Care and Love.

Last summer my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. We all prayed without ceasing and felt a genuine peace that she would survive this disease after the proscribed long course of chemotherapy and surgery. She put her trust and faith in Christ as she navigated the first three months of weekly chemo. We were sad when she lost her hair, but after a bit of mourning (she really liked her hair!) she accepted her hair loss as part of the process and carried on.

Midway through the three month stretch of “hard chemo” as we started to refer to it, my mom fell very sick. She went into the hospital in mid-February and I made my first trip to Humboldt on the 17th. I’d end up making three trips up north to help my sister care for my mom over the next month. It felt like “survival mode” for most of that time as the necessities of life, for mom, me, and my family was all that really matterred. This season of life isn’t over as she continues to heal in preparation for either more chemo or surgery, but I’m pausing to reflect on the past month in profound ways.

During my first visit, mom was in the hospital and slept a lot of the time. I was focused on being there to attend to her needs and to give my sister Sarah a break from the daily caretaking she’d been doing for over a week. Sarah has three school-aged kids and she’d been juggling her roles as daughter and mom with grace. It meant a lot to me to be able to help. As I sat in the hospital, sometimes reading, but mostly just watching my mom sleep, I felt a deep sense of life coming full circle. We were in the same hospital where I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes nearly 30 years before. I kept reflecting on life and how God ministers to us in the hard times with the love of people around us.

There was a huge recliner in the corner of the room which reminded me of the one my mom slept on beside me for five nights when I was in this hospital. I joked with her that I wouldn’t be sleeping on that uncomfortable thing! That’s something a mom does for her child, but not the other way around. When the nurses commented to Sarah and me that we were lovely daughters to be there for our mom, we replied, “She’s taken wonderful care of us, so its the least we can do.”

I was also reminded of the week Teo spent in the NICU. When someone you love is sick and/or in the hospital, being there with them is so clearly the best and most important thing you could do. I cherish that simplicity of focus and the stillness it creates in me.

The first evening that I saw my mom in the hospital was hard. She wasn’t herself and had trouble articulating her thoughts. Sarah had told me what to expect, but it wasn’t the same as experiencing it directly. As we left, we both cried as we expressed the thoughts we didn’t share in front of mom: “Is she going to survive this?” It was the first time I’d given those dark thoughts any consciousness.

As I arrived that night at my dad’s house, he greeted me at the front door as I walked straight into his arms and sobbed. My stepmom was dealing with her own tragedy, so they both created a safe place for me to be authentic and express my sadness. That night, my dad poured me a glass of wine and the three of us talked until late in the night. Thus began my routine for the next four days. After spending 10-12 hours at the hospital, I’d arrive and Dad and Moni’s to a warmed up dinner, a glass a wine, and a long supportive talk about life. The rawness of emotion met the hopefulness of faith as we shared, connected, and trusted in God’s goodness.

Returning home from this first trip to Humboldt, my family picked me up from the airport on a Tuesday night. I’d already booked a return flight up north for Friday. My sweet husband was very supportive when I relayed to him mom’s condition and the sense I felt that I needed to come back after teaching for a few days and getting more sub plans pulled together. Having lost his father to cancer over 25 years ago, he empathized and fully supported me spending this time caring for my mom. Plus, he loves my mom deeply too, so he’d take care of our kids so I could tend to my vocation as a daughter.

Vocation was on my mind a lot this month. People talk about middle age being that time when you’re raising your own kids and potentially caring for your parents too. I love the idea of vocation: the work God has given you to do in this life, for his kingdom. As I transitioned between San Diego and Humboldt and back again three times within a month, I prayed about my changing focus on each of my vocations: daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher… When I returned to class after my first trip, I was touched with my 9th graders asked in unison, “How’s your mom?” and then listened empathetically as I told them about my visit.

Throughout this challenging season, I have prayed continuously. Mostly for my mom, obviously. But also for myself! For presence, peace, compassion, and strength. I prayed to feel my genuine emotions and connect with my family members as we navigated this uncharted territory together. My sister Sarah and I became a tag-team unit, as we took turns caring for mom and consulting with one another when decisions needed to be made, especially the hard ones. You really learn how much your family loves one another when the trials of life arise.

Being authentic with people in my life during this challenging time was so important. My principal and I met between my second and third trip and she prayed for me with such tenderness and grace. Taking to Sienna and Mateo frankly about why I had to make these trips in such quick succession was helpful for me and them. Sienna told me, “I miss you, but I’m glad you’re there for Gaga.” In the midst of busy school workloads, they couldn’t take the time away to travel up north. But, they could sacrifice their mom’s attention for several days. We’re all doing our part.

Resting in the care and grace of loved ones is so meaningful. When I think of the love and support I’ve received from Dennis, Sienna, Mateo, my Dad, Moni, Sarah, my brother Rob, my students, my co-workers (who’ve subbed for me and helped coordinate subs), Aunt Sue, my cousin Jenny, my friends, my Pastor, etc. I feel such peace and gratefulness. Then there are the friends and church family that have surrounded my mom with love and care. We truly are Christ’s hands and feet to one another in this earthly life.

Please pray for my mom’s continued healing. I’m looking forward to the day we can look back on this season together and marvel at the good God has done in her life through this beautiful web of care and love.


Giving from His Abundance

Goodness, a lot of life has happened since I last wrote on here! It’s been a challenging season but also one full of grace, rest, and growth. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer toward the end of summer and started her chemotherapy this fall. I’m trying to be supportive from afar and am grateful for the opportunity to visit and care for her next weekend. Other challenges for family members arose this winter, including the death of my dear Bumpa the day after Christmas.

Also, I’m in my second year of teaching, which is still full of growth and learning. Teachers say that it takes 4-5 years to feel confident that you’ve “mastered” the curriculum for your classes, so I’m still on the front end of that curve. Coaching cross country in the fall was fun, but also required a lot of time that could have been spent on lesson planning. Sienna and Mateo are in 8th and 5th grade, respectively. We’ve learned that each year at Cambridge involves a significant step up in workload and expectations, so we’re navigating those challenges too.

Something that brings me peace amidst the difficulties of life is remembering that I’m not ultimately in charge. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loves me and bless me with the good things I need in this life, maybe not everything I want, but certainly everything I need. When circumstances arise that I don’t like, I try to remember to wait and let things unfold in God’s own perfect timing.

One of my fellow teachers gave the morning devotion last week and an analogy he used really touched my heart. He said that our relationship to God is like a child of 7 or 8 years old who asks their dad for money to buy him a birthday present. The father lovingly hands over $20 to his child. Then the child goes out and buys a tie or something and presents it to their father: “Happy Birthday, Dad! I hope you like the gift I got you!” The father opens the gift and loves it, scooping his child up into his arms with delight!

Now strictly from a financial standpoint, the father didn’t “get” anything that he couldn’t have acquired himself. It was his money being used to buy the tie, after all. But, he received the love and thoughtfulness of his child and delighted in the relationship he enjoys with them.

Isn’t this a wonderful analogy?! God doesn’t need our love and devotion. We cannot give God anything on our own, but we can love and worship him from the abundant blessing He has bestowed on us!

I’m a frail child of God who lives and moves and has my being in Christ. When I abide in Christ and rest of God’s faithfulness and love, he can work through me to fulfill my vocations as wife, mother, daughter, teacher and friend. Alone, I’m like a penniless little kid with no gift to bring my father.


Wait and See

As you may know, I’m a recovering perfectionist. Often “recovering” looks like slipping back into old patterns and then praying and accepting my way back to a place of surrendering and peace. I sometimes ponder which came first (as in “the chicken or the egg”), my desire for control or my diabetes. When you have diabetes, the hallmark of good care is “well-controlled blood sugars”. Truly, there couldn’t be a higher virtue than “control” in diabetes management.

Over the years I’ve used a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) several times. As I’ve discussed with my endocrinologist on countless occasions, the constant information on my blood sugar often felt overwhelming. I felt like I was riding a blood sugar roller coaster on days I used a CGM. Over the years, I realized that the issue wasn’t the information, but how I processed it. Psychologically, seeing a high blood sugar after a meal would prompt me to correct with insulin, even if I’d just given an injection an hour earlier. I couldn’t handle seeing the high blood sugar (and the feelings of failure it triggered) for an hour or so while my meal bolus brought my blood sugar down.

What happened when I stacked two injections close together? My blood sugar would plummet and I’d have to consume more carbohydrates to raise it. I’d then monitor the CGM data carefully for the rebounding high, which I’d then aggressively respond to with more insulin. See how the roller coaster feeling arose?!

In contrast, with finger stick blood sugar monitoring, my blood sugar might rise between meals, but I wouldn’t see that information until I tested a few hours later, so I wasn’t triggered to give extra correction doses. The downside? High blood sugars wouldn’t be detected for a few hours. Also, I couldn’t anticipate low blood sugars unless I became symptomatic.

As I’ve dealt with retinopathy the past few years, my desire to keep my blood sugar even more tightly controlled grew. I knew that the Dexcom provided the best standard of care for diabetes but was tentative to try again. So, I prayed for peace and a renewed understanding for how to interpret and respond to CGM information.

A couple months ago, I had one demo Dexcom sensor handy and decided to wear it for 10 days. Something finally clicked. I was able to receive the continuous glucose readings without overreacting to the information! Somehow my years of experience and awareness of how my body responded to food, insulin, exercise, etc. comingled with the continuous stream of blood sugars. I was able to watch the trends, allow for a reasonable “turnaround time” and wait (somewhat patiently) for highs and lows to return to range.

The timing of this breakthrough was fortuitous. Dealing with retinopathy impressed upon me how important tightly controlled blood sugars would be for my long-term health. With the CGM information, I could correct highs more quickly and keep my blood sugar “in range” more consistently. It’s not inexpensive, but again the benefits for my health and quality-of-life in the future makes the investment more than worth it.

As the weeks turned into months, I noticed a side effect of using the Dexcom. My cell phone was always within arm’s reach! The data is available through an app, which is obviously more convenient that using a separate receiver. However, once the phone was in my hand, I reflexively checked my email, instant messages, and social media much more than I’d like.

So, last week I got an Apple Watch so my blood sugars are constantly available right on my wrist! I’m being diligent not to start using other tracking features of the watch, because I know from experience that they are triggers for my performance orientation. When I start tracking things like the amount of water I drink or walking 10k steps a day, I feel like a robot ticking off all the “to do” items from my daily list.

But, it’s nice to glance down and see my blood sugar level and trend arrow without having to pick up my phone. I imagine it’ll be very helpful during classes! It’s funny how this constant stream of information used to feel overwhelming and burdensome, but now it feels freeing. The trick is constantly reminding myself, “wait and see what happens” before reacting to a potential high or low. Just because my blood sugar is 110 mg/dl and dropping right now doesn’t mean I’m headed for a low that I need to preempt. Likewise, a 160 mg/dl and climbing may not need intervention, depending on the timing of my last meal, when I’m planning to exercise, etc.

Over the years, “wait and see” has been a helpful reminder to stay in the moment instead of trying to control my future feelings. Just because my mind is telling me that I should act now to avoid feeling something unpleasant in the future, in reality I can “wait and see” how I feel in the moment, when it arrives. This life strategy only really works when you know that you can trust God for his grace and provision in all the moments of life, especially when things are out of control.


The gift of acceptance.

Last month was the 29th anniversary of my Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. As each year goes by my feelings about “celebrating” or just acknowledging this anniversary changes. It used to be a source of pride, as in “Look how well I’ve lived with diabetes for 15 years… 20 years… etc.” But, as I’ve been dealing with my first diabetes complication for the past couple years, the reality of longevity with this disease feels more daunting.

About a month ago my doctor examined my eyes and indicated that more laser treatment was needed, particularly in my left eye. He discovered more vessels in my retinas that were starting to or would likely bleed. Based on my prior experience, the treatment wasn’t urgent so I confirmed with my doctor that it was okay to schedule the laser treatment after we returned from vacation.

Well, turns out that wasn’t the best decision.

On the evening of July 5th I started to notice some floaters in my left eye. It was late and I was hopeful they’d improve overnight. Instead, the next morning my vision was very blurry due to a large amoeba shaped floater just in my left eye. We had a beautiful hike planned in Fern Canyon that day, so we headed out there as I awaited a response from my doctor regarding the urgency of examining my eye. It seemed obvious that one of the vessels had bleed, but I was 800 miles away from my doctor and didn’t know the severity of the situation.

When we got back to cell phone range around 4:00 p.m., I was able to schedule an appointment for 2:00 p.m. the next day. Fortunately, we’d packed up the kids for their stay with my mom that morning. So, everything they needed was in McKinleyville, whereas Dennis and my things were still at the ranch. We huddled as a family and decided Dennis and I would drive home right then, while the kids remained with our family in Humboldt. We’d coordinate a plan to retrieve them later.

When challenges arise in life, it’s so comforting to have the support and care of people who love you. Dennis had a wonderful attitude as we embraced the 10 hour drive that night, arriving just north of the Grapevine (along Interstate 5, for the uninitiated), at 2:45 a.m. We listened to classic rock and enjoyed the drive, just the two of us. After five hours in the hotel we were back on the road to San Diego, in plenty of time for my appointment.

I fully expected the doctor to do the laser treatment after he examined my eyes. So, I was really, really disappointed when he explained that the blood in my left eye was blocking the retina, making it impossible to laser the vessels accurately. I’d have to wait for the blood to reabsorb or dissipate before treating the left eye. We’d go ahead and treat the right eye fully, as planned.

“What do you do for exercise?” the doctor asked. “Oh, run. I’m a runner.” I replied.

“You shouldn’t run until we can treat the left eye. Those vessels are fragile and the pounding from running could cause more bleeds.”

“Okay,” I replied. Internally my mind said, “No!!! Don’t take my running from me!”

Many, many tears were cried that afternoon. As I sobbed into Dennis’s shoulder in the waiting room and again, later at home, I mourned the loss of running and anticipated weeks or months of this annoying obstructed vision. How would I get all my summer reading and school prep done? Why did this have to cut our vacation short? What would I do without my weekly long run? How would coaching cross country this fall work if I couldn’t run by then?

It’s been five weeks since that day. Today is my follow-up appointment. Originally, I expected we’d be able to do the laser treatment today. However, as I’ve done some research and lived with diabetic macular edema (that’s the technical term) for over a month, I don’t anticipate he’ll be able to treat it yet. The floater has moved up in my vision, which means it’s moving down in my eye, and it’s gotten a bit fainter. But, it doesn’t seem to have changed enough to be out of the way for the laser treatment. I’m praying I’m wrong, but not having high expectations for a resolution today.

Instead, I’m marveling at the gift of acceptance.

I’ve prayed a lot about this situation and God had faithfully come alongside to remind me that freedom comes from surrendering. Instead of saying “this is driving me crazy!” as I did the first couple days, I’ve had to accept that there’s a weird amoeba shaped image floating around in my left eye. I’m able to read, study, drive, watch TV, and basically do everything I’m used to doing. Well, except run. We rejoined the YMCA so I’ve been swimming and using the machines at the gym. They have a cool elliptical machine where you can vary your stride length and actually mimic running really well. I love it!

Each day my eye bothers me less and less. It’s been like a mindfulness exercise. My accepting it’s there but recognizing I don’t need to pay attention to it, I am able to basically ignore it for long periods of time. When I become conscious of it again, I just think, “Oh, there’s that floater” and put my attention back on what I’m doing in the moment.

I’ve figured out little coping strategies. For example, bright lights make it worse, so I’ve been wearing my sunglasses inside brightly lit places. We went to the Giants/Padres game this week with my Dad and Moni, so I kept my sunglasses on for most of the game, until it got hard to see!

Dennis and I were home for a few days after the eye appointment. As I realized that my eye condition wasn’t going to improve anytime soon, it seemed silly to miss the fun with our family up in Humboldt. So, our amazing dog sitter agreed to come back and we made the return trip in 13 hours of driving, starting early on a Tuesday morning. It was a lot of extra driving for only five days, but they were very fun and special days! Dennis and I enjoyed some sunshine and swimming at the ranch, celebrated our nephew’s 12th birthday with a big family party, and got to connect with our sweet family who took wonderful care of Sienna and Mateo.

Even though our summer trip didn’t turn out as expected, in some ways it was better. In our original plan, Dennis was going to fly home early to relieve the dog sitter so the two of us enjoyed time alone together, which is always precious. I came to be “in the moment” more deeply after surrendering and accepting my vision issues. It’s amazing how much more present and connected I feel when I stop striving to control my feelings. Letting myself really mourn the situation and feel the disappointment of it was so important. I had a session with my counselor on the Monday afternoon before we drove back to Humboldt. She helped me sit with the sadness and truly feel it.

Life is hard. It throws us curveballs all the time. I feel like God is working to deepen my acceptance of all emotions. There’s such grace and peace in surrendering and allowing yourself to feel what you feel.


Time Flies When You’re Having Fun.

Time has felt so strange this past year. I can hardly believe that I’m almost through my first year of teaching, yet is also feels like I’ve been at this vocation for years. When I look back through my lesson plans and all we’ve covered in class, it seems like a full years’ worth! But, time has flown by too. I suppose the old adage applies: “Times flies when you’re having fun!”

For the first several months, I had a constant, low-level of anxiety all the time. There was always something I needed to study and understand in time for an approaching class! Sometime around mid-March, I felt myself settle in and relax a bit. Even though there was still a lot of class content to study and master, I was now familiar with the process and could work smarter to prepare lessons.

During this school year, I’ve moved along a spectrum from perfectionism to surrender, over and over again. It goes something like this: I make a mistake in class or don’t feel as prepared as I would like, so I start berating myself. I then get anxious and try to understand everything before the next class (which is impossible); my mind gets jumpy and I feel disconnected from the process of learning. The feeling of being “in my head” and listening to my inner critique is a great indicator that I’m striving to do and be more than God intends.

So, then I pray… and pray… and breathe. I pray for a growth mindset and to accept my limitations as a human being. I pray to see myself rightly: as a first year teacher who is working hard and trying her best. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, my studying, and even specifically my lesson plan ideas!

It’s still typical for me to feel nervous before a class, but an amazing thing happens when I’m well prepared and my students enter the classroom. I’ll ask them how they’re doing and we’ll start chatting either individually or as a whole class, and I instantly engage and don’t feel anxious anymore. I love connecting with the students and getting to know them is the best part of teaching. As the year has progressed, my enjoyment and comfort has been directly related to how well I know my students. I’m not teaching a class of 14 to 16 random students, they are individual people that I know well.

Last weekend, I had about 25 essays to carefully edit and grade for my ninth graders. Before starting, I prayed a lot about the work ahead of me and the attitude I wanted to take toward this marathon of work. Each essay takes me about 45-50 minutes to edit and provide comments. I prayed that I would approach this task with a servant’s heart so I would give each students the feedback they needed to grow.

As I engaged in this work, it felt so different from my experience editing essays the first semester. It occurred to me that I know my students much better now than I did then. So, I connected more deeply to the feeling of editing Jane’s essay, Jonny’s essay, Logan’s essay, etc. My feedback was more customized to their growth, which made it more meaningful and inspiring for me.

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week! Students and parents wrote sweet notes and gave little gifts all week long. I sat down to read through all my notes this weekend and they were delightful. My favorites were from students who told me how they experience class and me as a teacher! It’s hard to see yourself clearly, so this encouragement meant so much.

Once the school year is over and I have time to process it all (and time to write!) I will share my learnings from this year. I may be the teacher, but learning is a lifelong adventure and this year taught me abundantly.


Your Life is Not Your Own

On Friday morning I went for a walk and enjoyed some solitude and prayer before school. Thinking ahead to my day, a prayer of thanksgiving spontaneously filled my heart: “Lord, thank you so much for this work that so deeply fulfills my interests…” then I added, “… those interests that you also gave me in the first place and then nurtured all these years!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how everything we receive in this life is a gift from God. Our homes, our food, our shelter, our families, our friends, our opportunities, our skills, our intelligence… none of it is something we can take credit for! It’s a gift from God. This realization brings incredible peace, gratitude, and a desire to use those gifts to God’s glory.

Recently Mateo played in a championship basketball game with his rec team. Their team had already won all their regular season games and first playoff game! As usual, he was nervous before the game so we said a prayer. I didn’t plan to say what came out of my mouth: “Lord, thank you for the wonderful team Teo has enjoyed this season. Thank you for his athletic gifts, which you’ve given him. Please help him to go out and use those gifts to play the game for your glory. We know that, win or lose, nothing that truly matters in life changes. Thank you for your son Jesus and his redeeming grace in our life. Amen.” Mateo went into the game feeling a lot less nervous.

On the topic of basketball, Teo was selected for the All Star team, with games this past Saturday. We’d been planning our annual “NCAA Date” which always falls on the first Saturday of the tournament. We (especially Teo!) were looking forward to heading downtown to watch games together and relive Dennis and my first “date”. Teo decided he didn’t want to play in the All Star league, so he opted out.

Dennis and I had eye doctor appointments on Saturday morning. We love our eye doctor (Dennis has been going to him for almost 30 years!) and usually make a special trip down to Hillcrest on a Saturday for our check-ups. Also, I’d just learned that a beloved member of our old church had passed away, just a couple months shy of her 102nd birthday! Grace Lutheran is just a couple blocks from our eye doctor, and her funeral was yesterday too.

So, Dennis and I spent the morning at the eye doctor and then attended a beautiful memorial service. With my recent eye health requiring extra retinal specialty care, we hadn’t seen our eye doctor for awhile. Turns out, he’s been going through some hard times and shared them with us. Our eye check-ups turned into something more precious and beautiful as we held space for our friend to share his pain. We didn’t know that God intended to use us to minister to someone he loves, but we felt honored to be there.

We didn’t know Lorna very well, but we’d been church family for nearly a decade. The kids and I participated in her “drive-by” 100th birthday celebration back in May, 2020. At her funeral, we contemplated her long life of devotion to God, sang the hymns she chose, including “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and saw sweet friends that we’ve missed from Grace. We experienced another layer of healing from our decision to switch churches with the wonderful realization that we could certainly visit more often and maintain the sweet relationships we have at Grace.

Yesterday felt like such a gift. We chose to do some things that people don’t typically choose to do: listen to someone share their pain and voluntarily go to a funeral. But, both of these things were immensely meaningful. We connected with people in moments that truly matter in life.

In some way, the deeper realization that God has given me everything I need creates a sense of responsibility to do what he calls me to do. My life is not my own. He’s the creator and I’m just one of billions of his creatures! Surrendering to this beautiful reality gives me peace to prioritize moments of service, connection, and love in a world that often tells us to do just the opposite.


Compassion and Transformation

Some years ago, my dear friend Christina gave me a book for Christmas called Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Fr. Gregory Boyle. I was captivated by the story this Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries told about the years he has spent ministering to gang members in Los Angeles. Turns out, it was his second book, so I eagerly added his first: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion to my “to read” list.

As reading serendipity would have it, a few years passed as my “to read” list grew and grew and I didn’t get around to reading Tattoos on the Heart. Last Saturday, Dennis and I had a date to the library to find history books for background studying for my second semester. Tattoos on the Heart caught my eye. I started reading it right then and was captivated again.

So many stories in this book brought tears to my eyes. Fr. Gregory’s compassion and affection for the young men he has come alongside is so moving. Here’s one story that touched my heart:

I had a twenty-three-year old homie named Miguel working for me on our graffiti crew. As with a great many of our workers, I had met him years earlier while he wad detained. He was an extremely nice kid, whose pleasantness was made all the move remarkable by the fact that he had been completely abandoned by his family. Prior to their rejection of him, they had mistreated, abused, and scarred him plenty. He calls me one New Year’s Day. “Happy New Year, G.”

“Hey, that’s very thoughtful of ya, dog,” I say. “You know, Miguel, I was thinkin’ of ya – you know, on Christmas. So, what ya do for Christmas?” I asked knowing that he had no family to welcome him in.

“Oh, you know, I was right here,” meaning his tiny little apartment, where he lives alone.

“All by yourself?” I ask.

“Oh no,” he quickly says, “I invited homies from the crew – you know, vatos like me who didn’t had no place to go for Christmas.”

He names the five homies who came over – all former enemies from rival gangs.

“Really,” I tell him, “that sure was nice of you.”

But he’s got me revved and curious now. “So,” I ask him, “what did you do?”

“Well,” he says, “you’re not gonna believe this… but… I cooked a turkey.” You can feel his pride right through the phone….

I said, “Wow, that’s impressive. What else did you have besides the turkey?”

“Just that. Just turkey,” he says. His voice tapers to a hush. “Yeah. The six of us, we just sat there, staring at the oven, waiting for the turkey to be done.”

One would be hard-pressed to imagine something more sacred and ordinary that these six orphans staring at the oven together….

Not long after this, I give Miguel a ride home after work. I had long been curious about Miguel’s own certain resilience. When we arrive at his apartment, I say, “Can I ask you a question? How do you do it? I mean, given all you’ve been through – all the pain and stuff you’ve suffered – how are you like the way you are?”

I genuinely want to know and Miguel has his answer at the ready. “You know, I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day,” – he quiets a bit – “one day, I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it… goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was.” He pauses, caught short by his own truth, (reteaching loveliness) and turns and looks at me. “And now, nothing can touch me.”

Most of Fr. Gregory’s work is simply loving these young gang members who have experienced much pain, shame, and violence in their lives. Returning men and women to the goodness that God has put in their heart is his life’s work. It’s so inspiring to read these stories of compassion and the transformational work God can do through love.



Fridays are my favorite in this season of life. For many reasons…

First of all, I feel accomplished and content having completed my lesson planning for the week! I only teach my Advisory Group and one period of 9th grade History, at the end of the day on Fridays. This last week, I felt so engaged, relaxed, and connected with my students as we discussed the consequences of the Black Death/bubonic plague in 14th century Europe and then played a card game to simulate the spread of the plague. They played along wonderfully and I soaked up the fun teenage energy on a Friday afternoon!

I enjoyed little moments of connection with several students, talking about figure skating, witty expressions, and the Senior Night Basketball games the day before. Typically when students leave the classroom, there are a few who say “Thank you, Mrs. Bonilla!” This last Friday, it was a chorus of “thanks yous” as the students left the classroom, and I was moved by the tenderness of the moment.

The main reason Fridays are my favorite right now is the routine Sienna and I have of going for a late afternoon drive. During the pandemic, when there wasn’t much to do, the kids and I started taking long drives through the back roads of Rancho Santa Fe to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. It’s a beautiful drive through exquisite houses and horse ranches with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean at the end!

Mateo’s sports practice schedule has helped facilitate our drives. His coach is a parent at our school, so he purposely schedules practices on Fridays, to avoid conflicting with the heavy homework load! Dennis and Teo hang out on Fridays after school while Sienna and I grab our Starbucks treats and go for our drive.

Sienna is 14 years old and, right on time, has discovered the joys of pop music. On our drives she plays DJ and introduces me to new songs. I’ve been an Ed Sheeran fan and she loves him too! Lately she’s discovered Ruth B., Ariana Grande, The Weekend and Justin Bieber. I’ve definitely thought “What are kids listening to these days?!” on occasion, but generally I’m enjoying the music. It’s very insightful to hear what she’s listening to and it opens up conversation about lyrics that may not be totally appropriate.

These times, alone with my sweet daughter, are so precious. During the week, she likes to keep a healthy distance from her mom at school. Our agreement is, in exchange for giving her space at school, I get to hug and cuddle her at home whenever I want! (Kind of.) Honestly, we are both quite busy during the school week, so catching up on Fridays feels particularly special.

Lately it feels like I’m watching the kids grow and change right before my eyes. The more I sit back and listen, the more Sienna shares (or, as she says, “talks my ear off”)! Listening to her explore ideas, consider how she behaves, and generally contemplate life is such a joy. Hopefully our Friday drives will be a steady routine through her teen years.


Accepting My Limits, at Christmas and Throughout the Year

At the beginning of Christmas break, I prayed repeatedly for God to grant me peace and presence to enjoy the holidays with my family and prepare well for the return to school for the last three weeks of the semester.  Knowing myself, I didn’t want pressure to work on school prep to steal my attention away from the joyful moments of Christmas celebration.

Two days after Christmas, as I continued to battle a nasty cold that left me voiceless and tired, I realized that God had answered my prayers!  Ironically, illness had stripped away my constant striving for productivity and cleared my schedule. It quieted all the “shoulds” that typically echo in my mind as I accepted my condition and allowed myself to rest. Gratefully, we made it to Christmas Eve’s Lessons and Carols celebration at church, though my coughing kept me from singing very much. 

Christmas morning, my cold was at it’s worse. My throat and ears hurt. I couldn’t summon up much enthusiasm for my stocking stuffers and asked my family to forgive my reactions!  But, in that moment, I prayed again. Lord, help me to accept how I’m feeling and be present with my family today. Help me remember that the blessings of Christmas abound far beyond today and just rest if your grace.

The inclination to have unhelpful thoughts such as, “I hate that I feel so sick on Christmas morning!” is a very normal, human reaction.  We build up a day or an event and want it to live up to our expectations.  But we’re not in control of so many factors, including how our body feels on any given day.  Letting those thoughts guide my spirit would only make me feel worse.

I am so grateful for these little moments of stillness and contemplation of what is most important.  Our Christmas was cozy. We played with our rambunctious puppy, watched movies, and said prayers of thanksgiving for the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem all those years ago.  I had just enough energy to make Christmas dinner and my family was compassionate all day.  Sienna kept looking at me with concern, asking: “Mom, how are you feeling?”

All this unscheduled time at home has led to a lot of interesting studying in preparation for units on the Peloponnesian War and the Magna Carta when school resumes in January.  Rather than feeling stressed to fit in work over the break, I’ve had fun curiously studying these topics. The fact that I didn’t have much else to do just provided extra motivation to study! 

This has been an intense season of learning and growth as I teach history (to teenagers!) for the first time.  It’s hard and humbling and fun and fulfilling. I’ve been praying for peace and presence over and over again.  God truly gives me the energy and focus I need, when I get out of my own way and cease striving to do it all and do it all perfectly. Admitting my limits and therefore not expecting unreasonable performance helps me remember how needy I am for the grace and guidance of Jesus, our beloved manger king. 

Merry Christmas!


Embracing my smallness…

Going into this season of life, I expected that my inner critique would be triggered by the stress and uncertainty of starting to teach for the first time. After over 16 years of working at the same company, I’d experienced a level of familiarity and comfort that brought routine and ease into my life.

Doing something so different is exciting! But, it’s also unsettling, disorienting, anxiety-producing, and a minefield of possible mistakes. When you’ve spent so much of your life trying to do things right it’s overwhelming to voluntarily put yourself in a situation where you’re undoubtedly going to do things wrong!

I could start writing about how a growth mindset transforms the statement above into an opportunity instead of something to dread; and it does. But, this ability of mine to reframe everything so that it sounds good and right again, doesn’t actually allow me to feel my feelings and be authentically in the hard stuff. So, I’ll resist the temptation…

I told my advisor yesterday that I’m experiencing a familiar feeling from my days in graduate school. It’s the sense that there’s always something that needs to be read or studied. Even if I’m “caught up” there’s always another book or topic waiting for a lesson plan that needs to be written soon. Teaching new curriculum is a universally overwhelming experience, I’m told. So, there’s comfort in that!

My inner critique voice tells me several unhelpful things about this constant stream of studying, but the most common is: I don’t have time to study everything I need to on this topic. Now, I know full well that no one expects me to know “everything” but my inner critique apparently doesn’t understand the basic limitations of time and human frailty.

When my mind is spinning these unhelpful and uncompassionate stories, I know the only way through is to pray, rest, and trust in God’s provision and faithfulness to me. He knows my frailty and limitations and sent an answer in his son Jesus. Coming back to dependence on Christ reframes my perspective in the most beautiful way. I’m called to model grace, forgiveness and virtue to my students as I connect with them. Allowing myself to receive grace is the best preparation for the work he’s called me to do.

… in my smallness, I find rest, quiet, comfort. Trusting that his provision, not my striving will accomplish His will.” – Sally Clarkson