“It’s so nice to see your smile.”
I stopped and turned back to greet a senior man in our church lobby. He continued, “I remember when you used to smile at me but it was such a forced smile.”
That season of searing jaw pain and a grin-and-bear-it commitment (before dashing out the side door of the sanctuary) flooded back all too easily. “Yes,” I replied, “I’m thankful those days are over,” to which he responded, “You look fifteen years younger now!”
“Even with all my gray hair?” I jested.
“Oh, that’s a sign of wisdom,” he concluded.
I love that man.
And not just because of this exchange. Mr. B., who I hardly knew five years ago, has diligently prayed for me throughout the pain years, during surgery time and all through my recovery and rehabilitation. He routinely asks me how I’m doing and expresses genuine interest in my well-being. He is a gift.
Our interaction last Sunday set me thinking about everything I am grateful for, how quickly life moves on, and the fading memory of God ‘s immense doing. As a writer, I am thankful to have documented my “stones of remembrance” through journal entries and articles, including one I recently bumped into titled “The Hard Work of Gratitude” for the MB Herald. I wrote:
But we don’t just absorb the disappointment into our psyche and have it disappear into nowhere. Like sponges, we suck up the despair, losses, feeling of being short-changed, and eventually reach a saturation point where we start to drip. Another disappointment hits and becomes like giant hands twisting our sponge, until every drop of inner moisture is squeezed out. And there we sit, crusty, brittle, inflexible, dried up.
Unless, by God’s grace, we opt for something different. Gratitude, I believe, is a spiritual discipline developed over time, honed in each individual moment when we choose between grumbling and thankfulness.
I still have enough ongoing muscle issues to draw attention to my physical being. My stiff sternocleidomastoids and tight trapezius remind me of pain I no longer live with, and for that I give thanks.
But now that life is less hard and windows of opportunity are opening I wonder if I’m as grateful. Am I daily choosing to look for reasons to rejoice or am I coasting on past awareness? Do I intentionally ask God for eyes to see His presence and provisions? Will I take time to say thank you for blessings large and small? Does the spiritual discipline of choosing gratitude continue to grow?
And as I ponder these questions I am reassured. God is faithful to remind me of the attitude He desires, one of giving thanks in all circumstances. This time he used a 78-year-old friend and an old article I wrote. Makes me smile.
With love and gratitude,
I have a new view.
Last weekend our oldest son installed the first of many windows being replaced in our 40+ year-old home. He chipped away the stucco and cut through the metal flange surrounding the existing window and popped out that single-pane beauty.
Periodically I dropped by the hole in the wall to serve him coffee and observe the process, as I am, after all, inherently curious. “So what are you doing now?” I inquired as he meticulously tacked thin strips of wood around the exterior. “I’m furring in the space,” he replied, “a technique that creates a flush surface for the new unit to sit up against.”
On a later pass-by I observed a planer slicing paper-thin curls of wood off the inside of the frame to allow the new window to fit properly, no small task in a home that has settled and been shaken over the years by West Coast tremors.
I am thankful for our son’s attention to detail ensuring this custom-made window was plumb and square. If not leveled, the window won’t open properly or maybe at all. In construction, it’s quality workmanship. In coaching, it reminds me of reframing.
Shifting one’s perspective by even one degree can give a completely different look or interpretation of a situation.
I sat at a traffic light one day and observed a car not slowing as the lights changed, his to red, mine to green. The driver proceeded through the intersection seemingly oblivious to the dangerous choice he just made. My blood pressure rose instantly as I considered the reckless insensitivity to the well-being of self and others—namely me, if I’m honest.
In that next instant I recognized the driver. His wife had died just three days prior and within five seconds I went from anger to compassion, from frustration to concern. Nothing about the circumstances of his running a red light had changed, but my feelings certainly had. All it took was the addition of one small piece of information.
What questions can I ask to gain insight? Is there another way I could see this? Is emotion clouding my vision? God, what do you want me to notice?
And so I am learning when life makes little sense or my direction seems blurred to focus less on circumstances or seeking answers and look up to the Lord for a gift of perspective that can change everything.
With love and gratitude,
What is your favorite question?
As a coach, questions are the life-blood of my work. Used effectively they can draw out information, shed light on an issue and lead to greater personal insights. When asked in open-ended, non-judgmental ways, questions can become significant catalysts for change, growth and forward movement.
I cannot recall where I first encountered the phrase ‘get curious’ but I suspect it was in a coaching workshop and it has radically impacted how I engage with people. When I live with vibrant curiosity I have my antennae up to whoever I’m with. My attentiveness increases as I focus my thoughts on coming to greater understanding rather than formulating opinions or ideas. By inquiring, I am honoring my conversational partner with personalized interest.
One of my favorite questions for working with people in career transition is one that, when I first heard it, seemed ridiculous. I attended a seminar where the instructor was asked by a participant, “How do you handle clients who answer all your questions with ‘I don’t know’?” My interest piqued as I also routinely encountered that roadblock.
The instructor replied, “I give them my best empathetic eyes and then say, ‘Okay. Well if you did know, what would that look like?’” The reaction of others in the room told me I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t believe we were paying good money for this ‘help’. “Just try it,” she encouraged. I felt quite certain I would not.
And then along came a particularly challenging client who seemed to have only a three word vocabulary. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. It didn’t matter which direction I went in my attempts to assist him. He didn’t know. In an act of mild desperation I blurted out, “So if you did know, how would moving ahead look?”
To my shock he sat silently, clearly pondering the concept, and then began to outline a strategy for progress. I have since incorporated this approach into my repertoire as it seems to allow people freedom to imagine and create rather than feel pinned to knowing and having things figured out. Who knew?
The power of questions has impacted my spiritual life as well. In her book, Being Well When We’re Ill, Marva Dawn says: “A first step toward finding intellectual, emotional and spiritual well-being in spite of the absurdity of our physical circumstances is to change the questions from ‘Why?’ to ‘What?’ and ‘Where?’ and to ask these with an open-minded commitment to look for answers. More completely, the new questions are ‘What is God doing in the midst of this?’ and ‘Where do I catch glimpses of the Trinity’s grace?’”
This switch to not demanding answers so I understand has been a source of freedom for me. It occurred to me recently that even in those times where I feel like the penny drops or the light goes on, I don’t really fully get it. There are nuances, implications and God’s higher plan that I will never know. Letting go of asking why is one expression of surrendering to the Lord.
God has also used this shift in thinking to heighten my awareness of His presence in my daily circumstances. And now you know the backdrop to this blog’s title. I seek to live with eyes to see and a heart to feel God’s presence in the midst of each day.
This week I launched a series on a Facebook page (Togethering with Shelaine Strom) where a coaching-type question will appear each Monday morning. I invite you to check out the page and reflect on what is being asked. Feel free to ponder it privately or post your thoughts so we can share together in the power of meaningful inquiry.
With love and gratitude,
Life is one steep learning curve.
I know precious little about physics, and apart from vector knowledge potentially improving my pool game, I seem to get along fine without it. Similarly, a wealth of information on cooking techniques exist that escape me but I muddle my way around the kitchen and create nutritious meals. The list goes on of areas I could increase understanding of, but frankly see no need.
Then there are those times where life demands expertise, like when an appliance breaks down and suddenly I’m researching energy efficiency, storage capacity and consumer reviews of fridges. I still don’t particularly care about these facts but if I’m going to make a responsible, informed decision I choose to become aware.
Now I’m faced with this new category called creating a website, something I’ve not done before but now have the entire internet watching me find my footing. That’s not intimidating! Let people know about the RSS feed, I’m told, while I think, "What on earth is an RSS feed?” and then consider, “How have I lived to 50 and not known about RSS”? Help!
And once again I am reminded that asking for help often relieves the need to be an expert. Between Facebook, a friend who is well versed in all-things-techy, and the Weebly support team I got enough answers to satisfy my requirement. RSS is one means by which readers can receive automatic updates about new blogs if they use a feed reader like feedly.com or theoldreader.com. Who knew? (Likely most of you!)
In the process of researching RSS (which, ironically, means “Really Simple Syndication”), I also stumbled upon how to create a Facebook fan page and how adding a Like button here is another means of readers being notified of a new blog.
Because I am a career coach at heart I can’t help but see the larger parallels to career transition. I often encourage people feeling overwhelmed to take one step and then stop and see how their view has changed. Did that one phone call result in a referral to another person you didn’t know existed before you dialed? What other helpful information did you bump into while sourcing out a new website?
Of course there are even larger applications if I look at the higher story. I believe that learning life lessons on a need-to-know basis is a gift. I’m thankful that God spares me from knowing the future and that He carries that burden of anticipation as I trust in Him. My jaw story comes to mind.
When the pain in my jaw first hit I began searching for help through the means I readily knew of – my family doctor. He sent me to specialists who sent me to other doctors, and every stop was an opportunity to gain insights and become more informed. I had countless tests, investigated treatment options, and even contacted a university doing research on TMJ. It was out of a trip to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry that I ultimately received my referral for surgery in Toronto. We like to call it a circuitous journey.
As I reflect on that five year season of pain and searching for answers, it is clear to me that God provided all I needed to know, when I needed it. Not before. Not too late. He met and led every step of the way.
With love and gratitude,
Happy New Year...but we haven’t celebrated Christmas yet.
I have long professed a desire not to be one of those mothers who make a calendar date more important than people. In fact, I’ve made mutual accountability agreements with a few of my 50-something girlfriends around topics including: Warmly welcoming new friends into our families; remembering that we own our traditions, they don’t own us; and ensuring we don’t attempt to guilt our children home for the 25th.
I must confess, those are easy standards to espouse when, for the last 25 years, everyone was home and traditions continued. But our three boys became young men and last year the plans shifted just a little. This year’s stockings have yet to be hung and my declarations are being put to the test as our youngest is out of town and the turkey won’t grace our table until January 3rd.
And, I get to choose my attitude around these transitions. Will I focus on all that is different and long for things past or will I intentionally look to the Lord with a grateful heart for all that is present?
Let's be honest.Sometimes the crazy distractions of life help, too.
Two days before Christmas the phone rang at 7:24 am and I was greeted by my son who was on his way to the airport with his fiancé to catch a plane and spend Christmas with her family several provinces away. “Mom, the Chariot just quit. Can you or dad come and pick us up? Our flight leaves at 9:10!”The 1990 Camry, aka the Chariot, had coasted to a gentle death on the shoulder of the #1 Highway.
It’s not the first time we’ve received the 911 of auto calamities. In fact, it isn’t the second or perhaps even fifth. That’s how it goes with young men driving the least-expensive-most-reliable car we could afford as they attended university. One son left a transmission on a back road and another slid off an onramp into a concrete barrier, both resulting in “I’m okay but the car isn’t” phone calls.
And, if I look for Him, I can see God’s presence in all of this. The Chariot went to vehicular glory in a spot that made the rescue quick and easy, even affording the kids time to grab a coffee before their flight. And my husband and I enjoyed a date scoping out the used car circuit on December 23rd which is not a bad time to shop if you like the undivided attention of every sales person on deck.
These last few years of personal health issues, parenting young adults, setting aside career, major surgery, rehabilitation, resuming work and many other changes have been powerful means of God teaching me to hold tightly to things most valued, but to do so with open hands. Where are you, Lord, in the midst of this transition and what is it you’d like me to see?
If you have interest in walking along with me as I navigate the mundane and extraordinary, I welcome you to join me here each week.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst