Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

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Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too

To Say or Not to Say

I am a “say-er” of things. By that, I mean that I almost always say something if I think it needs to be said. If I have a poor customer service experience, someone is probably going to hear about it. If someone hurts my feelings, I’m probably going to tell them. If I am treated unjustly, I’m probably going to fight it.

I have tried to curb this as I’ve gotten older and realized that 1) some battles can’t be won, 2) some people don’t care, and 3) sometimes I just need to let things go (this is VERY difficult for me).

I have gone through phases of being better and worse at it, that’s for sure. I do attempt to think before I speak more than I used to. I have a big problem accepting it when people don’t do what they say they will, especially, when they have presented themselves as Christians, or, at least, as people of integrity.

I had one such experience the other day. I don’t want to give out the details. It was one of those that put me in a bad mood due to someone’s disregard and negligence and subsequent lack of remorse or apology, though it was something that had been agreed upon long before, and resulted in me being out some money.

I held my tongue. It was hard for me to hold my tongue. I took Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

The next day I found out something about that person’s circumstances that made me really glad I had not responded in anger. Regardless of the fact that the actions were wrong, if I had spoken my mind in that instant, I would have regretted it the next day.

So, I’ve been trying to think back to other scenarios when I felt that I should keep my peace. Any time I’ve felt strongly that I should not go to bat for myself, and I’ve actually obeyed that little voice – in the end, I have been happy that I kept silent.

I should state that there are times when I feel no compunction at all about standing up for whatever situation or whatever wrong has been done. There are many times I’ve been happy that I spoke out.

But I think there are a too many instances when I have NOT listened to those little whisperings from the Holy Spirit and continued on with my rampage despite feeling like I shouldn’t. Those are the times I regret.

Some people don’t have the same issues I do. Some people have trouble standing up for themselves at all.

It’s a line that only the Holy Spirit can draw for us, whether it’s one of those times that something needs to be said, or one of those times we need to let it go. Hopefully, I’ll remember this next time I hear that little voice!

The More You Write, The More…

Let’s finish that sentence together:

The More You Write, The More…

…ideas you get.

…excited you get about writing.

…the more intricate your story gets.

…the more your story changes.

Do you have any other ways that you could finish that sentence?

I got started yesterday on my second book in what I may end up making a series of unknown length. I had fleshed out a partial outline, and pondered how to begin. I have learned that if I am not excited about the way I have planned for the story to go, that I should wait until I have an idea that I am excited about. This means that I spend whatever time I would writing actively musing over various ways to begin.

When I finally had an idea that excited me, I started writing, and it almost immediately changed all of the outline I had written. I did not negate it, but it largely relegated it to backstory and put my story a few years further into the future than I’d thought I was going to.

I also believed I was writing the first chapter, but realized after getting it down that I had just written the prologue, which I wasn’t even sure I was going to do.

I had trouble taking my own advice about not re-working sentences as I went, and totally forgot to time my word count once I got going, so I’m on a slow start to my goals. It’ll take some time to adjust to doing things differently, but I did get my first 1,000 words written, so at least I’m off the starting line now!

It was nice to realize that I did not feel hemmed in by the outline. I was worried that it may give me too rigid a form to stay within, but I think I enjoy letting the story take me where it will enough that the outline feels like an option, but not hard line in the sand. I think it will be more difficult for me to use the outline at all! But fleshing out what is now, as I said, mostly backstory, feels like it will make my writing richer in the end. Of course, now I have to spend some time creating an outline with some forward motion! There are a few components left to use, but a lot of blanks left!

On Writing and Procrastination

I am highly qualified to write this post, because I am chief of procrastinators when it comes to writing. For example, I’m doing it right now. Sure, I’m writing this post, but I am NOT writing an outline for my new book, which is what I intended to do.

I think that most of the things that are good for us seem hard to begin – like exercising or praying or reading my Bible – I don’t usually want to do them until they are already done. Writing falls into this same kind of category for me. When it comes time to do it, I can find any reason not to. I’m not the only person with this issue. I read a book whose author said (not in these exact words) that unless you apply discipline to your writing, the dishes will suddenly seem like the most important thing in the world. This is true. Writing often gets relegated to the last spot – when everything else we could possibly do is done – and then we make up some more things to do.

I did fairly well on keeping up work on my book in 2015. In fact, I finished my book in early November. (More on this later.) However, since then, I have not written anything at all, and I’m feeling it.  So, I’m starting again. Kick-starting it is the hardest part…getting into the rhythm of writing again.  I WANT to. So, why is it so hard?

  1. Fear. Fear that I will find I have nothing to say (which never happens).
  2. Fear. Fear that it doesn’t matter (which doesn’t matter, because it matters to me).
  3. Fear. Fear that it’s too big of a job (which is only true if I QUIT in the middle).
  4. Fear. Fear that I will mess it up (which is only an issue if I won’t fix it).
  5. Fear. That is all.

A blank book is a giant canvas with nothing on it, and you feel that from the moment you put a word down you could be making the wrong strokes – the wrong picture – damaging the infinite possibilities that the canvas held before you began. But possibilities are only that, and if you don’t take them, the canvas will remain blank. Whatever comes from your work, it will not be nothing.  And something is better than a life of blank canvases.

So, what is the cure for this fear? Discipline. Plain and simple. When I think of that, I wonder in how many other situations discipline would be the cure for fear. I think there are many things that counteract fear…love for one. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whomever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:18) And then I remember that love is a discipline, too, so maybe it really is the only cure for fear. In this case, loving myself enough to realize that writing for me is enough of a reason to write.

A few things that I learned last year when attempting to exercise the discipline of writing:

  • Facebook is not my friend. It will not change my life to find out how big a baby swordfish is, nor to know just which of the 10 stars (most of whom I don’t know anyway) got their start in the antiquated version of American Idol that was “Star Search.” (Those are just the things I rabbit-trailed already today. It’s 5:00 AM.) Facebook is my version of “the dishes” that suddenly become so important. 90% of what I see on Facebook does not interest me anyway, but when it comes time to write, I suddenly feel I need to see every post before I can begin. So, twice last year, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account – times when I found that I was having trouble exercising my discipline or I felt I was stuck on my story, so I was letting my mind wander instead of trying to figure it out. This worked well for me, and I will definitely implement again. I don’t think I will delete my account at this point – too many friend and family connections that are there, but temporarily deactivating, or even just signing out, is a definite.
  • Having a word count goal for every writing session. This was very helpful to me. Instead of saying, “I will write for one hour,” then twiddling my thumbs and staring out of the window. I knew I would be there until I got X number of words down. My goal was 1,000 words every time I wrote. Sometimes that only took an hour. Sometimes it was 3. In cases where I was extremely stuck on where the story was going, I gave up because I realized that I really did need to stare out of the window for a while and figure that out before I put down another word. Now, I didn’t write every day. I’m not sure that I can. I do own and run a business, and sometimes that is just all I can do in a day.

I am hoping that this year, I am able to create a more disciplined approach than I did last year:

  • I’m going to sketch out main story points before I begin my sequel so that I won’t get quite as story-stuck as I did last year. I’m sure it will still happen, but I think that will help me keep going. I tried it without doing this, now I’ll try it with and I’ll see which method works best for me. These will be very loose, as I like to follow the story where it leads. My problem has not so much been writer’s block. I could write something. But making sure it served the story when I wasn’t sure where the next step in the story went was another issue. Maybe it’s the same thing? Opinions?
  •  I’m going to be less excruciatingly deliberative over every phrasing of sentence and tone of voice. I’m going to edit it afterwards anyway. And I think the faster I get it down, the happier I will be with my progress. Everything can be changed later if it needs to be.
  • I’m going to track how many words I am usually able to get down in a time frame (though I will still have word count goals), and see if I can improve it. The more I write, the more I will have written, right? I think that’s how that works.
  • Though I know I will not be able to write every day, I am going to set an expected number of days that I will write per week. Maybe 5 days a week? I haven’t decided yet.
  • I am going to put it on my to-do list. I am a to-do list junkie and I love completing my tasks for the day. I think adding it will be a little mental trick for me to see it is a necessary activity.

If you’re wondering, “So, where’s this book you supposedly finished?” It is still in the edit phase. I wanted a few people to read it, and get back to me with their thoughts. I have gotten those thoughts from some, but have a few more to go before I do the big edit. I also wanted to let it sit and mellow for a while so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. In the interim, I’ve had lots of ideas about a sequel or prequel or multiples of both. I’ve realized I was making a mistake not to just go ahead and begin one of them. I have a “complete one task before beginning another” mentality, but that’s not realistic for this type of project, and I KNOW it’s not good for productivity. I am actually on the verge of deciding I should wait until I have more than one book written to even begin publishing. (This will be self-publishing, by the way, so all is at my own discretion.) I think people may like it more if they know there is already a sequel waiting for them.

Do you have goals or dreams you need to apply some discipline to? Any writers out there have tips and tricks they use to keep going? I would love to hear your stories!

Did Jesus feel like Jesus?

I know that’s an odd question, but you’ll know what I mean by the end of this post. I know since I’ve started writing again, my posts have focused on work-related things, but that’s what my brain is thinking about most of the time. That’s what owning your own business will do to you, no matter what kind of business it is. And so, this is yet another post about such things.

I mentioned that I’d started doing a lot of things for the business this year that I had previously not done. Well, one of those things was to recognize employee birthdays and get them a gift. It’s nothing exciting, but just a little something and a card.

My plan had been to give them their presents at the monthly meetings we’ve been having. Well, the first time I had a birthday to celebrate at this occasion there were actually two birthdays, and one of the ladies to celebrate was not able to make the meeting. I’m ashamed to admit that I actually considered not giving her the gift since she’d not been to the meeting. This is silly on many levels, and I didn’t really have a reason other than that I also liked the gift and would’ve been happy to have it for my own. I actually un-wrapped it, and put it where I would’ve wanted to put it if it were mine. But there were a couple of weeks between the celebration and her actual birthday, and about mid-way through that time, I picked it up from where I’d placed it, and re-wrapped it.

I didn’t really even think about it. I didn’t have a big revelation about being magnanimous or any conscious thought that I “should” give it to her after all. I just did it.

We have a pre-appointed drop off spot for items she may need for a job (keys, etc), and I put her present at the drop off point the day before her birthday.

This day happened to coincide with an incident of her not quite meeting one of my expectations. I try not to be a hard task-master, so I hadn’t “scolded” or anything, but she knew because one of our incentives is a higher pay if you meet excellence standards, which she did not get that week. She had asked me what the issue was, and I told her. As I said, I try not to be harsh about these things, but nobody likes to hear what they’ve done wrong, and apparently this bothered her more than I knew.

This discussion took place earlier in the day, and she did not go to the drop off spot until later. After she went to her box, I received this text from her: “You are incredible. Here I am feeling terrible about failing you and you fill the box with gifts. You remind me of Jesus. Thank you so much!”

(On an aside, she only says “fill the box with gifts” because I’d also had aprons printed for us and included one of those in there as well. This, in my opinion, harldly counts as a gift, but that is why she makes it sound like multiples.)

This text meant as much to me as, probably, the gifts meant to her, if not more! And I didn’t feel very much like Jesus. I mean, I almost didn’t give her the gift at all.

But I started thinking, I know that I don’t feel like Jesus. But did Jesus feel like Jesus? I imagine him always doing the right thing and always being happy about it, but didn’t he weep at the Garden of Gethsemane, but then obey the Father anyway?

I think, too many times, we are waiting for a feeling of being happy about doing something when what is really required of us is to do what the Father asks whether we feel like it or not.

Happies

So, I mentioned in my post “A Mission Statement with a Mission” that I’d included some sort of “Easter Eggs” in my client information sheets. These information sheets are distributed to our employees when they are cleaning a house, and include directions, etc. I decided I wanted a reminder in there that there was more to life than work, and so started including what I call “Happies.”

Happies are things such as:

  • Smile at a stranger today!
  • Be kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it!
  • Think about the last time you couldn’t stop laughing…and laugh again!

I know they are silly, and probably mostly looked over as such. However, they’ve had an unexpected effect. I wrote them in order to impact my employees. I wanted them to feel like humans, not rats in a rat-race, but I’m quite sure now that the person it’s impacted most is ME.

The effect it had is hardly measurable. Ever since the day I wrote all of these things (about three months ago) into my client sheets (of which there are around fifty), I have wanted to DO all fifty of the things I wrote. It’s had a major impact on the way I interact with friends, loved ones, and strangers alike. It’s influenced how I feel about the work I do, and how far I’m willing to go to help someone else even when it inconveniences me.

This is not to say that I have become perfect at this or that I am living with a Pollyanna mindset. I still have quite unsavory thoughts at times, and am NOT always happy to go the extra mile. But if I were to take a percentage of the times I responded negatively before I wrote these items out and the times I responded negatively after I wrote them, I can tell you I am certain the percentage would’ve dropped dramatically.

It gives me pause when I feel like letting someone have it when I think: “Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. You’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you. Forgiveness is the beginning of healing.” Or better yet, when I won’t let myself off the hook (which is more frequent): “Forgive yourself for that dumb thing you did that time. (You know the one.) We all have them.”

A few semi-cheesy maxims written one day for the purpose of employee morale reminded me who I wanted to be and what was important.

The Mission Statement with a Mission

So, one of the many things that’s changed since I was consistently writing here is that my husband and I have started a cleaning company. We’ve been doing it for over two years, and have six employees.

Early this year during our slow season, I read a lot of books about business. I met with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) from UGA. I wrote an employee handbook. I created a quality control program with incentives. I instituted monthly dinners with my employees. I re-vamped our client info sheets with some “Easter Eggs” I may discuss in another post. Needless to say, the slow season did not feel very slow to me. I did these things partially because I was feeling unmotivated and frustrated myself, and having had a lot of trouble retaining employees, I started thinking, well if I’m feeling un-motivated, how am I supposed to pass on any sort of vision along to my employees?

The business books and the SBDC rep all say you should have a mission statement, but some of the books I read (foremost Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappo’s) went further and talked about how your mission statement should reflect not only flat verbiage about what you physically do as a company, but, in essence, the feeling you want to impart to people as a company.

Now, let’s be real here, cleaning is not a noble profession. It doesn’t take skilled labor or schooling. But I’m of the opinion that all work is worth doing well: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men….” Colossians 3:23. I also believe that no work should be looked at as menial or demeaning. If you are doing something that needs to be done, then you are providing something that has value. I wanted to impart this to my employees – the feeling that cleaning houses, and doing it well really means something to the people we are doing it for – that doing it well actually affects the lives of our clients.

So, I asked my clients a series of questions to try to get a direction going for our Mission Statement. Here are the questions:

1) What do you feel are the most valuable characteristics for your cleaning company?
2) When your expectations for your cleaning company are met, how does it affect your life?
3) When your expectations for your cleaning company are met, how does it make you feel?
It was really interesting to me how much the answers I received overlapped and were reiterated time and time again. I was able to break the answers of each question down into essentially three main points…some of these points became part of the actual mission statement, and some became core values (which the businessy folks also told me I should have).
Now, many of our clients rent their homes out, and so we are not only giving them a pleasant experience, but we are enabling them to have a successful business, so the answers reflect that as well.
Based on my customer feedback, this is now the mission statement of Blue Ridge Cabin Cleaning:
To inspire happiness and gratefulness in our clients by performing a quality act of service each and every time, so that they can stop worrying and ENJOY LIFE!
The answers to the questions I posed to my clients showed that we could actually do this, just by doing a quality job for our clients!
Now compare it to the mission statement I’d come up with for us on my own before I completed the survey:

To be the premium quality cleaning service for Vacation Rental Homes and Vacation Homes in the Fannin County, GA service area, by providing consistent, excellent service each and every time, reflecting the specific needs of our clients and to embody, as a company, the intent of the “Golden Rule,” meaning we will clean each house as we would hope someone would clean our own.

Sounds rote, and meaningless, like words in a legal document, right? How different it makes one feel to be inspring happiness and gratefulness and to be a contributor to giving someone a less stressful life!

So, my encouragement here is to all of you doing little jobs that you think have no purpose. They do! When you do your job well, it is doing something that affects others even if it is only cleaning toilets.

Newness

I was looking at my blog yesterday for the first time in years. I realized, in looking at my posts that it’s been seven years since I posted with any frequency. I can’t really say all of the reasons that’s been the case, but I know there are many, not the least of which was time. There was probably a little bit of floundering going on in there, too, and I’m still not much of one to share things until I have them all figured out. The problem with that mindset is that the older I get, the less I feel I have anything figured out. And that’s OK, but not if I let it keep me from sharing anything at all.

I decided to write a post today, because I’ve been working on my book. A book that I both started and stopped in 2008, which, incidentally, is also when I stopped writing (for all intents and purpose) this blog. I fell in love with writing that year, and then let life and myself get in the way. So, I’m trying to fix that. I wrote in one of my blogs from 2008 that I was working on a book, and that I was 37 typed pages in. I never got any further than that until I picked it back up in February of this year. I am now 86 typed pages (50,000 words) in.

I started thinking about the blog as I was working on the book, because I think of so many things as I write that, in the past, I would’ve blogged about instead of storifying. (I’m aware that’s not a word.)

This made me realize that since I’ve started writing on the book, I’ve been much more centered and at peace. I always knew that as I wrote things out, I came to have a clearer understanding of them, a clearer understanding even of my own mind and feelings. However, as I was working on the book, and connecting how much better my emotional state has been, I asked myself why I ever stopped writing the blog. These realizations have given me the want-to I need to get it going again. Hopefully. I’m not going to make any promises. After all, I am also trying to write a book now. All the same, my heart feels it’s important, and in many ways, a blog is easier than a book, so when my brain is overwhelmed with book-ness, maybe I can switch to blog.

I think I’ll have to start fresh, as there are so many facets of my journey that have been left out, what with the last 7 years of silence. So, this is me, starting fresh.

And new-ness is exciting. It gives hope for the future…proof of life. Here’s to newness breathing life into us all.

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