Changing Thinking

August 30, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

As most of you know, I grew up surrounded by a lot of speakers talking about Positive Thinking.  Think and Grow Rich.  As A Man Thinketh.  See You At the Top.  Yep.  I read them all.

I still believe some of what they taught but not exactly the way they taught it.  See, I’m not just a student of books.  I’m a student of life, and one of the things I have come to understand about life is that your thinking really DOES determine many things about your experience here.  It determines what things you will try and what things you won’t.  It determines what you believe is possible and what you don’t.  It determines how much effort you will put into something or not.

But where most of these positive thinking approaches go off the rails is that they put the thinking effort on YOU and they put the direction of the thinking effort toward you.

In other words, they say things like:  You are the one who determines your destiny.  You need to set goals and work to achieve them.  You are the only one who can stop you.  Prime your pump.  Think of what you want and go for it.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

Here’s where the positive thinking crowd goes WAAAY off track.

How do I know?  Because I lived that way for a lot of years.  I will tell you this about positive thinking that focuses on you–it will make you completely and utterly miserable.  Even when you find success as defined by the world, you will not rejoice.  You will not feel satisfied.  You will not feel any different than you did when you were flat broke, dreaming of what it would be like to have “everything.”

In one of my books a character who reaches the top, alone, says, “It’s amazing how much the top feels like the bottom if you get there with no one to share it with.”  Very true.

The major flaw in positive thinking is that thinking about yourself is NOT the answer.  Even thinking good things about yourself is not the answer.

The answer is to think of the ONE positive that makes everything else make sense–God.  To learn to trust Him.  To learn to count on Him.  To learn that even in the midst of horrible, He will be there to see you through.

A week ago, I heard this saying for the first time:  “To change behavior, you have to change the thinking.”  Of course, the positive thinking crowd would be quick to tell you what to think about that would change behavior:  set goals!  Work hard!  Give it 100%!

Sounds great.  It won’t work.

Oh, it may work for awhile, and for awhile it may even look really good… on the outside.  Problem is, scratch the surface and all you’ve really done is traded one misery causing way of life for another.

Instead, I want you to think of it this way for today:  “To change behavior, you have to change the thinking.  So instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I will focus on what God CAN do if I let him.  Instead of focusing on how much I have to do and how will I ever accomplish it, I will focus on taking the steps in this moment that God is asking me to take.  Instead of looking at the world and wondering how I will ever survive, I will focus on God who is my Strength, my Delight, and my Best Friend.”

I guarantee you, when you change your thinking like THAT, your life will change.  I know it did for me.


The Crazy Season

August 26, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Sometimes life is almost peaceful around here.  This is not one of those times.

School just started, so there is all that getting back into the groove of things thing.  But end of August to October is also one of my crazy seasons.  I have three now:  Christmas (for obvious reasons), VBS, and Carnival.

Last year both schools where my children go got really desperate for someone to run their raffles–major fundraisers for each school.  I agreed to one and got “please, please, pleased” into the other one.

Well, this year they are back.

Now honestly I don’t know that I mind doing the raffles too much.  For the most part they are fun.  I get to meet a lot of parents and I’m forced out of my normal little shell.  The problem is:   Time.  Time I don’t really have.  Every year I wonder at this point:  How am I going to get all of this done?

Because in addition to the raffles, I have my house, the finances for our family and my husband’s business, groceries and upkeep of children, extras after school for said children, yard work, laundry, editing for friends, teaching Sunday School… oh, and I write sometimes too.

It’s at times like this that I have to put all the good things I’ve learned about God to work because if I was trying to do all of this, I’d be truly crazy by this point.

The strange thing is, for way the most part, the things I’ve learned really do work.

For example, take one thing at a time.  Make a list of everything if you have to, but then concentrate on doing one thing.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  It won’t work.

Put each day in God’s hands and let Him work out your schedule.  Don’t be so beholden to your list that the Holy Spirit can’t work.  Let Him move you where He wants when He wants.  It always works out so much better like that.

Let others help.  Don’t try to do everything by yourself.  You can’t.  Let God bring into your life those who can and will help you.  And LET THEM HELP.

Finally, surrender.  You can’t do it, but God can.  If you remember that simple rule, peace is possible even in the midst of the crazy season.  Trust me.  I know.

Still Gone

August 23, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

Some days I hardly think of the people I’ve lost at all.  Maybe that sounds hard-hearted, or something, but sometimes life in the present is so pressing that it’s all I can do to keep up.  Then other days, mostly fleeting moments, I remember.  And it’s just… weird.

Like this morning.  I took my kids to school.  One started a new school.  Two were going to old schools but new grades.  That’s always a little bittersweet anyway.  I mean how can my oldest be a freshman already?  How can my youngest be in second grade?

Anyway, I had just dropped the last one off when around the corner came my brother’s old pickup.  His brother-in-law bought it after my brother’s death, and since that brother-in-law lives in my town and goes to my church, every so often I will see it driving around.  That’s always a little surreal because it is a distinctive pickup.  I mean, I can tell it’s that pickup from virtually any angle at one glance.

As I dropped my youngest off, here comes that pickup around the corner.

That feeling is so strange because for one split second I think… and then I remember, and it all comes rushing back.

After dropping youngest off, I pulled out into traffic and headed home, alone for the first time in three months.  As I drove, I thought about what I could do today.  So many things I haven’t been able to do because someone else was on the computer or in the living room, or making messes behind whatever I’d just cleaned.  And I thought, “I need to email Dennis and catch up.”

About that same moment, I drove up next to my brother’s pickup in traffic just as on the radio came “Praise You in This Storm” which happened to come out the same time my church burned down and I lost my brother.

The weird thing is, all I could think was, “They are still gone.”

I mean so many things have happened since they left, things they would have rejoiced over, things they would have helped carry me through.  But no matter how long ago it was, no matter what new things happen… they are still gone.

After my brother’s death, I read one time on a blog someone wrote, “Life goes on, but death does too.”  I understood at the time, and I think I understand even better as time goes on.  It’s been a year since my brother-in-law’s death, three months since Dennis has been gone, and 3 1/2 years since my brother’s been gone.  And weirdly enough, I think there will always be moments when for a split second I will feel like they are still here.

And then I will remember again that they are still gone.

I’m just grateful for my faith, so I know they are not “gone” forever.  They are with Jesus and one day I will see them again.

It’s just that some days the reminders that they are there and not here are really hard to take.

Invitational Living

August 16, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m reading a book about teaching.  There was an interesting piece in it I want to share with you.  It talked about being Intentionally Inviting to your students.  I’d never really thought about this though I think I must do it naturally.

For example, one of the things it talks about under this category is that the teacher should stand outside the classroom and welcome the students.  I can’t say I did this all the time, especially when I started “really” teaching because I had six different classes in four different classrooms (never back-to-back).  So most of the time I was running to get to the next class just to be there on time.  Forget having the time to stand out and greet the students.

However, I did do this when I student taught one class in particular.  It was a Journalism I class.  That meant the students sat in desks and learned how to write “journalistic style.”  Older students worked on the newspaper or the yearbook.  These students, mostly freshmen, weren’t even allowed back into the hallowed halls of publication.  No, they were stuck with me.  (Poor things.)

In fact, over the course of my time there, I learned that this teacher became a student teacher’s mentor teacher for one reason–so she didn’t have to teach J1.  I think I observed for about three days in there and then one day, she said, “It’s yours.”  And it was.

She didn’t help me plan.  She didn’t help me grade.  Most of the time I was teaching she wasn’t even in the room!  Instead she was back in the hallowed halls of publication, helping the older, less problematic students.  At least she saw the J1 kids as problematic.  The truth was many of the 15 to 20 of them didn’t want to be in the class at all.  They had no desire to learn to be journalists.  The class was an elective, and when they signed their schedules, it looked easier than wood shop and theater.  So here they were.

I was also student teaching in the technology classroom in the morning, but that was a little different.  That teacher taught, and I kept the computers running… for the most part.

But J1 was MY class.  These were MY kids.  I planned the lessons, taught the lessons, graded the lessons.  I did it all.

One of the things I did almost consistently was stand out in front of my door as the students were coming to class.  This worked because I didn’t have any class beforehand to be finishing up, and I loved it.

I remember in particular two days of doing this.  One, one of my most promising male students, hobbled up on crutches with his knee all bandaged up.  “What did you do?” I asked.

The short version was, he was playing football for fun, and someone tackled him wrong.  As I recall, that knee never really quit bothering him.

The other I remember was when a young lady who was not the sharpest tack in the bunch, nor particularly interested in journalism (though I think she would have done well in Boys 101), had been missing for several days.  The door where I stood was at the end of a long hallway.  On the other side of the hallway were lockers and the next door to me led outside.  I can still see her walking down the hallway.  No one had known why she was gone, and I had begun to really worry about her.

As she walked up, I threw out my arms and called out her name, surprised and happy she had returned.  She looked a little surprised and then hugged me back.

Her first question was, “You missed me?” as if she couldn’t believe it.  “Of course, I missed you.  Where have you been?”  And she told me that she had been sick and that it had been a long day, etc. etc. etc.

Strangely her grades improved in J1 after that day.

Finally, I remember one young man.  He was short, Hispanic, not into academics and boring things like that.  He didn’t like to write.  In fact, he’d taken J1 to get out of English (don’t think you can do that now, but I’m guessing they just didn’t know what else to do with him).  I don’t remember any particular time that I greeted him at the door or even any particularly earth-shattering moment in class.

What I do know is that sometime in the course of those 15 weeks, he got the invitation to believe in himself that I was so desperately trying to send to all of them.  How do I know this?  Well, I wouldn’t have except…

On my last day there I asked my kids to write a short paragraph to me.  They could say anything they wanted.  They could tell me what I had done wrong, what I had done right.  It didn’t matter because I was leaving that day, and I would never be back.  Further, this was not for a grade, so they were free to tell me anything they wanted.

At the end of class, I collected them, said my good-byes, and they left.

I had a two hour drive back home, and on the way, I decided to read a few of them.  BIG. MISTAKE.

When I got to Joe’s, it was really well-written.  Probably the best thing I’d read all year.  Clear.  Concise.  And I was happy.  Maybe I had done some good after all.  Then I got to the end of it, and I remember that last sentence like I was reading it right now:

“Last of all, believe in yourself because I believe in you.  Because you told me that once, and I’ve never forgotten it.  So I want to tell you that now.”

Did anyone go on to be a star journalist from that class?  Well, one guy went on to write for the school paper and become the editor.  The others?  I don’t know.

I do know that by living with my life being an invitation to THEM, I received so much more in return.  Maybe just that much is enough.  And who knows, maybe those ripples in that little pond spread farther than I will ever know this side of heaven.

Over Time

August 12, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

I don’t know about you, but things that take time drive me crazy.  Especially things that take a really long time and don’t ever actually end.

One of the big reasons I started writing was because everything else in my life at the time fit that description:  It took a really long time and was never really finished.

There was my daughter, who was 1 at the time.  Kids.  They are never really finished.  Even when they leave home, sometimes they come back.  And you always are in the midst of something with them.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  It just isn’t something that you ever technically “finish.”

Then there was the housework.  Do I really have to tell you that no matter how much laundry you get done, wait two days and you’ve got more.

And don’t even get me started on cooking.  I know there are some people who love to cook.  I would like to hire one.  Seriously.  Me and cooking do not get along.  In fact, I’m probably the only person on the planet who buys cookbooks to read.  Again.  Seriously.  I love to look at the pictures and dream of cooking things that actually turned out to look like that.  Things that tasted like they look in the pictures.  Things that when my kids or my husband sat down to eat, they didn’t go, “Oh.  Can I have cereal tonight?”  Things that when supper is done, I don’t have to eat the leftovers for four days because other people actually ate some of it.

Even more, the hours I spend in the kitchen trying to make that “perfect meal” when I could have been doing something I actually enjoyed.  Oh, I see people who like to cook and who are really good at cooking.  I’m not one of them.

So, when I first started writing, I latched on because this, at last, was something I could do where there was a finish line.  Typing “The End” was a great feeling.  Finally, SOMETHING in my life was getting finished.

Unfortunately, I’m back into two “over time” projects.  Those that take a lot of time and are never really done.

One is the reading thing with my son.  Truthfully, he has done amazing over the last five weeks.  However, today I realized two things.  One, how very far we have to go, and two, how much reviewing we’re going to have to do to keep the progress that we’ve made.

Doing reading every day is a struggle for him, and for me… and I LIKE to read.

The second “over time” project I have right now is exercising.  I know.  Like eating, this should be a daily occurrence, and there are times in my life like right now when it is.  The problem is, something always comes along to thwart my progress.  I might work and work and even see some differences and then something happens.  I hurt something or just get really busy with other things.  And all that work goes, “Pflt.”

One area that I’m glad I’ve put in the “over time” is in my relationship with God.  That hasn’t been a straight shot.  Not even close.  But I really like where I am now in this area as opposed to where I was five years ago.  I’ve made real, measurable progress.  Okay.  GOD has made real, measurable progress with me.

I know my two “over time” projects will be the same if I can just stick to them.

But cooking, not so much…

Where is Your Focus?

August 9, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

As I work with others, the question comes up many times, “But how do I know what God wants me to do?”  I used to ask this question a lot myself.  I wanted a game plan.  I wanted to see the strategy, the map, the agenda.  I felt that only then would I be able to confidently step into what God was asking me to do.

What I’ve learned is that it just doesn’t work like that.  God is not usually going to tell me where we’re going with something.  He’s going to tell me the next step and when I take that, then He’ll tell me the NEXT step.  Very rarely do I know the 57th step of what He’s going to ask me to do.

My sister is a great example of this.  She was a stay-at-home mom for many years.  During this time she took in kids to babysit during the day.  She loved it–though she did get tired of the perpetual potty-training treadmill.  When her family went through a job change for her husband, she found that her income babysitting was not enough, so she took a job being an assistant in a Pre-K program at the school.

She wasn’t at all sure she was up to this challenge, but she kept taking the steps God asked her to take.  The first year went by, and she survived.  Then midway through the second year, someone made a crazy suggestion:  Why don’t you become a teacher?

Now she had considered teaching years ago, but because of unthinking comments by several people, she thought she could never do that.  So she went to college and got a degree in psychology.  Flash forward about 15 years.  Here she was being an assistant and someone found out she already had a degree.  So she could do this program to become a teacher.

Had God said this was where she was going to begin with, she would have quit immediately.  It would have seemed much too overwhelming.  But He didn’t.  (Smart God.)

She studied for and took the entrance to the program exam and passed!  A mere six weeks after the initial suggestion, she was in the program and taking the first course.  It’s now been three months and she’s on the fourth of seven courses!

Further, they just had a teacher quit, and so she has a new job as well.  (Who but God could have lined all of this up?)

So, she’s working on her courses and preparing for her new class.

But here’s the thing.  She didn’t know any of this was coming.  Truly her focus was not on herself and what she wanted.  She was simply following the steps God laid out.  Yes, many of those steps were overwhelming.  They didn’t even really seem possible, but she put her faith in God–not in herself.

So where’s your focus?  Is it on God and what He’s asking you to do, or is it on you and what you want to do or what you think you can’t?

The determining factor in where you will be in God’s Kingdom revolves on that one, simple point.  Where is your focus?

The Present

August 5, 2010

By:  Staci Stallings

I’ve been reading a very small book with a very big message.  It’s called, “Fish.”

One little poem in it that is probably rather old caught my attention today.  It went like this:

“The past is history.

The future is a mystery.

Now is a gift.

That’s why it’s called the present.”

In writing the books, I have written characters and walked with them through life, and one of the things I have found is that people who are “lost,” “searching,” or “hurting” are usually not living in the present.  They wish things had been different in the past, and they get stuck there.  They do not see that what they are doing RIGHT NOW is much more important to what will happen tomorrow.  They pine and wish and whine today away, so that today becomes a replica of yesterday.

The other side of the coin are people who live for tomorrow.  “Someday…”  “When…”  “If only…”  They will put life off until… I get a car, I get a house, I get into school, I get out of school, I get that new job, I get out of this job, I pay off the house, I retire…  And every day they waste is one more day they do not have.

The truth is that our lives are truly lived not on one side of the coin or on the other.  They are lived on that fine line of the edge of the coin between yesterday and tomorrow.

I have a plaque in my living room that reads:  Life is like a coin, you can spend it any way you want, but spend it wisely for you only get to spend it once.

How are you spending your “present”?  Is how you are spending now moving you forward?  Or are you waiting to start moving forward until the future happens?

Make wise use of your present.

It’s the only one you’ve really got.