My Lenten Discipline: Sacrificing Coffee

I wasn’t planning on “giving up” anything for Lent this year.  As my faith matured over the years, I started to view this practice as a bit of works righteousness.  The idea that giving up chocolate for 40 days would somehow impress God or improve the condition of my soul seemed pretty ridiculous! 

However, last night at the Ash Wednesday service, Pastor Brian put this traditional practice in perspective as a spiritual discipline for repentence of our sins during the Lenten season, rather than a futile attempt to earn God’s favor.  I started to consider what I could give up, in addition to adding Lenten devotions to our family routine.  My first thought was to make a dietary resolution, but those are challenging when you have diabetes and blood sugar considerations will always dictate when and what I eat. 

Then, I thought of the things that I rely on in life in place of putting my trust and dependence on Christ.  Coffee immediately sprung to mind!  My daily coffee consumption has increased over the past few years and now afternoon coffee is pretty routine and I probably average three cups a day.  I’ve started to use coffee for the boost in both energy and mood.  I’ve noticed some negative impacts on my hydration and generally don’t like feeling addicted to something.  When I considered cutting back on coffee in the past, I kept deciding against it based on the fact that coffee/caffeine is something I enjoy and I ought to treat myself! 

The past couple months have involved a lot of soul searching, emotion, and relying on Christ in my day-to-day life in a profound way.  Limiting myself to one cup of coffee per day will take real mindfulness and reliance on prayer and surrender, instead of propping myself up with another cup of coffee when my energy or mood is low.  Today I did it!  One cup with breakfast and then that was it.  I didn’t spend time trying to decide when to have more coffee, as it was off the table.  I had a tough day, but instead of reaching for coffee, I let myself feel down and focused on the next thing in front of me. 

I just finished reading a book gifted to me by my dear Deaconess. It’s called Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by Rev. John W. Kleinig.  It will undoubtedly be the book (second to the Bible!) that I return to for guidance over and over again.  Truly, I could spend the rest of my writing/blogging years on the themes and quotations from this book!

Speaking of our approaching God, Kleinig writes:

We have nothing to give and everything to receive.  All that we ever receive from God the Father comes to us through Jesus, our intercessor and advocate.  We depend on Him for everything. Apart from Jesus, we are helpless before God the Father. Jesus alone is holy.  We borrow our holiness and everything else from Him. (pg. 277).

This season of my life has taught me about resting in God and letting go of striving. Surrendering and accepting that Jesus has already accomplished everything needful for my life and salvation is liberating and humbling. God doesn’t need my good works or my efforts to improve myself. I am holy because of Christ and Him alone.

My heart feels ready for Lent this year.  Ready to lean in to the aching and sadness of life as we reflect on our sinfulness and Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.  Ready to prepare my heart to celebrate with true hope and joy when we reach Easter and rejoice in the resurrection.  By then, I’ll surely be ready for a second cup of coffee. 


Best Laid Plans

Several months ago, Sienna and I were looking at a picture of her cousin Charley on social media. Sienna adores her little cousin so much! After exclaiming about how cute Charley’s picture was, Sienna said, “Mom, she’s going to be four soon! I have to see her before she turns four!” Her birthday is in mid-February and I thought of the possibility of going up to Humboldt for the kids’ President’s Day break. We quickly looked into flying, which has become much less expensive recently, and booked our trip.

Since I didn’t get to celebrate my fortieth birthday with my family, my dad and stepmom offered to throw a special birthday dinner for me. My sister Sarah’s kids, Sienna and Mateo would stay with a babysitter on Saturday evening before Charley’s birthday party on Sunday. Family time and a lot of celebration was our plan for the weekend!

We had a very smooth an uneventful flight to Humboldt via San Francisco, after getting up unbelievably early on Friday morning. An early flight always sounds like a good idea in theory, but on the plus side we arrived in Humboldt at 10:30 a.m. My mom picked us up from the airport and we headed to Arcata for a delicious brunch at T’s Cafe. My dad and stepmom swung by and met us outside the restaurant for hugs and catching up, on a beautiful and relatively warm winter day.

Since Sarah’s kids were still in school for a few hours, we killed time before Sienna and Teo could play with their cousins by exploring Arcata Plaza. It’s funny, being born and raised in Eureka, I didn’t spend that much time in Arcata growing up. But, now that my mom and sister live in McKinleyville, we do a lot of our dining, shopping, and coffee drinking in the shops and eateries around the Plaza.

It was Valentine’s Day, so once we all gathered at Sarah’s house and the kids were reunited, we had a little Valentine’s party, complete with exchanging valentine cards, decorating heart shaped cookies, and eating chocolate goodies. My mom, Sarah and I ended up decorating most of the cookies, which was fun and nostalgic for all the cookie decorating we’ve done over the years.

As we enjoyed our dinner, including amazing pork loin that my brother-in-law Casey (aka “the grill master”) grilled for us, the kids watched Frozen 2. Listening to Charley sing “Into the Unknown” was definitely a highlight of the trip! Our stepsister Jarae had joined the festivities by then, so the six of us adults sat around the dining table talking and laughing loudly. The kids kept turning up the volume of the television and shushing us to be quiet so they could enjoy their movie. It was hysterical for the adults to be considered the loud and obnoxious ones!

My mom and Sarah wanted to take me shopping in Old Town Eureka for my birthday gifts, so we asked Dennis and Casey to take the kids for the day on Saturday. They are wonderful husbands and enjoy hanging out together, so they were game. Unfortunately, Mateo woke up pretty congested, but he’s had allergies when in Humboldt in the past, so we gave him some allergy medicine and wished the men well.

The ladies headed to Arcata for breakfast to fuel our day of shopping. As we parked and started for the crosswalk, I didn’t see a little island next to the sidewalk. My toe hit the curb and I fell, hard. It was like those slow-motion falls where I could tell I had no chance of catching myself and I felt my shin, knee, shoulder, hands, and eventually face hit the pavement.

Falling, as an adult, is fortunately a fairly rare occurrence. It’s humiliating and it hurts! For a second I laid on the ground and wished that I could go back in time a few seconds and notice that oddly placed island. How ridiculous was this turn of events.

My mom and Sarah quickly helped me up as I started to cry. They helped me assess my injuries, a large gash on my finger needed the most attention. We all expected that the left side of my face would have a large abrasion. My shoulder and forearm hurt, but they weren’t scratched. As we drove to my mom’s, Sarah said, “It’s okay, you can cry, Kels.” So, I did. A lot.

We got the gash and scratch on my hands cleaned and bandaged up. As we discussed what happened my mom said, “Well, as you get older…” and we all cracked up. It was that crazy mix of laughter through tears as I said, “Oh yeah, now that I’m 40, I can’t stay on my feet!” “That’s not what I meant!” my mom exclaimed. Later, Sarah cleaned the shoulder of my fleece sweatshirt and I iced my face to keep the swelling down. I continued to cry and felt so grateful that this happened with two of the people who love me and know me most in the world.

Once the tears had run their course, I was able to notice some hidden blessings. First, I realized that I had just taken my sunglasses off, which would really have hurt had they still be on my face when I fell. Also, since it was a chilly Humboldt morning, I was in jeans, a heavy fleece sweatshirt and sturdy shoes so my body was well protected as I hit the ground. As it turned out, my shoulder took the brunt of the impact and it had a deep bruise by the next day. Also, my face didn’t end up with an abrasion at all, just a bruise on the cheekbone that hurts when you touch it but you can’t really see.

Our shopping outing was delightful! We got some beautiful pieces of clothing at The Irish Shop and found some other fun items around Old Town. We ended our mother/daughter day with coffee at Ramone’s and exploring a bookstore – two of my favorite activities with two of my favorite people!

We picked up cupcakes for Charley’s birthday party the next day on our way back to Sarah’s house. We arrived to discover that Mateo was really flushed and lethargic. The dads had been sending us pictures throughout the day of the kids at the fish hatchery and lunch, and they’d been keeping an eye on Teo. We noticed his pink cheeks in the pictures, but we were still surprised when we took his temperature and it was 102.9 degrees! Around this same time, my nephew Cody began vomiting, which we desperately hoped was caused by motion sickness from trampoline jumping. Controlled chaos ensued as we tried to decide how to handle the situation.

Eventually we ended up cancelling the birthday dinner and the babysitter. Casey and Sarah attended to Cody and eventually concluded that it probably wasn’t motion sickness as he didn’t start to feel better quickly. We decided to take Teo to urgent care so we could see if he had the flu and possibly start Tamiflu right away. They did diagnose him with the flu and ordered the antiviral medication for us to pick up the next morning, as all the pharmacies were already closed. As we left urgent care, we learned that Charley had also started vomiting, so her birthday party was also called off.

Sienna came down with the fever and cough on Sunday morning! As Sarah said, “Too bad the kids don’t all have the same thing, then they could at least hang out and watch movies together!” As it was, the Bonilla family hunkered down at Gaga’s while we alternated doses of Tamiflu and acetaminophen to keep their fevers down. My mom and I took Charley over her gifts and wished our angel girl a “happy birthday” while she reminded us to take Sienna the birthday gift she’d left there the night before. What an amazing little four year old!

Since I was feeling fine, I met up with my dad and stepmom for a wonderful, long chat and coffee on Sunday afternoon, which helped complete our trip to Humboldt. I’d been looking forward to catching up with both of them. Connection was easier in a small gathering!

Looking back, so many things went wrong on this trip. I also forgot the pills I take for diabetes management so I needed a lot more insulin than normal, which was frustrating! The most disappointing was that Charley was sick for her 4th birthday and we had to cancel her party.

But, Sienna got to spend a lot of time playing with her cousin before she turned four, which was the catalyst for our trip. Lane, Cody and Teo had fun playing together and I got to spend time with my loved ones to celebrate a milestone year. There were a lot of sweet moments of connection and family bonding over these few days, not in spite of, but because of things going wrong.

Family are the people who are there for you when you need them. They don’t need you to put on a happy face or a strong front. They love and accept you: injuries, illnesses, and all.


A Birthday Surprise!

The weekend before my 40th birthday, Dennis and I had plans for dinner with my dear friend Christina and her boyfriend Tom.  We were planning to go to their favorite Italian restaurant that they rave about! I was excited about trying the food and having a fun night out with our friends.  However, the day before was a rough one for me.  I was very down and felt like I wouldn’t make very good company.  I texted Christina: “Just want to forewarn you that I’m struggling with some anxiety right now so I may not be my typical cheerful self. But, I love having the time to connect with you!” She quickly replied: “Oh my sweet friend. I love you regardless of your mood. Thanks for your honesty.”

This brief exchange calmed my nerves and my heart.  When Dennis asked me later that evening if I felt up to going out the following night, I was able to reply, “Yes, I want to connect with my friend. It’s okay if I’m not feeling great.” 

Emotions truly are like the weather; they’re always changing.  I decided to dress up a bit for dinner and had stopped struggling with the anxiety by the time we left.  Sienna took pictures of us by the fireplace (like we were headed to prom!) because she said we looked so nice together.

As Dennis drove and we chatted about my upcoming birthday, I thought about how supportive and caring he is, especially when I’m in a dark place and need to lean on him.  We got to Christina’s early and sat in the car talking when suddenly I touched his hand and said, “You really love me.” I can’t remember what prompted me to say that, but I remember feeling so loved.  We were meeting at Christina’s to take an Uber to the restaurant.  It’s in a busy area near downtown so I figured we were trying to avoid parking issues.  We went inside and were directed to an upstairs room.

The upstairs is small, with just enough room for a long table for one large party.  When we got to the top of the stairs I was met with cheers of “Surprise!” by most of my dearest friends in San Diego!   I was shocked.  I instantly gave Christina a long hug and then turned to Dennis, “Did you know about this?!” He had the biggest smile on his face and conceded that he knew.  Turns out he and Christina had been hatching this plan for weeks. 

As I looked at the gathered guests I thought: “These are exactly the people I would invite to my party!”  Which made me feel seen and known by my husband and friend.  As I tried to recover from the shock, another thought flashed in my mind: “I’m not up for this.  I can’t be on for everyone.”  Fortunately, I took a moment to pray and the Holy Spirit quickly comforted me with another thought, “Just let them love you.  You don’t have to perform for them.”  I got a little teary as I sat down and started talking with my friends. 

My friends love me.  Dennis loves me.  These thoughts occurred to me within a half an hour.  Why did this feel like a revelation?  When you repress your feelings, you don’t just repress the “negative” or painful ones, you also repress joy and tender moments of connection.  When I open my heart and allow myself to feel my emotions, everything becomes heightened and intensifies.  When I let myself feel, then I could actually feel loved. 

The surprise party was utterly delightful!  I soaked up the time with my loved ones and enjoyed the conversation.  Many of my friends didn’t know other guests at the party, so it was very fun to watch them connect and find commonalities.  After being “in my head” so much, it was such a joy to be present and have fun!  The food was delicious too.  One of the fun things about surprise parties is hearing all the backstory that you weren’t aware of when it was happening. To think, all this planning and plotting for me!

Being able to feel joy and true happiness within a period of anxiety and darkness is a lesson I will remember.  When we don’t feel upbeat or happy, that’s precisely when we should engage with our loved ones and lean on them for support, encouragement, connection, joy, and fun.  Our feelings are constantly changing.  Moments of tenderness and joy may be just around the corner.  


I’m Tired.

I’m tired. 

I don’t admit that often.  Or, if I’m honest, at all. 

Being tired is not something I acknowledge or claim in my day-to-day life.  I have an inner critic that tells me I have to keep moving, keep proving, keep earning something, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what.  I need to keep checking things off the list, although it’s not a literal “to do” list anymore.  I stopped keeping those years ago when I realized how disconnected I was from my life.  Instead, it’s now a mental list of all the “good” things I need to be doing or rules for behavior I must uphold.  From eating habits to exercise, housekeeping to responding to work emails, there’s always some “next right thing” I should be doing. This striving requires me to live within my own mind too much of the time.

The past several weeks have been hard.  Insomnia triggered anxiety returned to my life in Paris and has been a fairly consistent companion ever since.  I have had some good nights of rest, but dropping this struggle for control has been hard.  My always active mind keeps searching for a fix, which I know is an illusion of control.  When I let go, I cling to God and pray for help in surrendering to His grace, love and perfect will. 

Recognizing how little control we have over our thoughts and feelings was a huge lesson for me. However, when I experience painful emotions and have negative thoughts, my mind still goes into fight or flight mode and I struggle to change my thoughts and feelings.  I’m actually really good at repressing my emotions by reframing or focusing on thoughts and feelings that give me a sense of control. 

But, I don’t want to continue to strive for control over my emotions.  I want to trust God and allow myself to feel my emotions.  I want to be able to say, “I’m tired” when I feel it, rather than repress that feeling from myself.  I want to stop the incessant evaluation and judgments that I hold on to in an attempt make life feel predictable and safe.  I want to surrender.

In The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection, Richard Plass and James Cofield write: “True surrender is not resignation or a passive giving up on life.  Surrender is a Spirit-empowered act of courage.  It is the willingness to offer our lives to God and trust him with the outcome.  It is giving our lives to God each day, recognizing our dependency on him.  It is trusting God even when what we are living is dark and confusing and something we never thought we would have to live.”

Surrender and acceptance of painful emotions happens over and over again within the present moment.  One of the strategies I often use to acknowledge when my thoughts have hooked me is simply to thank my mind.  Tonight, while cooking dinner, I added something powerful after “Thanks Mind!” I silently thought, “I’ll just trust God.” 

I let go of control and surrender, little by little, moment by moment, as I unhook from my unhelpful thoughts and focus on the grace of God through Jesus.  Even when I’m anxious, sad, frustrated, confused, or yes, tired.