January 4, 2009

Self Improvement?

With every New Year there's a focus on self-improvement. I was reminded of what sits in my pantry as I read an article ...

There's this visual used in many varieties of settings. I've used it myself when I've spoken around the country. I used a large plastic gallon jar and had put very large rocks in it. The example I read this morning had golf balls in a mayonnaise jar. Then we ask, "Is it full?" and the response is, "Yes". I then filled it with gravel, the article- marbles, and "Yes, it's full" is the response again. Then we fill the jar with sand. The response is not quite so sure any more. I poured in water, the article poured in beer - then the jar is full.

Most of us have seen this illustration and know the right answers, but in the reality of daily living our lives answer this visual with, "In all the busyness of life we can always squeeze in more."

I had my old plastic jar with rocks visual sitting around ... I like visual reminders for reminding my heart. One look at the jar and I remember what's most important in my life that I need to make sure I squeeze in first, for my sanity or to be a better person.

One day, looking at that all grey jar, I thought, "That's ugly! That doesn't represent me! I'm made in the image of God who created gorgeous birds, butterflies and animals ... created exotic fruits and vegetables, beautiful sunrises ... all for our enjoyment. I'm a child of God!" I wanted a beautiful jar to look at, full of color!

I can't just end the illustration here. People want to know what I named my stuff in the jar. The sand is all the small stuff in life, like the squeaky wheels demanding attention, and this is what we tend to most. But if the jar is full of sand, we can't then put in the marbles or golf balls.

I share a piece of my life's story with this illustration: for the first third of our marriage I/we (when the kids came along) traveled with Monte as he did his geology, traveling primarily all over the western US, back roads, staying in cabins or kitchenettes. We'd be gone a week, home a couple weeks, then gone again. 

This is the time in one's life when they are establishing patterns, like organizing a home for best functioning and establishing a maintenance program. This traveling lifestyle forced the large important pieces into my life's jar. I had to say no to many things people fill (maybe clutter) their lives with. "No" to long term commitments, committees, sports, music/dance/etc lessons ...

When we stopped traveling ... I was overwhelmed and lost. I knew what life felt like, what I called "beyond maintenance", so I knew what I was missing. But I had never evaluated or named the important things to me in life. I didn't want to just maintain or just survive (tho there's times for that).

Most important in life? Family, health, passions and friends. If everything else is lost and only they remain, our life will still be full. The marbles/gravel represent other big things in life like jobs, house and vehicles ...

We do have a choice (usually). We should be able to control our reactions to outside forces and how we spend our time. There will always be time to clean the house or fix the disposal. We can choose to nurture relationships, take walks, control media. Talk, think, ponder, laugh, and love. It's our choice.

Years ago when I was pondering this message, Monte's dad and I were sitting in his living room and I was looking out the window at the woods. They had recently clear-cut, how they log in Wisconsin, and I couldn't get over how quickly the woods re-grew. Emery made a profound statement: "There are so many seeds laying dormant in the ground just waiting for the right conditions to spring to life."

Cleared for the sun to shine through and not be crowded, and then moisture, allows the seeds to grow. I thought about lives. How many seeds lay dormant in our lives, seeds of creativity ... All they need, to burst forth with life, is a little clearing.

I'm again re-evaluating what I need to remember and do for improvement in 2009.

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