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Sufficiency.

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. 

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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. 

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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.”

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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!

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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. 

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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.  

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Finding Joy in the Process

Perfectionism and control creep back up in my life in stealthy little ways.  It typically starts out innocently enough, with some new habit or idea I want to implement.  Perhaps simply refocused intention on an area of my life where I want to grow or improve.  Then, I start spending much of my mental energy on this new habit.  The cycle of effort and achievement then give me a sense of control and self-improvement. 

This sequence has sprung up in my life countless times.  It’s one of the main reasons I cannot be trusted to have a daily planner.  The temptation to track, plan and measure my life is too strong in me!  But, now I can see that this cycle often gets triggered by a fear or other unpleasant emotion that I don’t want to experience.  Sometimes, even healthy habits become unhealthy as I rigidly hold on to achievement and control as a way to keep painful feelings at bay.

During the peak of COVID-19 quarantine this spring, I enjoyed my long runs on Sunday mornings.  After a week or two, I had the impulsive idea to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) each weekend and then I posted that declaration on social media.  For a while, it was quite fun and I enjoyed the encouragement folks left me in their comments. I still felt present and prayerful during my runs and tracking it was more of an afterthought.

Overtime, however, the need to accomplish this weekly goal started to feel oppressive.  Especially as school started, fall busy season at work kicked in, and I got the upsetting diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy.  My long runs became something I “had to do” as I focused on achieving the outcome: run 13.1 miles and post the proof on FaceBook.  After taking a few weeks off running during our Humboldt trip this summer, my pace was discouragingly slower.  

I could feel myself mentally “checking out” when I ran: caught up in my thoughts but not really feeling my body, hearing the music, or experiencing the world around me.  Instead of looking forward to my weekend long run as a prayerful, meditative time with God, it was now something I had to check off the list so that I could feel accomplished and in control.

Have you ever fallen into this?  The experience of doing something good for the wrong reason. Or focusing on outcomes instead of enjoying the process.  It’s all too familiar for me.  Fortunately, I’ve now had the experience of being present in the moment, trusting God and letting go of control, many, many times.  Letting go is a process and takes some time, but there are concrete steps I know to take now.  One of them is to stop monitoring, calculating and judging my actions. 

In the case of running, the past two weekends I did something very different.  I ran without music and did not track my distance or speed.  I did wear my pedometer and I generally knew how far I ran, but I didn’t try to hit a certain pace.  I didn’t have “proof” to post on social media!  I just ran to enjoy the process of running and resting in prayer for a couple hours.  It’s much more fulfilling and enjoyable to run for the simple joy of running, rather than for the sake of saying “I ran”.   

Maybe there’s something you used to love but now do out of a sense of obligation…?  Perhaps you’ve also fallen into the trap of measuring and quantifying an activity to the point that it’s no longer enjoyable.  Asking for God to illuminate where you are striving to accomplish rather than resting in his grace and provision is a great place to start.  He knows what’s best and will gently prompt us, when we stop long enough to ask. 

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The One About my Eyes

Earlier this week I went to a retinal specialist to deal with my first diabetes complication.  It was an emotional experience for many reasons.  First, some background information…

Dennis introduced me to his optometrist when we were dating.  Dr. Larson is such a fun doctor and we really enjoy our joint eye exams!  He gives us a lesson in optics and vision on each visit, including having the kids look through his instruments to view my optic nerve during my dilated exam.  Dr. Larson was always enthusiastic about my “beautiful blood vessels!” when he examined them for signs of bleeding, otherwise known as the beginning of diabetic retinopathy.  It felt like receiving a bunch of gold stars for my efforts to control my blood sugar.  As the years went on, he’d often comment: “No one would ever guess you’ve had diabetes for 25 years!”

A few weeks ago, my annual eye exam did not follow the typical script. 

Dr. Larson dilated my eyes with the baby dose in the corner of my eye because I dilate like crazy and I’m a spaz about getting drops in my eyes.  We’ve perfected this routine over the years.  He remarked, “Beautiful!” upon examining my right eye.  Then he turned to my left eye and was eerily quiet. 

“Hmmm, I see some slight bleeding in this eye,” he said.

Now, typically Dennis and the kids are in the exam room with me.  It’s a cool office in an old craftsman style house in North Park.  There are a lot of cool old details like a brick fireplace and built-ins that hold contact lenses.  We all pile in to share in the optics lesson that Dr. Larson never fails to deliver.  But, because of the pandemic, I was in the exam room alone this time. 

I suddenly felt my heartbeat quicken as my vision narrowed and I started to sweat.  “What?! No, this isn’t what he’s supposed to say.  What does this mean?!” I thought.  Dr. Larson went on to explain that he’d refer me to a retinal specialist for further testing and treatment as I took deep breaths and tried to calm my panicky feelings.

“This is going to be fine, this happens to folks who live with diabetes for many years,” I told myself.  As I entered the waiting room, I briefly told Dennis what Dr. Larson had found, but he was on his way back for his eye exam, so we didn’t have much time to discuss it.  I quickly transitioned into “mom-mode” as I tried to keep Sienna and Teo from bored wrestling in the waiting area.  As I’m so good at doing, I pushed any feelings of fear, guilt, anger, and frustration down deep and didn’t think much about the upcoming appointment with the retinal specialist.

It wasn’t hard to avoid my emotions as life was busy and full the next couple weeks.  Work was busy as I continued to setup the new office and get ready for fall busy season. The kids had a few days of online school before starting back in person the first week of September.  We were trying to reestablish our home routines after being gone for a few weeks, so there were meals to prep, rooms to clean, miles to run.  Plenty of ways to distract myself from my fear and disappointment.

Dennis and the kids dropped me off at UCSD’s Shiley Eye Center on Monday afternoon.  The appointment was supposed to last about three hours and my eyes would be dilated, so they planned to pick me up afterwards too.  There’s always been something about being picked up that makes me feel loved and cared for, so I was grateful for their service.

After the medical assistant did the initial intake and my eyes were dilated and photographed, they put me in an exam room to wait for the fellow and then the supervising physician to examine me.  The wait was fairly long and I couldn’t read since my eyes were dilated.  I looked around the room prayerfully.  There were huge images of “Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy” on one wall that creeped me out.  Then, I noticed a sharps container full of used syringes on another wall.  A comment the medical assistant had just made came back to me.  I noted that I hated needles, which was ironic as a diabetic.  He’d said his girlfriend was a retinal specialist and gave injections in the eyes all day long but couldn’t take a shot herself.  I rapidly connected the dots. “Would I need an injection in my eye?!” my brain screamed. 

I started to breathe quickly and my pulse raced.  As I took deep breaths and tried to reason through my fear, the resident came in to examine my eyes.  Fortunately, as she checked my eyes we discussed treatment options.  Injections are one option, but they’re not needed if we opted to do laser treatment.  Such a relief! 

The main doctor came in shortly after with two medical students.  As a longtime patient of UCSD, I’m used to the drill of having medical students accompany doctors.  I could hear the resident who’d just examined my eyes advising a couple other students just outside the door.  It was a comfort when she said, “No matter how well controlled their diabetes is, this is a very common complication that we see when patients have had diabetes for 25 years or more.”  

In many ways, this entire experience felt a lot like when Mateo was in the NICU after he was born and the doctors and nurses kept referring to him as a “diabetic baby” meaning his mother had diabetes.  The guilt and sense of failing to take good enough care of myself was so strong.

When the doctor explained that the laser treatment was more permanent, whereas the injections would have to be given every 3-4 months, the decision was quite easy!   I told him, “That sounds horrific!”  He also explained that he wanted to do more diagnostic tests on my right eye before doing the laser treatment.  The test involved an IV of dye so they can better see if the vessels are bleeding.  I honestly replied, “I’m not mentally prepared for an IV today.”  We opted to do the laser treatment on the left eye and I’d come back in a few weeks for the right eye. 

The resident came back and prepped me a bit for the laser treatment.  “It’ll feel like little pinches on your eye, but we’ll numb you a bit with drops.”  As long as no needles were going into my eye, I felt  pretty good. 

I was overly confident about my ability to tolerate the laser treatment.

Holy cow, it was so hard!  As noted, I’ve always been a spaz about my eyes.  You know that episode of Friends where Rachel’s character can’t sit still for the air puffing machine at the optometrist?  That’s exactly how I reacted to that darn machine for years! 

So, the resident is wearing this gigantic laser on her head and asking me to look in specific directions: “Look up,” “Look left,” etc.  Whenever she activated the laser the light would turn green and the machine beeped.  I couldn’t stop anticipating and reacting to the laser.  The first few zaps hurt a bit and I must have expected it to continue or get worse, so my flinching got worse.  She kept reminding me to open both eyes, which I was trying to do!  After about 60 shots of the laser, I pulled away and started crying.  “I’m sorry! I feel like I’m messing this up so much,” I told her.  She was kind and reassuring, although I’m sure her experience with sobbing patience was minimal in this particular practice. 

“How much have we completed, percentage-wise?” I asked.

I really started to cry when she replied, “Less than ten percent.”

She reiterated that we could break the treatment up into multiple sessions and didn’t have to get it all done today.  That knowledge helped.  We tried again.  Somehow, through a lot of prayer and taking little breaks since I kept holding my breath in order to concentrate on keeping my eyes open, we made it through the entire treatment.  My vision was super blurry and my body felt so tense, but I was relieved.

Getting through the actual treatment was one thing, but wrestling with my emotions around having my first diabetes complication has been a longer process. 

I try so hard to control my blood sugars. Over the years I’ve craved and reveled in affirmation from doctors and loved ones about how well I manage my diabetes.  On some level, I’d internalized the message that I could keep bad things from happening (like complications) through sheer effort and grit.  This diagnosis feels like a failure.  But, even worse than that, it feels like proof that complications can happen even when I do my best to avoid them.  Which then reminds me that bad things happen that are completely out of my control. That’s my biggest fear of all.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.  Knowing that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has been walking alongside me all my life, including all my years with diabetes, brings such peace.  There have been many trials over the years, but God has been faithful to provide guidance, strength, and the support of wonderful doctors and loved ones to bring me through the challenges.  He’ll continue to be there in the midst of this lifelong journey.  I don’t know what the future holds, but He does.   

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Life Lately, July 2020

Despite the ongoing quarantine lifestyle, life has felt abundantly full lately!  Here’s the latest…

My office moved in the middle of June and I ended up transitioning to working back in the office for the most part.  There was so much to unpack and organize, strategize and coordinate for the new space. Fortunately, very few co-workers are in the office, so it feels quite safe and we had time to get everything organized and figured out. 

While I enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and I felt productive, it was really insightful to notice the difference in my focus, productivity and energy when I got back into the office.  A significant factor is the move to a standing desk for most of the day.  Who would have thought that standing would make you feel so much more energized?!  Also, I like the routine of going into the office and the psychological separation between home and work.  We had a big tax deadline on July 15th which is obviously not typical.  That week I had to work from home in the evenings, but the rest of this past month I don’t even open my laptop at home, which allows for a great mental break from work.  During the full quarantine period, it felt like work was always there, always beckoning.  Now that I’m feeling more energized and productive during the workday, I can easily step away for a leisurely evening with my family.  

The kids are in full-on summer mode.  We had them do some math practice for several weeks at the beginning of the summer, but that routine tapered off about the time I returned to the office. Probably not a coincidence.  They’re also going to bed late and sleeping in late.  Often I don’t even see Sienna before I leave in the morning!  She’s getting to that pre-teen age and sleeping in seems to go with the territory. 

While at home during the day, the kids are finding a lot of imaginative and creative things to do.  Last night Mateo showed me all his stuffed animals that Sienna has performed “surgery” on my opening a seam, stuffing in extra pillow stuffing material, and sewing them back up.  He was thrilled with their extra coziness.  He’s also been following her lead in making good use of every cardboard box that enters the house – and with Amazon purchase replacing Target runs, there are a lot of them!  Earlier this week Teo showed us all the sports “figurines” he made out of cardboard and colored pencils: John Elway, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, Sonny Liston, Magic Johnson, Jason Taylor, and his favorite Larry Csonka.  They’re really cute!  I get such a kick out the athletes Teo cites as his favorites because Dennis’s influence is so prominent!  

A fellow Cambridge mom and classroom aide recommended a book I recently started called Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony M. Esolen.  It’s written in satirical style and is quite funny.  As I read the second chapter the other evening, I came across a passage about the wonders of gazing at the sky.  Whether kids are watching clouds float by or contemplating the stars, there’s great wonder to be found in the simple sky.  I could hear Bugs Bunny from the living room.  I promptly marked my book at the next paragraph and hopped up.  “Kids, do you want to come look at the sky with me?” I called to them.  To my delight, they replied, “Yes, let’s go see the stars!”

We scurried outside to discover the marine layer had rolled in and very few stars were visible.  We still took a few moments to sit in the quiet of the nighttime sky and be still.  I felt myself relax as I took a very deep breath and exhaled for a long time.  Teo ran in to get a flashlight and the next thing I knew he and Sienna were making shadow puppets on the shade hanging from our gazebo.  They started telling elaborate stories about their shadow animals, and that’s how Dennis found us when he came outside.  I sat and marveled at their imaginations and ability to make something fun with the tools at their disposal.  Kids have a wonderful capacity to explore, imagine, and create. Sometimes it just takes turning off the television and inviting them to join you outside.  They’ll take it from there.

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C.S. Lewis and the Art of French Eating

Sometimes two very different sources can reinforce a similar idea from diverse perspectives.  Case in point: C.S. Lewis and the book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret to Eating for Pleasure have created a strong link in my mind as they both deal with the dynamic between thoughts and feelings.

My tendency toward introspection is often at odds with my desire to connect with my emotions in the present moment.  As I went through my awakening, I noticed that I could either feel or think in any given moment, but I couldn’t do both at the exact same time.  C.S. Lewis describes this by explaining that attending to your object of love, fear or hope is a distinctly different activity than thinking about your feelings of love, fear or hope.  He says: “…the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible,” (Surprised by Joy, pg. 266).  Lewis goes on to state: “You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment…” which gets at my experience of contemplating and evaluation emotions instead of feeling them.  The best example in my life is time spent with my children.  When I observe and experience spending time with them, I feel joy, hope, love, and peace.  However, when I turn toward those feelings and analyze them, the tender moment passes as my attention is now focused on my thoughts.  Lewis says, “The surest way of spoiling a pleasure was to start examining your satisfaction,” (pg. 267).  This is very true!  The thoughts, judgments, and analysis I engage in chase away the felt emotions in the moment.  Loving my children is a different activity than reflecting on how much I love my children. 

Last week, I found a really delicious recipe for low carb pizza crust.  We have pizza and movie night every Friday and I always make myself a low carb version either with eggplant or a homemade pizza crust.  I’ve tried lots of different combinations of grain free flours with mixed results over the years.  This recipe was very promising – made from shredded mozzarella, cream cheese, cashew flour and flax meal.  When I settled in to watch the movie and enjoy my pizza creation, I was also engaged in a text exchange with a friend about a challenging situation.  The pizza was really good!  However, when I finished eating I clearly thought: “I didn’t really enjoy that because of all the distractions.”  I couldn’t access the pleasure of eating because my attention wasn’t on my food.

As luck would have it, a couple days later I picked up the book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret to Eating for Pleasure at the book store in Julian.  Mireille Guiliano makes the argument that French women don’t get fat because of ingrained cultural ways of eating and their approach to life.  The part that struck me was that French women tend to eat for pleasure rather than seeing food as the enemy, the way restrictive dieting cultures do. Guiliano encourages women to eat high quality, delicious food in smaller quantities and to focus on the pleasure of eating without distraction.  Yes!  This gave words to what I experienced with my homemade pizza last week and my typical mode of eating.  I’d gotten in the habit of eating in front of the computer, with a book, in front of the television, or in the car.  Basically, other than family dinners at the table, I rarely ate with my sole focus on my food and the company around me. 

This week I’ve been making more creative meals, enjoying them without distraction, and feeling satisfied with much less food.  I’ve made a weekday morning ritual of taking my coffee and breakfast out to our patio under the umbrella to enjoy it before starting work. Teo joined me a couple times last week and we watched hummingbirds have a turf war and listened to other little birds sing as we ate. It’s amazing how much more pleasurable food is when you eat mindfully and give the tastes, textures, sights and smells your full attention.  When my attention was divided between my meal and whatever I was reading, watching, or doing, it was hard to enjoy my food. 

It’s really true, whether you talk of emotions or enjoying food, you simply cannot directly experience the moment if you’re also thinking about something else.  I’ve gotten such a boost of enjoyment in life by making meals their own event, rather than scarfing down food while doing something else.  Do you relate to this idea? Have you tried eating mindfully and noticed a different in your enjoyment of food?