Day 17 – Cliché a Day: (The) Path of Least Resistance

By Deb DeArmond

“Just tell Suzanne that you’re tired of her pushing her work off on you,” I advised my friend. “Let her know that you are no longer willing to carry her. You’ve been covering for her a long time.”

“I know,” she sighed. “But I don’t want to make a big deal our of this. Suzanne will be angry and she’s the kind of person you don’t want mad at you.”

I was frustrated by her unwillingness to stand up for herself. “It’s taking a toll on you and it’s never going to get any better if you don’t have a conversation with her.”

She looked at me and smiled. It was a smile that communicated, I get it. You’re probably right, but that’s just never going to happen. “It is what it is,” she said.

I walked away. Suzanne had certainly discovered exactly the right person to cover for her. My friend takes her job seriously, she’s not a complainer, and she hates conflict. She will do nearly anything to avoid having someone upset with her. She’s a frequent flyer on the path of least resistance.

The Suzannes of the world seem to find folks like my friend. They zero in and take full advantage. But I believe that others can’t take advantage of us unless we let them. It’s our responsibility to create boundaries that clearly indicate what’s acceptable and what’s not.

It’s not easy to speak up, but it’s essential to find our voice if we want behavior like this to discontinue. My friend believes she’s avoiding conflict, but I disagree. The inner conflict she’s experience is real and it’s damaging.

When we find ourselves in this position, it’s important to pray and seek God’s guidance on the most appropriate way to address the problem. But we must address it. Letting it continue gives the enemy a toehold in our lives where anger and resentment can grow.

If the path of least resistance is a familiar and well traveled route in your life, perhaps today is the day you will finally book a new itinerary!

Day 16 – Cliché a Day: One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

By Deb DeArmond

Have you ever seen the weekly show on TV entitled “American Pickers?”  Do you know what a picker is? It’s someone who can find value in what most of us might easily discard. On this show, two guys roam the nation in a funny looking van in search of antique toys, metal Coca Cola signs, and a host of other stuff. Some might consider these items junk, even trash. These guys see a treasure in every old garage and country barn. It’s all in the way you look at it.

My sister-in-law and her husband were the first “pickers” I ever met and they were at it long before these guys on TV. My brother-in-law recently posted a photo online of a trunk he found in the trash at work. He took it home, cleaned it up and turned it over to his wife. She worked her magic with a little paint and flair and – voila! A treasure resurrected from the garbage heap. Beauty is found where you choose to see it.

Sounds a lot like my life.

Jesus picked me. He saw in me a treasure, someone of value. In His eyes, I was something beautiful, though it was certainly not obvious to the world around me.  It was not even apparent to me that out of my existence could come a life of joy, peace, and abundance. I was ignorant of the true appraisal of my worth. The life I was creating had little purpose or vision to guide me.

But God. God valued me as precious, of significance so great, He would send His only son to purchase my life. He cleaned me up, through His precious blood. He lovingly restored me to the original He had created. And unlike an earthly picker, I was never again available for sale. He bought me, straight out, to keep for His own.

How is it possible? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Day 11 – Cliché A Day: Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

By Deb DeArmond

“What you need to know about me, is that I will do whatever is necessary to insure I am personally successful.” My new boss looked across the café table. “I hear you are very good at what you do. That’s good to know – in fact I’m counting on it,” she continued. “As long as that’s the case, we’re going to get along just fine.”

She signaled for the waiter to bring the check. My first meeting with the new Vice President had concluded. She smiled as we stood to head back to the office. Somehow, it was not reassuring.

I returned to work with a heavy heart. Had she said what I think she said? Surely not. I moved through the rest of the afternoon feeling uneasy and was relieved when it was time to head home. Time will tell, I thought.

And it did tell, indeed. Over the next few months I experienced more stunned, mouth-agape moments than I had in my entire career. She took credit for things I did, blamed me for things I hadn’t, threw the team under the bus if it kept her out of hot water and generally positioned herself as the Grand Poobah of greatness. She wouldn’t know the truth from a lie if it bit her in the southbound lane.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I had loved my job before her arrival. I had a talented and dedicated team; I had been promoted quickly and compensated generously. I lived in a beautiful part of the country that was good for me and for my family. All that was not enough to keep me in job working for someone with a self-seeking personal agenda and a broken moral compass.

I will say that to her credit, she was consistent. She had a plan and she  stuck to it every single day.

Leadership is not for sissies. It’s a difficult task and not everyone is qualified. But if you accept a leadership role, understand the influence you will have and know that you can use your powers for evil or for good. But you will influence.

She influenced me right out the door.

For those of us who follow Christ, we must take His qualities to work with us every day; people are taking note. He provided us with an excellent blueprint of servant leadership:
• integrity
• an interest in the well-being of the followers
• demonstrating care, concern and understanding for others
• accountability
• and helping others achieve their potential

He gave His time and knowledge selflessly and He was committed beyond anything we can comprehend.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg……

Day 7 – Cliche a Day: Force of Nature

By Deb DeArmond

“I’m sorry. Is there a problem?” I inquired. The catering department contact responsible for our meeting room was banging the trash can around in the kitchen. Loudly. She was clearly angry.

“I’m overworked and overwhelmed. So I went home early yesterday. As a result the trash in your room didn’t get emptied.” She pushed the newly bagged trash away with her foot. “The vacuuming wasn’t done and I didn’t change the stained tablecloths. This hotel simply isn’t staffed properly. I don’t know what you expect me to do about it.”

I surveyed the kitchen from the open door: dirty wet towels on the counter, food (and big black bugs) on the floor, dishes left undone and stacked near the sink.

And this was 7:00am.

She was clearly in a tough spot. And she had placed me in a tough spot as well. I was responsible for the success of the meeting my company was conducting.

Not far from where we were standing, my colleague looked up when the sharpness of the server’s voice carried beyond our conversation. He later shared his reaction to her response. “I couldn’t believe her tone of voice and thought to myself, “Boy, she doesn’t know who she’s messing with.”

My older brother once offered a nickname for me – modeled after his favorite British comedy, Rumpole of the Bailey. Rumpole called his wife She Who Must Be Obeyed. My brother suggested I might be known as She Who Will Not Be Ignored. A bit of a force of nature, he suggested, carrying others along on the wind of my passion. He was smiling when he said it, but I’m not certain it was meant as an endearment.

I like things the way I like them. Oh, so do you, don’t pretend to be so innocent. But I can be rather insistent on how I think things should go – or so it has been suggested. In recent years, I’ve become more aware of this (as the number of pointer outers in my life has increased) and God has joined them in bringing it to my attention.

The interaction with this frazzled hotel employee was not abrupt or rude or unreasonable. I could even sympathize with her situation, and said so. I didn’t get angry, but I did communicate the level of service that was acceptable on behalf of my organization. It was what we were paying for.

That’s not what concerned me. It was the conversation with a trusted and respected friend and colleague about the conversation that sounded an alarm.

“Where does the perception that “she doesn’t know who she’s messing with” come from?”” I asked him. “Do I have a reputation as demanding my own way and steamrolling other people?” I held my breath as he formed his response. Please, please,let it be no, I thought.

“No,no,” my friend assured me. “You are just a straight shooter, no-nonsense. You raised three boys and you communicate in a way that gets the job done. You take care of business.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

God has some pretty strong opinions on how we represent HIm. I love this translation in the Message:

”But we’re not going to start demanding now what we’ve always had a perfect right to. Our decision all along has been to put up with anything rather than to get in the way or detract from the Message of Christ” 1 Corinthians 9:12 (the Message).

I’m aware that I am a representative of Christ in all that I do. I don’t want to be out there creating a question in the minds of others about my commitment to Christ, nor do I want my behavior to cast on Him an unfavorable light.

When we express ourselves strongly, even if we are reasonable in our request, we are encouraged by Paul to always remember that we do not want to detract from the message of the Savior.

A healthy passion in communication is a good thing. Becoming a force of nature in the process may lead others away from where He’d like them to go. And I don’t want to have to explain that!

Day 6 – Cliche a Day: Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining

By Deb DeArmond

“I know you are disappointed. But if it was meant to be, it would have happened. Look on the bright side – it could be much worse.”

Bright side? Where is this bright side she’s talking about?

And I knew it was coming, it was among her favorites. In an effort to cheer me up and see the possible benefit, the good that might unexpectedly result from a bad situation, my mother’s mantra: “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

Huh uh.

That was my usual thought. But often to escape the prolonged song by Little Mary Sunshine, I usually said nothing. And went off to dwell on my misery.

Now, many years after she’s gone, I see the ‘bright side’ of that brand of thinking. The older I get, the smarter she seems.

As I look back, I can see the times when God chose the right thing for me when I had not or could not choose it for myself. In the moment, it wasn’t evident, but over time it became obvious.
• The job I so desperately wanted but did not get from the company that eliminated the position 3 months later.
• The offer on the house that was rejected and created the opportunity to find the home of our dreams at a much better price.
• The work cancelled by a client that left me free to accept a major contract offered with a new client just days later.

And that’s the short list. This issue for me is the reality of the phrase over time. It’s not immediate. I’m not the most patient person I ever met. Perhaps when they were handing out this quality, I thought it had something to do with spending time in a hospital and passed on it. It’s in short supply for me. I’m working on it.

We are limited in our human ability to see beyond the moment. At least I am. Good thing God’s got a better view – it’s limitless.

“But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:4 (NKJV). Lacking nothing. Sounds like a bright side.

There is great gain for us if we can learn to trust God’s timing without complaint.  “Do all things without complaining and disputing” Philippians 2:14 (NKJV).

Complaining is not God’s favorite communication with His people. We know how it worked out for the children of Israel in the desert.

God has His eye on our lives, always and without distraction. Amazing isn’t it? Now that’s a silver lining, for sure!

Day 4 – Cliche a Day: Cuts to the Quick

By Deb DeArmond

After 26 years of artificial nails, I decided to be done with them. They require time to maintain, not to mention the cost.

I was surprised when they were removed, to discover my own natural nails, having been protected by a shield of impenetrable acrylic for so long, had become soft and damaged. They were not ready to be exposed – kind of like a mole that suddenly finds itself in the bright light of day.

As the nails splintered and cracked, the cuticle beneath the nail, (what many call the quick) of the nail bed was exposed. This is the soft tissue that lies between the nail and the finger itself. It often became snagged as I waited for the nails to grow out and it was surprisingly painful.

Surprisingly painful is how sarcasm almost always lands for me. It catches me off guard and cuts me to the quick. It causes the soft places in me to recoil from a hostile conversation. And I don’t recover quickly.

I saw a sign recently in a shop that said, ”Sarcasm is what keeps me from telling you how I really feel.” So, “Gee, what an Einstein” translates as “You are an idiot.” The problem is that the real message comes across loud and clear, even if it takes a moment to be deciphered.

The Word of God directs us to speak the truth, to engage in genuine expression of our thoughts and feelings. He also tells us how to do this in alignment with His word and character.

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” Ephesians 4:14-15 (NLT).

Lies that sound like the truth. That’s a great definition of sarcasm. For a moment, it sounds like a compliment…and then you get it. Reality sets in. And if exposed often enough to this pain, we may apply a thick protective shell to prevent the damage.

Speaking the truth requires love. Without love, it’s just a recitation of the facts, and facts move the head, not the heart. The mature Christ follower puts away a cheap imitation of truth.

So if you see the guy with the T-shirt that reads, “Sarcasm. Just one of the services I offer,” keep on walking. He’s not your kind of guy.

Day 3 – Cliche a Day: Burning the Candle at Both Ends

By Deb DeArmond

“I’m sorry, Ma’m. As I said, I don’t show any reservation for you today on our first flight to Kansas City.”

The ticketing agent seemed impatient with my insistence that I did indeed have a ticket on their morning flight into America’s heartland. The people behind me in line seemed impatient. I was impatient.

This guy apparently has no idea who he’s dealing with here – he has no clue as to how much I travel. I’m hardly a novice at this. I know my way around an airport. And I dread this time of year. It’s summertime. Families are headed to Disney and the beach and perhaps off to grandma’s house. The security lines are longer than ever, with groups of infrequent flyers transporting pockets full of change, strollers that won’t fold, and carry-on baggage full of liquids in more than the clearly stated regulation three ounce containers. It’s a tough season for folks like me.

I was frustrated, I needed my coffee, and this agent was delaying me getting to the other side of security and Starbucks. So I scrolled through the email on my phone to prove to this non-believer that I was indeed owed a boarding pass. Aha! I found it. There it is.

“My confirmation number is XIPRT3,” I said with confidence. The agent looked at the screen I had thrust in his direction.

“Yes Ma’m, it is. But it’s not for this airline. You are flying our competitor this morning. Have a nice flight. May I ask you to step aside to allow me to service our passengers?” I think he sneered a bit. I definitely got the impression it might be the high point of his day. That bar is fairly low for those in customer service.

I stepped aside, deflated. Embarrassed. Starbucks seemed further away than ever. I was at the counter for the wrong airline. Heck, I was in the wrong terminal. Not even close. It totally threw me for a loop.

I’m a planner, a list maker, a detail-oriented person. I’m annoyingly organized and always prepared. How could this happen?

I’m burning the candle at both ends. I’m doing too much – too many things at the same time. We are selling a home, buying another. We are packing, purchasing, planning and picking out. I’m writing, babysitting my grandboys, running a business and more. All great stuff, things to celebrate.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV).
I believe it with all my heart. I just can’t do all things well. At least, not all the things I place on those lists without consulting Him.

Giving God my calendar is a big step, but it’s overdue. He wants it all and I’ve come to the place, that I’m willing to surrender it. Not comfortable. Maybe not happy. But I am finally willing.

What happens when the candle burns from both ends? The light goes out. And for me, apparently, when it goes out, nobody’s home. Just ask the guy at American Airlines, Terminal C.

Day 2 – Cliche a Day: All’s Fair in Love and War

By Deb DeArmond

“Yes, I know. Every marriage has conflict,” she said, somewhat impatiently. “But, how do you fight?”

I wasn’t really sure what she was asking me, but I was aware that every eye in the room was on us. My husband looked at me and we grinned at one another. The couples group we were addressing seemed pretty serious.

“Well, occasionally there’s a slammed door or two. Volume may go up, and often the dogs will run out of the room. But we always follow the rules,” I replied.

Rules? Rules for having an argument? Absolutely. It’s how we’ve stayed married and happy for 37 years.

All’s fair in love and war is baloney. Dangerous stuff. It’s a license to put on the gloves, leave kindness (and good judgment) behind and take no prisoners. All so that you can make your point, snatch the prize and come out the winner in the moment. But that’s the problem with the approach. You may win in the moment and end up sacrificing the life of the relationship.

“So what are your rules?” someone asked.

“They’re pretty simple,” I replied. “No name calling, nothing physical (slammed doors asid), no dragging up the past with a “you always” approach. Oh, and no one is allowed to get in the car and drive off. If one of us needs some space and wants time to think (or cool off) before we continue, we ask permission to take a break with a specific time commitment to return to the discussion.”

They were writing this stuff down. But I understood.

You see, no one handed us the rules when we got married. We had to fight through a lot of unpleasant moments to discover them. We weren’t always proud of how we handled conflict. And neither was God.

The rules surfaced over time. They kind of revealed themselves through those moments after an ugly interaction when we prayed for forgiveness – from one another and from God. “It really hurt when you…” or “I was fine until you…”
The debrief was important to help us understand when the conflict stopped being healthy and took on a destructive tone.

And don’t misunderstand: we haven’t arrived at a perfect record. We sometime slip back into bad behavior. But our mantra is, “If you have to fight, fight fair.”

All’s fair in love and war may sound like a good idea when you need permission to go all in and let it all fly. But ask yourself, “can I really afford that trip?”

Have a Good Laugh WITH Me!

by Deb DeArmond

The month of April is in fact, the official time set aside to celebrate a good chuckle, a guffaw or a hearty laugh as part of a faith-filled life. It is Holy Humor Month!

The Bible is clear that God believes humor should be on the agenda as a healthy habit. Proverbs 17:22 NKJ “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.”

When God brought Sarah the baby He had promised, she says, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me.” Genesis 21:6 NLT

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.” Romans 12:15 MSG

What do these verses have in common? They both talk about laughing with others, not at them.

In this same chapter of Romans that Paul exhorts us “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.”

Have you noticed how mean-spirited the humor in our world has become? The stuff that passes for “funny” in our movies, our books and on television is often a laugh at someone else’s expense. That includes the host of mother-in-law jokes that circulate so often. While it might be funny to some, to those involved – not so much.

Though cheap laughs have been popular forever, it wasn’t until the 1890s that slapstick became king and gave birth to a school of comedy built entirely on people getting beat up. Slapstick humor has a long history – the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton built an entire career on his ability to “take a fall” – as in take a licking and keep on ticking. So, ultimately we laughed at his pain.

As I researched this article, I discovered a common theme and theory: pain is the basis for all humor. One source explained, “It’s a simple fact that if nobody gets hurt, it isn’t funny.” For example, when Wiley Coyote falls off a cliff, and comes up battered, stars circling his head, that’s funny. If he had landed safely, that’s not funny.

Emotional pain is also the basis of a lot of funny stuff. So let’s add ethnic jokes, gender jokes, even religious jokes to this pile. Weight, appearance, intelligence – it’s open season for the punster.

The only exception to this rule is when the pain happens to you. When you get hurt, it’s not funny. It just hurts. Other people will still find your pain amusing, so be aware that even though it hurts, people are still laughing at you.

So be different. Laugh with someone today. Defend someone who is being laughed at. Comfort someone in pain instead of having a laugh at their expense. It might just even make God crack a big old smile!

Change Your Mind, Change Your World!

by Deb DeArmond

I recently had the chance to speak with a group of wonderful women. All were either daughters-in-law or mothers-in-law. Some were both.

They came together to share their “women-in-law” experiences, as part of the research for the book I am writing. We spent a lot of time discussing their expectations and hopes for the in-law relationship. The question we asked was simple: ”What were your expectations of the relationship with your MIL or DIL BEFORE the wedding? And where did that expectation come from – what was it based on?”

Some had made assumptions that the relationship would be good- loving, caring, open and honest. They based these expectations on the relationships they had observed in life. Many of them spoke about the wonderful connection between their own mothers and their dad’s mom; in other words, their mother’s MIL. Others told of the strong and positive relationships they were aware of through the marriages of their sisters or friends. Their experiences led them to a set of positive expectations.

Others were wary of the MIL/DIL relationship. They had experiences, too. Unfortunately, they were not positive. Grandmothers who had been critical or harsh toward their DILs (their moms). Friends who had reported the negative impact on their marriage due to a difficult mother-in-law, who reminded them daily that they didn’t measure up to what she had hoped for her son.

In both cases, their experiences created a set of expectations or beliefs about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Our beliefs prompt our actions. Our actions determine our world.

So how does this play out? Let’s look at an example:

  • Experience: Let’s say I’ve seen lots of difficult, unhealthy MIL/DIL relationships in my life. I’ve heard the sad stories, I’ve seen the negative impact on the families. I’ve seen it portrayed again and again in movies, sitcoms, etc.
  • Belief: The MIL/DIL relationship is never good. It’s simply not ever going to be anything but difficult and competitive. I anticipate that she will never accept me and believe she won’t ever see me as good enough for her son. I’m not her daughter, she’s my husband’s mother. She is someone to be tolerated.
  • Actions: I exclude her as often as possible. I campaign against her with my husband and perhaps other family members when she has done something I do not like. I am offended by her easily, because I read ‘rejection’ on her face every tine she is in my presence. I am defensive and/or aggressive with her when she makes a suggestion or offers an opinion – even when I don’t necessarily disagree, but I see it as interference in my life.
  • World: I avoid spending time in her presence and it is tense when we must be together. My husband feels caught in the middle of two women he loves and tries to stay clear of the drama. My children are aware that Grandma and Mommy don’t like each other, but are not certain why.

Our experiences form beliefs. We act on those beliefs, and our actions determine our world. Most of the time, we are not aware that this progression is occurring. It’s vey subtle. So what do we do? We can’t change our experiences. And even if our own experiences are good ones that create positive expectations and beliefs, it’s important to remember that your woman-in-law comes with her own set of experiences, too. They may be very different than yours, but every bit as real.

What we can do is create new experiences, together. If we can change our experiences, it will challenge our beliefs – our old way of thinking. That will leave us open to taking different actions, which can change the “world” we create.

What new experiences can you create for yourself and your woman-in-law? It might be as simple as an invitation to lunch or a quick email note to let her know, “I am thinking of you this morning and wanted to wish you a great day.” It may take perseverance – you might find her resistant. Don’t give up. Pursue relationship connections. You have a lot at stake – your DIL is the gatekeeper to your grandchildren. Your MIL gave birth to and raised the man you love.

Why should you go first? Someone has to! Do it because it will set you on a different and better path together. And because it will make your heavenly Father smile. So….ball’s in your court.