A Daily Mantra for Presence and Connection

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It’s a typical weeknight, around 5 o’clock and I’m headed to pick up my kids from their after school program.  As I make the familiar drive, my thought pattern might sound something like this:

Dinner is tacos, so I’ll need to prep most of it when we get home.  It’s bath night, so I’ll get Sienna in the bath while Teo does his homework.  Then, if she takes a quick bath I can get Teo into the bath while I finish dinner.  With luck, they’ll both be done by the time Dennis gets home from work.  Then, we’ll eat dinner.  I’ll get their lunches packed while Dennis does the dishes and the kids watch a little television with their dessert.  I think we still have some cookies left.  We should get them to bed earlier tonight…

Or, my thoughts might go like this:

What a pretty evening.  I wonder how the kids’ school day went.  I wonder if Teo lost his tooth today… he was trying to wiggle it out at school.  Sienna’s going to be excited to tell me how much further she’s gotten in the Reading Olympics.  I’m so excited she’s starting to read The Babysitter’s Club books now!  Hmmm, Bath night tonight and tacos for dinner.  We’ll see how it goes – maybe they’ll both get done before dinner, maybe not.  We’ll see how everything unfolds…

014.JPGI have noticed that my mindset makes a huge difference in how I relate to my family.  When I approach the moment with the openness and curiosity of that second scenario, I am more present, am better able to connect with my husband and children, and everyone is more peaceful.  When I have a mental checklist of all the action items that need to be crossed off, I turn our time together as a family into a distracted series of “to-dos”.

Life is in the here and now.  It’s not an idealized time and place we’ll get to enjoy once all the busyness of our day is done.  When my kids have a question or want me to do something with them, the time to hear them and connect is right then.  If I’m too busy with dinner, bath time, chores, or other activities, I’ll miss the moment.  Obviously, meals have to be cooked, dishwashers need to be emptied, kids need to do homework, and teeth have to be brushed.  It’s also important that kids learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them.  Sometimes, their story or activity will need to wait while we set the table for dinner or finish washing their hair.  But, the answer can’t always be, “Not now, I’m too busy…” if we want to enjoy our evening routine and use it as a time of connection and restoration as a family.

The subtle, underlying problem with the first scenario is that it depends upon a unhealthy level of control over people and situations that I simply do not have.  The kids could be in a happy, cooperative mood, or one (or both!) of them may be very tired and need help processing their feelings about something that happened that day.  Any number of issues could pop up to derail the “plan” from a sick dog to food that spoiled.  Until I’m in the moment, how can I know what’s going to happen?

By pre-planning in specific detail, I trick myself into feeling a sense of control.  If things unfold as I imagine, I feel comfort and stability.  However, the thing I’m sacrificing is presence and connection.  The “plan” or my list of action items becomes the driving force in the evening, instead of presence to see and hear my children and husband.  Also, if things don’t go according to my plan, then I’m extra irritable and short with my loved ones for not falling in line and behaving the way I wanted them to (of course, many of those expectations go unsaid, so it’s particularly unfair!).

The little mantra I’ve started to use, when I notice my mind (oh those pesky thoughts!) drifting towards imagining how the evening will go, is: “I’ll see how I feel when I get there.”  It’s a thought that I originally started using when on long runs I’d start dreading the hill at mile 9 when I was back on mile 2!  But, it’s so applicable to any thought that anticipates a future moment.  You won’t know how the moment will go or how you’ll feel, until you’re there.

Surround a Child with Love

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043The other morning after my Lenten devotion, I wandered into Sienna’s bedroom, cup of tea in hand, to wake her up.  I felt incredibly present.  My mind was quiet and I felt a little sleepy and cozy with my cup of tea.  The thankfulness I’d just been cultivating by contemplating the passion of Jesus lead me to feel intense gratitude for this precious daughter.  The joy of all joys to be her mother!

Looking at my sweet daughter, I remembered her sleeping face as a baby, toddler, and younger child.  It amazes me that I’ve watched her grow through all these stages; all the while she maintains a wonderfully constant “Sienna-ness”.

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She had two paw stickers on her face from the Jog-a-thon the day before.  Sienna didn’t want to take them off the night before; I smiled knowing she’d be happy they remained intact overnight.

Gazing around her bedroom, I truly saw the objects and messages in her little world.  She’s wrapped in blankets made by her Gaga, and hearts – lots of hearts.  On her walls are lots of pictures and signs with constant themes of love.  Love from God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Love from her parents and extended family.

There’s the “Jesus Loves You” sign her Aunt Sarah made her.  There’s a cross she received for her First Holy Communion with the verse: The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9), right next to her bed.  Photos of her with her parents as a newborn adorn one wall, while a picture of Sienna and Mateo with huge frozen treats above a “Be Still” sign hang on the opposite wall.

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Then, I noticed the diagram she’d drawn on her chalkboard.  The one we bought for organization, but has only been used as a creative outlet.  The middle heart says “Gaga” – that’s my mom.  Around the outside are words Sienna used to describe her Gaga: loved, sweet, cute, kind, and nothing bad.

Surround a child with love and they will have love to give the world.

I hated to end this moment of peace and quiet gratitude, but we had to start getting ready for school and work.  Slowly I started to wake Sienna up.  She has always woken up so cheerfully – ever since she was a baby.  She reached for my arm and pulled it towards her chest.  After she’d opened her eyes, I asked her to look around her room.

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“I was just looking at all your things, all the signs and messages in your room.  Do you see a consistent theme?” I asked her.

“Jesus? God?” she replied.

“Yes, true. What else?” I prompted.

Pausing to look around, Sienna replied, “Love.”

 

 

Take this cup from me…

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I’m working through a Lenten devotional called Contemplating the Cross: A 40 Day Pilgrimage of Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes, for the second time this Lenten season.  My first time through was six years ago.  I’m getting so much more out of it this time around, mostly because of my willingness and desire to dig deep and face unpleasant emotions.  There’s no way to understand Christ’s suffering without facing the pain and suffering head on.

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Yesterday’s devotion helped me understand Jesus’s suffering in the garden in a new way.  In order for Jesus, who had no sin, to be the sacrifice for our sins, he had to take on the sins of the world.  He had to become sin for us.  Rhodes explains, the cup Jesus asks the Father to take from him is filled with the sins of all humanity throughout all of time. Can you imagine the repulsion that Jesus must have felt?

In response to each daily devotion, Rhodes urges readers to write prayers. Here’s mine:

Dear Lord Jesus,

I cannot imagine the depths of sin and darkness that filled the cup you were given in the garden.  My sin was included.  Your perfect righteousness was defiled by the sin of the world that night. 

I am so eternally grateful that you drank from the cup, becoming sin for us, so you could be the sacrifice for sin.  My life and the lives of everyone I love, indeed, everyone in the world, would have been lost had you dashed the cup upon the ground.  Your struggle, pain, and doubt was not as big and strong as your love and obedience toward the Father. 

If only we could try to immolate that obedience, Lord.  We would all be so much better off; I would be.  But, you are perfect righteousness.  You are ultimate love and compassion.  You are the giver of life and all good things.  Thank you for loving me and drinking my sin into your body that night.  May my life always reflect this gratitude. 

In your precious name, Amen.