Amy Lanham

finding beauty in the middle of the mess

A Prescription for Happiness

What puts a smile on your face? I want you to think about it for a moment. And I don’t mean just a surface level smile, but those things that make you feel a little burst of something inside evoking feelings of contentment, joy, peace, etc.

Not long ago, my husband told me about a study done on the topic of happiness. Harvard’s Grant & Glueck study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of 268 male graduates from Harvard, as well as 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014. They used brain scans, blood draws, and written surveys to reach their conclusions. After looking at 75 years worth of data, they concluded this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. People in good relationships lived longer, experienced less physical pain, and had less stress.

I feel like the study told me what I already knew to be true, but some of us have to learn this the hard way. Our oldest son, Joshua, just had a conversation with us about the topic of happiness as discussed by one of his sixth grade classes. Now, we get rare glimpses into the life of this boy at school, so this was a major moment in and of itself. I’m going to write what he said in Joshua’s words as best as I can remember it:

“The other day we were talking about happiness in class. We had an assignment to tell about what makes us happy. Lots of kids chose things like gifts and money. But I know better. I said family and relationships are what make you really happy. There were a few of us that said that. I was sad for my teacher, though. She told us that she is struggling in her relationship with her family right now. She said that being with us is what makes her happy. In fact, she had a particularly bad day recently with them and it was even her birthday. Can we get her a Starbucks card? She really likes Starbucks.”

At this point, picture me crying in the passenger seat of our car as I thank God in my heart that our son is becoming an individual filled with compassion. And of his own accord! Jason was muttering to me that I needed to keep myself together.

Just the day before we had written out goals for our kids in the moms’ group I help with. Compassion is one of my top goals for my kids, and it brings me such joy to begin to see it as reality. Needless to say, we stopped at Starbucks before we even made it back home.

What was also interesting about the study, is that the quantity of relationships doesn’t matter. As long as you have one person that you can be close to and rely on, your chances for happiness increase. We are all created differently with a varied capacity for the number of people we can effectively manage in our lives. Just because your group of friends may be small, doesn’t make you any less significant, and it certainly doesn’t decrease your chance for joy.

Who can you bring a little bit of happiness today? The fascinating thing about giving is that you always get something in return when you give with a generous heart. The feeling of satisfaction that you have helped someone else just can’t be beat. Happiness can and does multiply.


When Boxes Become Cages


Recently, one of my favorite friends wrote a blog post and this one line stood out to me more than any other: “I want to write about being multidimensional when you want to make me black or white.”

I will admit, my own words here are motivated primarily by the political rhetoric that has been going on in recent months, but as I thought about the topic, it evolved into so much more.

Why do humans like labels so much? We try to wrap people up in a neat little box.  Does it make us feel safe? Validated? Purposeful? Smarter? Like we belong?

When I taught elementary school, great debate occurred over whether or not it was beneficial to “label” students with certain disabilities. Some parents, and some educators, felt the label might cause teachers to underestimate the abilities of the child. I agree it is a valid concern, but as an educator I found it helpful to know a student’s struggle and it helped me have at least a ballpark idea of how to best address the student’s needs.

Even accurate labels encompass such a spectrum, though.

A child with autism is still vastly unique from another child with autism, and what works for one may not work for another.

The same holds true for religions. To say a person is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, etc. is wide-encompassing. I pause to think about issues which people in my own church hold different beliefs about, let alone the entire religion of Christianity.  I once heard a man speak who considers himself to be a Christian who said he feels the entire Bible is up for personal interpretation. That is vastly different from what I and the bulk of Christians believe.

In America, I feel like I am supposed to be either a Republican or a Democrat. If you had asked me at the age of 18, I would have said Republican. If you ask me now, I don’t have an answer anymore. I agree with pieces on both sides of the fence, but find the choices incredibly limiting.

After doing a little research,  I found that America recognizes five major political parties. Did you know that there are over 30 minor political parties, not to mention countless regional parties? We are a multidimensional people.

When we were in London this summer we went to the Churchill War Rooms and I learned that Winston Churchill changed parties not once, but twice.

I find this information from  the Churchill Project interesting: “In his 1927 essay, ‘Consistency in Politics,’ Churchill defended his actions: ‘The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.’ While circumstances changed, from Free Trade to Parliamentary reform to the rise of socialism, his dominating purpose remained to maximize liberty.

‘I shall not be like that saint to whom I have before referred,’ he told the House of Commons in 1942, ‘who refused to do right because the devil prompted him. Neither shall I be deterred from doing what I am convinced is right by the fact that I have thought differently about it in some distant, or even in some recent, past.'”

Guess what? You are allowed to change your mind about things. You can affiliate with a particular group, but not adopt 100% of their values as a whole in most cases.

Sometimes it is necessary to label people for a variety of reasons. However, that label should not feel like a cage that cannot be escaped.

Recently, I saw the movie Hidden Figures.  The main character, Katherine Johnson, is a black woman  who was a computer at NASA during the time of segregation. She was moved to an office in a building where there were no restrooms she was allowed to use. The nearest one was a half a mile away! Her label of “colored woman” was a cage from which she fought hard to break free in so many ways, including the right to relieve herself. I can’t even imagine the frustration.

I guess the bottom line is, I don’t want to be just one crayon, but an entire box of them. I want to have depth, breadth, vibrancy, adaptability, and the ability to be sharpened. 

The good thing is cages have keys, so lets do our best to unlock ourselves and each other from the cages other might push us into.

For me, with the self-imposed label of Christian, I will do well to remember Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”



What Breaks Your Heart?

I saw her get up and leave. The young mom with lovely, curly hair sat right next to her adorable toddler at a table near the window at Wendy’s. The two of them didn’t interact a whole lot. The boy ate, well behaved and quiet. He’d throw a glance my way now and then. I saw her gently snuggle him, kissing his cheeks and tossing his curls affectionately as they got up to leave.

And, then. Then I saw her get behind the wheel of her SUV, shut the door, throw her hands up to her face, and heave soul-wracking sobs.

And, me? I sat there in Wendy’s as my mom and I talked politics and started to cry myself. Clearly, I am getting soft in my advancing years. But, truth be told, it was mainly because I feel so passionate about young mamas. I have no idea why that woman was crying, but my heart ached for her.

You see, this morning in the moms’ group I coordinate, we talked about the need to be a nonjudgmental mom. We talked about the need, as Ann Voskamp so aptly phrased it, to be a #keywoman in another woman’s life. To be an encourager. A friend. An advocate. A truth teller. A confidant. A cheerleader.

My friend, Beth, led an activity we’ve done once before called Stand for Your Sister. All of the women filled out a paper indicating times they’ve felt judged as a mom. But there was a second part to it….various unique circumstances that help form people’s stories. Moms whose husbands travel, who have had miscarriages, who have husbands in the military, who have chronic health issues. They swapped papers and stood  for another woman in the room as the individual categories were read. Once again, I cried. Because I saw a roomful of women stand up because they have envied someone else’s life on social media. A roomful of women indicate they have absolutely no family outside of their own homes in our town. So many women who felt judged for bottle feeding, having “too many” children, or “not enough.” Things no one else has the right to question. So many illnesses, special food needs, and miscarriages.

What breaks my heart is people hurting, and hurting each other. I’ve seen so many flaming arrows thrown around on social media that I could likely burn down a whole city with them.

We talked about finding the things we have in common. Agreeing to disagree sometimes, and how to disagree well, because there is indeed a right way and a wrong way to do it. Either we’ve forgotten how to do that, or we never truly learned. It’s satisfying when I watch people use their words for intelligent discourse over a matter. It can be done. We watched this fun video: How to Disagree.

One of the conclusions I left with this morning, is that many of the women felt judged, but not by an outside person. Their feelings of guilt were completely self-imposed. They were trying to achieve a standard they heard about or read about, and when they didn’t reach that standard, they felt like a failure. To me, that is even more heartbreaking, and unnecessary.

I told my friends this morning that passion about something is a good thing. But let’s use that passion to teach, instruct, encourage, and improve. Let’s not use it to condemn. No one wins in that situation.

Seeing a young mom crying in her car may not stir everyone else’s heart, but what stirs yours? What can you do to become a key person in someone’s life in an area that makes your heart beat a little faster? Because, you know what? We desperately need each other for a multitude of reasons. People are hurting.

I gave all of my mamas a tiny key today, and challenged them to be a #keywoman in someone else’s life. One of the ladies mentioned on Facebook that her husband had given her a key pendant and told her that in ancient times the people given the keys to the city were trusted, valued members, and it was a high honor. Take hold of the keys set aside for you and make a difference in someone’s life today.


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