Belle of the Bell Curve

Embracing Average

Average, not mediocre.

I’m fired up, frustrated and validated, all at the same time this week. Several of my beautiful friends, who know my passion about “feeling average”, have shown me the popular blog from Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Dagui’s “A Life in Progress” about her “mediocre” life. It’s been floating about the internet for a while now, being shared by sites like Becoming Minimalist, Mamamia and Kidspot quite recently.

Krista speaks of so many things I want to say. I agree wholeheartedly with her desires, but I cringed at the title. I desperately wished she’d used “average”. It cuts me to the core me that she chooses “mediocre”, because nothing that she writes about in her article is.

Honestly, I wanted to save this nugget for my book. It’s the inspiration that got me writing in the first place. But, who knows if it will ever be published. So, here it is.

Even though we’ve come to think of them synonymously, “Average” and “Mediocre” are NOT the same thing. Let me tell you why.

Culturally, the message that we need to make something wonderful of our lives has been soaking in and affecting the way we think about ourselves for hundreds of years. As people search for the “meaning of life”, self-help books and life coaches have proclaimed the philosophy that we all just need to find our talent, our gift to offer the world. Then our lives will have significance and purpose.

At the same time, we’ve been trying to define “success”. In our age of celebrity and materialism, success is most often linked to beauty, wealth, status and exceptional talent. And so, although average really means “in the middle”, as a society in general, we’ve decided “average” isn’t good enough and use it interchangeably with “mediocre”.

If you check a colloquial dictionary, you’ll see “mediocre” means “something that is only average, but was expected to be much better”. What is one critical difference between the two words?

Our expectations.

The expectations many of us have of ourselves, or that we place on each other, have become frighteningly skewed. They are causing anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness and most sadly, the breakdown of relationships and suicide. They’re built on shallow one-dimensional stereotypes of “who” we are meant to be. They’re informed by the pretty pictures we paint of ourselves on social media. They’re reinforced by clever marketing telling us we can find happiness and contentment if we buy this, live there, earn more.

You know, I couldn’t bring myself to include a cheesy picture on this blog either. You’ll have to put up with this photo of me instead. It maddens me that everywhere I’ve seen Krista’s article shared, the marketing gurus who’ve posted it have included a photo of a smiling mother hugging her kids. It’s clever marketing. Here’s how you can be happy! Read our article! Many of their readers will identify with it and lap it up.

Feeling inadequate because of our unrealistic expectations affects men and women, young and old alike. Why? Because it’s become part of our everyday thinking.

As a woman, you are trying to be some combination of wife, mother, income provider, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, niece.

As a man, you want to be some combination of husband, father, income provider, mate, son, brother, uncle, nephew.

On top of those, perhaps you’re also trying to be athlete, volunteer, coach, mentor, student.

Our culture tells us how to be perfect in all those pursuits. You must work hard, train hard, try hard, and give everything of yourself, and then some, if you truly want to be brilliant.

What happens when we do all that and we don’t reach the pinnacle of achievement we’ve set ourselves as a lofty standard? We feel like failures. Maybe we focus on one thing because our talent shines there and it makes us feel good, but then we realise how little we’ve focused on the other areas of our life. Now we feel like failures and we feel guilty.

Let me shape some realistic expectations for you.

Are you a new mum? Your baby is going to take up every moment of your waking hours. Your house will look like a bomb went off in there, your mother will have to suck it up, because you’re not going to have time to call her and your bestie is going to deal with the new 9pm-I’m-going-to-bed-now curfew on socialising — at least for a while.

Are you a student? You study your butt off and know your work inside out, but sometimes, that still puts your marks in the middle. Just because there are people who did better than you doesn’t change how hard you tried and how much you learned in the process.

Are you trying to make a career for yourself? You can’t work 12 hours a day and have time to spend on your kids, your spouse or your other interests. Something has to give.

All of us have multiple things in our lives that are important to us. If you choose to focus your time and energy on one, the others must suffer. If you divide your attention amongst them all, the compromise is that you simply can’t produce a stellar result.

Here’s the clincher. Results shouldn’t be the most important thing to you.

Results. Oh, how we love them. Why? They’ve become the superficial way to prove “My life matters. I deserve to exist.” They are also a reason why we assume “average” is the same as “mediocre”.

What about your passions? Your efforts? Your intentions? Your love and desires? And something we don’t consider often enough — who loves you?

If these drive you and give you purpose, you might be average, but you’ll never be mediocre. Your life might not look glamorous, you might not climb the corporate ladder, be wealthy, or be pinned with badges of excellence, as far as our world defines them, but I hope you can tell yourself that what the world thinks doesn’t matter.

You have been made brilliantly and wonderfully, just as you are. Make the choice to embrace average. Live it, wholeheartedly, with every bit of passion, desire and love that you’ve got to give.

Faith in a Carpark.

Last Monday evening, I scored a free last-minute ticket to the first evening of Colour Conference. Four other girls and I squeezed ourselves into one car and braved city driving to get there.

It was an enjoyable night, listening to Bobbie Houston’s wisdom on everything from working in the field God’s planted you, to the hilarious dilemmas of wearing a new bra. I love that she keeps it real. Who hasn’t felt like you’re suffocating the first 15 times you strap your girls in to a new brassiere? (Sorry, any blokes reading this!)

A few hours later, it was time to face the truth of what it cost to leave our car so conveniently close by. No one paid much attention as we drove in, so we didn’t have a clue what it would set us back.

As we got to the front of the queue to pay, I was struck with sudden curiosity about the use of the word ‘grace’ on the ticket machine. I found myself contemplating the implications of it being there.

The carpark owners make an allowance for any of their patrons, regardless of who they are, to find their car and navigate their way to the exit. We were essentially given a guarantee, that within the 20-minute time frame, we couldn’t be penalised, or have any more asked of us, because the owners considered the debt we owed paid in full.

We paid, jumped in the car and looked for the way out. Signs and arrows pointed us in the right direction, we could hardly miss it. I think it took us all of two minutes to reach the boom gate, insert our ticket and off we went. You’d have to take some astonishing wrong turns for the grace period to end before you were out and on your way to your next destination.

What surprised and amused me most were the parallels between my experience in the parking station and living with faith.

When we enter this life, none of us have a clue what’s ahead. We don’t see the good and bad choices we’ll make along the way. Some are desperate to find the exit. The cost for how they’ve lived is overwhelming — too heavy to bear. Some never quite know where they’re going. They wonder what life could have been like if they had.

Just like the carpark refuses pre-payment, sometimes I wish I could know in advance what price tag will be attached to the risks I take in life; how my well-being, my marriage, my friends or children will be impacted by the things I say and do.

The good news is that both the grace and the grace period set by God for this life are astoundingly generous. Like the owner of the carpark, God places arrows and signs all around us to help guide the way. He wants us on the right path, living a life uncomplicated by wrong turns, right up until we reach our exit, whenever that might be.

Life is complex. It can feel hard to navigate. I know I’ve crashed a few times. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in reverse, or going around and around in circles! We all make mistakes, but that’s why God’s grace period is so special.

It began before you were born, because he loved you before you drew your first breath. It never ends. His grace means there is no penalty on our shoulders when we realise we’ve gone the wrong way. Jesus has paid the price in full, even though we deserve to pay it ourselves. The Holy Spirit is always ready to guide us in the way we should go.

God only asks for us to bring the living, breathing vehicle he’s given us to travel this life in, to park it in his parking station. Everything after that will have enough arrows and signs to get us where we need to go, if you’ll trust him to point you in the right direction.

The “P” Word

Pride. That’s the “P” word. Sounds mean, I suppose, to confess I don’t tell my kids I’m proud of them. But pride has no place in my parenting, so it doesn’t feel right to encourage it in the boys either. Before you go beetroot red and tell me how dodgy that is, I hope you’ll give me the chance to explain. And perhaps I should reassure you now, that even though pride is absent, praise is not.

Both “proud” and “pride” get frequent use in our culture. “Aussie Pride” is plastered on car windscreens and tattooed on bulging biceps.  Telling kids we’re proud of them is encouraged as a tool to boost self-esteem. I have no doubt most of us use the word with wonderful intentions.

While it sounds OK to think of pride in terms of dignity; knowing I have value, that I deserve not to be treated like a doormat, not to be bullied at school, not to be overburdened by my boss, at the core, pride is focused on self. If selfishness takes a front seat in determining my worth as an individual, what does it do to my perspective on the world?

Kids choose the biggest piece of cake to eat, whinge about doing chores and want what other kids have (or is that only my kids?) Adults lack courtesy (think merging when a lane ends), strive to buy the latest trend for themselves and find it hard to give without receiving something in return.

We do all those things because we consider our feelings and needs more important than somebody else’s. Pride takes it even further. It translates self-focus into comparisons with other people and it can go two ways:

  1. We feel superior to others, e.g. because we think our achievements and accomplishments are better than theirs.
  2. Ironically, pride fosters insecurity and inadequacy, e.g. in the presence of others who we think are more successful than we are.

Worse still, from pride, judgmentalism evolves. To judge others or feel judged by others based on a belief of your superiority or theirs is ugly! But we’re all guilty of it. Every one of us is as flawed and imperfect as the next. None of us are more valuable than any other.

I’m not going to tell my kids I’m proud of them; not when they do well, not when they try hard, not even when they persevere or are resilient. I don’t want them to believe that what they achieve is the result of their brilliance or mine (as their parent). I don’t want them to think they’re superior because they possess a talent or skill others don’t. And I certainly don’t want them to assume their value is only linked to things I’ve said I’m proud of.

I believe God distributes character, talents, strengths and weaknesses. It’s always for a reason, but it takes time to recognise what they are and how he wants us to use them.

Instead of being proud, I want my kids to learn how to be humble and thankful. Each varying ability, passion and personality trait they have are gifts, given with purpose. Even those that seem dormant or undesirable now, the things I wouldn’t think to tell them I’m proud of, have potential to be fruitful in God’s hands.

One of my kids has sometimes involved himself in disputes between classmates that have nothing to do with him. He can’t stand to see a wrong un-righted. He’s landed himself in hot water for getting fired-up and losing control, especially if he thought the issue hadn’t been addressed fairly.

My husband and I used to get so frustrated to see him get in trouble. I would never have told him I was proud of this side to his character. It seemed so undesirable. I wanted to squash it out of him, to spare me another stern conversation with his teacher and the feeling I would be judged by others as a bad parent.

Thankfully, once the disguise of bad choices was removed, a deep-set passion for justice revealed itself in my child. I almost didn’t see this admirable quality because my gaze was set on looking for something to be proud of. What I viewed with annoyance, at that time, could serve him and, more importantly, others constructively in the future. But if I only encourage him in the things I’m proud of, I rob him of this God-given strength. I serve him better if I teach him how to harness and fine-tune his passion.

I want my children to know that they are wholly loved and accepted by me, their dad, God and others — strengths, weaknesses, flaws and all. By teaching my kids these things, I hope they’ll understand where their value truly lies. I hope it creates confidence in them stronger and more reliable than pride. I believe it will help them see and treat others as equals.

Last year I attended my 20-year high school reunion. It saddened me to hear that some chose not to come because they felt inadequate in their life accomplishments compared to what they thought others had achieved. I don’t want that future for my children. Life is too short for them to waste time caught inside fears of inadequacy or deluded by self-importance, all due to the negative influence of pride.

Rather than encouraging someone by telling them you’re proud, how else could you affirm them in both their strengths and their weaknesses this week?

“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did

not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

1 Corinthians 4:7

The Fruit of Suspicion

Once upon a time, more than half a millennium ago, an immigrant arrived mysteriously on British shores. Originating from some place far away, Tomato was bursting with optimism and the hope of a warm welcome from the people who lived there.

Overhearing a conversation between farmers as they wheeled their produce through the town square, Tomato soon realised anyone looking for a new friend like him would go to the local marketplace. Without delay, Tomato tied his funny green hat firmly under his chin and rolled on down the cobbled street after the men, hoping that’s where they were headed.

Soon Tomato found himself, more than a little overwhelmed, surrounded by hundreds of noisy locals all clamouring to find the finest fruit and vegetables their money could buy. Tomato couldn’t see anyone else there like him. Undeterred, he puffed out his shiny red skin, positioned himself respectfully amongst the items for sale and patiently waited for someone to notice him.

It wasn’t long before Tomato felt very confused. Countless people had come so close as they browsed along tables laden with vibrant greens of various shapes and sizes. Tomato saw all of them glance at him briefly, some with thinly veiled shock, others with poorly disguised recognition. But every one of them had turned their backs on him and walked away.

Tomato didn’t understand their reactions, but their swift rejection cut him straight to his heart and crushed his hopes. He asked himself what the townsfolk could possibly hate so much about him. They didn’t even know him.

The busy market ended and the customers dwindled until not one remained. As the vendors closed their stalls, Tomato noticed one of the same old fellows he’d followed to the market. He was visiting each stall, buying the produce left behind — the bruised and battered, the oddly shaped, the ones with withered and yellowing leaves.

Tomato hardly noticed when the man stopped in front of him. He felt invisible after the way he’d been treated by everybody else.

“What do we have here?” The old farmer picked Tomato up, holding him gently on an open palm, his gaze shifting curiously between Tomato and the vendor.

The vendor’s eyes narrowed and his brow crinkled. “It looks very much like a mandrake to me … but how did it get here?” He looked all about, as if expecting to find himself the unwitting victim of a practical joke. “Here, quick, give it to me. If it looks like a mandrake, it must be a mandrake.”

Tomato started to panic. He’d come so far! He meant them no harm.

“I’m not so sure …” The old man turned Tomato over in his hand once more. “Smells sweet and earthy. Perhaps it’s some kind of foreign fruit?”

“You don’t want to muck around with that, mandrakes are poisonous! Hand him over old man. I’ll throw him in the fire.”

Now Tomato understood what he’d seen on the faces of all those people. It was fear. But they were mistaken. He wasn’t the same as this other poisonous fruit he resembled. He silently begged the old farmer not to listen.

“Hmmm … don’t be so quick to assume, my friend. Things are not always as they appear. I’ll pay you for him. How much do you want?”

“You can have him. Nobody in their right mind wants a fruit like that.” He threw his hands up in the air. “It’s on your head, what happens to you now. I don’t want anything to do with him.”

The dock was on the farmer’s way home. He stopped to ask if anyone there knew more about where the strange fruit had come from. Tomato was regarded with the same anxiety and suspicion he’d encountered at the market, by all except one.

“Ah-hah …” A well-seasoned sailor cradled Tomato in his weather-beaten hand as if he were a precious jewel. “I know him well. His name is Tomato. He and others like him seek refuge all over the world. They hope to find new homes where they can be happy and purposeful, even more than in their native lands. He’s a deliciously sweet little fellow.”

“Do you have any more? I mean to say, could I buy some from you?”

“Certainly! I think this one may have escaped from the crate I brought home for my family. Come with me.”

As the two men walked together, the farmer listened eagerly as the sailor shared his wisdom about Tomato, tales the farmer could hardly wait to share with his friends and family. By the time the two men parted company, the old man felt foolish he had almost believed Tomato could ever have intended to hurt him.

The old man knew he must do something to dispel the unreasonable prejudices the townsfolk held against Tomato. But Tomato looked so unfortunately like something the people knew was harmful, this was sure to be no easy task.

At first, just a few brave souls agreed to meet Tomato for themselves. Although it was with some trepidation at first, they soon came to understand the unique richness Tomato could bring to their lives.

Over time, even those who thought they didn’t need any more friends, welcomed Tomato into their country and found him a place in their homes. The truth about Tomato spread far and wide through villages, towns and cities, all because one man took a small step to embrace rather than reject.

Soon, no matter which way he was sliced or diced, this fruit, having crossed cultures and countries was loved and accepted as he always should have been.

The Awarding Dilemma

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A warning before you read. This post contains my opinion. It may seem controversial. You may not agree with me, and that’s OK. You’re entitled, after all, to your opinion about my opinion. But I hope that if you disagree, you’ll stay cool. It’s going to happen from time to time.

A conversation took place a while back amongst parents whose children attend the same school as my kids. Who should be awarded at the end-of-year school assembly was the topic. Last year, a small number of children were recognised for excelling at district and zone sport carnivals, but no awards were given for academic excellence, which disappointed a number of parents.

Special, smaller assemblies had already been held for each grade. At these, every child was awarded individually for working towards a personal goal, which had been agreed upon by each teacher and student, to work on during the second semester. But, as these parents argued, the goals often weren’t academic. Understandably, they felt a gap existed in recognising academic achievement.

The conversation made me wonder if it’s wrong to celebrate the select few who achieve highly in sport in front of the whole school, if the top academic students are not. After all, sport is encouraged and participated in by the school, but not comprehensively taught per se, as much as academic subjects are. You could say the school celebrates sporting skills they’d had a minor role in fostering, but didn’t celebrate academic excellence, which they go to great lengths to teach.

Even as early as primary school level, some kids (who do well in sport or academics) excel in comparison to their peers. Keeping this in mind, what should we (and our schools) hope to achieve by awarding them? Do we want our children awarded only for what they’re good at?

Take Child no. 1: she was born with genetic potential to be athletic or brainy and achieves highly because of it. If genetics makes the difference between achieving or not, is it appropriate we award her athletically or academically superior genes?

Child no. 2: receives regular academic tutoring or athletic training outside of school, both of which develop and fine-tune skills, giving her greater potential to achieve. If it’s training that makes the difference, is it appropriate we only award top results if the playing field is so uneven? Not every child has access to training opportunities like no. 2.

If schools only recognise sporting or academic excellence, are they awarding the success of children who had an advantage for one reason or another over and above other children?

I know, I know, it sounds awful. You might say to me — but there is a Child no. 3: one who works or trains exceptionally hard to achieve highly, even though it doesn’t come naturally and they don’t have access to training. Perhaps we should award those who achieve highly through their effort and dedication.

Well, I understand what you’re saying, but you’ve forgotten Child no. 4: the one who slogged his guts out as much as no. 3 in the classroom or on the field, but his achievements aren’t recognisable because he didn’t reach a tangible result.

How can we award when there is always someone left out who, perhaps, equally deserves recognition? Is the answer to award no one? Or everyone?

I think my kids’ school hurdles this dilemma well in part. I love that they recognise each student’s accomplishments on the individual journey they agreed upon with their teacher.

Encouragement for taking one step forward is worth a hundred times a serve of discipline for failing to take the other nine steps you thought they were capable of. Even small steps are achievements, in my opinion, that should be celebrated.

I think the answer lies in rewarding what we value in our kids, not valuing them for the rewards they earn. And that obviously means stretching the definition of “rewarding” to include recognition of skills like kindness, perseverance and resilience —skills which aren’t all that measureable, but will serve them well for life. In this way, kids learn they are so much more than what they’re good at, or what they’re hopeless at, and that we’ve all been made uniquely wonderful in our own way.

Should my kids’ school have rewarded sporting excellence? Hmmm…that’s a toughie. I think it was appropriate for the school to at least thank its students, no matter how they performed. Representing the school in any way is a big responsibility and an honour. I think it’s OK to treat it as such.

Should they have singled out sporting excellence in the way they did, without scope for recognising any other high achievers? Should they have singled out high achievers in anything? I’m not so sure… What do you think?

The Highs and Lows of Average

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On the 27th November, it will be 20 years since I did my last ever H.S.C. exam. It was for Drama. Whoever decided the timetable must have disliked “creative” subjects because it was scheduled an agonising two weeks after my other exams had finished. Appropriate to the subject, I cried foul, to anyone who would listen (mainly the cat), about the injustice of having to painstakingly persevere with my study long after most students had left for “Schoolies”.

Every bit of Year 11 and 12 had been in preparation for this academic showdown. The teachers couldn’t emphasise enough what a big deal it was. I was fairly studious, eager to please and had a slight affliction of perfectionism. Naturally, I wanted, tried really hard and perhaps even                  expected to do well.

Two months later and the results were out. My friends and I spent the day glued to the phone as the Postie made the rounds, delivering the outcome of all our hard work. My Postie must have stopped for a double scoop choc fudge waffle cone with his mates that day. He took FOREVER to get to my house. I was the last to receive my envelope.

I tore it open with a gut-wrenching mix of trepidation and excitement, but was promptly disappointed with the results. Although I realised after much more time to process and rationalise, that my scores were nothing to be sad about, they weren’t as good as my friends’.

I knew I’d tried as hard as them. I’d studied my butt off, segregated myself from the outside world, restricted TV to watching weekly episodes of Seinfeld and Friends. Why didn’t my results reflect my hard work and dedication? It didn’t seem fair.

Fast forward to September 2016. I entered the first chapter and synopsis of the manuscript I’ve been working on for 5 years into a contest. I found out soon after that it had been named as one of five finalists. To say I was excited about its potential would have been a gross understatement. I struggled to keep a sensible lid on my hopes and expectations that it would do well, maybe even win.

Could an average girl with little experience, but lots of heart beat the odds and win a competition with a book about embracing average? Sadly, no. My hopes were squished under a big black gumboot of disappointment.

I had a bit of a cry, felt sorry for myself for a while, but knew it would do me no good to wallow there. I prayed and submitted the whole process afresh to God, whose book it is, anyway. It’s ultimately up to him what he decides to do with it.

Pretty soon I realised how ironic it would have been for a book about embracing average to win. What would it have done to the authenticity of the message? Would I have alienated the potential audience for its subject before the book ever landed on a bookshelf?

And why am I writing? Is it for people to love me? For me to prove how brilliant I am? I sure hope not. My tears, I had to admit, were more to do with my selfish pride being hurt and my self-centred expectations being thwarted.

I’m telling you all this because it’s that time of year again. The HSC has finished and thousands of teens eagerly await their results. Some of you will be elated, but there will also be many who feel disappointed when they arrive.

I want you, and anyone else out there committing themselves fully to any endeavour, to know that you are more than your tangible results and achievements. People may not see it, but God sees your life and its fruitfulness through so much more than A grades and contest victories. Your true and lasting value is in him because he sees the passion, intention and motivation that drive what you do, no matter how it turns out in the end.

That’s why I write — to communicate this important message which needs to be heard. I’m glad I didn’t win because it realigned me with my purpose. I’ve been saved from the temptation of getting a big head about it.

Have you ever hoped madly for something wonderful, or expected something fantastic, only to be devastated when it didn’t work out? Yes? Oh good, then you fit perfectly into the “imperfect human’ category just like me. It’s normal to feel hurt when you invest yourself, heart and soul, in anything.

Next time it happens, as I’m sure it will, after you’ve had your cry, try remembering that you are not defined by your successes. They are great when they happen, but they’re not proof you deserve to exist.

Keep trying your best, because God made you purposefully and wonderfully. You are already loved and accepted just the way you are.

Average by Name or by Nature?

My darling husband, (bless his cotton socks), is a typical male. It’s 11pm, he’s already mostly asleep, but I’m wide awake because I’ve spent the whole day busy with kids, unable to string two thoughts together. It’s only now, in the peace of night, that I’m able to think things through.

Much to his consternation (because it’s so late), I often want to talk. If something has been niggling at me, I process out loud with him as my audience (I was going to say “attentive” audience, but that’s debatable LOL).

Back in the day when the kids were much smaller and our marriage much younger, it was typical of me to discuss a bunch of side issues before arriving at the actual problem. A lot of the time a mismatch between his and my expectations of each other was the culprit behind these late night conversations.

One time, when the owls had already been up and at it for a few hours, I couldn’t sleep. I felt bothered that, for a few days running, Mark had been late home and didn’t call to tell me. In my mind, I interpreted this as a lack of care for me, or evidence he’d been flattened by a truck on the way home, both of which were causing me a significant amount of stress.

In his mind, it was no big deal. He’d been talking to colleagues or clients all day, meeting deadlines and solving problems. The car trip home was time on his own. The last thing he felt like was another conversation. He showed me how much he cared in other ways, so was calling really that important?

I knew everything he said made logical sense. I had to learn to be flexible. It would be unreasonable to expect he could always call if he was running late. But, as I discussed this all with him, I realised my feelings were important too. He might not understand why I wanted him to call, but it was still important that he accept that this was how I felt and make an effort to call if he could.

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Gosh, the way we understand each other, and the world around us, is so interesting. Everything we hear, or read, or see, is processed through filters that are varied and probably limitless. These filters have led to plenty of misunderstandings for Mark and I which we continue to diligently work through.

What we perceive can be extraordinarily different from how others see us and the world. What we think of ourselves is hardly ever based on simple black-and-white facts. In spite of evidence pointing us in the direction of one conclusion, the filters we apply can lead us somewhere else entirely.

I’ve been amused many times over by the different ways people react when I tell them I’ve been writing a book about feeling average. Often, just after the words have come out of my mouth, the listener’s head cocks to one side and they say a variation of “Well, you’re hardly average, are you? I could never write a book!”

After this happened a few times, I knew I needed to think a bit more carefully about how I could respond to people who answered like this. How could I sound like I had an authentic message to convey if people didn’t understand where I was coming from?

And here is my light bulb moment about it — it’s possible for me to feel average even when you think I couldn’t possibly be average. And please, it’s not simply a matter of trying to convince me to come around to your way of seeing things, just by telling me what you think.

If you feel average and others scoff, or tell you not to be so ridiculous, be empowered to answer that even though they may not understand it, they need to accept that your feelings are real.

However, there’s nothing to be gained from wallowing in the self-pity of feeling average and just wishing you didn’t. You have a responsibility to do something. There’s not much difference between being or feeling average if you’re unhappy about it.

If this is you, try answering these questions:

Why is it so important to you that you’re not average? Do you have expectations of yourself that make sense considering the stage of life you’re in, the priorities you’ve decided and the demands you have on your time?

The answers to these questions are just a couple of filters influencing how you feel about your life. Like the picture above, sometimes the more filters you look through, the bleaker things become. Looking on your life through the right filter makes all the difference. Why don’t you try this one on all by itself and see if it changes things?

“ … The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galations 2:20

The Opportune Time

One of my favourite things to do, if I’ve been cooped up writing all day, is to get out for a walk. It stretches the legs, clears the mind and gives the lungs a healthy dose of fresh air … or Western Sydney smog, whatever. When Mark arrived home earlier than usual the other day, I jumped at the chance to walk while he supervised the homework.

On the course I took that day, I reached a place where I was able to see an unobstructed view across to the Blue Mountains in the west. The sun was sinking quite low. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before it would be swallowed up completely.

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My opportunities to see the sun’s last rays stretch their long fingers over the mountain tops are as rare as a clean toilet in a house full of boys. Such is my desire to capture every moment, I get green dots in my vision from staring intently until the spectacle disappears from view. However, stopping to see the sunset this time presented me with a problem; it was peak hour and my vantage point was on the side of a very busy road, right next to a set of traffic lights.

The introvert in me HATES looking conspicuous. Standing next to a long line of cars stopped in traffic, staring across their metal roofs at the western horizon, I felt as if there were hundreds of invisible eyes boring into me, wondering what the heck I was doing. I was sure I appeared very odd. I expected someone to open their car window and check I wasn’t suffering a catatonic episode.

I found myself with a choice to make. Do I take the opportunity in front of me to do something I’m passionate about, even though I feel ridiculous doing it? Or do I keep walking, fearful of looking like a goose to all those drivers, who have no clue what I’m doing?

Many of us face moments like this. It’s because we care what other people think of us and are afraid of being judged. Too often, we decide not to do something we love because fear rules our choices.

When was the last time you sang at the top of your lungs in the car? Do you ever feel strongly about an issue, but don’t express your thoughts because people might disagree with you? Did you see a great new job opportunity but let the application deadline pass you by?

Why do we let fear influence what we do or say? Some would say a lack of confidence is the answer, but I don’t think that’s hitting the nail exactly on the head. Fear makes our decisions for us because our confidence is misplaced. If what you base your confidence on is flimsy or unreliable, your confidence is flimsy and unreliable too.

Wouldn’t you love to be 100% true to your passions, desires and beliefs? To me, that’s the outward evidence of a person having placed their confidence wisely. So, what is a wise thing to place your confidence in?

The answer lies hidden in the definition of the word itself. According to dictionary.com, confidence means to have “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness or reliability of a person or thing”.

Full trust … Is it any wonder our confidence fails us when we try and place it in something or someone we fear is fully trustworthy? To be confident depends not on our efforts to try and get more of it, but on how trustworthy the entity is we’re placing our confidence in.

I didn’t trust what all those drivers might be thinking about me, so I lacked confidence in choosing to stay and watch the sunset. You don’t believe in your ability to do a job, so you lack confidence to apply for it. Kids don’t feel they can rely on their capacity to be liked for who they are so they fear saying no to their friends when they should.

Great confidence comes from placing it in an entity that has proven itself trustworthy time and again. You won’t find it by trusting yourself, your relationships, material possessions, your career or money. Every single one of these things is absolutely going to fail you at some point.

The best confidence I’ve found, that kind that gives an introvert freedom to stand in the middle of traffic to see a beautiful sunset, comes from my identity in Christ. His love for me is fully trustworthy so I make the choice to fully trust in it. My life is indescribably richer because of who he is and yours can be too.

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” Jeremiah 17:7

The Apparent Joy of Dog Poop

Until a few weeks ago, when poor old Rosie passed away, picking up the poop had to be an every-second-day kind of job. Two dogs make a crap load of poop. But this morning, now that it’s just Caramel’s business to take care of, I only had one dog’s poop to scoop.

Picking up poop is not one of my favourite tasks, it’s just part of the ordinary every-day “average” life. You’d think I’d enjoy having less poop to tiptoe around on my way to the washing line.

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But what was my reaction? I blubbered my way around the back lawn, spade in one hand, plastic bag in the other, trying to see only half as much poop as there used to be as tears welled up in my eyes and streamed down my cheeks.

Turns out I don’t just miss my dog, I also miss her poop.

As odd as it feels to be discussing my emotion over a lack of dog poop, I decided to go ahead and do it anyway because through it I’ve learned a good lesson on finding joy in the average tasks of ordinary life.

There’s lots to get sick of in the “average” life. Washing dirty clothes, packing school lunches, reminding kids to take their plates to the sink, cleaning pee-stained toilets, making nightly dinners … the list is endless. It’s easy to feel disheartened when your life looks like this every day. It’s often thankless, unappreciated work. And it never ends.

Picking up the poop usually fits right into this category. It most often feels unrewarding and mundane. Why didn’t it feel the same this morning? Because I reconnected the task with who I was doing it for and how I felt about her. It’s helped me see that if I thought about all my average tasks this way, my attitude towards them would be completely different.

I get fed up with doing laundry. The boys’ dirty clothes are strewn around the house, wherever they’ve taken them off. They’ve been told a million times to put their clothes in the washing basket, but something is always forgotten. If I don’t do a clothes hunt before doing a load, I’m inevitably frustrated by the discovery of a dirty item just after the cycle has finished. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve un-scrunched socks or untangled undies from inside-out pants legs, I’d be rolling in coins all the way to the bank. I’ve been known to sigh and click my tongue in annoyance right through the sorting process.

But one day, all too soon, my boys are going to be grown up and I’ll never have another sauce-stained shirt, or Pokémon card to rescue from pants pockets. Perhaps, when I’m ancient and approaching my used-by date, I won’t have the ability to do washing at all.

Do I really want to think back on this, or any other time, and remember resentment, or do I want to look back and know that I invested myself fully in whatever age and stage I found myself in?

Some seasons of life last longer than others, but eventually they all come to an end. It’s sad to only recognise their true value once the opportunity to enjoy it has slipped through your fingers and disappeared forever.

I’m going to find joy in the dog poop because, sadly, one day the privilege of having faithful, four-legged company from Caramel will end. Love the greasy fingerprints and crayon artworks adorning your walls because you love your two-year-old. Soon, you’ll look at your perfectly spotless paintwork and wonder how he grew so big so fast. Enjoy rinsing the whiskers down the drain that your husband always leaves when he shaves because you love him. Life is unpredictable, you don’t know how many more days there’ll be stubble in your sink.

Treasure the time you spend, and the effort you put into each and every aspect of life because those you do them for, including yourself, are worth the effort. Life passes in the blink of an eye and so do the opportunities to love and appreciate whomever and whatever comes along with it. Choose joy today because tomorrow it will be gone forever.

A Bug’s Life

As some of you know, our lovely dog, Rosie, died this Sunday just gone. So I thought I’d share a story today from one of our walking experiences together.

As was often our habit, Rosie, Caramel and I set off on a neighbourhood walk to stretch the legs and get moving into the day’s activities not long after the morning school drop-off. We hadn’t got far when both dogs became distracted and stopped in their tracks. Usually this kind of behaviour would be associated with something gross like bird poo or someone’s abandoned bubble gum, but not this time.

There on the footpath, was a little black beetle, flailing ridiculously on his back, unable to right himself again. The dogs were curiously sniffing at him. As I watched him, I felt sorry for him. (Yes, I am the kind of person who rescues the Daddy Long Legs spiders out of my shower recess so they don’t get flushed down the drain). So I flipped him back over and off we went.

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As I continued along, I pondered the rescue. What would his fate have been if the dogs and I hadn’t noticed him? In my lack of observation, I could have easily trodden on him, inadvertently caused his squishy end instead of being his saviour.

What difference did this moment in time make to me? Not much! A three second task of noticing him and rescuing him with the flick of a finger was hardly consequential to me. But to him, it meant life or death. My small action provided an opportunity for him to carry on with life. It released him from the immense struggle he had facing him before I intervened (even if it would only be until the next time he accidentally flipped himself over).

I contemplated my strange choice to stop and flip a beetle. I wondered if it was possible that decisions like these entail more than meets the eye. Thanks to Buggy and my dogs, I now had a useful illustration of the significance to be found in an average person’s life.

Not many of us expect on this day to do something on such a grand scale that it changes a person’s life forever. But who said life-changing events are all big? Life happens in the small events of the everyday; the small gestures, the pause to give a hug, the quick text to touch base, the smile of love and affirmation.

In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven (God’s kingdom) being like a mustard seed. He says “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

From a seemingly insignificant and unimpressive tiny seed grows an enormous tree. If left to our puny imaginations, we could never fathom a tiny seed would be capable of becoming something so big, but in God’s power, anything is possible.

God is able to bless comparatively meagre offerings from us who are average. From them, he can do unimaginable and awe-inspiring things. God grows his kingdom through us in ways we can’t possibly fathom. It expands not by the size of what we offer, but through his love and power.

In this way, having faith, or trusting, that God is the true provider of your life’s significance makes perfect sense. Perhaps you only feel capable of starting with a small step of faith. God is powerful enough to take your small step and grow your life into something amazing, just like the mustard tree.

I would hate for you to assume that, because you are average, you have nothing of value to offer. Thoughts like those are exactly the kind of doubts that Satan loves to have flourish inside your head because they lead to inaction. They cause you to second guess your abilities and usefulness.

God’s power is infinitely greater than fears you have of inadequacy. It’s greater than Satan’s lies. Think of yourself as the mustard seed. Embrace it without worrying about its puny size. Say yes to an opportunity. Trust that God, in his power, can take whatever you willingly offer and make it grow into something amazing.

This might feel like an extraordinarily brave thing for you to do. It might completely take you out of your comfort zone. I shudder a little to think how weird my neighbours might think I am, bending down to rescue an insignificant bug. But, in the end, I didn’t do it for them, so I need to let go of what they possibly think.

I did it for the bug, and if he is capable of clapping two thoughts together in his very tiny brain, I’m sure one of them might be thankful in a very big way, that someone bothered to help him.

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