In Sickness and in Health

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We’ve been really looking forward to this upcoming week. My mom is visiting and Sienna’s out of school and her summer program for another week.  Dennis and I each took off the four days leading up to 4th of July for a mini summer break.  Our plan was to hang out as a family, go to the beach, get in a date night (or two!) and just relax.

015Instead, we’ve been hunkered down due to the most unusual circumstance.  Dennis is sick.  Really sick.  He was diagnosed with shingles on Thursday morning.  It got worse over the next couple days so we headed to urgent care twice this weekend.

Yesterday we left Gaga with the kids and headed to urgent care for our first of two “dates”. Obviously  Dennis didn’t feel well and it wasn’t a particularly fun time.  But, we did get to sit together and talk without interruption for nearly an hour.  I found myself feeling grounded, bonded, and solely focused on my husband.   Since I’m not suffering from infirmity, I’d even say it was a little fun for me.

More than that, it reminded me of the most significant aspects of being married.  Having someone there that loves you and takes care of you in hard times.  Someone to ask the doctors questions and advocate for your care.  Someone who knows all your personal information by heart and therefore can fill out forms and paperwork to save you the trouble when you’re feeling crummy.

I told Dennis, “You know you married the right person when you can enjoy the time waiting in urgent together and call it a date.”

This week has been poignant for all of us.  The kids are sort of shocked to see their strong, active father in such a state.  When we left the house a couple of times of Friday, Teo kept asking, “Why isn’t Daddy coming with us?”  Sienna keeps watching Dennis out of the corner of her eye, looking concerned.  Last night they were cuddled on the couch and told me they were pretending they were sick, like daddy.  Having Gaga here has been a blessing and a wonderful distraction for the kids.  Still, it was heart wrenching to see them so concerned.

While waiting at the doctor’s office yesterday, Dennis and I discussed the kids’ reactions this week.  He commented, “I really miss hugging them.”

There’s so much joy and happiness in being a family.  But, the moments that really bond us together are when we rally to support one another.   This week hasn’t turned out the way we expected, but it’s still accomplished our goal – getting to spend a lot of time together and enjoying one another’s company.

We’ll just have to plan some fun activities for next week.

Lost and Found

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My mom (aka Gaga) is visiting right now and we’re having a little mini summer break with the kids.  I’m working from home partial days today and tomorrow and then Dennis and I are both taking all of next week off!   Yay for family and fun!

082Today the kids were both home with Gaga and me.  They were watching Disney Junior while Gaga and I had coffee and chatted outside.  I was planning to watch the USA vs. Germany World Cup soccer match so I set the DVR to record it.

Around 9:45 a.m., I decided to start the game but couldn’t find the remote control.  I turned the living room upside down looking for it.  Gaga helped search and we asked the kids if they’d seen it.  Finally, I said to my mom, “I’m starting to suspect the kids more.”

I asked Sienna, “Honey, have you seen the remote?”

“Nope,” she promptly replied.

“Well, help me look please,” I responded.

“Maybe someone hid it,” she suggested.

Of course.

“Sienna, where did you hide the remote?”

She led me into her brother’s room where the kids had been playing.  She reached into a bin of stuffed animals in his closet and retrieved the remote.

It all made sense now.  The last time I’d seen the remote was when I recorded the game.  She and Teo went into his room shortly afterwards.  She didn’t want me to change the channel to watch the game so she cleaverly hid the remote.

My feelings were conflicted.  I giggled at first both out of relief that we found the remote and tickled at her creative, devious act.  But, it was also very annoying that I’d wasted all that time searching.  So, I tried to surpress the giggles while I sternly pointed out to Sienna that what she did was really unkind and she could never do it again.

Later that afternoon, we were getting ready to go to the park down the street.  Sienna was putting her shoes on and approached my computer.  “Mom, I can’t find my other shoe!”  At first I tried to be helpful and suggest where it may be.  She was whinning and kept complaining about not being able to find her shoe, so I had a little fun with her.

“Well Sienna, why don’t you look for another twenty minutes and then I’ll tell you where I hid it?”

My mom and I cracked up!  Alas, Sienna didn’t think it was very funny.

Summer Fun with Water Balloons!

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Last week Sienna, Mateo, and I picked up a couple packs of water balloons while at the store getting wrapping paper for a birthday party gift. We’d planned to go to the park after our store trip but the kids said, “Let’s go home and do water balloons!” On the two minute drive home, they changed their minds and decided they still wanted to play at the park for a bit. It was funny to listen to their discussion as they tried to decide between two fun things to do.

096I told them, “You need to agree on what we’re doing.” So, Sienna rallied her little brother and we were on our way to the park. The water balloons still excited them and it was the easiest park exit we’ve ever had as I prompted the kids with, “Ready to go do water balloons?”

These days, water balloons come with a cool little nozzle attachment which makes them a lot easier to fill. We all sat around the spigot outside- I filled the balloons as the kids took turns handing me empty ones and accumulating the filled ones on a beach towel.

I knew it was only a matter of time before one of the balloons popped as I was filling it. Sure enough, after about 25 balloons, one exploded and soaked me! The kids and I all cracked up. Then I got to sit in a puddle of water on the concrete patio while filling the rest of the balloons.

089Teo also had some issues with balloons popping. Two or three of them burst all over him as he carried them to the pile. He would look down at the water all over him and the ground with a sad little expression – it was precious! He had to learn to be gentle; what a good lesson for a rowdy little boy!

I think it’s amazing how long it takes to fill water balloons in proportion to how quickly they can be thrown! After spending at least 20 minutes filling the balloons, the kids and I went through our ammo supply in less than 2 minutes. But, what a fun, silly couple of minutes they were!

093During this fun activity I kept reflecting on the fact that I would have missed out on these types of spontaneous play with my kids had I not gone through this “awakening” over the past year. When I used to play with my kids, my mind was always partially somewhere else, planning what I was going to do later or thinking about what needed to be done. I’d regularly tell the kids that I needed to do something else soon, as in “Mommy has to start dinner in a few minutes.”

095Now days, dinners are not as elaborate and rarely on the table at the same time each night. I’m planning so much less that sometimes I forget things all together (such as the garage sale I told my mom we’d do together during her visit and then took up a neighbor on her offer to do one together last weekend… sorry again, Mom!) and we have to take several trips to the grocery store in a weekend because my list isn’t complete. But, it’s all worth it for the time that I’m truly present in the moment with my family and friends.

Playing water balloons was pure joy and it made me feel young and like a fun mom!

A Book Worth Reading: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

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This book is fantastic!  I don’t recall ever laughing out loud as frequently while reading a book.  It’s simply hilarious.  I’ve read a couple other books by Bill Bryson and they were likewise wonderful, but I didn’t experience the fits of giggles like this book caused.

brysonMemiors are my favorite genre, hands down.  This one is great because it intertwines personal stories from Bryson’s eccentric family with great historical information about the 1950s. Postwar America and all of the advances in the 50s seem like a character itself in this book.  Bryson brings this world to life and pokes fun at the simpleness and often ridiculousness of the age.

Bryson was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951.  He was born in the middle of the country in the middle of the century.  It’s a great window into the life of our country and our collective history.

I have to share a passage that is particularly funny (I read this passage while at Starbucks and felt rather embarassed to be giggling uncontrollably amongst all the quiet strangers). Here goes:

The school day was largely taken up with putting on or taking off clothing.  it was an exhaustingly tedious process.  It took most of the morning to take off your outdoor wear and most of the afternoon to get it back on, assuming you could find any of it among the jumbled, shifting heap of garments that carpeted the cloakroom floor to a depth of about three feet.  Changing time was always like a scene at a refugee camp, with at least three kids wandering around weeping copiously because they had only one boot or no mittens. Teachers were never to be seen at such moments.

Having lived in California my entire life, I can’t relate to this particular experience. But, nonetheless, I could picture those poor children looking for their missing articles of clothing! Bryson’s ability to describe a scene using just the right amount of hyperbole so you can laugh but also understand the truth behind the description, it’s just perfect.

Musical Memories

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When I was young my dad would often hear a song on the radio and call out the year that song was released. It was amazing to me that he could associate a song with a year so quickly and easily. The years seemed so far in the past too. “1969? That was a long time ago!”

As I matured, the realization came to me. It’s not a specific year but a particular time or season of life that he was associating with a song. At least that’s my experience now. When I hear certain songs, I am transported to a different phase of life and then can quickly translate that time to a given year. I cracked the code, Dad!

jason mrazThere are two songs that I closely associate with significant phases of my life and they happen to be by the same artist: Jason Mraz. I love his music! Dennis and I saw him perform back in 2005 at the Symphony Towers when he opened for Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill Acoustic tour. It was a pretty amazing show!

Okay, the first memory is from 2003. I’d lived in Oceanside for about nine months after graduating from college. Dennis and I had been coworkers and become friends during that time. To make a very long story short, I’d broken up with my college boyfriend and started dating Dennis. One Sunday morning in late March, I was leaving church and heading down Interstate 5 to meet Dennis for a date. It was a gorgeous, sunny day.

On the radio came the song “Remedy (I Won’t Worry)”. After all the emotional upheaval that I’d gone through the previous couple years, I felt incredibly free and excited about the future. The lyrics “I won’t worry my life away” just hit me.   At 23 years old, it seemed like relationships shouldn’t be so hard and I belted out that song while driving into a whole new chapter of my life.

To this day, whenever I hear that song, I’m that young woman looking forward to a life full of new possibilities and the excitement of first getting to know this amazing man.

In 2008, my mom gave me Jason’s new album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Sienna was a baby, just about to turn a year old. I played the CD in the car all the time. Sienna responded enthusiastically to the song “I’m Yours”.   She seriously loved it. One day she was throwing a fit in her car seat and I said, “Sienna, listen it’s the song you love.” She instantly stopped crying when “I’m Yours” started. It got to be a regular solution for her fussiness in the car. Dennis and I would just skip to the song and she’d stop crying and smile. We started to call it “her song”.

Then, when she was about 2 ½ years old, we were watching Sesame Street one morning and Jason Mraz came on the show, singing “I’m Yours” with Elmo. I thought Sienna’s little head would explode she was so excited!   Dennis had the presence of mind to DVR the episode so we got to watch that segment regularly for the next couple years. Luckily, it’s an awesome song.

Now this memory is a cool thing for Dennis and me to share with Sienna. She’ll occasionally hear the song and say, “It’s my song, Mom!” Or, we’ll point it out to her and launch into the story of how the song would calm her down as a baby. Man, kids love to hear stories about themselves, don’t they?

Thanks to Pandora playing these two songs on a recent Saturday afternoon, I started thinking of these memories and how closely tied they are to songs.

What about you? Is there a song that takes you to a specific memory each time you hear it? I’d love to hear other people’s stories!

Thoughts on the Feast of Pentecost

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holy-spirit-window-stickerOur church, Grace Lutheran, is wonderful at educating its members on the Biblical narrative and therefore enriching our understanding of why we believe what we believe. This Sunday, our celebration of the Feast of Pentecost was another example where my faith was deepened through a clear portrayal of what occurred on the first Pentecost.

Honestly, until recently I tended to confuse the feasts of Epiphany and Pentecost. I knew one of them had to do with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – but couldn’t clearly tell you which.

This article helped me with the basics. The word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty”. In Jesus’ day, this word referred to a Jewish holiday that was celebrated fifty days after Passover. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

The biblical account of Pentecost is found in Acts, chapter 2:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there come from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2: 1-4

As the multitude began to question what they were witnessing and some speculated that they were intoxicated, Peter stood up and gave a sermon, citing the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17). Peter goes on to make several references to David’s prophesies and reminds the crowd that they have all been witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, “who was raised by God.” Peter declares that Jesus “…being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33).

When the multitude responded to Peter’s sermon, they asked what they should do. “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

There are many theological implications of these verses and this post isn’t going to do them justice. But, I wanted to share my personal and fairly unsophisticated thoughts on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I think a lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, sometimes feel or think that Jesus ascended into Heaven and that was it. They wonder where he is when they look around this fallen world and see all the pain and suffering. But, in fact, after Jesus was resurrected and returned to Heaven, he quickly sent his Holy Spirit to bless and empower his church.

It also occurred to me that these verses clearly describe the Lutheran (and other liturgical churches) theology of baptism. Through baptism we are imbued with the Holy Spirit and it is promised to children as well as adults. The reason Lutherans focus so intently on baptism is because that’s the event that creates Christians. When someone is baptized into the name of the Triune God, their sins are forgiven and they are given faith through grace from the Holy Spirit.

While running this afternoon, I listened to yesterday’s sermon again. Upon a second listen, I was struck by the historical aspect of these verses of scripture. Again, it occurred to me how powerful it is to believe in a faith that’s firmly rooted in the historical record. These events were witnessed and accounted to by hundreds of people. Christianity is not about believing the feelings in my heart, instead it believes in the Gospel (“good news”) that has been passed down from those who saw the resurrected Christ and received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Of course, thinking more deeply about the Holy Spirit has to make one ponder the Holy Trinity. It’s awesome that God the Father begot his Son to come to earth and be the sacrifice for sinful humanity. Through the incarnation God took on human form to uphold the Law and die as a substitute for us. Then, before leaving us, Christ gave us his Holy Spirit to carry on the work of establishing God’s Kingdom. Where the Spirit is, so is the Son, and so is the Father.

Immanuel: God is with us.

Breathing to Connect

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happiness trapConnection, as described previously, is simply being connected to the moment you’re currently in, rather than being mentally distracted, or carried away, by your thoughts. This next section of The Happiness Trap describes a powerful aspect of connection that people can tap into whenever they want and wherever they are. The title of this section is “If You’re Breathing, You’re Alive”. Dr. Harris writes, “Breathing is wonderful. Not only does it keep you alive, it reminds you that you’re alive.”

Deep breathing is suggested in nearly all of the exercises in this book. Most other mindfulness techniques: yoga, meditation, and the like also focus on deep breathing. Many people don’t breathe deeply which contributes to feelings of anxiety and stress. When I was on the phone with the counselor who suggested The Happiness Trap to me, she walked me through a deep breathing exercise. Brenda was a little shocked to hear how shallow my “deep” breath was compared to hers. Anxiety certainly had me breathing quickly and shallowly.

Dr. Harris describes a technique he calls “Breathing to Connect”:

Take ten slow, deep breaths. For the first five, focus on your chest and abdomen; connect with your breathing. For the next five breaths, expand your focus, so that as well as being aware of your breathing, you’re also connecting fully with your environment; that is, while noticing your breathing, also notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.

This exercise allows people to feel more present and connected to where they are and what they’re doing in the moment. This awareness then sets the stage for one to take effective action to change their lives for the better.

Breathing to connect is most helpful and meaningful when facing an emotional crisis. Dr. Harris provides an example through his personal experience as a psychiatrist. He describes how he uses breathing to connect and expansion to deal with the natural surge of anxiety that occurs when clients share their intentions to commit suicide:

… I immediately take one slow, deep breath, and during those few seconds I make room for my anxiety, allow my thoughts to fade into the background, and focus my attention firmly on my client. And until the crisis is resolved, I keep breathing slowly and deeply, allowing my thoughts and feelings to come and go as I remain fully connected to what I’m doing. In this way my breathing acts as an anchor. It doesn’t get rid of my anxiety, but it stops me from getting carried away. It’s like a constant, soothing presence in the background, while my attention is focused on taking effective action.

Breathing to connect, then, provides the atmosphere in which defusion of thoughts and expansion of feelings can occur most successfully.

In two separate places within this brief section, Dr. Harris cautions readers not to start using breathing to connect as a control strategy (apparently this is a common issue!). Connection and particularly these deep breathing exercises often cause pleasant feelings like calmness and peacefulness. But, if you use these techniques in order to get rid of unpleasant emotion or to “feel better” instead of as acceptance strategies, you’ll be right back in the vicious cycle of control.

In my experience, breathing to connect did provide me with an anchor to weather emotional storms.  There were several weeks back in early fall where I practiced these exercises for ten minutes or more on a nightly basis.  It helped me to practice staying connected to the moment and get used to letting my thoughts come and go without connecting (or fusing) with them.