Life in the Trees

Shelly’s Note: I have several friends who are gifted writers with incredible perspectives and stories. From time-to-time, I’m inviting them to guest blog on here with me.

Kari Costanza is one such friend. Kari and I met at World Vision in 1996. We were both young women back then. We’re not old women now, but let’s just say that people call us “Ma’am” more often than they used to.

Kari is always traveling the world for work. I suspect she doesn’t have a closet in her home. She just lives out of her suitcase for the few days of the year that she’s there. I asked her if I could share this particular story, fittingly about her luggage. Here’s Kari…

Kari, on an previous trip to Rwanda in 2009

Aug. 6, 2012 – I travel a lot for work and usually everything runs smoothly. My biggest travel decision is between chicken and beef. Unless there is fish. Fish trumps them both.

But yesterday was a different story. The day started well with a sendoff brunch at my in-law’s in New Jersey. If your last name is Costanza, you know how to cook.

I had frittata, waffles, and scrapple—a sumptuous Pennsylvania Dutch pork product I eat once every two years because it takes that long to digest.

We drove to the Philadelphia Airport where I would connect to Detroit, Amsterdam, and finally Kigali, Rwanda.

In Philadelphia the weather literally turned. Sunny skies were replaced by ominous clouds. Still we boarded the plane and prepared for takeoff. As we waited in line to taxi, the pilot came on the radio: “There is a band of nasty weather to the West. All flights have been cancelled.” We waited on the runway for an hour until he said: “We’re heading back to the terminal.”

I waited for my luggage in the jetway. The plane was small and the baggage handlers had taken it from me at the airplane door. When we deplaned, they gave it back—damp, but in my hands.  I waited with thousands of stranded passengers in the terminal, watching a spectacular lighting storm. We oohed and aahed and hoped it would end soon.

An hour later we boarded for Detroit. We sat at the gate, not moving. I grew more and more nervous. I was going to miss my connection to Amsterdam. I did what nervous people do. I bit my nails. I twirled my hair. I tapped my fingers. I may even have twitched. We finally got underway.

I decided to read. I always take books about the country I’m visiting along.  For this trip I’d brought My Father, Maker of the Trees, by Eric Irivuzumugabe, who had survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Eric told of losing his mother and siblings during those terrible 100 days. How he’d watched the massacre from the top of a cypress tree. He described the horror he felt, listening to the screams of women and the cries of babies as they died below. How it was difficult to remain in the tree, how the branches dug into his legs and how perching exhausted him. How he nearly gave up and climbed down to die.

My tension level increased with each page. The flight seemed to be taking hours. When we landed, we just sat—again—on the runway. Not moving. Just sitting. With no one explaining why. I was screaming inside my head, Get me off this plane! 

Once in the terminal I learned my plane for Amsterdam had indeed departed. I would arrive in Rwanda late.

I talked with Delta agents, got new flights for the next morning, and settled into a hotel in Detroit. I’d been on the road for more than 12 hours and had gone backward—West, not East.

When I opened my suitcase, I found that everything was wet inside—my socks, shoes, shirts, and slacks.

My first inclination was to feel woe. But then I thought of Eric in the trees. He endured true hardship. This was just a blip. I covered the floor with my wet clothes, creating a small forest on my hotel room rug.

Kari’s forest of wet clothes

Then I climbed into bed, a luxurious bed, the kind that makes you think, “We need a new bed.”

As I rested I thought about Eric. How frightened he was. How uncomfortable he was. How he wanted to give up. But how those branches held him. And about how lucky I was. Mine was an inconvenience. A chance to do what I’m supposed to do anyway—trust in God’s ways rather than my own.

I’ll get to Rwanda. The story will be there. My clothes may smell like rain, but I’m from Seattle. That’s how I’m supposed to smell—like rain. Abundant rain. Rain that gushes from the skies, soaks the earth, and grows sturdy trees with strong branches.

[Kari Costanza is the editor of special projects for World Vision. She has written, photographed stories, and produced videos in 40 countries for the organization.]

You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy

It was the oddest thing. A few weeks ago, I walked into the restroom on the top floor of Pacific Place in downtown Seattle and was surprised at the remodeling they had done in there. Same nice tiles and all, but for whatever reason, they had added urinals against the walls of the women’s restroom.

I was trying to figure out why the urinals were in there, and how I’d possibly use them, when I realized that a number of guys were standing facing those urinals.

So annoying. First management changes things around. Then these guys decide to use the ladies’ room. I stood there ready to ask them all to leave when it started to dawn on me that perhaps I had walked through the wrong door…

You’d be surprised at how slowly my brain registers things at times. Or not. It might be a reflection of my incredible hubris that I automatically assume that half a dozen guys made the mistake of entering the wrong restroom instead of thinking that the error was, perhaps, mine?

You’d think that I would turn silently on my heels and hightail it out of there, but instead I quite audibly gasped, “Oooops!” The guys turned. I turned…red…and then managed to leave as quickly as I could. I glanced at the door on my way out still hoping I might be right and the rest of the world wrong. ‘Twas indeed my error…

It made me wonder how many other times I walk into situations quite sure that I have it right; that my perception is reality.

A couple of years ago, I attended Harvard’s Program on Negotiation as a continuing education course for managers. You’d think it would be a course on “negotiate to win” or how to out-maneuver your opponent. I was relieved to find them emphasizing empathy. How do you check your assumptions to figure out where you might be overlooking facts and data? How can you figure out what is truly important to someone else so you can reach mutually beneficial agreements?

They showed us some classic films of a basketball game and asked half of us to count how many times the black-shirted team passed the ball to teammates while the other half of our class counted how many times the white-shirted team passed the ball. Half way through the film, a man dressed in a gorilla costume ambled onto the court and began to play. Astoundingly, at least half of the class, engrossed in counting passes, never even noticed a costumed gorilla playing on the court.

Later, they projected a poem up on the wall and asked us to count the number of times a specific letter appeared in the verses. They gave us as much time as we needed to figure out this simple, objective answer. But when they asked for a show of hands to report our counts, we were all over the map.

At first, I thought there was some trick to the exercise, but no, it was a straight-forward example of the fact that even with all the facts in front of you and a true right answer, people could still get a simple thing wrong.

All that to say that old age is starting to slow me down. I’m trying to walk toward my conclusions instead of leaping to them. I’m attempting to listen more carefully with a mind that stays as open as my ears. And I think I’m getting a bit better about putting myself in someone else’s place to see what the world must look like from his or her vantage point…but I could be wrong about that too.

You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for…

Billy Joel

Everyone’s Fighting a Mighty Battle

It started with my dog, Whistler. Most of my troubles can be traced to him. When my son, Ryan, left the breakfast table to use the restroom, Whistler snagged Ryan’s bagel and gulped it down…didn’t even bother to spread some cream cheese on it first. His sister Paige stood by and watched.

It was negligence on the scale of passive observation to the holocaust. Ryan was ready to haul his twin to the Hague and have her tried in front of an international tribunal.

I was brokering peace accords and grabbing jackets and blocking the refrigerator with a chair (battery’s dead on Whistler’s invisible fence collar, so he’s back to opening the fridge for snacks). I climbed into the car, started the engine, and realized Katie wasn’t in her car seat.

So I’m back in the house on a frantic search mission only to find her huddled in the corner of her closet wearing just her panties and crying. She had “nothing to wear.” Hard to believe that the There’s-nothing-in-my-closet gene on that second X chromosome had switched on already. She’s six!

I offered up five shirts and two pairs of jeans before Katie agreed to get dressed for school. By then we were running late, and Ryan’s wrath had transferred from one sister to the other.

We pulled up to the school. As Ryan exited the car, he slugged Katie’s arm for making everyone late. Katie snarled and took off after her brother, slinging her lunch box at him for hitting her.

It was a fine start to a beautiful autumn day in Washington. The leaves were turning red and falling off the trees. My kids were seeing red and falling out of bed. Megan was at home with a cold. Not the full-on symptoms of swine flu, but piglet flu, perhaps?

Thank goodness I’d spend the day in meetings with mature and professional adults.

I work on a virtual team producing a weekly program for public radio. Reporter assignments are made from Chapel Hill to journalists around the world. Scripts are edited in Boston; the show is tracked by our host in Dallas or Chicago; the program is mixed in Seattle and posted to ftp sites for public radio stations across the country to download.

It’s invigorating to work with a group of amazingly intelligent colleagues, but distance has its difficulties. We try to have in-person meetings at least twice a year to plan our shows and work through production and editorial issues. This time, we were meeting in Seattle.

I was planning to start the meetings with a Powerpoint presentation on our program–financials, web analytics, web marketing results–but my computer caught a virus and was in the intensive care ward of our IS department.

Hotel shuttles delayed team members at the airport the night before. The hotel had placed someone in a first floor handicapped room which wasn’t acceptable to her. They were served fake eggs at the hotel breakfast buffet. WiFi wasn’t working at the hotel or in the office for them.

By the afternoon, I was beginning to feel overlooked by the Nobel committee; bitter that Obama had received the honor.

But no time for self-pity. My phone indicated my nanny was trying to reach me. The kids had set off the car alarm while she had taken one child to the bathroom.

By five ‘o clock, I rushed home to placate my frazzled nanny, hand off the kids to their dad, and then back out the door for dinner with my staff. At the restaurant, our server took copious notes of food orders and special needs. Shell-fish allergies. Mushroom allergies. (Just some types of mushrooms. Fine with the hallucinogenic variety.) Gluten-free meals. Vegan diets. Preferences for free-range poultry and locally grown organic ingredients.

I silently wondered if our server would deliver our dishes with napkin-wrapped EpiPens. I imagined our group in a third world feeding center and wondered if I could get them to eat Unimix. Maybe plumpy nut would be a better choice for this team…

In the course of our conversations, I listened as team members told me about a parent fighting cancer; dealing with the aftermath of a spouse’s death; worries over mothers/sons/daughters/spouses; and their own health issues.

That was Day 1 of our week’s meetings. After dinner, I picked up my kids from their dad’s and headed home to read stories, make lunches, run a load of laundry and clean the cat litter. Whistler met us with the cat litter box door stuck around his head like an Elizabethan collar.

I started to pack lunches, only to discover that Whistler had pushed aside the chair in front of the fridge and helped himself to the roast beef for the kids’ sandwiches.

The Shirelles sang, “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said…”

But Plato said it better: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

ImageA mighty battle, indeed.

Children of Privilege

Every time I travel with my kids, there’s a moment that gives me pause. It’s not the moment when I’m stepping onto a plane for five hours with four kids. That’s when I’m eyeing the emergency exit and wondering if I can make a hasty escape if the kiddos get too rowdy at cruising altitudes.

Nor is it that earlier moment when we’re standing in line at airport security, and I recall Garrison Keillor’s rant about the shoe bomber. Thanks to Richard Reid’s foiled attempt, all of us must now bare our feet to walk through metal detectors. What would have happened, Keillor wonders, if the guy had made an underwear bomb? Would we all have to remove our underwear to walk through security?

No, no we wouldn’t. Because new millimeter-wave scans have replaced metal detectors at six U.S. airports, essentially giving TSA personnel Superman’s X-ray vision to see through your clothes. These scanners, soon to be rolled out across the nation, may make TSA positions the most sought-after jobs in Homeland Security. Especially if they’re hiring teenage boys.

My reverie is abruptly interrupted by the fact that I’m holding up the line. I snatch a couple of rubber bins, and my children begin to empty their electronics into them: DVD players. MacBooks. Nintendo DS games. They aren’t required to fully empty their backpacks of the DVD case that houses the millions of movies intended to keep them occupied on the flight. Or their nanos and iPods.

This is what gives me pause. (Mental pause. I don’t dare hold up the line again as there are enough people looking reproachfully at the distracted woman with too many children.)

I’m pushing my shoeless (and perhaps underwear-less…forgot to check ‘em on the way out of the house!) kids through the metal detectors and shepherding their belongings through the security machines, but I’m seeing all their STUFF. And I hear Madonna singing We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl in my head. It’s a bad sign when you hear Madonna singing to you in the airport.

It’s not just that my kids have so much, and they are boarding yet another plane to a magic kingdom or a balmy beach. It’s that my children, and most others living in American suburbs, are privileged and blessed, and we rarely acknowledge that fact. Our kids are largely sheltered from malnutrition, war, hard child labor and emotional abuse. (Ryan might take issue with the last two assertions since he considers making his bed an unfair labor practice and contends that growing up with three sisters constitutes emotional abuse.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not raising a Paris Hilton or Suri Cruise. I try to have my kids work for the things they want in life. And I work to teach them that life is not about things. I hope to inculcate them with the notion that they can and should give back joyfully and generously.

Even so, there’s a scene from the movie Schindler’s List that haunts me. Near the end of the movie, there is a line of Polish Jews (saved from concentration camps by Schindler) waiting to have their gold fillings removed from their teeth. The gold fillings are melted down and made into a ring for Oskar Schindler that reads: Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

The gift breaks Schindler. He weeps and wonders how many more lives he could have saved. Would his watch have saved a few more people? What could he have given up that would have been insignificant in his life, but would have meant life itself for another?

The scene has stayed with me over the years, oft resurrected by the reality of working in an international children’s charity. I hesitate to write about this stuff for a variety of reasons: I’m involved with this all day long at work. It’s guilt-inducing. It’s hypocritical given the chasm between how I live and how I know I could give.

Maybe it’s important to exist in the dichotomy. One week, I’m singing Zippity Do Dah with my kids on Main Street, Disney, and the next, I’m listening to stories of little girls who are sold on the main streets of too many of the world’s cities.

My colleague, Richenda, recently sat me down to answer some questions about motherhood for a video blog she’s creating for Mother’s day. “Has working at World Vision had any impact on my experience as a mother?” she asked?

I’m not a great interviewee on camera, so I have no idea what I said in response. What I know is that World Vision has been a reality check to my whole life for the past 16 years. Convicting, but not always comfortable.

I was four months into my first pregnancy, when I headed off to Romania to work on stories for the magazine. Eric planned to paint the nursery and put up the border we had selected while I was traveling and away from the paint fumes. Friends were talking about baby showers for us and so I had stopped by Target to complete a baby registry before my trip. Baby bottle options spanned 4 shelves and overwhelmed me. There were diaper genies. Wet wipe warmers. And bathtub water thermometers to ensure that you wouldn’t scald your baby. (Can’t you test the water with your hand?)

It was 1996. Six years since communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, and television news crews exposed the world to the horrific conditions of Romania’s orphanages. Even with great improvements, the orphanage I visited in Bucharest still housed 100 babies, their metal cribs lined up in rows across the single room. No Pottery Barn baby bedding there.

When Ryan and Paige were born in 2001, I thought of the mother of twins I met in a village in Tanzania years earlier. She had lost three babies before World Vision drilled a well in her area for clean water and built a health clinic for the community. When I met her, she had healthy twins: A girl named Emma; a boy named Emmanuel because “God is with us now,” she told me. We had given her two booklets to record the dates of immunizations for each child. She led me to her hut and showed me that she kept the booklets in the flyleaf of her Bible.

God gains pleasure from watching children thrive and play. I know this because after years of exuberant excitement awaiting Easter baskets and egg hunts and Christmas mornings, I’m on the other side of the events now, hiding the eggs and wrapping the presents. If anything, there’s perhaps even more appreciation in the act of planning for someone’s pleasure and watching the unmasked joy of tearing open a gift.

The goal is not to live in deprivation and beat our selves up for being born privileged. It’s more the recognition that no matter how tight the economy, how middle-class we feel, how dire our circumstances seem at times, we have so, so much more than most of the world around us. And we have the ability to make such a huge difference in even the small things we choose to do with the resources given to us (time, talents, treasure).

I’m kind of hoping that in my family at least, I’ll be able to make tweaks and adjustments to my consumerism so that I can walk through airport security without Madonna singing songs in my head.

I’d prefer to make the journey to whatever gate thinking about the other Madonna. And her Son.

And the fact that His life, I guess, makes us all children of privilege.


A Meal With the Millennials

Last night, I had dinner with seven young men—the equivalent of a Texas posse, I suppose. We walked out of the Halcyon Coffee Shop together, and, because Don Miller hadn’t immediately dropped to his knees and proposed to me, I decided the next best thing to do was to accept the dinner invite to hang with the guys who read Don’s books.

One of the guys confessed that he was rarely ever star struck but when Don entered the café, he was working very hard to be cool. “I didn’t want to go up and go, ‘Wow. Like can I have your autograph?’ But this guy changed my life. His books have been huge to me. I was thinking, maybe I could take a discreet photo of him with my cell phone…”

I stepped into his car and there was one of Don’s books on the seat. Ralph Waldo Emerson, too. (Emerson’s book, that is. I’m pretty sure ol’ Ralph is dead.) I honestly try not to judge a book by its cover, but I do form opinions about people based on the books they read. Can’t help it. I’m shallow. The guy driving the car was not.

Dinner confirmed two things for me. One, everything is bigger in Texas. Particularly the cockroaches. One crawled up on the windowsill behind our booth and was quickly squashed by one of my brave dinner companions.

My second finding is that there really is a movement afoot of social entrepreneurs—a whole generation of people passionate about ending poverty; bringing clean water to the world; caring for homeless people; starting up socially conscious, ecologically friendly businesses. Living simply so others can simply live.

When I was in college a decade and a half ago, the movement was just beginning to emerge. Pepperdine had a handful of students in a new major called, “American Humanics” who were learning the ins and outs of non-profit management. Students across the university showed up en masse for Step Forward Day, the university’s day dedicated to volunteer outreach to the community. (I know. I hear the jokes already: What’d you do? Helped Malibuites with their spray tans?)

There was certainly a renewed concern for the world that seemed to emulate the social concerns of the ‘60s, but students weren’t marching and protesting as much as they were beginning to shun traditional corporate jobs for “meaningful work.”

Today, a whole millennial generation (kids born between 1980 – 2000) are socially conscious and savvy about the needs of the world. Research on college majors indicates that students are increasingly preparing for jobs in public service or the social sector instead of traditional work in (formerly) profitable careers in finance or engineering or law.

Business schools across the country are introducing more courses on social entrepreneurship, and a ton of major universities host competitions for business students who are considering startups of such things as micro-finance institutions (groups that give out small loans to start-up businesses in the developing world).

I told the Texas guys about Seattle Pacific University’s social venture project. They told me about UT’s social venture competition which is like SPU’s…on steroids. The first place winner at UT’s social venture competitions is awarded $50,000 of venture capital as seed money for their business proposal. As I was saying, everything is bigger in Texas.

Over dinner, one man told me about his work placing abandoned children with foster parents in Honduras. Another started an organization to rescue young girls out of sex-trafficking, provide a safe house for them, and help them with trauma counseling and job skills. I was enthralled listening to all of them and resonated with their passion and zeal for improving the world.

It was very cool that they had deeply thought through their theology about God’s concerns for the poor even as they were fairly realistic about what the tensions would be between living wholly sold out to do this kind of work against the realities of supporting spouses, having children and just living life in a way that makes your ideals achievable.

There is so much need. It’s going to require a whole generation and more to even begin to address the problems at home and abroad. If I have any hesitations at all to the bursting enthusiasm of these people, it’s only a few things that give me pause:

First, poverty is complex. We shouldn’t throw up our hands and say, “Can’t change anything. Why try?” But we also shouldn’t be naïve when we endeavor to do good. Take, for example, the noble idea of putting together a short-term mission project for teenagers to build a school.

Assuming that a group of students have suitable construction skills to build a classroom that will hold up under hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, have they considered the whole context of need in the area? Does the village have a trained teacher for the building? Does the village have the means to pay for a teacher? If the school is built, are kids healthy enough to attend? Do parents have the means to buy them the requisite uniforms and school supplies a child will need for school? Will girl children be allowed an education or will traditions require that she remain at home to help her mother or marry early? Will a child be able to attend school at all, or will she need to care for a parent dying of AIDS? Or remain at home to care for younger siblings already orphaned by AIDS? Is there stability for children to attend school or are people frequently displaced by warfare and civil strife in an area? A building remains empty unless all of these impediments to education are addressed.

Second, I wonder if so many social startups are reinventing the wheel and failing to leverage the expertise and reputations of more established organizations. Bear with me if this sounds self-serving from an employee of a large and an almost six-decades-old humanitarian organization. But larger and older organizations benefit from experience—we’ve learned from our history of mistakes. Sure there are down sides to size as you sometimes lose the ability to be nimble, entrepreneurial and so on. But established reputations mean fewer dollars are diverted into marketing and fundraising because we already have a dedicated group of faithful donors.

New organizations have to constantly create awareness of their work; market themselves to raise funds, develop systems to provide feedback to donors and gain the trust of the people they want to work with. It’s a bit inefficient to start-up something, when dozens of organizations already exist to do the same kind of work. I’m not advising that start-ups are wrong, just hoping that they have a unique niche to fill that isn’t already being addressed by other groups. International Justice Mission, as one example, does fantastic work advocating to end sex-trafficking and rescuing young girls out of prostitution and they have the connections and infrastructure to do this well.

World Vision has extensive history, and therefore trust, built up with communities, generally hiring national staff who speak the language and intimately know the nuances of the culture and traditions.

Third, social work has to be well-conceived both with the service provided as well as the process for how you raise awareness and funds for your work. It’s harder than it seems. Don Miller is onto something with the observation that sometimes people invest little of themselves—they make a purchase or hand over some money and feel good that they’ve done their part. (Click on a vocabulary test that promises to send a grain of rice to a hungry nation for each correct answer. Purchase RED products.) But real change takes an investment of time—on the part of the donor and the recipient.

All of that to say, I loved my time with those guys. It was a totally great last supper in Austin. The guys were smart and passionate and informed about the issues. They were engaged in topics that I care deeply about. It was a posse full of possibilities, and I wish them well on the journey.

Every Monday Matters

I am so not a morning person. But when Seattle Pacific University invited me last spring to their annual business breakfast to hear Carly Fiorina speak, it was enticing enough to make the sacrifice.

I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and drove into Seattle to eat a fruit compote and listen to the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I am sometimes suspicious of hype and fame, and had certainly read a bit about the controversial Carly—consistently Fortune’s #1 most powerful business woman in America.

Carly exceeded my expectations. She was articulate, intelligent, intuitive, and insightful. She spoke about the humiliation of being ousted from HP; she talked about staying relevant in the business world; she discussed her current efforts with micro loans to women in the developing world. But it was her discussion of the differences between managers and leaders that intrigued me.

Managers, Carly said, are those who keep things going in the business world. They ensure that teams meet their targets; policies are followed; products are created to meet consumer demands. Leaders, however, have different roles. They focus on leading indicators rather than lagging indicators—trends and new directions instead of last quarter’s financials.

Under Carly’s definition, leaders should anticipate the future, and prepare and shape the workforce to be ready to handle the changes and challenges on the horizon. (Were the leaders at Polaroid considering the shift from film to digital photography?)

Her presentation certainly made me think about my role as a manager and a leader at work, but it also made me think about my role as a manager and a leader at home. My household needs a manager: someone who pays the bills, makes the beds, prepares the meals and essentially keeps things running like a well-oiled machine. But frankly, if I’m just handling “manager” duties in my home, I could probably hire competent help to handle most of these chores. My children need more than Mom-the-Manager. They need a Mom who thinks like a leader—a parent who looks into the distance and ensures that day-to-day moments are informing their character, shaping their values, and preparing them for the future.

As a mom, I tend to over-focus on management and less on leadership. On any given day, when I’m not working outside the home, I spend the bulk of my energies on chores and preserving order. I like to rationalize that organization—a place for everything and everything in its place—allows me to be super spontaneous with the kids. Wanna go sledding? I know exactly which labeled storage bin contains mittens, hats, and snow clothes. Wanna head out of town for the weekend? I have pre-packed toiletry kits for everyone.

Don’t compliment me on this stuff. It’s a serious disorder. Telling me I’m uber-organized is akin to telling an anorexic person that she looks lovely. I took 10 weeks off work when the twins were born. When I wasn’t feeding, burping and changing Ryan and Paige, I was re-organizing the kitchen cupboards and cleaning closets and organizing my socks. The week I returned to work, I asked Megan, 4 at the time, if she was sad that I wouldn’t be at home as much. “Well,” Megan said, “the house has been really, really clean while you’ve been home, Mommy.” Ouch.

So there’s a constant voice in my head prodding me to align my goals and values with my time and action. Ask me what I want my kids to be like when they grow up, and I’d answer that I want them to be caring, compassionate souls. I’d love to see them passionately engaged in work that makes a difference. I’d like them to be fun, joyful people who know how to play well and work hard. I want them to know God intimately and be able to love deeply because they know they are well-loved.

At the Q conference in New York last year, I received a terrific book called, Every Monday Matters: 52 Ways to Make a Difference. The idea is that everyone loves Fridays and dreads Mondays. Why not turn Mondays into an amazing, incredible day to do something meaningful? The book suggests 52 activities to engage in each Monday: Write a note of gratitude. Mentor a child. Learn CPR. Pick up litter. Help the hungry.

Four years ago the kids and I came up with backward dinner night on Thursdays. It’s crazy but fun, especially when friends come over or when the kids get to explain to waitresses at restaurants that we’re having dessert first.

This year, with the gnawing sense that I need to re-evaluate my priorities, we’ve started celebrating Every Monday Matters. The kids helped me shop and make cards to welcome a neighbor’s baby and then walked over to their home to deliver the basket. We made dinner together to deliver to a sick friend. We mailed a care package to the cousins this week.

It’s not just that I want my kids to think outside of themselves, though I certainly want that. I’m hoping that it helps them form an everyday habit of gratitude for what they have and a sense of pleasure and fun for doing things for others. Problems like world hunger, AIDS, war can seem daunting, but I’m hoping my kiddos will get a glimpse of what can be accomplished or changed by their efforts.

I’m grateful that Friday is here. It’s a great day heralding the weekend ahead. But looking further down the lane at those “leading indicators”? Well, I hope my kids will one day remember Every Monday Matters.

[You can check out Every Monday Matters at: