Although I was really tired and went to bed early, I laid awake for a while last night.  My mind had lots of interesting stories to tell me.  Some of the thoughts turned to taunting fears, as they can tend to do.  So, I rolled onto my back, breathed deeply and prayed “Your grace is sufficient for me” over and over like a mantra.  I was still awake, but felt peace.  When fears whispered in my mind again, I returned to my mantra and deep breathing: “Your grace is sufficient for me…”

This morning a reminder popped up on my phone.  It’s a verse from Matthew that helps ground me in dependence and trust in God.  “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.  Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:33-34.  The word “sufficient” jumped out at me as my nighttime mantra still rang in my ears this morning.

In our world of constant striving and accumulation of better stuff, of keeping up with the Joneses and displaying curated lives on social media, the idea of sufficiency is often missing.  We’re not often satisfied with just having an adequate house or enough money in the bank. 

What’s this about trouble being sufficient for the day?  No one wants trouble!  But, trouble comes to us on a daily basis with small things like an overdrawn checking account and kids forgetting their lunches.  It also comes in big things like a scary diagnosis, family conflict, and unemployment. 

Each day is going to provide enough trouble that you don’t need to borrow trouble from tomorrow, while you’re living in today.  But, the amazing thing is, God’s grace is all sufficient to handle today’s troubles.  Then, when tomorrow’s problems become today’s troubles, God’s grace will provide the strength and guidance to get through that day.  Then the next day… and on and on. 

Being present in today is such an act of faith.  It says that you trust God to provide the grace and love to navigate today. 

Paul writes of God telling him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Then he encourages the people of Corinth and us today by adding: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” 2Corinthians 12:8-11.

Strength out of weakness is not a value that gets much airtime these days.  But, oh how I’ve found it to be true!  When I humble myself and rely on God’s sufficiency (as restless nights lead me to), I’m met with such peace and comfort.  Those days when I truly ask God to guide and empower my steps, are the richest days.  As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, we can live one day at a time, enjoy one moment at a time, accept hardships as the pathway to peace, and trust that he will make all things right if we surrender to his will.

It’s ironic that lying in bed, praying for God’s sufficient grace is when I’m actually the strongest. 


If everything is special, nothing is special

A few weeks ago the kids were deep cleaning their rooms and considering whether to donate unused toys and stuffed animals.  As they resisted with the exclamation, “That one’s special!” I finally shared this life lesson with them: If everything is special, nothing is special.  Sienna marveled at that comment and asked me to elaborate.  I simply explained that “special” means unique, and extra important.  Everything cannot be special, by definition. 

Shortly later, Sienna participated in a Socratic discussion with her class and they pondered the questions: “Can everyone be a leader?  Are leaders born or made?”  As we went for an evening walk, Sienna told me about her contribution to the discussion.  “A lot of people were saying that everyone is a leader, but I said, ‘No, my mom said that if everything is special, nothing is special.  So, if everyone is a leader, then no one is a leader.”  I was so tickled at her application of this idea, which seems right to me.  Leaders necessitate followers, so everyone cannot be a leader.

I’m slowly making my way through Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and was struck by his description of the decline of heroic worship in modern America.  This satire describes action and attitudes you’ll want to instill in your children, in order to destroy their imagination.  Esolen writes, “Encourage the snigger rather than the cheer; the knowing smirk, rather than the flush of adoration.  Lead them in laughing at what you do not understand.  Finally, since the hero stretches our minds and hearts by being so strikingly different from the rest of us, even superior in some way to the rest of us, teach your children to hate and suspect excellence,” (pg. 147).

Later in the section, I grinned when I read: “If everyone is a hero, then no one is a hero…”  It’s the same idea I’d shared with the kids about things that are special.  Something is unique, special, different, or excellent because it’s not like everything or everyone else.  It’s the opposite of mundane, similar, average or unexceptional. 

The more I thought out these ideas, especially how heroic figures have declined in interest, I realized that excellence is truly at stake.  Along the lines of giving out trophies for all the participants in a soccer league and lowering expectations so everyone can meet them, excellence has taken quite a hit in modern America.  This happens when we applaud every action a child makes in order to build their self-esteem.  Or, when we don’t allow anyone’s performance to be lauded as exceptional, because other children might feel badly. 

Ironically, when our kids switched to The Cambridge School, I was struck by the frequency of competitions and schoolwide acknowledgment for the winners of the math Olympics, spelling bees, and the annual Speech Meet.  Rather than lowering the bar and recognizing everyone who reached it, excellence was publically praised! 

Interestingly, the response from students who didn’t win was never pouting or complaining about why they didn’t win.  Instead, they celebrated with their classmates and recognized the excellent performance that won the prize.  I remember Sienna proudly commenting, “Quincy did so well on his speech!” when he won the Speech Meet in fourth grade.  She was right, he did an amazing job!  For Sienna, seeing his accomplishment served as an example of what an excellent speech looks like.  Rather than being discouraged or upset that she didn’t win, she was inspired and energized by witnessing an excellent speech.  As a classmate and friend, she cheered for Quincy and felt like a participant in his success. 

Excellence is something to praise and acknowledge.  But, in order to do so, we must be able to distinguish outstanding performance from average performance.  We must have the courage to say this contribution or creation is special from the others.  Heroic acts of bravery are different than overcoming the everyday stresses of life.  We can’t fall into believing everything is excellent or nothing will be. 


Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

While visiting Humboldt this summer, my mom, sister and I capped off the visit by going shopping at a very cool store in town.  We must have spent twenty minutes just on the entry display alone!  That’s where I found a few treasures, including a little dish that I had to get for Sienna.  School was about to start in a couple weeks so I envisioned giving it to her as a little “back-to-school” morale gift.  It totally captured a sentiment I’m trying to instill in her and live by myself.  The dish says, “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”

Making the transition to The Cambridge School was challenging on many levels.  Sienna has borne the brunt of this difficulty as she matriculated in the fourth grade.  Cambridge is very intentional about the progression of learning and she missed a lot of the fundamentals in challenging subjects like math, grammar and Latin.  Also, Sienna is an artistic, creative, imaginative little soul.  Liner, logical topics (like the ones just mentioned!) are not her favorites to begin with, and now she had to shore up gaps that other students took years to fill. 

Although in my heart I wanted to embody a growth mindset and believe in the message you can do hard things, I sadly let fear trigger my need for control as the school year began.  Fear kept repeating a mantra in my mind that Sienna needed me to help her be organized or else she’d fall behind.  This fear and compulsion to control the situation led to very difficult day at the end of September. 

I woke early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep for awhile.  One of the ideas that caught my attention was, “How am I going to get Sienna to finish Peter Pan this weekend?”  She was on her second recommended reading book for the trimester and she’d just missed finishing the first book by the deadline a couple weeks prior.  In my mind this issue somehow became symbolic of the entirety of Sienna’s academic career. 

After breakfast I started in on my helpful reminders to Sienna to read Peter Pan.  She flatly refused and continued to read other books throughout the morning.  “Why doesn’t she just read the book she’s supposed to be reading?!” I kept fuming internally.  Around noon, I went into her room and said, “Can we have a heart-to-heart?” without really knowing where I was going with my question.

“You want me to read Peter Pan,” she deadpanned and stared at me.

In an uncharacteristic moment, I paused and took in her comment and obvious annoyance.  “Well, yes. But, the degree to which I want you to read Peter Pan is not healthy for either of us,” I replied.  I then apologized for nagging her and told her she could read it whenever she wanted. 

The rest of the day I prayed and contemplated why I’d gotten so hooked onto this need to make Sienna read the book.  Our relationship felt strained as I continued to push and nag her.  The thought occurred to me: I want to cherish her, not manage her.  Suddenly, I remembered a book I’d read years before about how people respond to inner and outer expectations.  Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies helped me recognize my “Upholder” tendency and Dennis’s “Questioner” tendency, which was hugely helpful for our communication (and marriage!).

I was actually about to donate my copy of the book, figuring I’d already learned the lessons I needed from it.  On a hunch, I pulled it off the shelf and started reading about the “Rebel” tendency, which is the type of person who doesn’t meet either inner or outer expectations.  Rebels like to do whatever they want, whenever they want.  They also have a strong need for individual expression and sense of identity.  As I read, the lightbulbs kept going off in my mind.  Sienna is such a Rebel!  And, as you could imagine, Rebels and Upholders (those who readily meet both inner and outer expectations) have trouble relating because we basically see the world from opposite angles. 

Literally, all my “helpful” suggestions and ideas of what Sienna should do and how she should do it, were backfiring!  Instead of guiding and teaching, my advice just triggered her rebellion as she proceeded to do the opposite of whatever I suggested.  This frustrated me and kept me striving to find just the right way to motivate her.  How liberating to realize the best way to motivate a Rebel is simply to provide information, explain potential consequences and let them choose without lectures, micro-management or rescuing them from their choice. 

While I excitedly read sections of the book aloud to Dennis in the living room, Sienna chimed in from her bedroom (I swear that child has the best hearing ever!): “That sounds about right.”   We talked about the dynamics going on between us and then embarked on this new way of relating. 

It has been transformative for our relationship!  Sienna is taking much more ownership of her schoolwork and achieving great results too.  I’m not nagging her or telling her what to do.  One night, she’d expressed an interest in doing a few different activities before bed.  I asked her, “Love, how are you going to finish your reading, go on a walk with Teo and me, take your shower, and chat with Chloe before bedtime?”  She considered and said, “I guess I’ll tell Chloe that we’ll talk tomorrow.”

Yesterday when I came home from work Sienna asked for a long hug.  She’s now just the right height for me to comfortably rest my arms on her shoulders. We often hug like that for a minute or two.  As we parted, I commented: “I sure love our connection now that I’m not telling you what to do.” 

Sienna smiled and said, “Yeah, and it makes me feel more responsible.” 

“You’re doing great, beautiful girl. You can do hard things.”


Theological Ice Cream

Our Pastor is enjoying a couple weeks of vacation so we had a retired Pastor fill in yesterday.  Pastor Kaelberer began his sermon by laying out a metaphor to frame his lesson.  He described the youthful joy he experienced when he and his buddies satisfied their hunger by getting Thrifty ice cream cones, for 5 cents each!  These delicious cones of various flavors had the unique detail of a flat top, making them easier to stack several scoops high.  Likewise, the joy of God’s blessings in today’s readings are being heaped upon one another, like scoops of ice cream.

The first scoop came from Psalm 23 which we recited responsively just after the Sacrament of Absolution.  It may be the most familiar Psalm of all, from its frequent use at funerals and grave sites:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He make me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

Pastor zeroed in on the phrase “I shall not want” and preached on the sufficiency of God’s provision for our lives.  Another blessing was bestowed by this Psalm as we were reciting it responsively. Pastor would speak a verse and then the congregation spoke the next verse, which was bolded for us in the service booklet.  I noticed that Mateo was reciting the entire Psalm and wasn’t looking at the words!  I remembered that they memorized this Psalm in school last year.  It was so cool to hear him boldly recite it! Especially because he was so proud of knowing the words that he didn’t seem to notice he was the only one reciting the Pastor’s part with him!  What a precious moment.

The second scoop of blessing came from the prophet Isaiah and helped reiterate the metaphors of God’s sufficient grace and feasting:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:6-8

The epistle reading, and third scoop, is perhaps my favorite passage of scripture!  I have come to these verses time and again for strength, insight, comfort and peace.  St. Paul sure had a poetic way of illuminating the Christian life:

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 request be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the Gold of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:4-13

Just now I realized that one of The Cambridge School rules probably came from this passage of Philippians!  The fourth and final school rule is: Be content in all things.  I can’t wait to share with Sienna and Mateo the biblical origins of this important rule! 

I’ve been thinking lately about the joy of giving good gifts to our children, much as God must delight in giving good gifts to us.  Since we haven’t been eating sugar for the past several weeks, as Pastor was concluding his sermon I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to treat the kids to ice cream today?” I shared the idea with the family and they loved it! 

We talked about “theological ice cream” on our drive to the grocery store after church; how God gives us so many good gifts and indulging in delicious ice cream is a tangible way to remember the abundant blessings we enjoy. 

Have you ever feasted or indulged to remind yourself of the bounty that God provides?  I highly recommend it!


Again and Again

Coming out of this season of perfectionism (again!), I truly feel the difference between striving to do everything “just right” and accepting the moment and myself as is.  In little things, (which if we’re honest are the big things) like slowing down and engaging with the kids in the morning before they leave for school.  This morning I felt fully present without the mental chatter of what they or I still needed to accomplish by a certain time.  Taking in the moment while helping Sienna put on a bracelet and necklace, we discussed where she got them and how cute and delicate they both are.  Last night I sat at the dinner table while the kids finished their food and just soaked them both in. Ceasing to strive allows me to slow down and stop listening to the harsh inner voice that tells me to keep going, all day, every day.

On the other hand, when I’m living with rigidity and a fixed mindset, I approach everything and everyone as something I need to figure out, master or fix.  Thoughts such as “How do I get Sienna to finish her recommended reading book?” or “This person would be so much better off if they would just…” run through my mind routinely. Needing to always have the right answer is exhausting, and creates such disconnection from my loved ones and those I’m entrusted to lead. 

Living with openness and vulnerability, accepting that I do not know what the future holds, and having a growth mindset for myself and others allows for genuine connection and emotional depth in life.  Whereas, fear of making mistakes and striving to do everything perfectly keeps me from being able to engage, try, connect, and grow.   

It feels a little ridiculous that I continue to repeat this cycle of releasing my need for control/perfection and then embracing acceptance/connection.  But, last week my friend reminded me of a poem she’s shared with me before, which helped normalize this behavior.  It’s called Autobiography in Five Short Chapters:

Chapter I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

-Portia Nelson

I’ve relived Chapter 3 several times in the past few years!  I’m praying and seeking counsel to hopefully move into Chapter 4… eventually. 

It’s also possible that this cycle is going to repeat, to one degree or another, throughout my life because it’s part of the sinful human condition to want to be self-sufficient. There’s a spiritual component to this dance where I pull away from dependence on God while I strive to prove myself worthy instead of resting in His grace and love.  There’s a sense that I’m trying to earn God’s goodness by being good, instead of trusting that Jesus has already fulfilled my righteousness and I just need to receive and rejoice. 

Perhaps walking down another street in this metaphor looks like resting in grace, again and again. 


Cease striving

Have you ever had one of those days when you just know you’re going to end up in tears at some point?  Not because something bad is necessarily happening, but because you’ve been avoiding your feelings and you can no longer find a place to stuff them.  That was me today.

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a dear friend who doubles as a leadership coach and we had a meeting scheduled for this afternoon.  Although from the outside our conversation may not have been very professionally focused, what we accomplished today broke through my façade of control so that I can be real, vulnerable and capable of growing. 

Tears flowed as I talked about everything I was trying to do and how I was failing to do it all well enough.  I berated myself for not being engaged enough with my work goals as it dawned on me that my harsh inner critic has demanded a lot of my attention lately.  As I told Debby I kept striving and striving to “figure things out” she commented: “Isn’t there a verse that says to cease striving?” 

We both went to search for it online.  When I found the reference in Psalm 46 I got chills. “Oh, it’s in the same psalm as ‘Be Still and Know’” I exclaimed.  Wait no.  I couldn’t find “Be still…” in the version I was reading, but I knew it was Psalm 46.  Turns out, it’s actually the same verse in another translation!  Psalm 46:10 in the New American Standard Bible reads: Cease striving and know that I am God.  The English Standard Version is: Be still and know that I am God.  Wow. Debby and I both marveled at the clear message we’d just received.

We sure have to learn the same lessons over and over and over again in this life.

Since our lovely summer vacation up to Humboldt, I’ve been striving a lot.  School and all its academic pressures resumed, busy season kicked in at work, we started some new routines at home including an eating protocol (I’ll share more about that soon!) that is great but requires a good amount of planning. In short, I’ve been letting my inner critic take the reins for awhile now. She is productive but exhausting and soul crushing. 

Such peace and stillness followed our conversation. I’m looking forward to an evening of connecting with my family, ignoring my inner critic and being still.  As I’ve learned time and time again, when I let go of striving (or control/perfection), the opportunity for genuine connection and joy are ever present.