Go Mom, Go!

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Last week, my mom and I took the kids on an evening walk at the park near our house.  It’s down a steep hill and typically Dennis and I take turns pushing the stroller, in order to make it back up the hill.  This was the first time I was going to attempt to push it the whole way.  I took several short breaks and realized that it was actually easier for me to run short bursts and then stop to catch my breath, rather that walking and pushing the whole way.

The kids got into it.  Teo and Sienna started giving me encouragement, “You can do it Mom!  Just a little farther. Make it past that blue car!”  Then they starting making up an elaborate race scenario where I was competing against the parked cars along the street.  I was concentrating on the pain of my exertion, but their story made me giggle and I did feel the spark of their enthusiasm.

Once we made it to the top, my mom and the kids kept up with the encouragement and praise with “Hip hip hooray” for mom.  It was silly but I did feel accomplished.

Today, I took Teo with me to Miramar Lake for a run.  He wanted to ride in the stroller, but Sienna wanted to stay home to play; I figured this boded well for my ability to push the stroller.  As we headed out for the 5 mile loop around the lake, Teo started in on the race scenario again.  “Beat those people Mom, you can do it!”  There were a lot of walkers, runners, cyclists, and in-line skaters on a Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m., so there were many opportunities for us to pass people.  “Good job, Mom!  You can beat those people too.  Make it all the way to the finish line!”  Teo kept rooting me on.

Enjoying my son’s company and sweet perspective that Mom could do anything, brought a smile to my face.  We counted down the miles via the mile markers along the  path.  I genuinely felt that the run was easier with my little coach encouraging me.  At one point a cyclist passed us and Teo said, “Beat the bike, Mom!”  I had to explain that bikes were faster than runners.  “Why?” he predictably asked.

010Around the halfway mark, my coach fell silent.  Sure enough, he had fallen asleep.  Then, a mile or so later, he perked up and said, “Make it all the way to the finish line, Mom!” and fell back asleep.  He must have sensed I needed a little encouragement.

During today’s run, I reflected on how different my attitude toward exercise is now.  Before my awakening, I spent a lot of time and energy planning my exercise.  I wanted my workouts to be productive and felt “in control” when I fit in a certain number of runs or swims each week.  Now, I’ve let go of that need to plan my exercise. I stay active with walking, running, and swimming fairly regularly because I love it.  Life is busy and ultimately my priority is being with my kids. When I can spend time with my family and break a sweat at the same time, that’s a win/win.

The Inconveniences of Parenthood

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This past weekend, Dennis and I got to enjoy an incredibly rare event – date night!  With my mom, a.k.a. Gaga, visiting for the week, we were sure to schedule a date.  Sienna was spending the night at her friend Gracie’s house after we all celebrated Gracie’s birthday party that afternoon.  So, Gaga and Teo got to spend some quality time together while mommy and daddy had their date.

We’d planned to go to dinner and kept open the option of seeing a movie afterwards.  However, we stayed a little later at the birthday party (couldn’t pull ourselves away from fun friends!) and then Teo fell asleep on the drive home.  He’d spent a lot of the party in the bounce house and by 5:00 p.m. was completely knocked out.  He and Dennis snuggled on the couch while mom and I watched Chopped until 6:00 p.m.

Once Teo was awake and back to his friendly self, we finally left for our date.  We both felt like Chinese food, so we went to a great place for a nice, leisurely meal at a quintessentially Chinese place.  It was so fun to have the time to talk without interruption and enjoy each other’s company.

It was just a little after 8:00 p.m. when we finished dinner but we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  The movie didn’t start for a couple of hours and we were too tired for a 10:15 p.m. movie anyway.  We didn’t want to spend a lot and were too full for dessert.  So, we headed home.

My mom was surprised to see us so early!  We settled into the living room and watched Teo, energized from his late afternoon nap, bounce around the room.  He kept asking us, “Watch me jump!   Watch me jump on one foot!”  Dennis and I giggled, “Now we can say we had dinner and a show.”

About an hour after we’d both fallen asleep, we got a call from the slumber party.  Sienna had a bad dream and wanted to go home. I talked to her for a few seconds, asking if she thought she’d be able to go back to sleep.  She cried and said she was scared and needed me.  So, Dennis and threw on clothes and headed out to pick her up.  Our friends’ house is a good 25 minute drive, so we settled in for a nearly hour round trip to retrieve our daughter.  I said a little prayer for protection – not a huge fan of driving that late on a Saturday night!  We went through a sobriety checkpoint without incident.  Sienna fell asleep immediately once we started the drive home. She was exhausted from a full day of playing at the party.

Reflecting on this weekend, this was a good example of how parenthood is massively inconvenient.

In just one day, Mateo fell asleep at an inopportune time, delaying our much-anticipated date, and we trekked to pick up Sienna in the middle of the night from a sleepover.  But, you know what?  We wouldn’t change a thing.

Letting Teo sleep was the right decision, he awoke happier and didn’t throw a fit when we left for dinner.  He and Gaga had a fun night and got to spend time just the two of them.   I felt great camaraderie with my husband as we drive in sleepy silence to pick up our daughter.  We remarked that we’d look back on this with fondness; it would be a story we could reflect on and relate to other parents.

Life with kids is inconvenient.  They require a huge amount of our time and attention.  But, it’s so worth it.  The joy, love, and fun that they bring to our lives FAR outweigh all the times our plans are changed or delayed.

Going Straight to the Source

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I love to read and learn.  The area I most want to learn and grow in is my faith and understanding of Christ’s Kingdom.  When I listen to the wise clergy at my church, I’m inspired to understand what they know about the life of Jesus and how we are to live as citizens of his Kingdom on Earth.

open bible beachI’ve been reading books, articles, and other sources as I’m soaking up everything I can about our faith and God’s promises for us.  While these writings certainly have wisdom to impart, it recently occurred to me that I could also go straight to the source and learn about Christ in his own words.   So, a few days ago I started reading the New Testament again.

As I opened the Gospel of Matthew, I conciously decided to read slowly.  I only read the first two chapters that day, and have read one chapter per day for the past week.  Instead of rushing through and seeing how much I could read in a sitting, I’ve been reading slowly, prayerfully, reflectively.  On Sunday, while drinking my coffee and enjoying reading in the brillant sunshine, I finished a chapter and just sat in stillness for awhile.

Savoring the Word of God and letting myself read slowly is new to me.  Instead of striving to read and learn at my pace, I’m peacefully reading and rereading sections with an openess to what God is going to teach me, in his time.

The Joy of a Church Family

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This past Sunday I felt a wave of gratitude and love as I looked around and reflected on our church family.

xlcms-creed-small_jpg_pagespeed_ic_97NkiutCI-Dennis had just told me that one of the ladies that directed the Vacation Bible School performance was hoping I’d send her a couple of the videos I took of it.  I was planning to run to the car right after the service to get a bag of hand-me-downs to give to a friend and fellow parishioner.  I’d received a message earlier that week from two moms seeking meals for another mom facing a challenging time.  We’d just learned that a 6-year-old boy from our church had come home after a day in the hospital recovering from pneumonia.  Prayers of thanksgiving were offered that our prayers for healing were answered.  Plans are in the works for our annual church picnic the following weekend, where we’ll fellowship with one another, eat, watch the kids play, and probably engage in some silly games such as tug-of-war!

All around me were members of our church family. Our lives are intertwined. Each week we gather to worship, celebrate the sacraments, and live out our vocations in Christ’s Kingdom.  We pray for, encourage, and support those who need strengthening.  We celebrate the joys in life: births, baptisms, weddings, graduations, and the like.  We mourn the loss of faithful friends who’ve died, and others who’ve moved away. We pray earnestly for the restoration of health in those who are sick and suffering.

We mark the changing seasons, both in nature and our church calendar. From Lent to Easter, Pentecost to Advent and Christmas, together as we play out our personal lives and the life of the church simultaneously. Week by week, month by month, and year by year the lives of each of us and, collectively, all of us unfold.  I can imagine a day when we’ll celebrate the weddings of our young ones, have baby showers for the next generation of children, attend funeral services for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and through the years joyfully celebrate many, many answered prayers.

I feel so blessed to be raising our children in this community.  It brings me comfort to have loving people in our church call the kids by name and give them big hugs on Sunday morning.  I’m so grateful for the older kids who are great role models for Sienna and Mateo.  It gives our children a substantial framework for life; rooting them in faith, history, and Christ’s Kingdom being manifest on Earth.

Dennis and I live hundreds of miles from our families.  Becoming a part of our church family has given us a sense of belonging and identity that we cherish.  Learning to serve and be served by a community of people who love one another has been transformative.  Know that God is serving each of us through one another brings us so much joy.

**The image accompanying this post is the logo for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, of which our church is a member (hopefully I haven’t violated any copyright laws by including it!). I love the symbolism and particularly thought the “Life Together” part was pertinent to this post.

Could it Be

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I’ve been struggling to come up with posts on this blog for the past few weeks. I want this blog to be about Jesus, sharing the Gospel, and showing how Christ is shaping and nurturing my little life. But, when I strive to write something profound, I find myself paralyzed. I’ll listen to wonderful sermons by our two wise pastors, or read brilliant writing of other Christians and suddenly my contribution and voice seem small and inadequate. I’ve been thinking and searching for answers lately.

imagesAt work, part of my job is scheduling our auditors. It’s a big complex puzzle to plan busy season jobs, matching client timing with our staffing which includes several team members at various levels. It’s a challenge and I enjoy it a lot. But, in my motivation and excitement to tackle this big project, I found myself stalled. I didn’t know how to approach it.

“I wish I could simultaneously see all the jobs, all the staff, and all the potential conflicts at the same time so it would all just work.” I found myself thinking.

It would be great to be all-knowing and all-powerful, right?

But, being human, that’s not possible. So, instead I worked on a plan to systematically go through all the jobs, evaluate what staffing issues exists for that particular job, look for solutions, make a list of questions to bring to the management group, and create a master spreadsheet for tracking and following up on issues. The only way to get to the final answer is to do the hard work of evaluating and looking for solutions to each individual issue.

Personally, this week I thought a very similar thing in terms of my emotional and mental state.

“I wish I could combine all the wise, helpful, peace-inducing thoughts and hold them in my mind simultaneously.”

Oh that’s right, I’m human.

After a few days of thinking and striving to figure things out for myself (in other words, after activating my struggle switch), I came full circle in prayer this morning.

“Okay, Lord. Help me figure out the answer I’m looking for.” I prayed.

There is no answer.

“I am the answer.”

One of my favorite Michael Card songs is called Could it Be and the chorus goes:

Could it be you make your presence known so often by your absence?

Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?

Could it be that you would really rather die than live without us?

Could it be the only answer that means anything is you?

I’ve been singing this song on a weekly (if not daily) basis to Sienna or Mateo for over six years. They know it by heart. It’s so simplistically true.

For humanity on Earth, before Christ’s return, we will never have the full answer. We’re fallen, sinful, and don’t come close to the glory of God. The best thing we can do is trust in Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, who sent his Son to pay for our sins and reconcile us to himself. He has a plan and we are not let in on it, yet.

As I’ve been on this path of growth the past year, I’ll often feel motivated to grow and learn new things. But, I’m often in the drivers’ seat in that process. I’ve been giving my thoughts a lot of attention and importance. I’ve been asking myself, “What do I want to learn?” instead of asking God, “What do you want to teach me?”

So, I’m going to try to stop striving to write something important and profound for this blog. Instead, I’m going to share my thoughts and feelings, as unsophisticated as they might be. To “be still and know” is about letting God drive my growth, impart his lessons, and unfold the life he created for me.

As I trudged up the hill this morning after surrendering, this song lyric popped into my mind: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”   It’s based on Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

On the day of Christ Jesus, then we’ll get the full answer.

Green Smoothie Recipe

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green_smoothieI’ve been looking for a healthy and tasty green smoothie recipe for a while now.  Then, about a week ago we were making our regular bi-weekly trip to Costco and came upon a demo for one of those high-powered blenders.  The lady doing the demonstration said, “Go ahead, try the smoothie. Those are my last two.”

Sienna and I gave the green smoothie a taste.  It was delicious!

“What’s in this?” I asked.

“Banana, orange, pineapple, lime juice, spinach,” the woman rattled off.

I proceed to pick up the ingredients we were missing at the grocery store and made the smoothie at home last weekend.   Sienna and I had it for breakfast last week and I made it again for lunch today.  Delicious!

Green Smoothie

  • 1 1/4 cup frozen banana
  • juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 1 large or 2 small navel oranges
  • 1/2 cup canned chunk pineapple
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup pineapple juice (from the canned pineapple) or apple juice
  • 2 cups fresh spinach

1. Put the frozen banana in the blender first and break it down.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and pulse to incorporate.  If it doesn’t blend well, add more liquid.

3. Once everything is mixed, blend for 20 seconds or so.

This made two 8 ounce servings for us.

Enjoy!

The Happiness Trap: Expansion

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In reviewing my posts on The Happiness Trap, I was surprised to find such an obvious oversight.  In my post The Struggle Switch, I ended with a teaser: This is where the critically important technique of expansion comes in… but then I neglected to write a post about expansion.  Oops!

happiness trapSo, here it is: Expansion.

Expansion is the technique for accepting your unpleasant feelings, whereas defusion is the technique for accepting unpleasant thoughts.   Dr. Harris states, “Basically, expansion means making room for our feelings.” By contrast, the words that tend to describe feeling bad are about restriction – “tension,” “stress,” “under pressure” and “strain” for example.  Through expansion, we’re giving our feelings space so they can move, and eventually, move on.

In this section, Dr. Harris revisits the concept of the Thinking self versus the Observing self.  The thinking self produces our thoughts, judgements, images, fantasies, and memories – it’s commonly called “the mind.”  The observing self is responsible for awareness, attention, and focus.  Expansion requires sidestepping the thinking self with the aim of observing your emotions. This way, you can experience unpleasant emotions without passing judgement on them, creating scary images, or associating with memories of past emotions.

Dr. Harris admits the obvious problem – the thinking self never shuts up!  While practicing expansion, you’ll also have to defuse thoughts that pop up to distract you from the pure awareness of your feelings.

The Four Steps of Expansion:

The four basic steps of expansion are: observe your feelings, breathe into them, make room for them, and allow them to be there.  Sounds simple doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It’s also effortless.  However, that does not mean it’s easy!  Remember the quicksand scenario? Lying back and floating on quicksand is both simple and effortless – yet it’s far from easy.

Step 1: Observe

Observe the sensations in your body. Take a few seconds to scan yourself from head to toe, noticing any uncomfortable sensations.  Pick the one that upsets you the most – lump in your throat, knot in your stomach, etc. and focus on it.  Observe the feeling with curiosity.

Step 2: Breathe

Breathe into and around the sensation. Begin with a few deep breaths, being sure to empty your lungs completely.  Slow, deep breathing is important – it lowers your levels of tension and provides a center of calm within you.  “It’s like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady until it passes.”

Step 3: Create Space

In breathing deeply into and around the sensation, it’s as if you’re somehow making space within your body.  You’re expanding rather than tensing.  Open up and create a space around this sensation, giving it plenty of room to move.  And if it gets bigger, give it even more space.

Step 4: Allow

Resist the urge to get rid of the feeling.  Allow it to be there, even thought it’s unpleasant and you don’t like it.  Let it be.  When your mind starts judging and commenting, simply thank it and bring your attention back to observing.

This process is the natural progression from defusion of thoughts.  Essentially it’s the same process, only with feelings.  In both defusion and expansion, the goal is acceptance not “getting rid of” the thoughts and feelings.  Harris explains:

As you practice this technique, one of two things will happen: either your feelings will change or they won’t.  It doesn’t matter either way, because this technique is not about changing your feelings – it’s about accepting them.  If you have truly dropped the struggle with this feeling, it will have much less impact on you, regardless of whether or not it changes.

At the end of this section, Dr. Harris asks readers to practice expansion with an unpleasant feeling.  This practice is done so you can develop the willingness to have unpleasant emotions.  You don’t have to like the feeling or want to feel it, but since unpleasant emotions will arise throughout your life, you will benefit greatly from changing your relationship with them.  Instead of trying to avoid them or get rid of them, the willingness and acceptance of these feelings with make them less threatening.