It’s Beginning to Look A lot Like…

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Fall!

Oh, how I love Fall! It’s by far my favorite season.

I love the coziness and slight chill in the air.  Though, in San Diego that means highs in the 70s instead of the 80s and 90s, but whatever, it’s cooler!

Bates Nut Farm 026I love when football begins, so we can cheer on the Dolphins and enjoy our Sunday routine of church, followed by brunch at home in front of the game.  So much fun!

I love our annual trip to the pumpkin patch at Bates Nut Farm!  I’m used to checking the weather and praying for cozy coolness for several days ahead of time.  Hot weather kind of kills the boot and scarf and sweater outfit I always want to wear.

I love the autumn wreath that we always hang on our front door.

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I love the fall flavors and making pies.  For several years, the annual pie auction at our church preschool was a highlight of the season.  I don’t mind telling you that I was really disappointed when this event was cancelled last year.  Still, fond memories of making my Whiskey Chocolate Pecan Pie and the fun of having folks bid against each other for it!

I love making pumpkin pancakes, which are delightfully easy to make paleo for me.  With some toasted pecans and a drizzle of real maple syrup.  Delicious!

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I love Thanksgiving and the traditions of the day.  We start with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with breakfast.  I’ll cook most of the day, while football is viewed and perhaps tossed around in the backyard, then we’ll feast in the late afternoon.  Finally, we watch Home Alone while eating our pumpkin pie.  It’s the best, but it’ll be hard to top last year, when my sister and her family came to visit!  That was truly the best.

I love going up to Julian during the fall. It’s this quaint, old mining town in the mountains east of San Diego.  We try to make it up each year for apple picking. This year just Dennis and I are going up there to celebrate our wedding anniversary!  We’ve always wanted to spend the night in Julian.  So, we’re taking this opportunity to spend one night and then hang out all day on our anniversary, which is a Monday this year.  It’ll be fun to explore the town with less of a crowd!

November 2012 029I love wearing boots and scarves.  I have a ridiculous number of scarves for someone who lives in San Diego.  So, daily scarf wearing in the fall helps justify the closet space they take up!

I love watching Teo play soccer!  Tomorrow’s the second game of the season, and it’s so fun to watch him and his buddies play.  After coaching T-Ball in the spring, I know several of his soccer teammates quite well, so it’s extra fun to cheer for the team.  At their first game last week, they discovered that the field was significantly bigger than last year.  It was an adjustment, for sure.  Time for some conditioning practice!

I love our neighborhood Halloween traditions of meeting at one house for a pre-party and then trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.  It’s so fun to see all the creative costumes!

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I love carving pumpkins!  I pretty much do the same jack-o-lantern face every year, so it’s like meeting an old familiar friend.  We’ve now learned to carve them a day or two before Halloween or else they’ll rot and literally melt on our front step.  That was never an issue growing up in Humboldt County!

I love our church’s annual Oktoberfest celebration!  We have amazing German food and beer, while enjoying fellowship with our church family.  This year is going to be extra special since it falls on Reformation Sunday, and… it’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation!  Truly amazing to think how much the world has changed thanks to Martin Luther’s insight into the gospel and grace through Christ alone.

I love pumpkin spice flavor, be in in lattes, muffins, cookies, whatever.

As you can see from this post, another thing to love about fall is looking back on pictures of our annual trip to the pumpkin patch.  It’s so cool to watch the kids grow through the years as they pose in front of piles of beautiful orange pumpkins.  Looking forward to adding to the collection of pumpkin photos with my big kids this year!

L-O-V-E

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The Gospel reading for this past Sunday was from Matthew, chapter 18, when the disciples asked Jesus “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replies by calling a child over to him and He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I love this reminder and oh, how I need to keep it in front of me daily.

The prevailing message in our society is self-determination.  We are encouraged to strive hard, be productive, and generally make our way in the world.  Jesus’s message couldn’t be more different.  His definition of greatness is the opposite of what the world tells us.  The child who is humble, meek, and readily surrenders to the care and guidance of their Father in heaven, that one is the greatest.

I don’t know about you, but this message brings me such relief! It tells me: “Stop striving, Kels!  Stop trying to live up to the expectations of this world.  Stop needing things to go a certain way so you can feel comfortable and in control. Stop measuring your worth through productivity, wealth, or accomplishments.”

Instead, look around you, be present in the moment, what are you called to do right now?  Try praying for guidance.  Try resting and waiting for God’s timing to be fulfilled. Be humble and surrender.  God knows what’s best and he’ll let you in on his plan for your life a little bit at a time.  You don’t get to see the whole picture.  You don’t know what’s best.  But, your Father in heaven does.  Stop. Rest.

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As a parent actively raising young children, this imagery of childhood and submitting to the guidance of loving parents is particularly meaningful.  Just last night, I had the opportunity to pray for wisdom, stay present, and help my son through a challenging moment.  Teo was sitting at the dining table and making a consistent, annoying noise.  After asking him to stop a few times, I decided to put music on in the kitchen to divert his attention.  He didn’t react well to the music coming on.

“I don’t like this music!” he complained as Frank Sinatra’s crooning filled the room.  I explained that this was mommy’s time for cooking and listening to music, so I wasn’t going to change it.  He continued to throw quite a fit.  I let him cry and yell for a few minutes, then tried to reason with him again.  He calmed a bit, but then came into the kitchen complaining again, “Turn this off, I don’t like it.”

The Nat King Cole song “L-O-V-E” was just starting.  Without any forethought, I scooped Teo up in my arms (which is getting harder and harder to do!) and started dancing with him in the kitchen.  He instantly relaxed and put his head on my shoulder as I sang along:

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore

And love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you

As the song came to an end, I silently prayed: “Thank you for that moment, Lord.”  Then I kissed Teo on the cheek as I put him down.  Within a few minutes he grabbed his glove and baseball to practice pop-flys in the backyard while dinner finished cooking.

When I think of the way that God lovingly guides and cares for us, despite our persistent sin, pridefulness, and general disregard for his direction, I’m inspired to love my children unconditionally.  Children are often sent the message that they will be loved when they obey their parents or other authority figures.  Being a “good girl” or “good boy” and being praised for those traits leads to many “people pleasers” and “approval addicts”.   What if we allowed our children to feel their emotions, express them, assert their will, and have their own perspectives?  Then, we can teach, guide, and coach them with loving support and big doses of hugs and love.  What if we tried to model God’s grace for us in the way we parent our children?

11:06

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Several months ago, I noticed an odd phenomenon.  Most days, at the office, I checked the time at precisely 11:06 a.m.  At first, this just made me pause and smile to myself.  But, after several instances, I considered this random event more consciously.

Dennis and my wedding anniversary is November 6th. Seeing 11:06 on the clock on a nearly daily basis, was a sweet reminder of my husband and our marriage.  I started emailing or texting Dennis when I caught “our time” on the clock.   Such a small little thing, but it was fun to turn it into something special in our daily routine.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that noticing 11:06 began during this stage in our life.  I’ve been quite aware lately that marriages are difficult to maintain.  We’re in the child raising phase of life and it’s very easy to let the world revolve around our kids.  While we love them like crazy, ultimately Sienna and Mateo are going to grow up, leave the nest, find a spouse, and create a family of their own (at least that’s our hope and prayer!).  Building a life that revolves around them will not bode well for our marriage once they’re launched into the world.

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Dennis and I were friends before we fell in love, bonding over a shared love of sports, faith, and San Diego.  We still have a lot in common; there are so many things we enjoy doing together.  Football is Dennis’s passion.  When we lived downtown, before we had kids, going out to watch the Dolphins’ game was a weekly tradition.  Then, for several years, I was too distracted with my need to plan and so “in my head” that I didn’t make the time to sit down and watch a football game with Dennis.  As we settled in to watch football together today, I reached for his hand and decided to just watch the game and share this time with my husband.  Productivity went out the window today, but our relationship got nurtured, so that’s a win.

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to accept so many invitations and requests for our time that we don’t have space to connect to the most important people in our lives.  To protect and support our marriage, we’re making an effort to consciously connect on a daily basis, even if it’s just sharing about our day for a few minutes without the kids’ interrupting!  We just restarted our coffee date routine today, as Sunday school resumed for the year.  It’s my favorite.  We’re looking forward to some “date days” once I get through this fall busy season at work.  We’re making it a priority to spend meaningful time with one another.  That’s something worth planning!

At the beginning of this year, we decided this was the year of “Only What’s Essential”.  In my life, Dennis is essential.

On the drive home from church this morning, I glanced at the clock. It was 11:06.  “Look, Babe!” I said and pointed to the clock.  It turned to 11:07 about 3 seconds later, but we caught “our time”.

 

Seeking Peace Where it Can’t Be Found

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Living in our postmodern, technological age, we are inundated with information all the time.  Browsing through the bookstore or library (two of my favorite activities!) reveals that there’s pretty much no topic that hasn’t been researched and written about.  I’m a fan of physical paper books, but there’s obviously a nearly infinite number of electronic and online sources of information.  From diet plans, cookbooks, and exercise advice, to personal productivity, self-help, and religion, if you have a problem, there’s at least a dozen sources of potential answers.

Culling through all the noise and conflicting advice is enough to make your head spin.  There are certainly useful and sometimes very helpful ideas that we can implement in our lives in practical ways.  But, as a Christian, I’ve found that all the worldly advice and self-help rhetoric can never compare to God’s perfect guidance.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses from Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 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: 4-7

When I’m striving for control, I can dive deep into the latest research, diet, or other self-help approach, seeking to improve myself and be healthier, smarter, and more productive.  But, none of that information can ever give me what I deeply desire.  It can’t fill the God-shaped hole inside me or provide the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.  In fact, instead of lasting peace, this striving for control ultimately leads me away from God as I rely on my own understanding.

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When I trust in God and rest in prayer, I am consistently amazed by how perfect His timing is, how the right words come to mind and prompt me to act in loving ways so I can connect with those around me.  What truly matters always gets the appropriate amount of attention and time when I stop striving to control and accept the world around me.

If you step back and think about it, this striving and seeking our own way forward, instead of relying on God, it’s pretty ridiculous.  The Creator of the universe has made Himself known through His Son and communes with us through the Holy Spirit, so that we always have access to Him and His perfect love.  But, so often, our sinfulness drives us into ourselves and we believe the lie that we can make it on our own.  Instead of turning to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we trust our feeble, limited wisdom.  Craziness!

There’s undoubtedly a lot of wise and helpful advice and information in all types of mediums that we can read and learn.  I’m a lifetime student at heart and still love going to a coffee shop to read and take notes!  It’s my special “me time” that I try to carve out on a weekly basis.  But, now I’m doing it prayerfully, asking for proper discernment, so that trusting in God is always foremost in my heart and mind.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6

My Journey from Control to Acceptance

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Everywhere you look in modern American culture, you hear people saying they want to be happy. The goal of life is seemingly to maintain a consistent state of happiness.  It wasn’t that long ago that I believed staying “happy all the time” was achievable.  Then, one of the wisest people I know told me something profound.  She said, “I don’t think of happiness as a state I try to stay in.  Something happens and it makes me happy.  Through Christ, I have joy, peace, love, and hope all the time, but I don’t try to stay happy.”  While I couldn’t snap out of my perspective that quickly, for the past few years, this comment has shaped my growth.  I wanted to be a person who didn’t try to stay happy all the time.

The next teacher God placed in my path was a lovely counselor in the Midwest named Brenda. She took my call when I reached out for help during a moment of intense anxiety.  After I described my struggle with being present in the moment, a hyper focus on planning and control, and generally fighting to regain feeling “happy all the time” she suggested I get a book called The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. I went straight to the bookstore, bought the only copy on the shelf, and started reading it right away.

This book was utterly transformative for me. I knew that the need to feel happy was at the root of my problem, but I didn’t know to change my mindset.  This book, and specifically Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT” pronounced like the word “act”) literally taught me the skills and techniques to make that transition, and I continue to use them every day.

Dr. Harris argues that happiness is not the normal state for human beings because our brains have evolved to warn us of danger, not to make us feel good. He outlines four myths about happiness that most people believe, the last of which rang most true for me: “You should be able to control what you think and feel”.   In fact, we have very little control over our thoughts and feelings.  Positive thinking and a lot of popular psychology encourages people to just “think more positively” – which actually helps to set the happiness trap.  The trap is set when we believe that the only acceptable feeling is “happy” and then struggle against any of the “negative” emotions that consistently occur in life.

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The progression of information and skill development in ACT is brilliant! When I first tried to “be in the moment” when my anxiety was at its worst, it was a complete failure.  I knew that I didn’t have the coping strategies to be comfortable in the moment.  ACT starts with dealing with your thoughts and teaching you how to minimize the importance of thoughts.  Rather than trying to turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts, this therapy teaches you to see them for what they are – a stream of words running through your mind.  Whether or not you give your full attention to a particular thought should be dictated by your answer to this question: “Is this thought helpful?” That is, does it help you take effective action in your life?  If the answer is no, you can let that thought run in the background and not struggle with it.  The goal of this skill, which is called defusion, is to accept your thoughts.

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Next up are emotions. Unhelpful and/or painful thoughts can often trigger uncomfortable feelings.  By dealing with thoughts first, you are then left with the emotions that are currently occurring in your body.  Again, the goal is acceptance of your feelings, instead of fighting them and flipping on your struggle switch.  The skill of expansion teaches us to open up and give our feelings as much room as they need to move on.  This process involves acknowledging that the moment is as it is and the feelings in your body are only sensations that you can observe, breathe into, and let be.  Instead of adding a lot of additional discomfort and anxiety by struggle against what you’re feeling, this state of expansion lets your feelings move, much like the weather that is constantly changing.

Once you’ve learned how to accept your thoughts and feelings, then you’re ready to learn how to connect with the present moment. Connection is all about turning your attention to what is happening around you: what you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.  It enables you to connect with the people you love by truly seeing them, noticing their feelings and readily responding to their needs.  There’s no greater joy that being able to be fully present to a loved one, right when they need you most.  When I am “in my head” my response is too often, “I’ll be there in a minute.”  When I’m connected to the moment, I transition and respond more quickly and joyfully.

There’s a beautiful irony to the process of acceptance and connection. When you break out of the happiness trap and accept your thoughts and feelings without judgment, you’re then able to connect and be present in your life more fully, which tends to result in more happiness and fulfillment!  Because, just as my wise friend noted, happiness comes from something happening that makes you feel happy.  If you are distracted from the moment by your thoughts, you won’t truly be present to experience those things that make you feel happy.  I now recognize that what I once considered being “happy all the time” was actually a feeling of control that make me feel good.  Feeling the range of human emotions allows you to recognize when you’re happy, sad, mad, joyful, peaceful, frustrated, and all the rest.  You can’t have the highs without the lows.

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Then, once you are able to connect to the moment and let your thoughts and feelings come and go, the book focuses on living a life you value. Being intentional about what you believe in, what you’re passionate about, and what truly matters in life, then begins to shape the committed actions you take. Since we ultimately have little control over our thoughts and feelings, but a lot of control over what we actually do, it make sense to focus our attention on valued action.  I found that, once I was present in the moment, opportunities to act on my values presented themselves all the time.  Sienna wants to talk about her day?  Yes, stop everything and listen.  Teo wants to go throw the baseball?  Yes, let’s do it!  Dennis is getting ready to sit in the backyard with coffee and read?  I’ll grab my book!  A friend or loved one needs to share what they’re going through?  Let’s talk.  Those moments can easily be missed when your thoughts demand all of your attention.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy isn’t tied to any particular religion, though Dr. Harris does outline his version of the Serenity Prayer in the book. I loved this connection!  The Serenity Prayer is so meaningful to me.  Through a lot of prayer and God’s guidance plus the skills of ACT provided me with the ability to accept, discern, and trust in God.

This is obviously just a summary, so I’d encourage anyone who’s struggling with anxiety, loss of the moment, or self-defeating habits to check out this therapy.