Wednesday, 5 December 2018

What Women REALLY Want

Women gossiping in a tailor's shop
Die Gartenlaube (1880) via Wikimedia Commons

I recently got into a discussion about what women find attractive and lovable in a man versus what men think a woman finds attractive in a man. It seems as if many guys think that being a 'manly man' is more attractive than sweetness and kindness. So of course I did what any girl would do to prove a point - I sent out a poll to all my women friends to ask them what they thought.

This was how I phrased the question.

Which of these traits are most likely to cause you to fall in love with a guy?

A] Playfulness (Flirtatiousness and light-heartedness)

B] Manliness (Physical strength and confidence)

C] Sweetness (Protectiveness and tenderness)

D] Wealth (Expensive gifts and exciting date activities)

Though there were different opinions from different women, the majority seemed to agree that a mixture of B and C (confidence and tenderness) was the winning combination. But there were many other traits that my friends told me were important to them too.

So guys, in case you were wondering, here is what women really value:

1. Sweetness: Not mere romantic gestures, and sentimental platitudes, but a real tenderness in the way you look out for the woman you love. It needs to be a special sweetness just for her, more than chivalry, or kindness, definitely not condescending or more about you than her (look at what a good guy I am/you can't look after yourself so I will). It manifests itself in many little ways. But though there are many attractive qualities women notice in men, it is tenderness that wins our hearts, and allows us to trust.

2. Confidence: Please don't be cocky, or arrogant. That has never been attractive. Humility and confidence can go hand in hand. No matter what you look like, how much money you have, or where you stand on the social status scale, if you have confidence when you go a-wooing, women will give you a second look. But this confidence comes from a deep place of knowing your identity in Christ, being aware of your flaws, but knowing you are more than that, and you DO have something to offer - a heart full of love.

3. Playfulness: 'Creativity is intelligence having fun.' There is something about a man who doesn't take himself too seriously that is very attractive. Romance needs fun more than it needs intensity. And when you're growing old, or facing crises together, it helps to have someone who knows how to make you laugh... or knows how to find the humour in any situation. I once asked an older married couple for marriage tips, and they said what helped them the most was that they learned to laugh when things went wrong instead of making everything into a big deal. Disclaimer: playful doesn't mean never taking anything seriously.

4. The way he treats people: When we see men who are genuinely kind to people when they think no one is watching, we know we've met a keeper. Do you greet maids, or chat with street sellers? Or are you too important or self-absorbed to do so? Do you offer to give a ride to anyone who needs it, or are your selfless acts reserved for girls you're trying to impress? Do you notice beggars on the street? Do you play and chat with children or treat them like they are a nuisance or invisible? Are you patient when your family members make demands on you, or rude or short-tempered? It all adds up.

5. Integrity: Do you do what is right even when it costs you? I hate the idea that women are supposed to be the upholders of morality and convert the men they marry into reluctant paragons. Women are looking for men who value the truth, and are willing to stand up for it. 'Is it right?' should always be a higher priority than 'Is it convenient?'

6. Maturity: I know that this may be a tough one to evaluate yourself on, because it's always easier to see immaturity in others than in oneself. But here are some questions that may help. Do you sulk when you don't get your way? Do you insist you're right long after you've been proved to be wrong? Are you able to apologize when called out on bad behaviour? Or do you just try to move on without acknowledging it? When is the last time you apologized sincerely to someone? Are you able to take or make lighthearted jokes at your own expense?

7. Love for God: For those of us who are disciples, we're looking not just for 'religious' or 'god-fearing' men. We're looking for men who KNOW God and LOVE God. If you want to be able to love a woman well, you need to be in contact with the Source of all love, the original and best Lover of our souls. That comes down to men who prioritize personal prayer and scripture reading, who are able to easily talk about what God has been saying to them.

8. Aware of people's needs: Men are notorious for being oblivious to the needs of the people around them. Not all men are like that, but enough are that this may need to be said - if you see the people around you bustling around doing things while you sit and chat or read a newspaper or scroll through your phone, maybe you need to stop and ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?" When in doubt, start washing dishes. If you see someone crying or visibly upset, ask "Is something wrong?" You don't have to solve all the problems, just show that you care and are available to help if you can. (Side note to women, you also need to communicate your needs without resentment that he 'should have noticed'.)

9. Sincerity: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don't flirt with women unless you have a real intention of pursuing her. Don't play games, or try to manipulate us. Ugh. We hate that. Be real! Authenticity is so much needed in the world today. If you mess up, don't cover up, but share about it honestly. If you want to move on, talk to the woman honestly about it. Have the 'define the relationship' talk sooner rather than later. If you're not sure where a woman is, ask her. Don't pay compliments that you don't mean. Don't say things just because you think we want to hear it. And don't be afraid to have difficult conversations when necessary.

10. Optimism: A lot of us struggle with negativity and self-doubt. What a gift to have someone who sees and calls out the good within us and in the world around us. What a gift when we can see all the beautiful potential in the future, not just all the potential pitfalls. 'What if I fail?' Oh but my darling, what if you fly?' We need encouragers, optimists, people who speak LIFE. Don't let the darkness consume you. Stop obsessing about the pitiful state of our country, how corrupt everyone is, and start talking about the beautiful encounter you had yesterday, the signs of hope you noticed, and the ways you can together bring light to the world. Optimism is attractive.

You may have noticed that most of these traits could just as easily be applied to women. So women, you may need to work on this stuff too, and not just wait for a man to show up to make up for all your lacks. Be the kind of woman who a man like this would want to marry. And you know, whether you're single or married, these are just marks of the kind of human being I would want to have in my life. (And I actually have many humans like this in my life. Yay for friends!)

If you liked this post, consider becoming a patron for as little as Rs 100 or a $1 a month. Patrons receive a weekly behind the scenes video and a free copy of my ebook. Email me at solosenilejive@gmail.com for more information.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Don't Be Afraid of Strong Women: A Reflection on Wonder Woman


I watched Wonder Woman for the second time a couple of weeks ago, and I had the same thought as I did the first time I watched it – ‘I need to blog about this character.’ Also, ‘I wish I were as cool as Gal Gadot.’ First of all, my usual disclaimer, I’m not an expert on superhero movies, and don’t typically know the entire back story and character arc of every superhero. Still, I love these movies. And I loved Wonder Woman for so many reasons.

The whole initial part about the island Princess Diana grew up on was so aesthetically pleasing, strength and beauty and grace and courage effortlessly interwoven in these Amazons. I loved Gal Gadot as the choice of actress to play Wonder Woman. Man, she’s gorgeous, but also not at all the typical face you see in Hollywood movies.

But mostly I loved her character. Here was a woman who was the protagonist of her own story, not just a sidekick or a love interest or a prop for the male character. I think many women need to learn that their story is important, that they are worthy and valuable and that God has a plan for their life specifically. They are not just valuable in relation to other people, they don’t gain value by becoming a girlfriend or a wife, neither do they lose value if a man leaves them or rejects them or chooses someone else over them. Women, you are valuable and your life is important! Your story matters.

Princess Diana was a strong woman. Physically, yes... and it kind of makes me want to get fit and stop leading such a sedentary life. But she also had strength of conviction, and wasn’t embarrassed or hesitant to speak up for the truth. My favourite scene is when she overhears the British leaders talking about peace at any cost, without being willing to protect their soldiers, and she just can’t be silent. 

Steve: Diana, I know this confusing... '

Diana: It is not confusing! It's unthinkable! 

Some general: Who is this woman? 

Steve: She is with me, she is with us. 

Diana: I'm not.. I am not with you! You would knowingly sacrifice all those lives....as if they mean less than yours. 

Steve: Diana, let's talk about it outside. 

Diana: As if they mean nothing? Where I come from, generals don't hide in their offices like cowards. They fight alongside their soldiers.They die with them on the battlefield! 

Steve: That's enough! My apologies. 

Diana: You should be ashamed. 

Steve: My apologies. 

Diana: You should be ashamed. All of you should be ashamed! 

She just goes in there and calls them out. Man! She reminds me of Saint Catherine and Saint Teresa of Avila and even Saint Teresa of Kolkata boldly and confidently calling out the powers that be. They weren’t arrogant or brash or full of themselves, but full of the Holy Spirit moving them to speak, whether or not it would be received well.

Women, don’t be afraid to use your voice – not in anger, or bitterness, or accusation, or harshness, or nagging. But with conviction and holiness and truth, speak up for those who have no voice, speak up for the things that are counter-cultural but TRUE. You have something to say! Ask God to purify your motives, then SPEAK UP. Sometimes people feel threatened by strong women, but this an opportunity to change that.



What I loved about Diana's strength was that it was purified by her innocence and her softness. It was not a self-serving strength. It was not manipulative or sly or controlling. It was at the service of the good. Like Captain America, here is a superhero who is not focussed on his or her own issues or dealing with personal demons. Instead for both of them, they believed in the good and just wanted to do what was right! How much like the lives of the saints we know about. Of course, we ARE human and do have personal demons, and yet in Christ, hearts and motives can be purified, our perspective changes to see the world as God sees it, and our heart longs to join in His saving work. It’s not just being idealistic, but believing that the world CAN be better.

Diana: It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And I wish to go… 

Steve: My father told me once he said... ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing. 

Diana (as her mother tries to stop her): I am going, mother. I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost. If no one else will defend the world from Ares, then I must. I have to go. 

Diana’s strength did not detract from her softness and tenderness at all. I LOVE the tiny scene where she arrives in London for the first time, and is looking at everything with surprise and some amount of disgust (grimy London was ugly compared to her beautiful home island). But then she sees a woman with a stroller, and she runs toward her with excitement, “A BABY!” You could see how filled with compassion she was when she heard or saw different people’s sufferings. Her strength and idealism didn’t blind her to the person in front of her.

Women, don’t be afraid to be soft and gentle either. You have both strength AND tenderness. Your gentleness does not detract from your strength. The world needs your strength AND your tenderness. And to the rest of the world, don’t be afraid of strong women. Help them find their strength and their voice, because God has a unique role for them in the healing and salvation of this broken, messed up world.

Disclaimers: There were certain parts of Diana’s story that didn’t really fit into her character, and I don’t think they rang true. Like the conversation she and Steve had on the boat about not needing men and marriage being an unfamiliar concept. With her idealism and value for the human person, it seems obvious she would have believed in lifelong marriage and sex only in that context. Come on, Hollywood.

Related Links:

Steven Greydanus reviews Wonder Woman at Decent Films

How Bad Sexual Ethics Ruin Good Superhero Movies

Abiding Together Podcast about Saint Catherine of Siena 

Description: Today we begin our 5 part series on the women Doctors of the Church by first exploring the life of St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine was a preacher, influencer, writer, miracle worker, and mystic. In this episode, we chat about Catherine’s example of intimacy with God, her fiery heart and voice of conviction, how her hidden life fueled her passion for the Church and restoration, and how we can follow her example in specific ways.

Abiding Together Podcast about Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Description: Today’s episode we dive into the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen, part 2 of our series on the women doctors of the Church. We talk about how amazing this woman was, her many talents and how she used the power of her voice and influence to help restore the Church. We also discuss places that we have lost our voice, the trap of self doubt, and letting God be strong in our weakness.

Abiding Together Podcast about Saint Teresa of Avila 

Description: Today’s episode is Part 3 of our series on the women doctors of the Church, on the life of St. Teresa of Avila. We talk about the great gift of her spiritual writings, her humor, her practical wisdom and her reforming spirit. We talk about growing in self awareness and how we can move through spiritual pitfalls.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Six Good Reasons to Consider Becoming a Patron in 2018

Most of you know I started a Patreon page last year. Patreon is a membership platform that makes it easy for artists and creators to get paid. The idea is that creators of all kinds - artists, writers, musicians, bloggers, podcasters, etc - are often churning out content, but don't always find ways to make it pay. That's where Patrons comes in! Patrons are people who love what the artist creates, and are willing to donate a small amount every month to support the creator of their choice.

So why should you consider becoming a Patron?

1. Get the weekly behind-the-scenes audios and videos: Only for my community of Patrons ... usually everyone gets to to view all the content I create but I realized Patrons might need a little extra thank you for their support. So I'm going to record some of the not-too-polished but funny or ridiculous or thought-provoking or awkward moments from the week, and share them with you guys! Enjoy the awkwardness!


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2. Read the first ebook I've ever created: How hard can that be to create, right? There's a lot of great posts from the past I wanted to unearth, and bring to you, without you having to dig through the archives. Not only that, I found some stuff I wrote that I had never published (including a short romantic story, thank you for the inspiration, Women's Weekly from the 70s!), and some stuff from my blogs before 2013, so all that is going to make it to the ebook, once again ONLY for Patrons.


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3. It's a tiny amount of money: What's a dollar a month.. or a hundred rupees per month? The cost of a chocolate bar, or a couple of bags of chips? You can afford that! (If you can't and you really want the ebook, email me and let me know! I'll send it to you!) Patreon works when a large number of people are willing to put a little money towards a creator.


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4. You're bringing GOOD art to the world: There is so much of crappy stuff out there, all razzmattazz (what a GREAT word!) and no substance.


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Isn't it great when you have good content to share with your friends? I often discover some great content like the Abiding Together podcast, and I just can't help sharing practically every episode I listen to with all the people I know would be blessed by it. But to have good content to share, someone needs to help creators create!

5. Christmas Cards in Your Post Box: Doesn't everyone secretly hope they will get some snail mail and homemade Christmas cards? Or is it just me? Oh well, for my $5 or Rs 300 and above Patrons, I will make and mail personalized Christmas cards. Yes indeed, Christmas is coming! Woo hoo!


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6. And of course the MAIN reason you should become a Patron.. and this one is simply irresistible, darlings....

THIS VIDEO!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Any more questions? No, I didn't think so.



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Shoot me an email at solosenilejive@gmail.com if you're in India, or look up my Patreon page if you are outside India to become a Patron. Rewards start going out on November 14, 2018, so make sure you sign up before that!

P.S. In case you missed it, here is last year's post and video: Five Good Reasons to Consider Becoming a Patron

Monday, 29 October 2018

Ask Sue: How Should Catholics Choose Baby Names?


V asks, “Sue, I have a question for to-be parents. According to Scripture, what route/methodology should a Catholic couple take while choosing a name for their child? In the past, children have been named after saints whose feasts are celebrated on their birthdays, or based on suggestions by a priest or a nun, also by the direct promptings of the Holy Spirit (I much prefer the last one). 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. My ulterior motive: We still haven’t managed to settle on a name for baby no. 3."  

First of all, V, can I just say how excited I am that you are having baby no. 3? It’s unusual enough in India nowadays to have more than two, that it’s already a counter-cultural witness. So congratulations on welcoming a new little one into the world.

So, baby-naming is a big deal! There are so many different traditions and customs associated with baby names, from people whose kids' names all start with the same letter, or find ways to combine the mother and father’s names, to people whose cultural tradition demands that they name their kids after their grandparents (so the same names keep getting recycled every other generation), to people like my parents who just picked names they liked without any great hullabaloo (we all got to offer suggestions for our youngest brother, the fifth one, who narrowly missed being named Abraham because his five year old brother really liked that name – not that there’s anything wrong with the name Abraham!)

What does the Church say about it? Very little – “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.” (Canon Law no. 855)

“In Baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The ‘baptismal name’ can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2156)

So what can we get from that? Well, apparently there are a LOT of articles about this from American Catholics, which is not surprising because many of them are parents of large families, and choosing baby names is probably something they have to do every year or two. Also, like I said, a name is a pretty big deal. Names have always had a big significance in the Bible, sometimes given directly by God, and almost always having a meaning.

So here are a few articles where far more research and background have been done:

What’s in a (Catholic) Name? {An Interview with Sancta Nomina}

From Ambrose to Zelie: For Catholic Babies, Old Is the New New (by my homegirl, Simcha Fisher, mother of 10 herself!)

Do Catholic Children Have to Be Given Saint Names?

The Catholic Answers Guide to Naming Your Baby

But maybe you did your research already, and you just want my take on the subject. If so, here goes! (Let it never be said Sue Zanna did not have an opinion on any topic)

1. You as the parents are FREE to choose a name! In other words, just because something is a custom in your family, or your mother has a strong opinion about the name of her first grandchild, or wants the priest to pick it, does not mean you have to agree. This is a very personal choice, given to YOU as responsibility by the Lord, since you are the ones to whom this child has been entrusted. Of course, if you feel convicted about it, you CAN follow a family tradition too. But don’t be coerced or pressured into it.

2. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you: This is just a general rule for everything that is not black or white! Which is a lot of things for Catholics. God leaves a lot of important stuff to our prudent judgement – what books we read, who we marry, how we spend our leisure time, and what we name our children. One of my favourite stories is from Jennifer Fulwiler about how she just knew what her daughter’s name was: A Name for Baby Joy.

3. You don’t HAVE to choose a saint or biblical name: Here’s my theory, if all we picked were saints or biblical names, then there would never be new saint names! You are raising your child to be a saint too, and maybe the world needs a Saint Priya, a Saint Kylie, a Saint Brian and a Saint Rohan. 

4. At the same time, a saint’s name can be very meaningful: Not only are you picking a lifelong friend and intercessor for your child, you are hopefully also inspiring your child and others to learn more about that saint. Maybe you have a saint who has been very instrumental in your life and your walk with the Lord, or maybe for that particular pregnancy and child. What a cool testimony to share when people ask you why you chose that name. Same for biblical names. A nice compromise with point 3 is that you could pick a second name that is a saint or biblical figure, and a first name that is not YET a saint name.

5. Be creative: If you already know more than five people with that name in your social circle, consider picking a different one. Things can get pretty confusing with the number of Rebeccas, Sarahs, Ryans, and Savios (I know more than five of each). If you love a particular saint, but so does everyone else, look into variations of that name. For example, I love Mara as a version of Mary, Avila for Saint Teresa of Avila. Also, there are many new saints that have not yet become super popular in Indian circles yet, so seize your chance Рhow about Zelie, Faustina, Maximilian or Kolbe, Kateri, Pio, or Andr̩?

6. But not too creative: You don’t have to pick a name JUST because it’s unique, as if it’s a competition with everyone else. That’s how you come up with weird names that no one can pronounce or spell, or everyone laughs at.

7. Honour your culture: I’m not sure why everyone is jumping on the Irish name bandwagon when they are not Irish, but I think it could be very cool to name your child something from your own local language, but with a Christian connection or significance. For example, Priya, Asha, Vishwas, Mariyam, Yohan, etc. Or someone from your life or family that you respect and want to honor (As long as you love the name too.)

8. Use your common sense: As much as you love a particular saint or biblical figure, consider that your child has to live in the 21st century, and if his or her name CAN be mocked, it WILL be. So don’t make it easier for your child to become a target. Perhaps nix Zerubabbel, Jedediah and Athanasius. (Sometimes I like to read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1 just to announce to people that I’m going to name my child Uzziah or Jehoshaphat, and watch their faces.) Avoid names that can easily have undesirable double meanings. Or are the names of pop stars or movie characters that you probably will not care about in ten years.

9. Think of nicknames and spellings: Some names just automatically get shortened, so make sure you’re okay with the nickname too. And pick a name that your poor child doesn’t have to struggle to get people to spell throughout his or her life. Or don’t pick a normal name with a weird spelling.

10. Avoid names ‘foreign to Christian sensibility’: That means names of Hindu gods, names specifically associated with other religions, names of people who stood for or did evil, oh, and this may seem obvious, but perhaps not any names connected with Satan, like Diablo. Which a Catholic friend of mine had on her baby name list, because she thought it sounded nice. True story. Do your homework. Look up the names you’re considering.

11. Don’t tell people what names are ridiculous and you would never choose: Because depend on it, that was the name THEY were going to pick for THEIR child because it was so beautiful and meaningful to them, and then things can get very awkward very fast.

12. Feel free to ignore all my rules: YOU get to pick the name of your baby. If you and your spouse love it, and feel God is leading you to it, don’t worry, I’ll still love little Savio Zerubabbel.

P.S I didn’t put any of the names I am considering for my children (you know, all eight of them that exist somewhere in the future or my imagination or both) in this blog post, just so no one can steal them! Apart from Zerubabbel, because I know you guys won't steal that anyway.

Related Reading

Small Family = Happy Family... Really? 

Why Have Kids?

Saturday, 20 October 2018

How to Do Leadership Jesus-Style


In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus has some rather pointed things to say to Christian leaders. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

I think it’s easy growing up in India to think that an authoritarian style is what is expected of anyone who has to take on the mantle of leadership. (Authoritarian: favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.) People have been under such leaders, served their time, and by the time they reach that position, without examining whether it is effective or right, they start doing the same thing. 

I haven’t had to lead many people, but I have been in various positions of leadership of small groups of people over the years. I thought I was a pretty good leader, or at least doing okay until I received a couple of talks about leadership from my organization.

To my shock, I realized I was doing everything wrong, because I didn’t really know what was expected of me as a leader. In my mind, a leader makes sure everyone know what they’re supposed to be doing, keeps everything running smoothly, organizes schedules and structures, and if necessary corrects or reminds people if they are failing in their duties.

This is what I found after listening to those talks, and observing my own leaders, and making plenty of mistakes of my own:

1. A good Christian leader’s first responsibility is to his or her team members, even ahead of getting things done, being productive or successful. People before tasks. I am not running a machine or a business, but I have PEOPLE who have been entrusted to me. That means their needs and feelings and thoughts and problems are more important than even ‘the good of the community’. A community is made up of individual people. They are not just cogs in a wheel, or projects to be fixed so they fit better into a structure or a plan. 

2. It’s my job to KNOW and LOVE those people. Even if they are very different from me, I need to know what makes them tick, what blesses them, what they’re good at, what their love language is, what their struggles are, where they need healing and mercy. The point is not to make best use of them, but to make sure they know they are loved and known. You can’t love what you do not know. You can't use people as resources.

3. It’s my job to ‘waste time’ with these people. I love how my leaders are constantly kidding around with us, finding something to joke about. I’m sure they have enough things on their mind to keep it strictly to business, but they deliberately choose to set those things aside for a while.

4. It is my job to SERVE my team! That means not just letting them know what they need to be doing, but going out of my way to do little tasks to bless them:
  • Cheerfully going the extra mile, or picking up the slack in menial tasks, washing dishes, sweeping floors, mopping up spills
  • Being quick to jump up and serve everyone including children and the poor and people under me
  • Being quick to respond to any request for help even if it’s inconvenient, not just serving when and how I prefer
  • Getting up and going to the next room when someone says something from there and I can’t hear what they said
  • Offering to make food, tea or whatever people need even if it’s not technically my job
5. I need to be their greatest encourager and cheerleader. I’ve failed miserably at this one. Not just on birthdays or special occasions, I need to make sure they know I believe in them, I value them, I think they’re pretty awesome, and that I’m blessed to be serving alongside them. There have been so many times that my leaders have just looked around the room and with sincerity (and sometimes with tears in their eyes) said “I am SO privileged to be serving with such sacrificial, holy men and women!” This also means when they come up with a new idea or try something new, I need to be the person saying, “I believe in you! You can do this!”, not primarily being a critic or a naysayer. Of course some words of guidance or prudence are often needed, but they should not be the only things I say.

6. I need to be very careful while exerting my authority: In the Gospel, Jesus said "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.” Mark 10: 42-42 Authority is important, but it is so easy to misuse. The primary relationship between a leader and anyone under them should be one of love and encouragement. Exerting authority or asking for obedience should only happen in important matters, it should not be the norm in the way they relate. It should never be used just to make a point, or in matters that are my personal opinion or not my decision to make. There are times though when I do need to exert that authority, but I should do so kindly and in a way that is easy to swallow. 

7. I am in charge of setting the tone: A leader needs to be joyful, holy and sacrificial because usually they are the ones setting the standard. If I’m not praying every day, it is quite likely my community members will not think it’s that big a deal if they don’t. If I walk around with a long face, being grumbly and downcast (been there, done that), that mood is sure to spread. But if I am cheerful, upbeat, if I jump into prayer and song regardless of others’ long faces, that spreads too! I also need to be willing to be vulnerable, admit my fault, and share my struggles, because people need to know that it’s okay to struggle as long as we keep returning to Jesus, the only perfect one.

8. I need to pray for them and remember God is in charge: It can be easy to feel like I am the primary shepherd of this person… but I am not! God is, and He is able to heal, restore, love, guide and shape this person far better than I am. I have no need to be anxious or irritated if they are not where I feel they should be, but regularly pray for them and entrust them to His care.

9. If I set high standards, I need to help them meet them, and be merciful if and when they fail. They need to know they can come to me and tell me they are struggling. They should know I am not inflexible or unsympathetic, but merciful like Jesus. 'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.' Heb 4:15-16

I have failed very often as a leader. But I am trying to do better. I am helped by seeing models of what I want to be, and of course by following Jesus, with His extremely counter-cultural leadership style. Actually this list is good for not only leaders of teams or ministries or communities, but for parents, teachers, priests and sisters, anyone who has people in their care. If we are good leaders, we are forming not just good disciples but also people who themselves will be good leaders one day.

Here’s a quick list to print if you want to do a regular check (check yo’self before you wreck yo’self):

Have I encouraged or praised the people in my care today?
Have I really listened to their thoughts and feelings or dismissed them?
Have I prayed for them today?
Have I ‘wasted time’ with them today – chatted, asked how their day is going, played a prank, made a joke?
Have I given in when possible, or insisted on my way when it was not necessary?
Have I encouraged them in their own ventures and interests and efforts even if those were not my idea?
Have I been a joyful presence?
Have I been gentle when giving correction?
Have I told them how blessed I am to be their leader/parent/teacher?
Have I found out their love languages and tried to use them?
Have I served them with my hands today?
Have I asked them questions about their likes, dislikes, thoughts, feelings and opinions?
Have I set aside my other tasks when I noticed they needed a listening ear?
Have I been humble and open about my own faults, struggles and weaknesses?
Have I asked their forgiveness when I have lost my temper, been over critical or distracted or impatient, or failed them in any other way?
Have I said and done things the way I would prefer to have them said and done to me?
Have I been sympathetic when they shared their struggles or failures?

Monday, 15 October 2018

The Slow Crawl To Excellence


Every now and again I read an old blog post that I wrote and cause my sister and mom to roll their eyes as I exclaim, “Wow, this was great writing! I feel so inspired!” Or I start giggling all over again as I read a funny blog post that I wrote. Yeah, humility is my middle name.


But a couple of days ago I started to dig a little further into the past. I was looking for any good writing I had done for an ebook I am thinking of putting together. I unearthed the first blog that I started back when I was 20 years old. It was called ‘One of Five’. I went through the four years of posts that I had written in my early 20s and I was utterly humiliated. Good grief! Was that me? So clichéd, so immature, so nondescript. So embarrassing.

Maybe my next blog was better? I wrote for three years when I first became a Catholic volunteer and lived abroad. I was 24 when I started it. But no. Most of that was pretty painful to read as well. My writing revealed my unsureness, my lack of confidence in my own voice and even thoughts. They were largely about my faith, and yet they were lacking in substance. Those posts stuck to the most obvious of my beliefs, and didn’t explore nuances, didn’t seem to challenge me or anyone else.

I knew my writing was not good enough. When you read a lot, it’s easy to differentiate good writing from bad writing (for example, read Pride and Prejudice, and then read a cheesy free Christian romance novel. Yeesh.) But it’s a lot harder to create good writing.

I started my third blog in 2013. I was 27 years old. I knew that I wanted to write differently and better and realer. But also, I had changed, I had grown, and I had found my voice. I was sure about some things and not as worried about having things that I was still working out. And over the next five years, I began to slowly write better. Less links and more real writing.

A few years ago I realized that writing is one of my charisms. A charism is not just a talent, or a skill, but ‘graces that pass through you and me – with our cooperation – to convey God’s truth, beauty, provision, healing, and mercy to someone else’. I don’t have a very big audience (comparatively), but I often heard back from people that something I wrote drew them closer to God. Very often I would go back and look at that blog post, and it seemed as if I didn’t remember exactly how I put those particular strings of words or thoughts together. It seemed like more was coming out than I was putting in.

But I have come to believe that a charism or even just a skill or a talent doesn’t come out perfect the first time. It must be developed. It must grow and mature and be sharpened (or sometimes softened). I know I have a long way to go to reach excellence in writing. I only blog at the moment, which is a very chatty and informal style of writing. But there are so many other ways to write that I have barely touched. I have never even done a writing class. But I have my life ahead of me, and I’m happy that I have started this journey.

These are some of the things that I think have helped me reach where I am:

1. A lot of reading of GOOD writing: As a blogger, I realize I have picked up all these little tricks and styles from other blogs and authors that I have read extensively over the past 12 years. Somehow while I feel I am sometimes a weird mixture of Jennifer Fulwiler, Simcha FisherCamp Patton and Dave Barry, perhaps with a splash of Mama Knows, Honeychild, I am still me. But it’s not just blogs. If I had been reading only cheap romance novels or thrillers from the time I was young, I highly doubt that I would be writing particularly well. But thankfully I have been exposed to many, many talented authors, and delightful books, a wide vocabulary, subtle characters, and well-woven plots, and all that has subconsciously given me a foundation upon which to build.


2. A lot of bad writing: Embarrassing as it was to read my poor attempts at writing through the years, I probably would never have reached a place where I actually like to reread what I’ve written if I hadn’t gone through the bad years. Just like going through awkward social situations when you are a teenager eventually helps you become a self-possessed adult, you just have to get through the bad to get to the good. There are no short cuts. You don’t ever pull out a pen… I mean, open a Word document... for the first time and create a captivating bestseller.

3. Regular writing: Especially after starting my Patreon page and committing to write four posts every month, I’ve found that I have gotten better. Apparently in order to be a writer, you just have to write! My mum used to say that to me when I was a kid – “If you want to be an artist, you just have to pull out a pencil, look at something, and start sketching!” I can’t write just every once in a while and hope to get better at writing, which is I think how I thought it would work with my first two blogs.


4. Live life and write from the real life that you live: When I was in my early 20s I remember saying, “I want to write a book. But you’re supposed to write what you know. And I don’t know anything. I haven’t been anywhere or done anything or lived outside my bubble. So I think I need to live life before trying to write about it.” I have done a lot more living over the past 12 years (and I have a lot more to do), but my best writing comes from the life I live. I don’t ever want to stop living life and just write, because I would have nothing to write about.

5. Write what you want to read: If I write something, look at it and say “Boring!’, I usually just delete it. Or rewrite it better. I have a short enough attention span that I won’t bother reading something that isn’t snappy enough. I skip over nature descriptions in books. My eyes are drawn to dialogue, to words and thoughts that are unexpected, engaging. So I try to write what I like to read. If I find it boring, why would I expect anyone else to find it interesting? I write about topics that haven’t been written about a zillion times. Or at least I try.

6. Say a prayer: I usually shoot a quick ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before I write. Whether it’s a comic sketch about scary insects, or a serious post about anxiety or negativity, it can all be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I once wrote ‘People are Disappointing’ after not having any idea what to write about, sitting in front of my open laptop, and saying a prayer. It wasn’t one of those catchy posts about romance or marriage. ‘Hopefully someone will read it,” I thought. I knew titles usually need to be a little catchier. Few people liked or commented. But a few days later, an old friend (and patron) messaged me to tell me that it was exactly what she needed to read and that God was speaking to her directly through that post. So I’ve been a little more committed to that prayer-before-writing since then.

Well, that’s all I have for today. If you feel called to write, start writing! It may take a while, but you have something to say that the world needs to hear. It may be another creative venture like art or Youtube videos or song-writing or podcasting. Pray about it, and move forward! Be not afraid!

Recommended Reading 

Charisms FAQ

Bearing Fruit by Living Your Charism

How to Begin Dreaming [Abiding Together podcast]

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Tale of a City Girl in Nature


My niece E in Panchgani- she's supposed to be a younger version of me. 

Prologue 

"I think that Panchgani is where I am my truest self!" I announced to my sister and father.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, I feel more clear-headed, I can breathe and think, and I even WANT to go on walks here. This is my true home where I belong. City life just fogs up my brain and makes me lethargic and tired."

I fondly considered a future where the hills would be my home as I energetically lived life as a new and improved version of Sue. If I had thought of it, I would have broken into a chorus of 'BOORN FREE AS FREE AS THE WIND BLOWS AS FREE AS THE GRASS GROOOWS BORN FREE TO FOLLOW YOUR HEART!' Unfortunately, I didn't think of it then. (Fortunately, from my sister's perspective.)

Unseen by me, the Creatures of Panchgani snickered in the background.

Chapter 1: Leaping Lizards 

I sat on the window sill drinking my chai and soaking in the sunset when suddenly two frisky lizards appeared close to me. I jumped up, spilling my chai and grabbing at my phone and bag to get them out of the way. "I'm not SCARED of lizards- I don't mind them when they're calmly hanging out on the ceiling. It's only when they're frisky that I get worried." My dad chased them out (without much drama, as compared to the past when chasing lizards out usually involved flinging pots of hot water and removing corpses), and I resumed my at-one-with-nature persona.

Chapter 2: Nature Documentary Outside Our Window 

"OHMYGOSH did you see that? It's practically a baby alligator!!" (Who me, a drama queen?) It was a few minutes later, and our window was safely shut, but on the outside, a giant lizard appeared eating large winged insects. "Eek, that's disgusting!" We could hear the flutter of insect wings and the lizard feasting on them. "Gross! That is HUGE!" "Just close the curtains!" my dad said, and came over and drew them shut. With the uglier side of nature out of sight, we continued our conversation.

Chapter 3: Network Magic vs. The Wild 

"I'm not getting enough network to download an image on Whatsapp." I wandered around the house trying to find the Internet sweet spot. I needed to see that image. Finally I realized my only option was to go out. With the vision of that large lizard fresh in my mind, I was extremely reluctant, but the allure of the Network Magic was strong too. I decided to do a quick foray outside and run back in. "I've practically grown up here. What am I scared of?" I walked out with my phone into the pitch-black night, my ears strained to hear sounds of the giant lizard or any other dangerous creature. The terrifying flutter of unseen insects almost unnerved me (where there are fluttering insects, there are giant lizards) but as I walked down the path, I almost stepped on something ALIVE.. And I gave up on network and fled inside locking the door behind me.

Chapter 4: The Unnerving Incident of The Moth in the Night-time 

My sister and I retired to our bedroom for the night. There was cold air coming in from the window, so I went to shut it. A large motionless moth was attached to the screen, and a few cockroach-looking insects jumped in as I opened the screen to shut the outer window. "Eugghh. I mean, no big deal." One of them jumped into my sister's bag but I didn't want to freak her out in case she expected me to help her de-insect her bag. "It's just a little one. No biggie." She only half-believed me and had her own little freak-out moment while I chortled from the safety of my bed.

After we were both in our beds, we began to hear another noise. The moth had awoken, and was trapped between the screen and the closed glass window.

Flap-flap-flap. Flap-flap-flap. Flap-flap-flap.

We tried to ignore it for a while, but the flapping was incessant. Why not just let it out, you say? Well, if I opened the screen, it would most likely come rushing into our room, with every other creepy insect that was hanging out in that space. And that was a risk I was just not willing to take.

Flap-flap-flap. Flap-flap-flap. Flap-flap-flap.

Why did I feel like an animal-torturer? It's not like it couldn't breathe or anything.

Finally I gave up. I knew what my other option was, I just hadn't wanted to face it. It was to go outside the house in the dark and open the window from the outside. It had to be done, and I had to be the one. (Not because I'm braver - on the contrary, I usually leave all insect-related activities to my roommates. But this time my sister was sick, burning up with fever, so I had no excuse.)

I crept out of the house using my phone flashlight. It was past 11 pm and my dad was snoring in the next room. I had played it all out in my head. It was no big deal. I kept my eyes on the ground praying I wouldn't step on anything, then reached the side of the house, and opened the window. But the moth wouldn't move for a few seconds.

THEN IT DID. It flew out.... DIRECTLY INTO MY FACE AND LONG OPEN HAIR! I did what anyone would do in such a situation - I freaked out, my hands flailing and trying to get it out, and let out a few loud choice bad words. Then I ran back in the house, my pulse racing and my heart pounding in my chest.

"I heard you saying some bad words," remarked my sister, instead of congratulating me on my bravery. We reflected a few moments on how bad words aren't sins if they slip out accidentally, but how they can still cause scandal to some people, so I should probably work a little harder at finding replacement words for moments of stress and terror. I also gave thanks that my dad slept through it all, and that no one other than my sister had been there to witness that moment.

Conclusion 

I still think Panchgani is my true home. However I also have come to the conclusion that I am really a city girl at heart, and pretending to be a country girl will probably give me heart failure one day.

Related Reading

A Tale of a Mouse in da House 

A Horrific Evening of Nightmares Come True