Gritty

gritsNot this (source)

A friend of mine posted a TED talk on Facebook. The woman in the video, a former teacher, wondered what actually predicts success for people. It wasn’t intelligence. It wasn’t good grades. It wasn’t social skills, or a good home life, or the right teaching methodology. It was, simply put, grit.

Grit. We’re not talking about definition #1, which is “small loose particles of stone or sand”, although some of my geologist-loving friends might discuss it amongst themselves. It’s the second definition that fascinates me: “courage and resolve, strength of character”. Synonyms include bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, and plain old courage.

The woman in the TED talk, Angela Lee Duckworth, left teaching to study psychology. She wanted to better understand the phenomenon. Wikipedia defines grit this way: Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.

Grit is a composite quality. It’s passion plus motivation or perseverance. Passion alone won’t get you very far. Emotions run high after watching “The Biggest Loser”. “Oh yeah!” we tell ourselves. “This is the year. I’m gonna lose 20 pounds and get ripped!” We head to the gym at 5:00 a.m. the next day, pumped up. We do the circuits and emerge, sweaty and triumphant. We hop on the scale the following morning. Huh. Nothing doing. We shrug it off and do another workout at the gym, this time on the treadmill. We might even make it a third or fourth day, but if the scale hasn’t moved or our pants gotten looser, we’re probably out. When the alarm goes off, we hit the snooze button and roll over. The dream didn’t come true like we’d planned. We’re done.

But perseverance itself won’t do it all, either. We can work and work at some task, but if we’re not careful, we practice mistakes. We execute weight lifting reps with bad form, slumped over instead of with straight backs. We go over and over difficult musical passages or rhythms and embed the mistakes into muscle memory instead of doing them correctly. We didn’t take the time to check ourselves. We ensure our failure without even realizing it.

I know I have done both. I want instant results, and frankly, working at something isn’t sexy. It takes time. It can get boring. Excitement about the end goal lags behind all the effort involved. I can’t see the finish line. Heck, I can’t even hear the crowds cheering.

Yet anything worth anything takes time. My dad spent a lot of time instilling this into me. He encouraged me whenever I wanted to just give up. He taught me to drive a stick shift, brave man. He worked with me on my volleyball skills. His patient and continuous exhortation allowed me to believe in myself enough to keep going. His love manifested this way gave me a great picture of Father God.

And so I ask you, are you gritty? Do you give up when things get rough? Or do you dig in and search out a better solution? God has great things for us, and sometimes we give up on them too easily. He wants to build that steadfast quality in us. God has given us dreams and goals, but we have to stay the course and go after them. I want to impart this to our kids, because some of the sweetest things in life only come with the regular application of grit.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:9

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Morning Freedom

coffee

I let the cats onto the back deck this morning. I can see them out the dining room window, together but not together, exploring the backyard. Chloe sticks close to the chain link fence. She sniffs to discover all the places where nocturnal animals have crossed into or out of our yard. Rex hears the window open and stares at me. His golden gaze says “what do you want?” He’s more concerned with the small gaps in the fencing. He pokes his face through them and gazes at the trees and bushes and birds on the other side. Meanwhile, Chloe bites off grass tips that stand up taller than other pieces. I figure this is okay, since we don’t have goats.

Out the front dining room window, I can see and hear traffic. Cars, trucks and buses rush by in their morning commute. The occasional runner or cyclist pass on the pedestrian path. Walkers pound up and down the hill in pairs, like heeding the last call to board Noah’s Ark. Mornings inspire momentum.

Mornings have always seemed sort of magical to me. How does God do it, day after day? Each one crops up new and whole, sprung out of the earth’s turning. As children, we learned Earth’s rotation causes us to see a sunrise and a sunset every day. Systems for seasons  and moon phases have been set for millennia, yet still present unique and ever new. This morning, the clouds pulled back from the north like a sunlit snowy blanket. A thin scrim of hazy cloud remained, hiding the mountain. Our infamous marine layer lingered nearly all day yesterday, allowing us to barely reach 70 degrees by day’s end.

This is my last free Friday before I step back into the working world. I’m not sure what lies ahead. But I think I’m ready to rejoin the fray. Mornings bring hope. I’m reminded of this Bible verse, written in one of the darkest times in Israel’s history:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:22-24

 

 

Mission Accomplished

aster inside

This picture (above) will make sense in a minute. Read on.

This week, I got a new job. I’ve been trying to get my head around it for a few days. It’s with Thurston County, a few miles up the road. It’s the one I interviewed for. Overall, I applied for 15 jobs. I scored an interview for one job, and then got it. Due to the severance package I received, I never had to collect unemployment. People, this is not how life works for me, generally. I can only say God was in it. file

My new title is what the County calls a Senior Office Assistant. That title tells exactly nothing about the position. Am I senior? Not old enough yet, despite receiving random AARP mailings.  Anyway, Thurston County wants to build a new jail. This project is still in the germination stage. They need a project manager (already hired), and a project administrator (now me) to get it going. They’ll also need a project inspector. He/she will come on board during construction, I reckon.

I should mention this job is a three-year, full-time temporary position. I suppose it looks like it lacks a little job security. But I don’t mind. I’ve never been the person that planned to work the same place for 20 years. I get restless. Besides, a lot can change in 3 years. A lot changed in the nearly two and a half years I worked for the City. I started there as a file clerk, a two-year budget line-item position, and I got hired on permanently.

I want to point out that I got this job exactly 8 weeks after I quit at the City. Also, any jobs I was qualified for on indeed.com or flexjobs.com dried up. Why? Because, friends, God has a dramatic flair. Heard of the Israelites and the Red Sea crossing? Ever seen a sunset? A rainbow? The inside of a flower? I rest my case. Plus, Jesus knows how much I like things wrapped up with a bow, symmetry and symbolism and the like. He gave it to me. He is so good. In fact, I this song rang almost continually in my head, especially the chorus.

I have a few more days to goof off. It’s been a glorious summer. I start the new gig August 1, also an answer to prayer. I’ve learned so much about believing for the best, trusting that my skill and abilities count, and enjoying the moment. God’s goodness never changes. Hallelujah!

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.  – James 1:17

 

When You Try

I tried a new workout yesterday. I’m feeling it today. My triceps hurt. My calves are super tight. My right shoulder reminds me it’s still there. And oh, my back! I feel much closer to 75 years old today than I did before.

The instructor in the video, a tall, shapely woman in her late 20s, encouraged me to push.

“Change comes when you get uncomfortable,” she said right at me, looking into the camera lens.

I get it, lady. I really do.

I think God designed us this way. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. In my mind, the only way to get different results is to do it correctly for the first time, like running for 30 minutes without stopping, or playing that run note for note in what we like to call the right way.

flute music

There’s a big difference between practicing something to try to improve, and doing the same thing over and over again to check a box or fulfill a requirement. Some things demand more time and thought in order to improve. Some tasks just need to get done, like taking out the trash or paying a bill. I’m talking about learning a new skill. Learning something new requires effort and time. It takes perseverance, which like a muscle it needs to be built up. It means we focus every time we attempt. We learn as we go and we probably learn more when we mess up. It’s humbling and time consuming. But oh so worth it.

I had to remind myself yesterday, as I tried to flip a down dog position, that it’s okay to get uncomfortable. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s all right to fall down and fail as we try new things.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

You know what? That workout I did yesterday helped my right hip. I hurt it in 2012 and have tried myriad stretches to ease it back into place. It feels pretty good right now. In fact, I ran almost pain-free today. That, friends, is worth getting uncomfortable for. I’m going to do that workout again tomorrow. It can only get better from here.

 

Aside

Tuesday Life

douglas firs

(source)

I’m sitting here on our side deck. The sun warms my back. The wind sways the hanging baskets, releasing the intoxicating fragrance of yellow, purple, white and pink-striped petunias. Rex lounges on the porch at my side, soaking up the sunshine and the company.

It’s pretty great.

Part of me doesn’t want to go back to work. Ever. This summer, home with the kids, Jonathon and my folks, has been lovely. I only want to play and have fun, like a female version of Peter Pan. The other part of me, the practical big sister-mom part, longs to do something constructive and lucrative. Those don’t necessarily go together, mind you, but it would be nice.

I walked down to the bank earlier today to deposit a birthday check. I ran into someone I used to work with.

“I miss seeing your smiling face every morning!” she exclaimed upon seeing me.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love those people who work at the City? I miss them. But I know I’m in the right place for now.

I’ve applied for at least a dozen different positions. I had an interview last week for a job that sounds promising. They’re checking my references now, and the references of the other possible candidates.

I hate waiting.

I’m trying to keep busy. I clean. I do laundry. I bake. I shop. I meet up with friends (thank you, by the way). We attend church and serve in the worship ministry. These all help keep hope alive and to focus on other things.

But I detest limbo. It makes me squirm. What’s next? What now?

I can hear the bell tower in Evergreen Square tolling the hour. I can see the blue mirror of Oakland Bay shimmering in the distance. Our house sits above the city, and I can see a bit of Loop Field, Railroad Avenue, and the edge of City Hall.

It’s strange to be outside of it all.

All around me, the tall Douglas firs testify of God’s faithfulness. Running into friends reminds me of God’s goodness in all circumstances. Sitting out here in the fresh air, just breathing, helps me to find peace. I don’t have to be in the thick of it all right now. I don’t have to know all the answers. Instead, I can embrace what is.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.” – Psalm 46:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Dreams Attack

I know I haven’t written much lately. I’ve been reintegrating into regular life and applying for jobs and, and, and. But I need to write. It’s a part of me. Every time I try to get away, I find myself missing it. It’s one of the tethers in this world, at least for me.

I found Ruby sitting on a couch in the rotunda the other morning. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” I asked. I sat down next to her and hugged her.

“I dreamt that Chloe died,” she sniffled.

Uh oh.

“Oh, I’m sorry. But she’s fine.”

I pointed out the black Muppet cat, curled at her feet. Ruby nodded.

“I wanted to make a blanket out of her fur.”

Um.

“So I cut off her head.”

Whaa…?

She started sobbing.

“Then I saw her ghost.”

OK. Now what, God? I breathed in and out, holding her. I decided to ignore the ghost comment.

“Ruby, do you really want to make a blanket out of Chloe’s fur?”

I looked down at the long, luxurious fur on the most mellow cat in Christendom. It is very soft and touchable, yet manages to get everywhere. It has always reminded me of

troll doll

But she doesn’t need to know that.

“Well, I want to keep her around. I don’t want her to die.”

Folks, I believe this is how taxidermy on household pets got started.

“Chloe won’t live forever. And I’m sure you’d never cut off her head. Let’s enjoy her while we have her. God gave you the sweetest cat. There will never be another Chloe.”

Isn’t that what we all need to be doing, appreciating where we are, when we are, and who we’re with? Tomorrow is not promised.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  – Psalm 103:15

I hugged Ruby a little closer and smiled at Chloe. I swear Chloe smiled back.

Ruby & Chloe

 

 

 

 

The Eagle

We traveled all day Saturday, and drove up from Portland on Sunday. We are home! However, I’m missing Cozumel like crazy. It’s great to be back with our kids and my parents. We’re getting back into our lives. Our mosquito bites are healing, our tans fading.

But one last Cozumel thought won’t let me be.

Thursday of last week, we rented a car and drove to the Caribbean Ocean side of the island. We had an idea about snorkeling over there. I wanted to sit on a beach and read. The Cozumel map we had seen over and over again called out several beaches for swimming. Great, we thought. Perfect.

We drove past Alberto’s (one of several) and ritzy resorts. We saw a sign for the ecological beach park, Punta Sur, We decided to check it out. Hey, it had a lighthouse, too. It seemed the only access to the white sandy beaches and teal-green surf we craved. We paid the $14 (!), lamenting Oregon and Washington’s free public beaches.

“No swimming today,” the gruff attendant told us. We looked at each other. Natch.

We drove past scruffy sea grass and bushes. The warm wind came steadily off the sea. The ocean looked more like the one I grew up with, white-crested waves rolling in to shore. We spotted a sign and a place to pull over. We walked down onto the beach and removed our shoes. The sand, beaten into submission by millions of waves, felt like pillows on our feet. We stepped into the crystal blue water. It wasn’t freezing, like home, but refreshing. It felt like a little slice of heaven.

punta sur 1

punta sur 2

punta sur 3

punta sur 4

Something caught my eye. I looked up. A golden eagle, Mexico’s national bird, soared above us. It floated on an updraft, weightless in the warm air. It hung there for several minutes.

mexican golden eagle

(source)

I thought about how I miss the beauty in everyday life. This place, this moment, would fade into memory soon. Yet I could learn something from this bird. He – or she – hung high in the sky, playing on the wind. Sure, he probably had designs on lunch. But he enjoyed the day. He didn’t worry. He just…was. He swooped and dove and played. He lived in the moment.

As I type this, I can hear the birds singing outside. Rex and Chloe stroll by at regular intervals, checking on me. Roses bloom outside the window. My family sleeps on. I don’t want to miss the beauty right in front of me. It may not be an exotic locale, but it’s all mine.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him.
For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
    and built it on the ocean depths. – Psalm 24:1-2