The One About Sewing Four Dresses.

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Recently I renewed a prayer that helped me learn to trust God and be more present in the moment: “Lord, please keep me on this path of growth and help me learn the lessons you want me to know.” God is faithful and he’s been teaching me lessons at every turn the past couple weeks.

When I’m in a period of growth, I often recall the expression “growing pains” because usually there’s some pain or discomfort in the process. I’ve also recognized that a lot of self-awareness can be learned and growth opportunities found when you step back to ask yourself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?” Then, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, you’ll discover areas that need to be surrendered to God and hopefully improved in your life.

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I had this type of moment recently, while in the fabric store with my family. Sienna has been very excited about writing, producing, and performing a play with her friends. She wants to perform it in our newly renovated backyard, where the fit pit resembles a stage in her imagination. I’d been encouraging this idea, until she announced that she wanted to sew dresses for the four main characters. This sounded very labor intensive to me!

Some backstory: my mom is a talented sewer and she got Sienna a sewing machine and all the accessories one year for Christmas. Sienna loves sewing clothes for her dolls and being creative with making pillows and other small projects. She doesn’t follow a pattern, but she is happy with her creations.

Okay, back to Joann’s. We’re in the fabric store and finding little accessories for the play – headbands and fake flowers. I explained to Sienna that we didn’t have time to pick out all the patterns or have fabric cut that day, but we’d come back another time. Then, I tried to dissuade her a bit. “Love, I’m not sure we can make four dresses. I’m not a good sewer and won’t be able to help you very much.”

“I don’t need your help, Gaga taught me to sew,” she replied.

“Yes, but it’s going to take a lot of time and I don’t know that we have the skills between us to take on this project,” I continued.

This type of reasoning went back and forth between us until we got in line with our purchases. I knelt down to talk to Sienna and she stoically said, “It sure would be nice if I had a mom who supported me.”

Ouch.

I got angry and tensely replied, “I support you all the time.” Then I turned away.

That afternoon and into the next day, her words haunted me. Sure, there’s an element of manipulation that she was employing, but I started to ask myself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?”   I called my mom and she said something very helpful: “Why don’t you buy the pattern and material for one dress and let her try to sew it? She’ll get to experience how challenging it is and then you can decide whether to make more?”

“I never would have thought of that, Mom. Of course, that makes perfect sense. In my mind, we’re either going to make four perfect dresses or we’re not going to try at all.” Hello there, fixed mindset!

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As the kids have begun this wonderful new school, that’s more rigorous and challenging than they’re used to, I’m finding my old fixed mindset popping up. I believe in having a growth mindset and allowing people the grace to learn and grow. But, when the rubber meets the road, I fall back into old patterns of perfectionism or avoidance.

During this very same time, I’ve begun casually studying the Enneagram. If you’re not familiar, the Enneagram is a model of nine personality types. The first test I took told me that I was Type 2, The Giver, but I had a distinct feeling that my true type is Type 1, the Perfectionist (or, most positively, the Reformer or the Improver). This experience at the fabric store caused me to dig into the information, including a couple podcasts on Enneagram Type 1s. Oh, man. All the comments hit so close to home! I could relate to so much of what other Type 1s said about their life experiences. We tend to have a sense of “how things should be” that is over emphasized. Our “attention-to-detail” is on steroids!

Returning to my comments about sewing the dress, I recognize that my need for the dresses to be made “right” is part of where Sienna and I disconnect. My artistic daughter doesn’t need the dress to be made “how it should be”. She’d happily throw a sash around the dress or cut a hemline in an asymmetrical design and call it done! I need things to be done “right”. It wasn’t Sienna’s frustration or disappointment that I was trying to spare, it was my own. With a fixed mindset, I would have hovered over her project, trying to “fix” and “help” while only succeeding at hurting my daughter and sending the message that she wasn’t capable.

I can write about a growth mindset and intellectually understand it, but man, it’s challenging to really embrace it in my daily life. I’m praying that God will help me use this Enneagram realization to recognize my tendencies and find new ways to grow. My children are such amazing teachers! I told Sienna that I appreciated her comment that she’d like a mom that supported her: “God knew I needed a daughter like you to help me grow.”

I’m Never Going to Have it All Figured Out.

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I’ve been holding on too tightly to my thoughts and trying to control my feelings recently. This always leads me down a path toward distraction and anxiety. I could sit here and think of all the potential reasons that this is happening right now – kids starting a new school and the unknowingness of this big change for our family, for one. Also, I spent a lot of time imagining the future this summer, dreaming of things that could happen. It’s hard to transition back into the real world from the dream world.

When I’m feeling contented, fusing with my thoughts isn’t a problem. In fact, it makes me feel in control. This lasts for some period of time, during which I further retreat into the inner world of my thoughts, otherwise known as “being in my head”. I spend a lot of time thinking about how things should be, what I should eat, when I should exercise, how my children should behave. Notice how many should thoughts are going on?!

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A symptom of this pattern includes my being frustrated and angry when things don’t go the way they “should” – according to me. When my son is sad and crying, it’s very inconvenient; we have places to go and must be on time! When my husband has an idea for our Saturday afternoon that doesn’t coincide with mine, I become irritated.  I spend a lot of time internally debating what I’m going to eat, since every food has a judgement attached to it. Thank you diabetes.

Eventually, my need for control and “being in my head” combine forces and turn their attention to sleep. I have come to believe that this battlefield in my life is sort of perfect. Sleep is the ultimate surrendering. When I’m struggling to be in control of my emotions, I cannot surrender and trust God. Anxiety flows over me while I’m lying in bed. I am not in control. These emotions are real. I’m struggling with my thoughts and feelings because  this is not what should be happening!

Because, I’m obviously the one in-charge, right?

The truth is, this pattern keeps repeating in my life, and is likely to continue.

Why? Because I’m a sinner. I’m prideful. I try to fill the God-sized hole in me with my brilliant thoughts, with collecting new ideas, with figuring it all out on my own. With me.

However, God is stronger and bigger and way more powerful than my thoughts and feelings. He is using this sin to show me my sinfulness and need for Christ. Martin Luther called the second use of the Law, the Mirror: The Law serves as a perfect reflection of what God created the human heart and life to be. It shows anyone who compares his/her life to God’s requirement for perfection that he/she is sinful. When I strive to remain in control and these symptoms start showing up in my life, I imagine myself struggling in God’s loving hands. He’s always there, caring for and sustaining me. But I so often fight and wrestle with myself, instead of surrendering into His embrace.

I’ve been praying about my desire to write a book on my awakening experience, specifically how mindfulness and trusting God work so beautifully together. It’s on my heart to share how embracing growth and not having it all figured out is a much more fulfilling way to live. But, I’ve been struggling to start the writing process. My procrastination is driven by the need to have it all figured out! Oh, the irony. On some level I know that my words will be refined and revised through the writing process. But, when I’m unable to experience the feelings of frustration, fear, and potential failure, I become trapped in this thought pattern: I need to master these lessons before I can write about them.

So, here I am relearning lessons that I want to share with others. Returning to acceptance, commitment, and mindfulness as a daily practice to release control and trust God. I’ve been here before and will likely be here again. I will never master these lessons. I will keep growing, with God’s grace and guidance.

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”

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Excessively making plans was one of the symptoms of my pre-awakening mindset. I felt under control when occupying that mental space of the future. Life felt safe and secure when I wrote events and activities on the calendar days, weeks, and months ahead. Then, when those events and activities occurred, it was evidence that life was under control, predictable, and ultimately safe.

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Living in my head was no longer safe when my thoughts turned into anxiety. When the reality struck that all my planning and seeking control couldn’t keep me and my loved ones perfectly safe and secure, planning didn’t hold the safe allure.

Here I am, five years into embracing a mindset of growth, curiosity, and trusting God rather than myself. Life is good. God’s plan keeps unfolding in my life in beautiful ways. I now see where lessons I learned over the past few years helped me grow while deepening my dependence on God. These lessons have prepared me for future growth and new experiences. One of those lessons is that we never stop growing!

I recently realized that being “in your head” does not necessarily mean that you’re struggling with anxiety or fighting “negative” thoughts. You can also be distracted by “positive” thoughts that, nevertheless, take you out of the moment. This helps explain why I thought I was “happy all the time” for years, although I was rarely in the moment. Retreating into dreams, plans, hopes, and anticipations is still retreating from the present moment and the real life going on around me.

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Over the summer, I found myself dreaming of having a house by a lake, traveling to Europe, losing those last ten (okay, fifteen) pounds, imagining being debt free, and writing a book. Dreams are all well and good, but I found myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied the more time I spent imagining the unknown future. When my attention is directed to my thoughts instead of the moment, where my life is actually happening, I cannot connect to my loved ones or feel my emotions. Attention can only be focused on one thing at a time (that’s why multitasking doesn’t work!), so when I’m focused on my dreams, I’m not focused on the story my child is telling me, or my husband, or the sunset, or the music on the radio, or the work project I’m trying to finish, or the meal I’m eating… you get the idea.

Dreaming about the future has a couple other side effects. Studies now show that imagining yourself reaching a certain goal or destination actually makes it less likely you’ll succeed. Turns out you can trick your mind into thinking you’ve already achieved a goal, such as losing weight, traveling, or paying off debt; which then makes you less likely to engage in the behaviors that will lead to success, such as eating less, exercising more, saving money, etc. Crazy, right?

The other downside to dreaming about the future is that it tends to make you dissatisfied with the blessings you already have. When we dream about wanting more, we tell ourselves that there’s something lacking in the present. It’s hard to appreciate things that we already have, when we’re dreaming of something new and different.

The saying “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans” is cliché but true. With this recently epiphany, I’m looking forward to a long weekend of noticing the present moment. The future will unfold in God’s perfect timing. I plan to focus my attention on each moment as it happens, so I don’t miss a thing.

Change is in the Air…

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Wow, this week!  Ever so often, you experience a period of time where you can literally feel life changing all around you.  This has been that kind of week for me.  But, the difference this time, is that I have been much more present and soaking in each new experience, each new feeling.  I feel alive and excited about the future, trusting God for everything.

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The kids’ first day at The Cambridge School was awesome!

However, the morning involved some unanticipated situations.  First of all, the long awaited backyard construction project we’ve been looking forward to, finally started!  We had a crew of workers at the house, which made our sweet, neurotic dog Claira bark her head off half the morning.  Goodness gracious.

Then, when we arrived at school, Sienna ran off with her friend Alice and Teo walked out to the blacktop alone.  Dennis and I were standing off to one end of the playground and watching Teo. He had his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants, looking around the playground.  It broke my heart!  Teo didn’t look upset, but he clearly didn’t have a friend or group of friends to join.  It was hard to watch and tears sprung to my eyes.  Soon Sienna and her buddy ran up to us.  Dennis pointed toward Teo and said, “Maybe you could include your brother?”  Sienna and Alice ran to Teo and gestured for him to follow them toward the jungle gym.  It was very sweet.  Such an emotional rollercoaster for me!

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To begin the day at The Cambridge School, they gather as a grammar school to recite the Pledge of Alliance and then have a morning devotion including singing part of a hymn and prayer.  What a delightfully wonderful way to start the day!  I plan to stay for the morning devotion as often as possible.

So, the backyard is torn apart and we can’t wait to see the transformation.  We’re all getting settled into a new school routine, which is so fulfilling and inspiring.  We’re looking forward to having a backyard with more entertaining space so we can host fellowship opportunities for our friends, old and new!

The Cambridge School Chapter

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Although it doesn’t feel like fall in San Diego yet, and probably won’t for another couple of months, that back-to-school, back-to-routine feeling is in the air.  After being on the go and very relaxed about our routine for much of the summer, it felt so good to be home cleaning, organizing and getting ready for school to begin this week.  For the first time, my kids will be wearing uniforms, so I’ve been making sure everything is pressed and ready to go.  Tomorrow we meet the kids’ teachers in the morning and then gather with Sienna’s class for lunch.  The Opening Convocation is tomorrow evening, and the kids are super excited to wear their dress uniforms.  Funny the things they’re enthusiastic about!

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I’ve been reflecting on my emotions this week.  The last time we made a big switch to the kids’ school routine was different – it triggered extreme anxiety that ultimately led to my awakening.  This time, I am aware of my apprehension.  I like the familiar.  I like knowing what to expect.  Not knowing how everything works makes me uneasy. Also, this school is quite academically rigorous, so there’s some nervousness, as in: what are we getting ourselves into!?  But, as the mom, I’m trying to keep my emotions steady so the kids can process theirs.  Change is hard.

When I’m quiet and prayerful about it, I keep thanking God for making me grow and change over these past five years.  Had we embarked on this educational opportunity while I was still enmeshed in a fixed mindset, it would have been disastrous. For all of us.  If I still needed to stay “happy” by disconnecting from the moment, I would never be able to sit with my kids as they struggle and provide encouragement and support. My need for everything to go as planned would have heaped so much additional stress onto our family.

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Over the past few months and even just this week, Sienna had a couple breakdowns where she just sobbed.  She didn’t want to leave her friends or her old school. The old me would have shushed her and diminished her feelings with platitudes, such as “You’ll make new friends,” or “You’ll get used to it.”  But, knowing that her feelings were real and needed to be felt, I just hugged her and said, “I know this change is so hard.”

God is growing all of us, all the time.  When I recognize and embrace this, I am able to be gracious to myself, my kids, my husband, and everyone I encounter.  As our family embarks on the next chapter of our life – The Cambridge School chapter – I am so grateful for this awesome opportunity to give our kids a classical education in a Christian school family.  All the challenges will be faced within a community that will love and forgive and extend grace each day.

Please pray for us this week!

Where the Heart Is…

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We just returned from our annual trip to northern California to visit family in Humboldt County and Marysville.  It was a great trip!  My brother Rob and his family made the trip up north too, so the whole gang was there! We got to spend a lot of time just hanging out with our loved ones, watching the cousins play and make precious memories.  I got to cuddle my sweet, little nieces a bunch!   The only missing part of the trip was a visit to the ranch.  We opted out because we couldn’t pull the kids away from their cousins!

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Over the past several years, I find myself romanticizing the idea of living back in Humboldt County again.  There’s so much I love about it – the natural beauty including the amazing redwood trees, the quaint homes and shops, and the fact that I lived there for the first 18 years of my life! But, mostly I want to live closer to my mom, dad, stepmom, my sister Sarah and her family.  I love these people so much!  As all the cousins have bonded over the years, it’s especially sweet when we’re together.  They love one another and run around in this big pack of kids, it’s the best.

This trip, I let my thoughts wander to the possibility of living up north more than usual.  My thoughts became judgements as I mentally listed the pros and cons of Humboldt versus the pros and cons of San Diego.  Then, I started to brood.  Why did we all have to live so far apart?  Why is California such a long state?  Why does the traffic in Southern California have to be so terrible??  This last part kicked in as we sat in a traffic jam at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday.

By the time we arrived home, I was super irritable.  Maybe it was the transition back to “real” life, or the fact it was 90 degrees in our house, or the annoyance of traffic.  Or, all of those contributing factors!  I could feel my crankiness growing as the evening went on.  I prayed for patience and tried to get to bed as soon as possible.   The nagging feeling of being conflicted between wanting to live in Humboldt and San Diego continued the following morning.  My thoughts were swirling with a negativity that was not helpful.

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Then, as I unpacked some of my purchases from the trip, I opened a little bowl for holding jewelry.  I read the quote inside: “Home is Where the Heart Is…”  This very familiar expression caught my attention with its poignancy.  Instead of feeling conflicted, I thought, what if I fused with another thought: “How lucky am I to have some many places that feel like home?!  Aren’t I fortunate to have a heart that loves people in both places?” I sighed a peaceful sigh as I put the little bowl on my dresser.  What a great example of reframing!

At church later that morning, God continued to reveal a lesson I needed to learn.  Pastor Brian preached on the metaphor of Jesus being the bread of life.  He started by describing the universal human condition of searching for life’s meaning: “There must be more to life…” we’ve all asked at some point.  When I heard that expression, I related deeply.  That’s exactly what I was doing on this trip.  Looking for the idyllic, perfect place to live.  When, in reality, no place this side of heaven is perfect.  They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

This lead me to think about the concept of home along with the verse from Matthew, chapter 6: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   What am I treasuring in this seeking?  Ultimately, what I treasure is God and the people he’s called me to love and serve.  My family are the most treasured, so it makes sense that I feel a pull to be with them more.  However, I have friends and a church family in San Diego that also feels like home.  So much love.

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I also jotted down this part of Pastor’s sermon: “When Jesus says he’s the bread of life, he means he’s the most important part of your life.”  Ah, yes.  I reflected back on my lack of prayer during this trip.  When I get into one of my “control” mindsets, striving to figure things out overwhelms my thoughts.  Turning to God and asking him to enlighten this seeking didn’t occur to me.  Until it did. When I released my desire to “figure it out” and surrendered to God’s perfect will, I felt peace, which after all, is what he promises. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 5-7. 

 

 

 

Cultivating Curiosity.

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I’ve been thinking of the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” lately. I recently read a book that I added to my Goodreads “To read” list nearly nine years ago! Apparently, I wasn’t ready to learn its lessons until now. The book is called Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. It’s written by Todd Kashdan, a psychologist who argues that (as the subtitle suggests) it’s not “happiness” that we should seek, but rather focus on cultivating our curiosity and inviting novelty into our lives, in order to find fulfillment.

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A couple years ago, I wrote this post about my discovery that curiosity and embracing the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen in life actually makes life more fun and interesting. I’ve recently been digging deeper into the idea of novelty. I realized the other day: there are many activities that I never consider doing. My life is fairly routine and I find myself struggling to even do familiar activities in a time or place that deviate from my routine. One night I thought, “I’ll write a blog post after the kids go to bed.” But, then it felt too odd, because I typically read in bed or watch TV with Dennis once the kids are asleep. Why couldn’t I decide to write instead?!

This insight from Curious? really hit home for me:

It is easy to stick with structure and order because routines make us feel safe and secure in an uncertain world. But, we can open our eyes to the fact that novelty and enticing things that can grab our attention are everywhere. We can change our habits, change the way we act, and change the way we see the world anytime, anyplace. Appreciate and search for more than what you already know, already assume, and already expect to happen. I am talking about a mindset of expecting there to be things you don’t know and realizing that this does not mean you are vulnerable or unintelligent because you can’t predict what is going to happen. Rather, it means there are opportunities for learning, discovering, and growing.

I have found this to be so true! Spontaneity is fun and exciting for this exact reason. When an idea suddenly occurs to me (or to one of my family members) and we decide to act on it – go to the pool, go for a hike, go out for dinner, etc. – there’s a surge of energy and good feeling as we embrace the moment. It can be something smaller too. Like, when one of my kids is frustrated or upset and I say or do something silly that cheers them up.  Being spontaneous in our responses requires that space between catalyst and response, where we can choose our reaction.  This means, we have to be present. Thinking “outside the box” and not just falling into the same patterns and reactions takes real intention.

When I learned about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), I loved how curiosity wove throughout the mindfulness practices. In ACT, the goal is to let go of unhelpful thoughts so you can experience the moment with openness and curiosity. When we accept what is, instead of trying to force thoughts and feelings to be under our control, we are able to be curious about this moment and what will happen next.

I’m in a book club at my office. We recently read Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. Turns out, Dr. David’s book is based on the principles of ACT – what fun! It was really cool to see ACT broken down and presented in this very accessible way. She also describes the benefits of having a curious mindset: “When we decide to curiously explore the world inside us and outside, we can make other decisions more flexibly. We can intentionally breathe space into our reactions and make choices based on what matters to us and what we hope to be.”

Are there areas of your life that have become too routine? Are you stuck in thought patterns that aren’t helping you? How would things change if you were curious and sought out something novel and new in your experience?