Diligent Digging.

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This past Saturday, we had very little planned. After going on a run with a good friend (Hi Leslie!), I was home and cleaned up by 9:00 a.m.  Dennis and I had some cleaning projects to tackle around the house, so we got to work while the kids played outside.  After a little while, Teo ran in and asked to open the dinosaur fossil kit we gave him for his birthday.  Dennis got it down from his closet and explained to Teo what he needed to do.

013.JPGThis kit includes miniature dinosaur bones encased in a block of plaster. Kids use a mini pick to chip away the plaster to reveal the bones.  Once all the bones are free you assemble the dinosaur model.  Teo had the Tyrannosaurus Rex edition.  Dennis got him all setup at one of the patio tables and we expected this project to keep his attention for a little while.

As we cleaned and did household chores, we kept commenting to one another about Teo’s dedication to this project. We could see and hear him diligently picking at the plaster through the sliding door in our bedroom.  He was covered with plaster dust and very focused.  We’d never seen him concentrate for so long on one task.  We’re talking nearly three hours of archeological excavation!

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Sienna got in on the fun too. Being the helpful big sister, she was enthusiastic and supportive of Teo’s efforts and did a little chipping too.  It was really cool to see her excited about something he was doing, since typically it’s the other way around, with Teo thinking anything Sienna does is very interesting.

When Teo had finished chipping away all the plaster, he called “Dad! I need your help!” Dennis washed off the bones and helped assemble the T-Rex.  Both of them beamed with pride when they brought in the completed dinosaur.  Dennis has always been interested in dinosaurs and I could tell he was really excited that Teo embraced this project.  We praised Teo for working so hard and diligently to get all the bones freed.

“What’s diligently mean?” he asked me.

“It means not giving up. You kept at it for a long time,” I replied.

“Yeah,” he nodded, “I did.”

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This day became more memorable when, right around noon, Sienna was in the house eating a snack. She suddenly said to me: “I love days like this! When we’re all home with nothing we have to do.” I agreed with her and said a little prayer of thanksgiving for her observation and the joy of being a family.  Not five minutes later, Teo ran inside and, before I could scold him for tracking plaster dust on the clean floor, jumped in the air and shouted “Best day, ever!”

Honestly, Teo says, “This is the best day, ever!” about once a week. He’s an optimistic little kid.  But, the timing of both of their comments caused me to reflect on the simple things that make a child feel happy, safe, and fulfilled.  They were just home, playing around the house.  Nothing structured, no expensive activity was involved.  They weren’t watching television; we’d had music playing for the past couple hours.  We were just all at home, on a beautiful day, with time to follow our whims to play, take care of our home, relax, or, dig diligently for dinosaur bones.

 

Surprise!

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The first time I recall being surprised by a loved one was when I was 8 years old. My parents took us three kids out of school early and told us we were going on a trip.  It wasn’t until we boarded an airplane in San Francisco that they told us the destination: Disneyland!  We were ecstatic!  The surprise element really added to the sense of fun and adventure.

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This experience planted a seed in me. I remember thinking, “How fun!  I can’t wait to surprise my kids one day!” But, even before having kids, I started incorporating surprises into my family life.

When Dennis and I were dating, it occurred to me that he needed to visit Miami to see his favorite football teams play. He’s been a Miami Dolphins fan since he was a kid and a University of Miami Hurricane’s fan about that long too.  But, he’d never been to Miami!  We had to fix this.  So, in my youthful zeal, I decided to use some of my student loan funds (I was working on my M.A. in History at SDSU at the time) on a weekend trip to Miami to see both teams play.  I purchased our flights, booked the hotel, and found tickets to the Canes’ game on Saturday and the Dolphins’ game on Sunday.

The trip was in mid-November, about three months away. I told myself that I’d wait until a couple days before the trip to surprise Dennis… I lasted three days.  Out at dinner that weekend, I couldn’t contain my excitement and spilled the beans.  He was surprised and thrilled!   I LOVED the feeling of doing something special for this wonderful guy; especially because it was something that meant a lot to him.

Years later, I took that feeling to another level when I celebrated his 50th birthday.  The 50 Days to Celebrate 50 Years project was so much fun!  I got to think of little surprises that Dennis would enjoy and share them with him daily for nearly 2 months.  Reminiscing about the Miami trip surprise, I got us tickets to the University of Hawaii Warriors game against SDSU as one of the surprises.  Again, I cherished knowing my husband and what would be meaningful to him.  It creates such a sense of intimacy to contemplate your spouse and think of things that would make him happy.

Once Sienna and Mateo were old enough, we jumped on the idea of surprising them. I got to live out my 8 year old wish when we surprised them with a trip to Disneyland! We actually have had the chance to do it a few times, when we had the annual passes.  We’d wake them up, get them dressed and piled into the car, and then announce the destination when we headed out on the drive.  Their reactions were priceless!  So fun.

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Last year, I learned that Phantom of the Opera was coming to San Diego and right after Dennis’s birthday. He loves the musical, but hadn’t seen it performed live.  Another surprise opportunity dawned on me!  I got tickets, as his birthday gift, months in advance and feared I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret until his birthday.  Recalling the Miami trip to my friend Andra sparked her to say: “I bet you won’t be able to keep it a secret until his birthday!”  We bet a lunch out.  My competitiveness helped me to keep the secret and win the bet!  I’ve thanked Andra several times for helping me last those months without spoiling the surprise.

These are mostly stories of pretty grand gestures, but I’ve found lots of little ways over the years to incorporate the fun of surprising loved ones in little ways. For example, when my mom was recently visiting, Teo had asked her to pick him up early from preschool.  She’s often able to pick up Sienna early, but Teo’s school is less convenient.  She decided to pick him up one day, but we opted not to tell him.  Partly to spare him disappointment in case her plans changed, but also so she could surprise him.  He was so surprised and happy to see her.  “Gaga! What are you doing here?!” he yelled as she ran across the playground and jumped into her arms.

surpriseA couple weeks ago, I spoiled a surprise somewhat, but still got to enjoy the excited response when I told my sister that Teo and I are coming up to visit in mid-April. Right after Sarah had her third baby and first girl – Charley Ann – I started hatching a plan with my mom to make a quick visit to meet her.  Our next big trip to Humboldt isn’t until July and I simply couldn’t wait.  I wanted to surprise Sarah by just showing up at her door, but logistically that was going to be tough.  We were on the phone the other day and I suddenly had a strong urge to tell her our plan.  I said, “Oh, I want to tell you something but then I also want to surprise you!”  Obviously the whole plan came out shortly after that.  But, it was still a surprise in that we already had the travel booked and everything coordinated.

Surprising the people you love with something that’s meaningful to them is such a joy! You get to enjoy the fun of planning the surprise, which includes thinking about the person in a more deliberate way. Then there’s the fun of watching their reaction and telling them about your plans, ideas, and the dedication it took to keep the secret!  The person being surprised then gets the joy of knowing that you cared enough to plan something special for them.  Finally, the surprise element makes the experience more memorable, so that the occasion becomes a shared memory, knitting your family together.

What surprises have you pulled off for someone? I’d love to hear your stories!

In What Do You Boast?

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In modern American vernacular, boasting is synonymous with bragging or behaving with conceit.  It’s not a term that people use to express their beliefs or convey truth claims.  However, apparently in biblical times, to boast meant something different; more along the lines of expressing truth claims, making assertions, or communicating something in which you identify.

I recently read the passage from Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians about the thorn is his flesh that he repeatedly begged the Lord to remove.  The Lord responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  St. Paul reacts: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10.

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There’s something deeply reassuring and comforting about the idea that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God doesn’t expect or demand us to be strong because we’re not.  Boasting, or fully laying claim, to our human weakness allows the power of Christ to flourish in us.  How awesome.

As the Lord so often does, this concept of boasting appeared again the same day, as I came across an article my sister forwarded to me. It mentioned James 4:7 which lead me to a verse I’d quoted in a previous post. In the ESV translation, this verse is introduced under the heading “Boasting About Tomorrow”:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4: 13-17.

The context of this verse is important. Earlier in this passage, James tells the followers of Christ that “faith without works is dead” and also warned them about the dangers of worldliness.  So, here the concept of boasting is applied to people whose assertions and truth claims focus on themselves and their human abilities and aspirations.  Putting faith in yourself or in the worldly guarantee of tomorrow’s plans, rather than in God, is evil.

Seeing the repeated references to boasting throughout these Bible passages caused me to stop and think about the lesson we’re supposed to learn. To boast in the Lord congers up a feeling of enthusiasm and joy.  Boasting also has the powerful meaning of making truth claims and asserting your belief in Christ.  It’s an important thing to ponder: In what do I boast?  Just like we cannot serve two masters – God and money, likewise, we can’t ultimately boast in God and also in ourselves, our abilities, our worldly desires, or anything else.

As Christians, there’s a quintessential passage that directs us in what we should boast (i.e. claim, assert, declare): But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 14: 14.

Running as a Metaphor for Life

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Last Saturday morning, I did my first 20 mile run. It was fun, hard, exhausting, and motivating! Once again, I found myself reflecting on how long distance running is a great metaphor for life.

Although it’s natural to be optimistic and runners always hope to feel good on their long runs, the truth is that sometime during those many miles, you’re going to be in pain. You’re going to want to stop running.  It’s going to be a mental struggle to keep going.  But, then you’ll start to feel better, stronger. You may run a few miles that feel great, even effortless.  However, discomfort and exhaustion are likely just around the corner.

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I can’t overstate how much running has helped me to practice and adapt to being “in the moment.” That said, I still spend a fair amount of time thinking ahead or trying to anticipate how I’m going to feel on, say mile 14, when I’m back running mile 3.  But, I’m aware of it, and often can get myself to refocus on my footfalls, my breathing, the scenery around me, so that I can experience (and hopefully enjoy) mile 3 while I’m there.  I often have a mantra running through my head that reminds me: “Run that stretch when you get there”.

Setting out for a long run feels like an embrace of living life to the fullest. I spend time praying and listening to music that evokes varied feelings of melancholy, joy, excitement, and even rage (Eminem is oddly motivating in his anger!).  Not knowing how I’m going to feel throughout the run is part of the allure.  Suspecting that discomfort will inevitably arise and I’ll have to overcome the desire to stop running at some point, I am able to feel those feelings and remember that they will pass.

Certain songs will motivate me to run faster or bring a smile to my face when they evoke memories of my husband or kids. I’ve run through many Spanish ranchero, disco, and Tom Petty songs out of loving devotion to my husband.  Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” reminds me of Sienna, as it instantly calmed her as a baby.  Right now, Teo is obsessed with Sara Barellies’s song “Brave”, so when it played during my 20 miler, I smiled and thought of him singing at the top of his lungs.

Long distance running involves a constant ebb and flow of physical, mental, and emotional states. Whatever you’re feeling at any given moment is likely fleeting, so you can’t get attached to that euphoric feeling of effortless running or caught up in the pain of a hill that seems endless.  You’ll reach the peak.  There will be a downhill to recover.  And, then the cycle will begin again.

And that’s how running is a metaphor for life.  Our thoughts and feelings are constantly changing.  All we really have is the “now” – the moment we’re actually living.  By staying focused on the moment, you are in the best position to act to improve your life or reach your goals.  Worrying about the future literally robs us of the energy and focus to perform well in the present.

 

 

Acceptance is a Beautiful Thing

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I’m feeling restful and quiet today, in a peaceful and prayerful kind of way. Last Wednesday, I remarked that I had been feeling really happy and energized the past couple weeks.  Who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow, or next week.  Being able to feel the ebb and flow of my emotions is, in itself, a good thing.  I cherish the deep knowledge that all of these feelings are fleeting and transient.

I’m on Day 22 of a Whole30. If you’re not familiar with this plan, you basically just eat whole foods for 30 days.  No grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, or added sweeteners, even natural ones.  Within a few days of starting this plan, it was clear to me that I’m still the girl who thrives on discipline.  I LOVE having strict rules for my diet.  It makes me (and my blood sugar!) feel under control.  Needing to take very little insulin each day was like achieving a little gold star…from whom, I’m not sure.

Focusing on my diet has extended to my family as I’m reading Grain Brain and learned that the medical community is realizing what we diabetics can clearly see on our glucose monitors, grains and refined sugar are not good for our bodies. Dennis and I have absolutely observed how refined wheat has impacted Sienna’s ability to focus and concentrate at school.  As a family, we’ve embraced a grain free diet and she is a very enthusiastic participant.  Last week, I overhead Sienna playing “paleo restaurant” in the bathtub and had to choke back my tears.  It’s brought me such joy to make her delicious, healthy food and watch her devour it!

Meanwhile, I’ve been training for a marathon and running longer distances each weekend. Setting a goal and making the effort to achieve it, likewise brings a sense of accomplishment and control.

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Riding this high the past couple weeks, I found myself prayerful considering whether I was falling into a place of striving to control my emotional state. A lot of planning goes into eating whole foods and long distance running training.  Was I feeling so “up” because of my hyper focus on planning?  Did I feel happy because life felt controllable?

As it happens, I started feeling a little uneasy and apprehensive last night, for no particular reason that came to mind. After reading for a long time and dismissing some passing thoughts about how well I’d fall asleep, I ended up tossing and turning for a long time last night.  When I woke this morning, I felt that tinge of dread that I’d be exhausted and anxious today.  Instead, I decided, “This is a good day to practice acceptance and being mindfully in the moment.”  I prayed Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Then, I got up to make paleo pancakes for my family.

I now recognize that those nights when I don’t fall asleep quickly are gentle little reminders to surrender and stop trying to control my feelings. When I first read The Happiness Trap, I was struck by Dr. Harris’s observation that a full life involves the entire spectrum of human emotions.  That concept was something I could embrace.  Instead of a goal to be “happy” my focus became living the “full life” that God has providentially given me.  This full life was going to involve anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, joy, fear, delight, excitement, boredom, etc.

A couple years ago, I’d still see this transition from high to relatively low as a problem, or at least a negative. But, time and experience has shown me that this is just life.  It’s real.  It’s not super fun and happy all the time.  If I still needed to feel in control, my struggle switch would flip and I would strive to feel “okay” again.  Now I know that staying present, defusing my unhelpful thoughts, and letting my feelings change on their own, is the healthiest mindset.

Acceptance is a beautiful thing.