Unpredictable Moments of Connection

The kids and I recently started a routine of taking long drives on Friday afternoons after school; not every week, but frequently.  We usually swing through the Starbucks drive-through and then head to the coast via Rancho Santa Fe.  What began as a pandemic coping strategy turned into one of the highlights of our week!  We’ve had some wonderful conversations about school and life during these pretty drives.

Back in the fall, Teo and I discovered a cool little used bookstore in Encinitas called Artifact Books.  For the past month or so, I kept thinking we should hit this bookstore on one of our Friday drives, and this past Friday was the day.  After getting fuel, both for our vehicle and us, we headed to Encinitas by a different route through Rancho Santa Fe.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the drive was so lovely!  Winding, tree-lined roads, with vegetation in full spring bloom. 

Early in the drive, Sienna turned on Michael Card’s The Life, Disc 2.  This two disc sets the life of Jesus from his incarnation through his resurrection to music.  The second disc includes songs covering his passion and crucifixion and the CD was already on track #7.  I warned the kids, “We’re about to get to Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, so the tone of these songs will be sad and dark.” 

“We know, it’s okay,” Sienna replied.

As the music played, Teo asked some historical and theological questions about the song lyrics, most of which Sienna promptly answered while I marveled at her Biblical knowledge.  Bible class at school the past three years have definitely infiltrated her mind and heart.

We made it to the coast, parked in the tiny lot, masked up and walked to the entrance of the store.  We were greeted with a posted sign: “Closed on Friday, March 26th, sorry for the inconvenience”. 

“Oh man, they’re closed!” I exclaimed.  Teo read the sign aloud and we all looked at one another, bewildered. 

We got back in the car and I did a quick search for other used bookstores in the area, to no avail.  “Well, guys, I guess we’ll just head home,” I said. “Yep.  Okay,” they conceded. We all rolled with this change of plans quite easily.  The kids are pretty tired by Friday afternoon and seem to enjoy the peace of the drive more than anything. 

One of my favorite Michael Card songs came on as we started our drive back through Encinitas, Joy in the Journey:

There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
and freedom for those who obey
All those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe

We turned down a particularly picturesque street, lined with mesquite trees and pastures full of horses. Sienna suddenly sighed and said, “I’m just so happy with life right now.”  It was such a relatable moment, that feeling of everything being right in the world.  I smiled at her and patted her leg.  When these tender moments arise, I try to really soak them in. 

Reflecting on our drive, I marveled that the bookstore being closed was just a funny anecdote to our trip. It didn’t ruin the outing or leave us feeling disappointed and frustrated.  Having an attitude of “Oops, these things happen!” helped me accept the moment and not dwell on it.  What I’ll remember from this Friday drive was simply being with the kids, sharing sacred music and enriching conversation.  

You can’t plan or predict when moments of connection and meaning will occur, but being present helps you enjoy them fully. 


Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

Ever since she was a baby, Sienna wakes up in a dreamy and happy way.  The old adage to “never wake a sleeping baby” totally didn’t apply to her.  She’d wake up with joy and enthusiasm, as if to say “What exciting new thing awaits me?!”  Fortunately, this sweet trait continues to bless our mornings. 

Sienna picking out her pink climbing rose

Typically, I’ll go into Sienna’s room to wake her, after Dennis, Teo and I have been up for a while already.  As she’s a young teenager now, I really cherish the morning routine of waking her. I bask in her sweetness before she’s conscious enough to roll her eyes at me.  Often I’ll gentle stroke her face until her eyes flutter open.  Other times, I’ll be silly (on mornings when I’ve already had some coffee) and animate her teddy bear, or I’ll start singing a song like “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory”. 

We recently planted a couple vines outside her bedroom window, so I started pulling aside the curtain by her bed as we greet the day.  One is a baby pink climbing rose and the other is a beautiful jasmine plant that smells amazing!  They’re both just getting started, but we’re excited to watch them grow. 

This past Monday morning, I pulled the curtain back and spontaneously broke into the old Oklahoma song “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”:

Oh, what a beautiful morning,
Oh, what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

Before her eyes even opened, Sienna smiled at me.

Both of my parents brought music and special songs into our lives.  It’s amazing how often those songs make the trek from the recesses of my mind into the present moment.  Throughout my childhood, my dad would often sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” all the way through.  Just when we were giggling and assumed the song had to stop soon, he’d go for the next verse or another time through the chorus.  I have such fond memories of him belting out that tune!

I’ve been reflecting on the sweet moments of family life lately.  Sienna and Mateo have grown so much this past year and time feels like it’s flying by!  I want to cherish the routine moments of our days, the ones I will miss when they’re off to college and living away from home.  When I think back to my childhood, it’s the songs, traditions, and moments of connection with my mom, dad, brother and sister that remind me of the love that surrounded us.  I pray our kids cherish these moments too.   


The Moments That Matter

Dennis and I started a routine, years ago at Grace Lutheran, where we’d go on coffee dates while the kids were in Sunday school.  In Hillcrest, there were many fun little coffee shops we could walk to and also a Farmer’s Market that included a few coffee vendors.  It was a delightful time and we both looked forward to it!  Especially when the kids were small and we needed some time to connect without little ears and voices contributing to the conversation.

When we transferred to Gloria Dei Lutheran this summer, we reinstated our coffee dates by driving to the Starbucks down the street, while the kids were in Sunday school.  Our rationale that we need time in the week to connect and talk to one another is a little less relevant now.  Between the pandemic and Dennis being a stay-at-home parent, we have plenty of opportunities to connect.

I started to wonder: Maybe we should stay and attend ABC (Adult Bible Class) during the Sunday school hour instead of going on our coffee date?   During the sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Horn made a couple appeals to the congregation to attend ABC following the service.  The readings were so rich and full of gospel lessons, he was particularly excited to unpack them in more detail.  After his second reference to the class, Dennis and I looked across Sienna and made eye contact.  “Let’s stay for the bible study,” I whispered.

“I need my coffee,” Dennis whispered back.

“We can go after class with the kids…” I offered.

“Okay,” Dennis nodded and agreed.

Dennis and Leo at his 1st Birthday – October, 2020

After the divine service, the kids scurried off to their classes while the adults caught up with one another in the fellowship hall.  Dennis then carried our godson, Leo into the sanctuary for ABC.  Our friend Brandon, a.k.a. Leo’s dad, and I joined them in the pew, right up front.  Leo is 17 months old and such a delightful little guy! He sat on Dennis’s lap for a bit, then cuddled between us on the pew.   

About halfway through class, Leo was back in Dennis arms and feel asleep.  We joke that Dennis is the “baby whisperer” because seriously all babies and toddlers LOVE him!  It’s just the sweetest thing. 

Toward the end of class, Pastor concluded his comments on Ephesians 2:4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seating us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” and John, chapter 3.  Pastor said, “Jesus is always right there beside you, ready to answer your prayers.  He’s always holding you close, just like that…” he pointed to Leo asleep in Dennis’s arms.  “See how he’s sleeping in such peace because he knows he’s being held and he’s safe?  That’s how close Jesus holds us.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I silently prayed, “Thank you Lord for putting us here in this moment.”  I felt such peace that we’d opted for Bible study instead of our coffee date this week! 

Class ended and a lovely woman in the congregation came by to tell Dennis and me, “Oh, your baby is so sweet!”  We giggled as I told her, “Oh, he’s our godson, but thank you!  This is his father…” I gestured to Brandon and we all smiled, basking in the joy of the moment.

Time and again, I discover that peace and joy spontaneously occur when I stop striving.  When I allow the day to unfold and let go of my plans, tender moments of connection have the chance to happen. They truly are the moments that matter.


The Prayer that Never Fails

For a variety of reasons, I’m in a period of quietness and waiting right now.  It’s an unusual place for me. The planner inside wants to analyze and figure out how events may play out.  But, I’m finally learning that God’s plans are high above my plans.  Any stories or ideas I generate in this waiting are quite unlikely to be accurate.  Indulging those thoughts is an exercise in pretending to control what is completely out of my control.

So, I’m using all of my mindfulness skills to stay present in the moment and connect with the people around me.  Beginning each day, I’m asking for strength to remain engaged and aware of how I can contribute during this slower, quieter season of life.  Jesus words: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34) have never rung more true. 

When my thoughts start pulling me toward the unknown future, my prayer over the past couple weeks has consistently been: Thy will be done, Lord.  It’s been a mantra of sorts: Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

As I wrote those words in my journal the other night, I remembered a reference to this prayer in one of the Mitford books (I believe it was Book #4: Out to Canaan).  Father Tim and his wife Cynthia would often cite “the prayer that never fails” which stumped me at first.  Finally, through the context of the story, it became clear that Thy will be done is the prayer that never fails. 

It’s so true, right?!

God’s will always comes to fruition. All of our plotting and planning and trying to figure things out often run in opposition to God’s will.  This conflict between what we want to happen and what God wills is the source of much of our angst.  Whether we think of it as surrendering or acceptance or resting in God’s grace, it all amounts to the same posture towards the triune God and our life.  He is in control and will reveal his plan in his own perfect timing.

I’ve sure I’ve quoted this sentence before, but it’s so fitting in this season. John Kleinig wrote: “We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy.” Grace Upon Grace, pg. 23.

The abundance of God’s grace and providence means that this life is full of experiences, activities, and delights for us to enjoy.  We want to do it all and experience the fullness of his blessings!  But, this side of heaven, this abundance is tempered with our human sinfulness, not to mention just the limits of time and energy.  We can’t do it all or experience everything that we might wish to enjoy. True peace and joy come from relying on Christ and enjoying what he graciously gives us. 

So, I wait and hope and pray.  All the while knowing that the prayer that never fails is good and true. 


Finding novelty in mountain views, ear piercings, fancy meals, and lost teeth

One thing this pandemic has taught me is the joy and energy that novelty adds to life.  After the monotony of 2020, I started to crave change and look for opportunities to break out of the daily routine.  The ability to try something new is exciting, and experiencing those once-in-a-lifetime events or milestones is exhilarating!  This is also one of the joys of parenthood, when you enjoy these new and exciting events through the lives of your children. 

Fortunately, 2021 has ushered in more fun and novel experiences!  Just this past weekend we enjoyed many fun things…

First, we joined many of the other Cambridge sixth graders and their families to hike Iron Mountain. We’ve been doing many hikes around San Diego County to get the students in shape for their Yosemite trip in late May.  There’s no confirmation that the trip is still on, but the practice hikes have been fun!  Iron Mountain was a great one and the first that our entire family, including our dog Claira, attended. 

Less than a mile into the 6 mile hike, it occurred to me that my blood sugar may be dropping.  I didn’t really feel low yet, but I tested and confirmed my suspicion: 66 mg/dl.  I scarfed down a whole Clif bar and then started to feel low a few minutes later.  Dennis, Claira and Teo hung back with me so I could slow down and allow the glucose a chance to get into my body.  Sienna and her friends ran ahead and we trailed behind the group by several minutes. 

After mentally drafting a few #diabetessucks posts in my mind, I decided to let go of those thoughts and just enjoy the peace and pace of hiking with my guys and our very energetic little dog.  Claira looked like a Billy goat jumping between rocks as she climbed the mountain with enthusiasm!  

The view at the top was spectacular!  It was truly one of those days that make Southern California living worthwhile.  There was a very friendly vibe among the many hikers out that morning.  One lady offered to take our picture at the summit, after watching me try to get a selfie shot.  As we passed other hikers, choruses of “Good morning!” rang out.  You could tell some extroverts really missed socializing and wanted to chat!

After our hike, we were just home enjoying a relaxing afternoon when Sienna asked me, “Could I get my ears pierced today?” 

“Sure, if you want to!” I replied with restrained enthusiasm.  I’ve learned that my excitement can often have a subduing effect on Sienna.

“Well, does it hurt?” she asked.  We went on to discuss the process and I confirmed that it does hurt, like an injection does.  Sienna also wanted to know how likely it was to get infected and other very sensible concerns.  Once I’d addressed them to her comfort, she said, “Yes, I want to do it.”

Just the two of us headed out to Claire’s in Carmel Mountain where we proceeded to stand in an “Ear Piercing Starts Here” line for about half an hour, while I recounted my experience of fainting when I was twelve and got my ears pierced at the Claire’s in Bayshore Mall.  Ah, memories! When we made it inside, we learned that appointments were needed or they could “fit us in” as time permitted.  A little 5 or 6 year old was being coaxed back into the chair by her mom, so fitting us in didn’t look very promising. 

Sienna opted to make an appointment for the next day after church and we headed to the car.  Watching her face as we drove away, I said, “Honey, are you sure you don’t want to get it done today?  We could go back and take the 6:00 p.m. appointment or maybe they’ll fit us in sooner.”  Sienna wrestled with the choice and I told her, “It’s really fine, we can go back.” 

“Okay, yeah, let’s do that,” she said.  I could so relate to the anticipating of the event (including tackling a fear) and then the disappointment of having to wait. 

Sienna was so brave and mature!  I watched her brace herself for the first piercing.  “Breathe, breathe, breathe…” I coached her after the first earring was in.  She took a couple deep breaths and was fine for the second ear.  When she looked in the mirror she exclaimed, “Oh, I love it!  That was so worth it!”

We had fun picking out earrings and taking pictures of her adorable ears!  What a fun and unexpected way to spend the afternoon.  Sienna’s growing up so much this year and I’m savoring these sweet moments with my girl.

After a wonderful Lenten divine service and a powerful sermon about the love and grace in God’s perfect law, Dennis and I went for a coffee date while the kids were in Sunday school.  I told Dennis I was making pork chops, his favorite, for dinner.  I’ve recently started making a “fancier” meal for Sunday Night Dinner and I’m really enjoying the intentionality of a special meal for the Sabbath Day. 

“I’ll just have my pork chop with beans, tortillas, and hot sauce” my loving husband informed me.

It took me a second to recover from the disappointment, then I said, “Love, I was planning on making a mushroom gravy, beans, and asparagus with the pork chops.”  He loves asparagus, so I teasingly asked, “Do you think asparagus will go well with your tortillas and hot sauce?” 

Dennis laughed, and I thanked God for the millionth time for blessing me with a man who finds me so funny!  I also reassured him that a meal including beans, tortillas and hot sauce was most definitely on the menu this week, so could he please try my mushroom gravy?  Indeed, he could.

If I do say so myself, dinner turned out great!  Our oven was having heating issues so I totally guessed at the cooking time, which actually did my pork chops a favor because they weren’t overdone and dry!  The mushroom gravy was rich and delicious!  I felt like a real cook because I made up the recipe as I went.  Novelty again… so fun! 

Dennis raved about the meal and I couldn’t resist asking him, “Are you glad you forfeited your tortillas and hot sauce tonight?!”  “Yes, definitely!” he agreed. 

Finally, Teo lost a tooth today at school!  It’s been a long time since a child lost a tooth in our household.  When he came home with it today, we joked with him (who understands how the tooth fairy works), “I hope the tooth fairy has some cash!” 

For many reasons, I’ve felt in an “in between” place in life recently.  Which, perhaps ironically, has helped me embrace being present in the moment.  I’m not planning ahead or trying to control my emotions. Instead, I’m feeling deeply and allowing each day to unfold in God’s perfect timing.  It is such a beautiful and exciting place to be!  Letting go also allows me to appreciate the enjoyment that novelty brings, whether in the form of mountain views, ear piercings, fancy meals, or lost teeth. 

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8