myths I had carried into marriage with me.

Maybe it’s time for you to rethink them, too:

  • Myth #1: “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.”

    Au contraire. Some jobs are important enough (and time is short enough) that we must settle for doing them half-way. When my toddler eats a chocolate donut on the way to church and smears icing in her hair and on her dress, she might benefit from a full bath and a change of clothes, but circumstances dictate that I clean her up with a wet wipe instead.

    Of course, the donut itself was a compromise. “Doing the job right” would mean serving my family a well-balanced, home-cooked breakfast every day, wouldn’t it? But when we’re pressed for time, grabbing a donut on the go is better than letting them starve (though some of you hard-core nutritionists might disagree with me on that).

    This same principle applies to spiritual food as well as physical. Beginning each day with an uninterrupted hour of Bible study and prayer is a great goal, but on mornings when that plan doesn’t pan out, meditating on memory verses and praying while you work sure beats skipping your quiet time altogether.

  • Myth #2: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

    There’s a big difference between procrastinating and prioritizing. Sometimes putting something off for another day (or even another season of life) is the most prudent course of action we can take.

    There are only so many hours in a day and only so much one person can (or should) accomplish in that time period. We must invest that time and energy in the things that matter most.

    The trick is in discerning what truly matters. “Important” doesn’t always mean “big.” In God’s economy — and especially for those of us with young children still at home — the things that matter most are often quite small.

  • Myth #3: “If you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

    Just because you are capable of doing a job and doing it right does not make you the person to do it. Our time, again, is limited. There is no shame in acquiring help, expert or otherwise (which is why we now send my husband’s dress shirts out to be laundered).

    Moreover, it is of vital importance that our children develop a strong work ethic. A competent mother who insists on doing every job herself to make sure it’s done right is effectively robbing her children of the opportunity to develop life skills that will serve them well in the future.

    Our children’s work may not meet up to our standards initially, but it is important that we recognize and appreciate their efforts, nonetheless, and provide them with ample opportunity for improvement.

  • Myth #4: “The important thing is to always do your best.”

    Doing our best in one area will often mean neglecting another. That can cause problems, especially when the thing we are presently doing is not as important as the thing we should be doing or need to do next.

    This (partly) explains why I am such a slow and sporadic blogger. As much as I enjoy writing and feel compelled to do so, my responsibilities as a wife and mother trump my aspirations as a writer. And so, during this season of training little ones and homeschooling our eight children still at home, I try to keep book projects and blog posts on the back burner during their wakeful hours.

    That’s the sentiment behind the poem, “Rocking My Baby.” We could clean house all day and still find corners that need attention (or post and pin and share and tweet every spare minute, but still find more to say). Dust and cobwebs (and social media) we’ll always have with us, but our babies will eventually grow up and leave home. We must redeem the time we’ve been given with them wisely.

So what does all this mean? Rather than always striving to do our best, or to do everything ourselves, or to do it all now, perhaps we should focus instead on maintaining balance. Diligently do the things that matter most with excellence, then tend to less significant duties with due (but not undue) care and consistency.

That’s my goal. Won’t you join me?

And if you’ve debunked any other myths in your search for balance, be sure to share those, as well.

Go To >>Life Lesson #5

Consistency is Key

Establishing New HabitsLast January, I wrote about the different approach I was trying for my 2012 New Year’s resolutions. I purposed to work on one new habit at a time and allow it to become firmly established before moving on to another.

Although I never got around to blogging about my progress as planned, it’s not because the experiment didn’t work. It did. But I stayed so busy plugging away at those goals that little time was left for documenting my success.

I may not have built all twenty-four habits I was aiming for, but I achieved many of them, and made decent progress on the others, as well: I read my Bible every single day and finished it in a year. I lost 30 pounds and kept them off for six months (so far) through daily exercise and calorie tracking. I invested daily in my marriage (which really makes our whole family happy, but especially my husband). I taught two more of my children to read. I’ve gleaned and tried lots of new ideas online for projects, crafts, recipes, and organization. I remembered family birthdays in time to get cards or packages signed, sealed and delivered on or before the big day. And I tried to economize in every way I could (although other family members sometime work against me on that one :-)).

The key to developing any new habit is consistency.

When we chip away daily at our goals, little by little, the results add up over time. Today’s technology makes it even easier to make steady, measurable progress. Here are seven eight online aps and resources that helped me stay consistent last year in the above mentioned areas:

  • Bible Reading Calendar – I love this free one-year Bible reading plan. It gives you a variety of passages all week (history on Mondays, poetry on Wednesdays, gospels on Saturdays, etc), so that you don’t get bogged down in the book of Leviticus for a solid month. You can even sign up to receive each day’s reading delivered directly by email.
  • Lose It! – This free app makes tracking calories almost effortless. It lets you scan barcodes, search for restaurant or brand name items, choose from previously eaten foods, or add recipe ingredients to create your own food. And if you, like I, tend to eat the same foods over and over, you can duplicate the calories consumed in an entire meal with a single click. The program calculates how many calories you should consume based on your current weight, age, activity level, and weight loss goals, and also keeps track of calories burned through exercise.
  • TTapp – After reading how a fellow homeschooling mother of twelve lost 100+ pounds by doing TTapp, I knew I had to investigate. And am I ever so glad I did! It only takes 15 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week to see amazing results. I lost 30 pounds last year using Teresa Tapp’s Total Body Core DVD and hope to lose another 40 this year. You can see Teresa’s signature move, the “Hoe Down” on YouTube. I know it looks deceptively easy, but just do a couple of sets and see how quickly it will get your heart rate up. My little 2-year-old likes TTapping, too. She looks so adorable doing hoe downs and lunges!
  • Love Your Husband on Facebook – This is a page I manage on Facebook, packed with marriage-building how-to and encouragement in the form of marriage quotes, interesting statistics, beautiful graphics, handy printables, thought-provoking polls, and links to helpful articles from across the web. We’d love for you to come join in the conversation. Just click the “Like” box in the righthand margin of this page to sign up.
  • Funnix Reading – I got a free beta-copy of this program for an old computer two years ago and enjoyed immediate success with it. It is based on the same program we used for our older children (TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ IN 100 EASY LESSONS), but is much more colorful and fun. When we changed computers and I had to purchase a new copy, I was pleased to see how reasonably-priced it was, but would have paid even more for it as by that time I’d seen how well it works. I even bought an extra copy for my daughter-in-law to use with my grandsons. It is easy to teach two or more children simultaneously using this program, which cuts down on my instruction time as well. Funnix gets six thumbs up from us!
  • Pinterest – If you’ve never checked out this virtual pinboard, you should, if only to bookmark sites you wish to revisit or articles you’ll want to re-read. There is a wealth of information available on Pinterest. I love the fact that I can find detailed tutorials for doing just about anything I want to do on Pinterest? My girls and I have gleaned great ideas and completed countless Pinterest projects this year.
  • Birthday Alarm – I’m sure there are lots of this kind of reminder service available online, but I like Birthday Alarm because it’s free and it allows me to plug in the birthdays I want to remember manually, so I don’t have to pester my friends and family with email requests to fill out forms (and don’t have to divulge anybody’s email address but my own to use the service). Reminders are sent one week, then again three days in advance of each birthday, enough advance notice to drop a card in the mail or a gift ordered and delivered. To add dates by hand, click on “Add Birthdays,” then choose “Other Options” at the bottom of the page, then scroll to the very bottom of the next page and choose “add birthdays manually.”
  • Ebates – This is a free shopping portal that will pay you cash back on almost every online purchase you make. Shopping with Ebates was already a well-established habit in my own life, but I’ve been trying to train the rest of my family to use it, too. Simply go to Ebates and click through from there to the merchant you want to shop. Unfortunately, Amazon books does not participate, but just about every other store our family shops online does, including Target, Walmart, Payless Shoes, Office Depot, Eddie Bauer, 123 Inks, Home Depot, Linens ‘N Things, etc. Cash payouts are made quarterly.

And that about sums up my list of favorite apps and resources. What sorts of things have you found helpful in maintaining consistency and working toward your goals? Leave a comment below and tell us about them!