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Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The truth about our strengths is that we don't always know what they are. Dr. Chip Anderson dedicated his life to helping people discover and maximize their strengths through an aptitude test called Gallup Strength Finders. He writes that when people have a particular strength they are able to do what that strength enables them to do with great ease. Often times, we assume that others are capable of doing what we do. And so Chip writes that we "don't think that there is anything special about [us] or that [we] have any particular strength or talent."

I'm lucky enough to be a part of a community that gave me a language for my strengths at a pivatol time in my life. Consider the point in time when I took the Strength Finders test:

I was twenty-six, on a marriage retreat with my husband, and working at a film financing firm in Beverly Hills as an executive assistant. I went to work everyday butchering myself over to-do lists, filing systems, travel logistics, and calendar items. I had just left a job as a secretary at a church and landed my first position in the film industry, so I was extatic and determined to MAKE THIS THING WORK! If I over looked certain details on my boss's travel itenerary, I would just work harder the next day to master this slippery job which seemed always to be out of my competency.

I remember going to Mosaic and hearing one of the navigators say, "Strength Finders will change your life." I laughed. I thought, "Seriously, you shouldn't say those sort of generalities from a platform."

But after a weekend away with Dwayne, having learned his strengths, then my strengths, and how they worked together, I woke up to a crushing realiztion.

"I have to find a new job," I told Dwayne in the car ride home. I realized after that weekend, that I would never be more than mediocre as an executive assistant, because it played to all my weaknesses. And furthermore, my particular set of strengths had no value in that type of work environment.

Here's what I brought to the table - my strengths in order:

I won't bore you with the details of what exactly each of these terms mean, but let's just say that Gallup encourages someone with these particular strengths to pursue teaching and/or writing - not secretarial work.

So thanks to Mosaic and Gallup, I have been given a language to identify the particular strengths I bring to my marriage, to my workplace, but a new arena has opened up for me in these last two years where I'm struggling to see just exactly how my strengths manifest - motherhood.

I was thinking about this today as I drove home from a weekly playdate with a new mom friend. I am surrounded my mom friends who blow me away. It's easy for me to see how each of my mom friends excells as a mother and to see her own particular strengths manifest in motherhood.

Take for example my mom friend from Albania. Before she had three children under three, she studied as a lawyer and as you can imagine has an incredible mind.

And so her particular strength as a mother manifests itself in the way she teaches her children and trains their minds. Everyday she does a school lesson with them, and a Bible lesson. And she thinks critically about every little thing that may influence their minds: music, TV, toys, books.

My other friend in Santa Monica, is a bright source of energy and ideas. Not only does she come up with ingenious ways to stimulate her daughter's growing senses and mind, but she is a people magnet. Women flock to her and she has used this strength to be a resource for other mom's. She started a mom's group that quickly outgrew her living room and thrives to this day, as well as a baby music class, and each week she's trying new and exciting things with her daughter, leading the way for us other mom's to follow.

Her particular strength as a mom is creating networks and resources that help us all to be better mom's.

Another friend, who has been a huge influence on me as a mother has the ability to lead her children. She has always had a plan and stuck to it. She has found one or two books to help guide her as she guides her children, and the fruits of her dedication are evident. I want to say that her kids are well-behaved, and they are, but that's not the essence of what she's done right. Because I don't think having perfect, shiny little cherubs is healthy for the children. Her kids still goof off and get in trouble, but their hearts are open and sensitive. They listen to their parents and they have an absolute sense of security in their parent's authority. There is an intangible victory my friend has won as a mother and is fighting to win everyday. She's fighting for her children's hearts and spirits.

Her particular strength is a practical wisdom about training her children's hearts.

I could go down the list and name the rest of my mom friends, but I point out these three to say that I doubt these mom's see or realize their own strengths. I think their own values and world view are so intrinsic to their being that they don't fully comprehend what particular gift they have to offer to motherhood and their children.

But I see it, and I am hungry to know how my strengths manifest themselves in motherhood. Because it's hard to see your own nose. I choose to believe, despite the anxiety and fear in my heart, that I AM a good mother and that I offer to Noelle a unique gift in myself.

But the practical fall-out of this gift is two-fold:

1) Recognizing and maximizing the strengths I have in the particular arena of motherhood.
2) Not neglecting the lessons I can learn from the other brilliant mom's around me, and allowing their strengths to both enrich my daughter's life and to strengthen me as a mother.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Last night I dreamed many things. It was one of those nights with lots of dreams jumbled in on one another, some disturbing, others inane, none of them particularly interesting.

BUT today two of the dreams I had last night came true!? It was bizarre and a little bit unnerving.

The first dream was about our new tea pot. It's a story not really worth repeating, as most dreams aren't, but let me just tell you that what I dreamed about our new bright cobalt tea pot came true this morning when Dwayne went to pour our tea.

I was so shocked, I actually told Dwayne about the dream.

The second dream was about a Day Care for Noelle. This past month I've spent quite a bit of time on-line, on the phone, and on tours trying to find a Preschool for Noelle to attend this Fall when I go back to work.

One of the Preschools is called Kindercare, but since it was way out of my price range I never visited it, and I never found out where it was. But I've heard quite a few moms and other preschool directors refer to it.

In my dream, I was in the car with Noelle and a Preschool director. We were driving down a street and the woman pointed out the window, "That's Kindercare," she said. I looked to my right and saw a school behind a gate with a big sign.

This morning, Noelle and I were running an errand and I took a route I've never taken before. I just about slammed on the breaks when I looked out of my right window and saw a gated school with a big sign: "Kindercare."

Honestly, it made me sort of nervous. I immediately started rolling through my dreams, trying to recall any I should be prepared for. But besides that, I don't want anything to do with mind-reading, future reading, palm-reading, dream-reading etc. I want my dreams to stay firmly in my sleep, and my reality to stay firmly in my day.

Has anyone had a dream come true like this?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

I sat in the Frontier terminal, stunned. What had the flight attendant just said?

She pressed the mouth piece to her face again, repeating, "Flight 415 to Los Angeles has been cancelled. Please make your way to the Customer Service desk for your re-accommodations."

We had gotten to the airport extra early that morning, and my mind flitted through our last four hours of waiting. Noelle had been taken with everything. Like a ping pong ball she bounced from attraction to attraction: the moving walkways, the magazine stands, the baggage holders, the phones behind the check-in desk. How on earth was I supposed to stand in a customer service line and keep my daughter still?

"Good luck," said a sun-tanned college guy walking out of the customer service office. "That line took me three hours." My stomach dropped. Noelle squirreled around me pretending to take a nap on the terminal floor with her blanket. She flipped and flopped like a salmon, occasionally whapping the heels of the man in front of us.

I apologized a couple of times when I saw him glance back and shuffle forward irritated, but really, what was I supposed to do? I was just glad that she was staying close to me. She was a toddler for goodness sakes, and here I was about to make her stand in a three hour line.

"Just pull the mom card," my friend advised over the phone. "Really, Christin, you need help."

I nodded and hung up the phone. I watched as workers with green Frontier vests buzzed in and out of the office.

"How many today?" one worker asked another.

"Twelve have been cancelled so far."

I noticed a woman who seemed to be in charge. She was petite with brown hair and just as she was passing me, I summoned the courage to grab her arm.

"Excuse me," I said. She turned toward me with a blank expression. "I'm traveling alone with my toddler. Is there anyway I could get extra help?" Her blank expression continued and I realized I needed something else, some other reason to invoke her help.

I glanced over at a mom and new born baby sitting comfortably next to the office door. The mother was dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex as a kind middle-aged worker walked her through some papers.

I turned back to the supervisor, "I'm feeling a little emotional and stressed out by all the changes."

As if I had flipped a switch, the supervisor reached out and took my arm. "Oh honey, you just come with me." She lead me to another line for special cardholders and members, which was only two people long.

"Thank you," I said feeling the push of anxiety ease, but the worst hadn't come yet. I still wasn't home.

The lady behind the counter was of course overworked and stressed out. She didn't know where to look to help me, and the best she could come up with was a flight at 10pm on a different airline that would require Noelle and I to not only wait another seven hours but to take a train to another part of the airport and re-check in.

I felt the clouds of dizzy roll in again, and my chest constrict. I took my new tickets and moved out of the line, back to the terminal.

We had half the day, so I took a moment to gather myself. Noelle and I dropped our bags in some empty seats, and I scanned the people around us. My eye caught a sign for a gate across the hallway, "Los Angeles 5:50pm."

There is something called "Serendipity", and then there is something else called "asking." You never know what will happen if you ask, if you push and nose around just a little bit. Sometimes the act of asking is just enough to open the door to let serendipity in.

I scurried over to the gate check. A young fair-skinned attendant was walking out of the tunnel toward the desk. "Excuse me," I stepped in his way.

Trying not to be too obnoxious or overly frantic, I quickly explained my situation. I pointed to Noelle who was busy investigating the planes through the massive glass windows and then asked him, "Do you think there is anyway I could just hang around, see if there are any empty seats on this flight?"

"I just finished a flight and I have to take care of all these people waiting on me," he said shortly and pushed past me.

I heard a man behind me grunt his approval, "Mm-hm."

Until this point, I had kept the flutter of tears at bay, but this unfortunately was more than I could take. I was trying so hard to be calm, to hold myself together, but something about a stranger being unkind when I was already so stressed out punctured my composure.

I picked Noelle up and promptly began to cry. There was nowhere to turn where people couldn't see me, but I managed to hide behind a life-sized cardboard cutout of a flight attendant waving cheerfully at the passing crowds.

In a moment of unbearable cuteness, Noelle saw me crying, smiled and then hugged my neck with her chubby little arms.

When things dried up a bit, I turned back to the gate check. I was totally stumped. Should I just pack up my things, and take the train ride to the other part of the airport and wait for the flight that had been given me, or should I push and ask for something better?

Two things are true about myself: 1) I tend toward the sensitive side and am prone to verbalize every single emotion I feel, but 2) when all the tears or exhaustion or anger have been unleashed, there is a resilience at my core. I bounce back.

And so I did exactly this, bounce back to the gate check, though it was more like a slink. The gruff young attendant was typing away on his computer and as far as I could tell, no one was waiting for his help.

"I'm sorry to keep bothering you," I rushed in, "But I just need to know, do you think it's worth me staying or should I just go now?"

He looked up, saw my tear streaked face, Noelle quietly chewing on her finger, and welcomed me with a rush of warmth.

"I'll take care of you!" he said. "Just you sit down there and get yourself together and I'll sort everything out."

What is there about an emotionally distressed woman that culls people's sympathy? I mean truly, wasn't it enough that I was traveling alone with a toddler? Did I also have to be a basket case for the supervisor and this flight attendant to help?

But oh well, if that's what I had to do to get home, then let the tears flow.

I sat down with Noelle, sniffling, sighing, nodding my head and saying "thank you" profusely. In a few minutes, the young man came back with some papers. I dabbed my eyes with a kleenex.

"Okay, I've put you number two on the standby list. You just wait here and take it easy."

Sure enough, there were plenty of empty seats on the plane back to Los Angeles. So many flights had been cancelled that day, people were missing their connections and chaos was reigning through the Frontier terminal.

As a result, I got on the plane with an extra seat for Noelle (which I hadn't paid for in our original tix) and I sat next to the sweetest Morman Grandmother who showered us with snacks and treats and good advise.

Not to mention this cosmic bit of luck:

"Christin!" I turned around to see one of my sister's friends from Azusa Pacific University standing on the plane. "What are you doing here?" We gave each other a big hug and I felt myself ease into the gift of a familiar face, and the kindness of strangers.