Where the Heart Is…

Standard

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!

IMG_0735.JPG

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.

IMG_0812

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.

IMG_0762

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.

Standard

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.

cat

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?

“He Hugged Me”

Standard

Yesterday morning, we were doing our typically Sunday morning getting ready sprint before leaving for the 8:00 a.m. divine service.  I’d spent several minutes in Teo’s room with him, trying to figure out what he wanted to wear.  Finally, I reached my breaking point, as he objected to every suggestion I made.  Rather than scold or yell, I just walked to my bedroom and said, “Okay, Mom has to get ready too, Teo.”  I heard him cry and protest: “But, I need you, Mom!”

His tears persisted for a few minutes.  Then, I heard Dennis come back from taking our dog Claira for a quick walk.  He was ready for church, so I hoped he’d be able to step in to help Teo rally.  I heard the beginning of their conversation in low murmurs, but then it was quiet.  When I emerged from my bedroom a few minutes later, Dennis was carrying Teo toward the bathroom and he was fully dressed.  Good job, Dad!

Dennis and Teo

As the coffee was brewing, I asked Dennis, “What did you do to get Teo to calm down and cooperate this morning?”

“I did what you always suggest.  I hugged him,” he replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I just held him for awhile and then he was fine,” he said with smile.

I loved hearing this so much, and I felt like this was an important tender, teaching moment for all of us. I went over to Teo who was sitting in the living room and crouched down next to him.

“Hey, Lovie.  What did daddy do this morning to help you calm down?”

“He hugged me,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Oh, my heart!  I said, “That’s wonderful.  Sometimes that’s just what we need, isn’t it?  Love, you help Mom and Dad to remember, when you get upset, by asking us for a hug.  You could say, ‘Can I just have a hug?'”  He nodded and smiled at me.

Both of my children are highly emotional, and I know they come by that honestly!  We’re all constantly learning how to manage and deal with our feelings in helpful and effective ways.  I want Mateo to know that he can ask for what he needs specifically, but first we have to identify what those needs are.  Clearly, he’s looking for connection with his parents, even though it comes out like he’s resisting our direction.

We recently attended a truly remarkable parenting seminar at the kids’ new school.  The material was based on the teachings of Paul Tripp.  In the section entitled “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” he calls the family “God’s primary learning community.”   He explains that family is where kids learn what’s fundamental to being human and know what to do and how to be the way we’re designed to be.

In my notes, I summarized the main ideas as: “Family is where we teach children to love and live in the awe of God.  This allows them to receive His wisdom, interpret life through Him, and worship Him (instead of themselves). They will see their parents’ example of love and also recognized that they cannot fulfill God’s law on their own.  This realization of our shared sinfulness drives us to Christ for forgiveness and grace.  We live and practice this process of sin and redemption in the family daily – that’s what it means to be a learning community.”

So often, moments of tenderness and connection come out of conflict.  As a family, we must not shy away from conflict, but always be quick to forgive and reconnect in loving ways.

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

Standard

I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap of thinking every moment needs to be accomplishing a goal or achieving something. In this mindset, I have a litany of “shoulds” running through my mind: I should be intentional with my time. I should either work and be productive or relax and have fun.  I shouldn’t waste time. But, this line of thinking quickly causes me to strive for control.  I start planning excessively and rush from one activity to the next, never being fully present in any of them.

The kids and I got home about a half hour ago. Sienna spent the day at The Cambridge School Summer Academy and Mateo was at baseball camp. I’d promised Sienna we could look at Halloween costumes when we got home.  She has her heart set on being Anakin Skywalker and has been researching costumes for several days.  As we came in the house, I agreed that we could look at costumes first, but there were many things we needed to get done – homework and bathing being of most importance.

003

I sat down at my computer, expecting the kids to start asking about the costumes. But, they didn’t. They went to Teo’s room and began collecting stuffed animals.  I didn’t know what they were doing but whenever they start playing something imaginative together, I never interrupt their flow.  So, what to do next?  My mind starting bouncing around to various ideas – should I get some more work done?  Sit and read for a few minutes?  Pick up around the house and start on the evening chores?  I ended up making a decision without making a decision.  I started reviewing and replying to several work emails.

The kids were playing in the living room, just a few feet away. I suddenly heard something fall to the ground.  Teo called out, “I’ll pick it up, Sienna!”  To which she replied, “Thank you, Teo.”  I smiled at their sweet, polite exchange as I turned around to see what they were doing.  They’d created an animal hospital, bandaging up their stuffed animals. (Note the animals’ bandages in the photos!) Each injury or medical condition had an involved back story.

Taking in the moment, I thought: “Stop, take this in. This is your life.”  These are the moments that I would have missed, or worse, would have stopped, when I lived inside my head; when my To Do list demanded all my attention.

005

I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. As the kids get ready to start a new school in the fall (more about that later!), I’ve been recognizing how much of their learning and growth happens at home.  This is where they learn how to treat other people, how to express their needs and wants, how to forgive, and how to receive grace.  Hearing Mateo’s offer to help, and Sienna’s loving appreciation, I was struck by how everyday moments between family members are so valuable.  These moments don’t have to be planned or structured, they just happen.  But, in those moments, we shape the culture of our family.  We shape the worldview of our children.

Now, this was a sweet moment, but there are just as many challenging ones in a family! When a child is frustrated about not getting what they want.  When a parent sets a limit that the child doesn’t like.  When we simply all have different ideas of what we want to do in that moment.  So much good comes from these moments of grace, growth, and learning.

I’m letting go of trying to figure out exactly what our afternoon and evening should entail. I’ll say a prayer that our family time would be blessed today.  Then, I’ll pay attention to whatever these moments have to teach me.

Tell Me Everything that Happened

Standard

On our long car ride back home from the Grand Canyon, Mateo starting asking Dennis and me about life before the kids were born. He’s been doing this more lately and it tickles me to no end!  He’ll continually ask “Then what?” when we gloss over years with general statements.  He wants details!  This time he said “Tell me everything that happened.”  With hours of driving ahead of us, we indulged him and enjoyed a trip down memory lane.  We told the kids about the apartment downtown and how we ended up moving to a condo in Hillcrest, that we toured while looking for a place for Gaga (aka my mom) to rent.

064

We went through my high risk pregnancy with Sienna and her joyful birth. We shared about Gaga moving back up north and how we found Grace Lutheran Church and Preschool so Sienna could attend school and be baptized.  Then, we told them about the miscarriage we had in the fall, when Sienna was just under two years old.  Teo had a lot of questions!  I assured him that we had indeed told him about this before, but he must not have been old enough to understand or remember.  We recounted how, while wiping tears and driving home from the medical office where they discovered the missing heartbeat, I prayed and then told Dennis: “We’re going to look back in a few years and we’ll have the children we were meant to have.”

After answering several questions, there was a long pause in the conversation. Then, Mateo asked “Would you have had me, if that baby had lived?”  Time froze for a second as I pondered the poignancy of his question.  “Well, no. We wouldn’t have.”

As I’ve told people this story, a few have prompted, “Of course you would have!” before I told them my response to Teo’s question. I understand the sentiment there, not wanting Mateo to feel that his existence was ever in doubt.  But I’m pragmatic and tend to be very transparent.  Just based on biology, my response was accurate. If that pregnancy had continued successfully, the baby would have been born in June, 2010.  Teo was conceived in April, 2010.  We likely would have stopped after two children, and, even if we hadn’t, a baby conceived at any other time would have been a different child.

I turned around to face Teo in the backseat of the car. “Lovie, remember what I just said.  We knew that God was blessing us with the children we were meant to have.  You had to be born.  You completed our family.”  He smiled and rubbed my hand.  I turned around and swallowed the lump in my throat.  I couldn’t believe how insightful and philosophical Mateo was to consider his place in the history of our family life.

It’s so fun to have kids at an age where they’re curious about our life before they were born.  I remember my parents telling us stories about their years in Sacramento where my dad was in law school.   The passage of time feels so real when you reflect back on the years this way.

A Practice of Presence While Exploring Arizona

Standard

Our family just returned from a delightful road trip vacation through Arizona!  By the time we left last Friday, I was beyond ready to vacate regular life, relax, and enjoy time with Dennis and our little ones.  Leading up to our departure, I’d been struggling to let go of my critical thoughts telling me how I wasn’t doing everything right.  Oh, that old fixed mindset rearing her ugly head!  So, I prayed… and prayed, asking God to help me embrace being present, accept each moment, and allow all of us grace to grow and learn.  God is always faithful!  I found myself completely present, focused on all the fun and new experiences rather than being distracted by my thoughts and plans.

059

As I’ve been on this journey of growth the past several years, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I LOVE going to new places and letting the days unfold without planning ahead.  It’s just the best!  There’s something about being away from home (with all the responsibilities it contains) and in a new place (where I don’t know what to expect) that creates the perfect environment for me to just BE.  I absorb my surroundings.  I really see and hear my kids and husband.  I’m present in a way that can tend to allude me in the familiar places of home and work.

066

We first headed to Tombstone, Arizona to experience the Old West!   Dennis is very interested in Wyatt Earp and has read a few biographies about his life and experiences in Tombstone.  Most of what I know is from the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer movie!  We checked in at Tombstone Monument Ranch on Friday evening, just in time for a steak and potatoes dinner, followed by cowboy music in the saloon.  The ranch is a replica of an Old West town, with each room built into the town.  We were in the Wyatt Earp Room!  Across the “street” was the Marshall’s office.  It was so cool!  The musicians played covers of lots of old country and western songs.  My heart soared as I watched Mateo’s face light up when they sang “La Bamba” – one of his favorites!

Our first breakfast was a classic “chuck wagon” meal down by the campfire.  Arizona Bill was our host, and he taught us a lot about the ranch.  He would feature in the rest of our trip too!  After breakfast, the kids begged to go swimming.  The pool was small and unfortunately had attracted a lot of hornets.  Sienna and Teo were afraid, so I got in the pool and started swimming laps to show them it was okay.   But, they were obviously wiser than their mother because, as I reached for the wall right in front of Dennis and the kids, I got stung in the index finger!  Oh man, it hurt!  I came out of the water yelling and then plucked the stinger out of my finger.  It stung me right in the bend of the knuckle.  It continued to swell for the next two days, until it was so swollen I couldn’t bend my finger.  But, other than being annoying, it really didn’t impact the trip, except for not being able to bowl at our hotel near the Grand Canyon!

165

We visited Tombstone’s historic downtown, saw a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, toured the Courthouse, and generally soaked up all things Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Old West.  Back at the ranch Dennis got to shoot several different types of guns.  Arizona Bill was the instructor for Dennis and the three other guests that participated in the shooting.  He was such a throwback to the era of the Old West!  His commentary was insightful as he discussed border issues (it’s very close to Tombstone).  He also told endearing stories of his wife outshooting him after he had hundreds of hours of shooting training in the army.  Arizona Bill even gave marriage advice, telling us to always do things together, that’s the key to keeping your relationship strong.  We loved him!

We all tried archery, which was really fun!  Later we had a family horseback riding lesson.  Both kids were scared and Sienna opted out, but she loved the horses and kept asking to go visit them in their stable, so hopefully she’ll try another time.  I got to follow the lesson with a trial ride on my horse Pablo.  It was a great way to see the dessert landscape and have some alone time.  Pablo was a lazy walker so we dragged a bit behind the wrangler and other couple on the trial ride, but that was okay with me.

149

After three days of enjoying ranch life, getting to know the other guests, and having all our meals provided for us, it was time to start the second leg of our trip.  We headed northwest toward the Grand Canyon!  The drive was pretty easy and we kept entertained with music – country, Broadway musicals, and some 90s pop.  I loved overhearing the imaginative stories that Sienna and Mateo made up.  Sienna has the liveliest imagination and she gets Teo involved in long stories.  This trip the themes were the west and horses (obviously) and Star Wars, because they both love it despite being afraid to actually watch the movies!  We don’t take any electronic devices on our road trips (except cell phones for texting, GPS, and music), which definitely helps them engage with one another and their imaginations.

Tuesday morning we headed into Grand Canyon National Park to view the canyon from the South Rim.  It was more tremendous than I was expecting!  You hear people joke that it’s “a big hole in the ground” which is true.  But, it’s so immense and beautiful.  We spent several hours walking the rim and talking dozens of pictures.  Every angle seemed new and photo worthy!  The kids were interested, but got much more engaged with the visit once we got Teo a souvenir: a ring-tailed cat stuffed animal that he named Ringo.  We expected the kids to start complaining about the hike back, but they got really involved in caring for Ringo and explaining the canyon to him, so they walked back happily.  It was the best timed souvenir ever!

272The rest of our vacation included a day trip to Flagstaff – such a cute mountain town.  We explored downtown, found a great little bookstore, had brunch and then headed back to our hotel to swim and read.  I got to read a bunch on this trip – my favorite!  Our hotel also featured a small bowling alley and arcade!  We concluded our day in the arcade for the last two nights and all enjoyed playing basketball, pinball, Mrs. Packman, and racecar driving.  Teo’s poor driving skills had me hysterically laughing!

So, we’re home now and I’m reflecting on this delightful vacation.  Going in, I thought that the Tombstone part of the trip was mostly for Dennis.  But, it was so enjoyable!  I loved the inclusiveness of the ranch, getting to meet new people, having all our meals prepared for us.  It felt like summer camp!  We definitely want to go back.  But, we’ll see… there are so many places to explore!

The Relationships that Help Me Grow

Standard

Every once in awhile, I find myself reflecting on life and seeing the loving hand of God guiding my life and shaping my growth.  This week I had a couple experiences that helped me appreciate the relationships in my life, particularly the ones that challenge me to grow.

I am very fortunate to have a mentor at work.  She’s reads this blog regularly too, (“Hi Debby!).  Over the past few years, she has encouraged, pushed, and challenged me to be a better manager (and person, for that matter!) through regular feedback. She has walked side-by-side with me through several difficult work situations, always with the delicate balance of empathy and advice.  Beyond work, when I experienced acute anxiety in the summer of 2013, her office is where I retreated to cry and seek counsel.

As I grew, both professional and personally, I relied on her less and less for the daily management decisions I needed to make.  But, when the bigger issues arose, she was the first person I ran to for advice.  However, I wasn’t as moldable as I’d been previously.  Sometimes I bristled as her feedback, thinking that my track record must mean that I had figured something out.  But, even when I couldn’t immediately accept the gift of feedback she provided me, her training kicked in and I would reply, “Thank you for the feedback” and then go away to wrestle with it awhile.

GERBERASI realized this week that, when I struggle against accepting Debby’s feedback, it’s a very good indicator that I’ve slipped back into a fixed mindset.  When I feel the need to justify my actions and deflect blame, it’s a good sign that my struggle switch is flipped and I’m not owning my behavior.  Fortunately, Debby also gives me the grace to struggle with the feedback before accepting it.  In doing so, I’m able to humbly surrender and acknowledge that she has given me the gift of information to help me grow.

There’s such amazing peace that comes from accepting responsibility and recognizing when your thoughts and behavior in a given situation are causing you pain.  In another workplace relationship, I caused myself years of heartache by perceiving a coworker’s  actions as antagonistic and then acting out in response.  A few years ago, we both decided that we wanted to move forward with a different kind of relationship.  It wasn’t easy and there were several missteps as we tried to overcome years of distrust and build trust with one another.

This process of growth has brought me indescribable peace and hope.  This week, I went to lunch with this coworker for the first time!  We had a delightful conversation and she gave me a most treasured compliment.  She said that she truly feels heard and understood when she talks to me.   That moment was so special and provided such healing.

I have a reminder that pops up on my phone each day.  It helps me be mindful to stay in a growth mindset through acceptance: “How I perceive a situation dictates my emotional state, which dictates my behavior.”  Given my experience with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”), I think of my perception as the thoughts I fuse with about that situation.  So, if I tell myself that a piece of feedback is a challenge to my abilities or a threat, then I respond by defending myself.  Whereas, if I fuse with the thought that feedback is a gift to help me grow, then I can accept and learn more quickly.  Likewise, if I tell myself that another person is “out to get me” or has negative intentions toward me, then I’m likely to act aggressively based on that perception.  Whereas, if I assume positive intent and seek to understand another person’s actions, I can remain calm, learn, and grow from the experience.

There are times when I consider my employment options in life and wonder if something would be a better fit for me.  But, then weeks like this occur and I realize that God has put me in this particular vocation with these particular people in my life, for a reason.  Growing, learning, accepting, and understanding are happening to me every day.

I’m so grateful for the relationships that challenge me and help me grow.