Asking Good Questions {with 3 resources for the question-less}

I am still stuck on the questions of the weekend.

I spent two days at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Portland and as usual, I am slow to process all that came in.

It was good – that’s my short answer. But there’s a lot more happening than surface-y encouragement and tips for writing. There were some really good questions asked, and I left most of them unanswered.


I think the key for an introvert in these environments is to introduce yourself to someone in each session you’re in. That way you can delve into one life deep enough to distract you from the flurry of lives happening around you. That person can be your focal point.

Walk up, extend your hand, ask questions.

If you’re good at this (and I am not, so I speak hypothetically – the way I imagine it would be) you’ll be the first to ask questions, and you’ll ask the ones that lead to the most interesting answers – because people are interesting below the exterior and each life is a world of its own.

That’s the exhausting thing about conferences or large gatherings of any kind. Many worlds collide, and two days is just not enough.

Sometimes I’m on the answering-end of the questions and my tongue gets all fat and twisted and I kick myself internally for not being the first to fire a question. It’s like social ping-pong and you want to play as close to the net as you can. I am too often tangled up  – awkwardly balancing the divide between your side and mine or retreating too far to the back of the table.

Some of the questions I was asked should have been answered immediately. I should know what I write about, what I’m passionate about, what my words are for. But for whatever frozen-up reason, what do you write about? became equivalent to WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?  (in all caps like that) and there aren’t one-word answers suitable.

When it comes right down to it, answering certain questions can feel like crawling inside a box.

You know how it feels when someone asks you a deep and probing question without realizing it. They’re expecting a short answer, the standing-in-line-at-the-checkout-being-polite version, and you’re trying to formulate a good twitter-sized response. The conversation usually moves on before you’ve had time to do more than grunt and shrug.

The short and easy answer feels like that box, the one with a label you’ll feel stuck with. The long answer feels like sharing too much of your journal to an uninterested reader.

Grunts and shrugs somehow suffice.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.

It’s comfortably uncomfortable, being asked questions you want to answer but can’t.

Asking good questions is the catalyst for hearts to open up and burdens to unclench themselves from our shoulders. A good question implies that I’m ready to listen to your answer, when it comes. It means that the one asking understands that life is happening beneath the surface, that a whole world is formed in your mind, that you have an answer that is worth hearing, even if you take too long to answer.

A good question provokes thought.

The best questions don’t always have to be answered – they do their work in silence. So in the silence of being back home, I’m letting them burrow deep.


Resources for good questions:

  • StoryCorps – lists of great questions for all kinds of situations
  • How to Lead Transformational Conversations – podcast with Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt. This one is great for business, church, and family settings. Michael talks a lot about leading by listening and being open to input from others.
  • Tabletopics Family: Questions to start great conversations. This one sits on our kitchen counter.

Washing Skyscraper Windows

The End

The End.

The cleaning and cooking and tax-filing and mowing all have temporary ends. The humans we’re raising, the ministry we’re living, the wrangling of our Selves and the struggle to walk worthy – those are circles we run without end.

But all creating, all painting, singing, baking, building, lesson-preparing, teaching, giving – maybe all those things have the potential to loom large, to call you to an End that is scary and unpredictable. If you’re not careful, your outcomes end up being in the hands and opinions of others.

I am forever learning and looping and losing good lessons, but this is the current education I’m getting: doing what I love requires discipline.

I’m not just talking about the need to ignore distractions or make the time. Those are necessary disciplines, of course. But the discipline I’m needing currently (always) in the things that I love is a discipline that disregards the end, which is counter-productive to my accomplishment-loving-self.

But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:13

I love the heavy privilege of raising kids. I’m learning a disinterest for having children that are End Products of years of training, and choosing instead to be brave in the moment and surrender to the long process. Yes, we are responsible for equipping them. Yes, we need to have goals and a plan. But no, we don’t produce trophies for the admiration of passersby. We’re not training monkeys for parlor tricks.

This really hit home when my 15 year old asked for a mohawk and my husband said yes. The quietly funny mild-child. With a mohawk. That I cut.

In the process of raising kids, there are are issues of principle and issues of opinion. Too often, opinions matter to me. So every time I trim up that mohawk I mow down my need for approval. And I may even secretly like it.


When we think about how many terrifying things people are called on to do every day as they fight fires, defend their rights, perform brain surgery, give birth, drive on the freeway, and wash skyscraper windows, it seems frivolous, self-indulgent, and self-important to talk about writing as an act that requires courage. What could be safer than sitting at your desk, lightly tapping a few keys, pushing your chair back, and pausing to see what marvelous tidbit of art your brain has brought forth to amuse you?

And yet most people who have tried to write have experienced not only the need for bravery but a failure of nerve as the real or imagined consequences, faults and humiliations, exposures and inadequacies dance before their eyes and across the empty screen or page. The fear of writing badly, of revealing something you would rather keep hidden, of losing the good opinion of the world, of violating your own high standards, or of discovering something about yourself that you would just as soon not know – those are just a few of the phantoms scary enough to make the writer wonder if there might be a job available washing skyscraper windows.” – Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer

Similarly: as parenting is hard, cleaning my house is easy. As dealing with the day-in-and-out character issues and abrasions of personality clashes and constant questions I don’t want to answer is hard, escaping to busywork is easy. Forcing outward appearances is easy.

Trading the things that are subject to heartache and scrutiny for the things that have a completion, a pleasing outcome, is way too easy.

There aren’t always tidy bows to tie on our creative work – and being human is creative work. Parenting, being a spouse, a boss or an employee, a patient, a passenger, a recipient or a benefactor, all require creativity and we are imaged after a great, creative God. So yes, I really do mean that being human requires creativity.

But you can get away with a gray and creative-less substitute for living. You can find a way out.

Washing skyscraper windows may not be safe, but most people are going to overlook any lapse in your performance and simply commend your obvious bravery, not knowing all the things you’re running from.

You have something to do creatively today. Can you put aside the need for end results and just dive in wholeheartedly? This might look like saying yes to that craft project the kids are asking for, or writing that note, cooking that meal, making that call, giving that gift the Lord has prompted you about.

Maybe you’ll cut a mohawk or write a poem.

Do it, and share your brave work with us.

If you can’t leave, read a book

Some amount of worry about your children is natural. We have been entrusted with these souls and the bodies that carry them, which seem doomed to destruction by couch-jumping, bug-eating, naive parking lot strolling, or curious navigating to see how flooded the creek really is.

My son just finished reading his driver’s manual, and the words of N.D. Wilson ring in my ears:

You can now sit in huge chunks of hurtling metal, taking the lives of every one of your passengers and every passenger in every other passing chunk of metal and every passing pedestrian and every passing bicyclist into your irresponsible hands. You can now make mistakes that kill people (and you).”

It’s like putting your fine china on the back of a wild horse, or treasure in earthen vessels. It seems like a crazy way to do things.

Our children are oblivious and we are hyper-aware. We want to protect the outside and fill the inside and filter out the parts of this world that seep in through cracks we don’t notice, don’t see until it’s too late.

They just want to run barefoot in the streets and eat junk food and watch whatever’s on next. Therefore, it seems like our job to worry.

IMG_4111 IMG_4381

I realize, often, that we need to go backwards. We need to go back to the things we were purposeful about before the pace of life hijacked all the boxes on our super-sized calendars. Back to circle time. Back to tucking-in at bedtime. Back to family game night and hot breakfasts and prayer before frenetic and frenzied days. No one is too big for any of that.

Things change faster than we can wrap our minds around and our kids are growing into a very different world, just like we did. What’s dangerous today – new, scary and untested – will be commonplace and normal in ten years. We won’t even remember a time without cell phones in every pocket and legal drugs on every corner, without f-bombs on primetime and metal detectors at every entrance.

So yes, we have some things to worry over. And yes, we have the opportunity – as we raise adults and not children – to slowly remove the bumpers. Let them throw some gutter balls, let them thicken their skins and soften their hearts and prepare for harsh realities.

Fortunately, all the world has to offer by way of enticements is pale and pasty compared to the bright future of eternity, but sometimes it feels like we are pushing broccoli on kids in a candy store. It’s good. Really.

We can only anticipate and daydream and envision a life never-ending and never thwarted by evil. We can envision it, and we should have imaginations shaped for it by the books we read, the people we know, the places we visit.

Still, we live right now, on this side of the torn curtain, wanting to live without separation but bound to this dark side by what we call life. Life, and we want to make good on it. Life, and we try to live it safely and without scarring. Life, that we hold on to and grip with all the feeble firmness of a child who won’t drop the butcher knife.

For kids raised in our little neck of the woods, life is smaller and slower and more innocent. It’s a little bit Mayberry but we have internet. Eternity might feel like the drive to the grocery store or a trip to a decent shopping mall, but we’re telling them otherwise. We’re teaching them about an eternity wrapped in flesh and torn and divided up for the whole world to taste, a beautiful small-town-eternity that comes to them every time they feel too small or too awkwardly large.


This is what we tell the kids: leave.

And if you can’t leave, read a book.

Pack your bags. Gather what really belongs to you and go see that world in 3D-first-person-real-as-the-dog-in-the-yard. And don’t just see it but touch it and feel its hurt and beauty. Get that bigger picture of yourself as smaller than you could ever understand in this tiny town. Get a bigger vision of you as large as the kingdom, smaller than God, bigger than anything else in creation.

Not every child will go, I suppose. And I haven’t quite worked out how they’ll go but still be here for Sunday dinners and Christmas sleep-overs and birthday celebrations – maybe they’ll go and then return to settle, bringing their bigger picture back to a small life down the street. Maybe they’ll go and find the enchantments we never wanted them to be charmed by. It’s even possible that they’ll find something worth writing home about, and they’ll tell us to leave, too.

The other option, or the Thing We Do in the Meantime, is to read a book. Have a conversation with someone from another time and space. Think through someone else’s thoughts and wrestle with someone else’s words.  We stretch our small town imaginations over a wider world by reading great books together and alone and instead of watching the world on a screen. (These are hopeful words and not always true to life, just so you know.)

Reading is the cheaper cousin of traveling, but oh! the places you’ll go.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!






How to see more of God

Every situation has the possibility for as many interpretations as there are people to experience it.

Four gospel writers tell the same events but from different angles. 200 people attend our church on Sunday and some leave mad, some leave inspired, some leave lethargic and apathetic. We watch a movie and get different reactions, read a book and remember different highlights, and recall family vacations with completely different memories.

And then of course there is that blasted dress. I have yet to see an explanation that satisfies me, but this one might be close. It’s just too weird, and I’m somewhere between being tired of seeing it and curious enough to keep wanting an answer. How can what I see be so different from what you see? One of us is crazy.

Shelby's perspective

I’m driving to the airport yesterday morning and my daughter asks for my phone from the backseat. Seeing beauty in a sunrise isn’t something we had to teach her – she was born that way. I might only see a dirty van window in this picture if I don’t look carefully. Or maybe its looking too care-fully that ruins it.

It’s our perspective. We are a world full of individuals who see and hear and think and feel differently. Not wrongly, necessarily. Just differently.


Sometimes I’m in a group setting and I realize that everything I’m hearing or seeing is coming through my filter in a different way than everyone else. I see how it affects me, but do I realize how you are affected?

I think about how the woman with 4 small children is filtering what she hears; how the recently-divorced man interprets the situation; how the old man with cancer or the young woman with her boyfriend hears what’s happening.

Do I think from my perspective, only?

One Sunday during worship I pictured our congregation from above, all in corporate worship, and then from the ground level I saw us all as individuals. Such individuals and so many testimonies, mostly unknown to me. Every single individual in that building has a story and it colors how they see everything, how they worship, how they think about God and His faithfulness and His character.

What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” – A.W. Tozer

We can worship together as one yet remain so disparate in thought and perspective, never really knowing one another and maybe, missing pieces of who God actually is because of our narrowed vision. Maybe our knowledge of the Most Holy is limited in part because our relationships with people are cut short.


Shelby's perspective 2

One of the marks of immaturity and a sure way to stop a relationship from growing is the inability to see things from anyone else’s point of view.

Perspective ought to be trained into us like table manners. We ought to have the mind of Christ that sees others first, others most. Our brooding and mooding and self-centered coddling of our own fragile feelings ought to be trained right out of us, and perspective should be in its place. It’s a gift we should look for and cultivate and I think it must always lead to empathy and compassion.

Who will train us?


It’s easy for me to put my foot down with my children and refuse to budge, but even when I’m right and my answer will not change, I still need to have perspective and remember those tantrums I used to throw on my own bed.

Oh I remember. Fists pounding and legs flailing and having the  I remember how the things I desired and the yeses I required made life hard for me. And for my mom.

But I was a child and me-first was natural.

Remembering this can help my perspective. So can taking into account that, though my kids may have a great life, they still have things that cause them stress and disappoint them and I shouldn’t take that lightly.

I still think that I think about myself more than anyone else. More than I think about anyone else, but also more than anyone else thinks about me. Know what I mean? I spend the majority of my waking hours thinking about things that will affect me and how they will affect me and how I can reorder life so those things will affect me for the better.

I am supposed to be the most unselfish species on the planet. If I am a typical mom and most other mothers think about themselves as much as I think about myself, we’ve all been terribly misled. We might be doomed.

But maybe it’s just me.


Having someone else’s perspective does not necessarily mean I change my mind. It doesn’t mean a compromise of principles or truth or basic standards of justice. It only means that I can choose to see through someone else’s eyes, though imperfectly, and try to gain an understanding of them. I can put off my selfish me-only perspective and see for a minute that everyone in the situation may be affected differently.

As many-faceted as He is, I think I’ll see God more clearly by paying attention to how others see Him and remembering how He sees us.



Weekend Words 2.28.15

This week I started a new book, Love Does by Bob Goff, and every chapter just makes me smile incredulously. You did what?! You went where?! I’ve had this book for almost a year but my reading is slow these days. I’m working on remedying that, and paperbacks help. Bob is the perfect mix – funny, self-deprecating, and inspiring towards real love that does stuff.

Here’s some other stuff I’ve read, non-paperback:

7 ways I’m minimizing decision fatigue in my daily life at Modern Mrs. Darcy, because decision fatigue is real.


The Guts of Inspiration at Flower Patch Farmgirl. For the love of all things beautiful, let’s dog-ear some pages this weekend and find some inspiration. Bake it, paint it, sew it, treasure the beauty.


Say it again, about peace-making at Study in Brown. Tonia always make me re-think what I think, which is good practice.


Things will change

All winter I’ve thought about not running anymore. I have been ready to concede to age and weather and fatigue; to larger pants, bigger shirts, and comfy chairs.

It started in September (which is technically fall and not winter, but a season aptly named) when the rush of school and sports swallowed up our days, and when daylight savings stole my investment. Exercise is just one more thing and if it’s not enjoyable in the first place, it makes it really hard to prioritize. Amen?

I have run fairly consistently between births and sickness for about 18 years now. I say fairly consistently because every winter I inevitably slow down with the weather. I forget this though.


My winter running slump has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, almost as if my winters have gotten longer. I am not a hot weather person, but I’ve aged into even less of a cold weather runner. Especially wet-cold, which is our signature here in Oregon. 

So I don’t like hot and I don’t like cold and I really just wanted to transition this winter, shift down, become a walker. Because if I walk I won’t be cold and wet?

Over our Thanksgiving break my husband had some time off and for several days, he and I hiked the woods around our home. It was a mix of walking and running and jumping, like kids at recess. It was lovely and invigorating, and I really wanted this to be my new hobby – heck with running. These mountain hikes were peaceful and I was in a season of needing more peace.

I practically threw in the towel. I basically ran just enough this winter to make it difficult every time, because once-a-week runs don’t do much more than hurt your legs and burn your lungs and make you sore the next day.

I forget that I go through this almost every year. 

Because I forget, I get discouraged. I feel myself slipping away and I worry that I might not climb out of the hole I’m digging, because it’s too hard and too painful and I am really just ok with things this way. But I’m not.

I see spring coming now, like a savior. It’s still cold; it’s possible it will snow; but it’s beautiful. Daylight savings is promising to return what it stole and the kids will start track soon.


I ordered my new running shoes this weekend and I’ve upped my mileage just slightly. I have been running off-road this winter and taking my son’s dog along (she’s a joyful beast!) leaving the watch at home, listening to podcasts instead of motivational music. But last week I took the Garmin out for a few miles and yesterday I finished  up a run with some Switchfoot, both of which make me feel more like a runner, less like a quitter.

Spring is coming and everything is changing. I forgot that would happen, when the dead of winter chilled and comfort appealed and all I wanted was another cup of coffee. And cookies.

If I had a dime for every “running is like…” cliche. 

We’ve heard it enough, but cliches become cliches because they’re just so darn true. It’s just so true that keeping our souls healthy is similar to keeping our bodies fit.

And just like I forget that I go through seasons of running like the earth goes through seasons of weather, I also forget that the place my soul is in will change.

Sometimes going backwards scares us enough to lurch forward, to whip ourselves into shape, to discipline our body or our soul into obedience. But unlike my body, my soul thrives on grace and the work of someone else, and I need to remind myself of that. Trying harder can help my body but it doesn’t always help my soul. 

Sometimes my soul just has to wait for its own spring.

I got soft this winter and grew a little in places I didn’t want to grow. I’m not worried about a few pounds as much as I am about giving up. I don’t ever want to give up, even if I need to change things a bit and make adjustments to my expectations.

We have to press-on through our falls and winters, keeping the clock wound and ready for a new season.

That’s what I’ve learned from going backwards a little. Just another running-is-like-our-spiritual-walk analogy for you.

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