Slow Down

Standard

Last Friday I attended a Mother’s Day program at the kids’ school.  After each grammar school grade presented either a poem or a song about mothers, Jean, the Head of School, read a very sweet book to us called Let Me Hold You a Little Longer by Karen Kingsbury.  It was a cool twist on looking back on your children’s younger years.  Instead of remembering all their “firsts” it spoke of being present and mindful for all of their “lasts” – the last hit they had in Little League, the last time they came to your bed to sleep, the last time you cuddled up with them to read a story.

Summer-Fall 2011 151

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place… well, at least in the first couple rows!  I sat in the second row, right behind the reserved seating for the moms of all the Seniors.  I thought it was so cool they came to this event, since none of their students were likely in the grammr school any longer. Apparently this annual event was one they wanted to cherish one last time.  As the women in front of me passed tissues between themselves, I was even more overwhelmed with emotions.  Their kids are truly experiencing so many “lasts” this year and they’re watching them launch into the world.  It’s so hard to let go.

December 2011- January 2012 103

If that wasn’t enough, our heart strings were further tugged when they started a slide show of pictures of all the students.  They played a couple songs that were extremely poignant.  The first one stuck with me, so I looked it up later and played it repeatedly over Mother’s Day weekend.   The song is Slow Down by Nichole Nordeman.  The lyrics that always get me are:

Had to crawl before you walked
Before you ran
Before I knew it
You were trying to free your fingers from my hand
‘Cause you could it on your own now
Somehow, slow down

December 2011- January 2012 137

I’d decided to take Friday off of work, for a much needed personal day!  The program was in the morning and I could think of several different ways to spend the rest of the day.  But, I finally felt inspired to pull out all my scrapbooking supplies and start on Mateo’s scrapbook.  Last year I got Sienna’s first 18 months finished and into a book, but I hadn’t started Mateo’s at all yet.  It had been on my list of goals for two years already!  All it took was  slowing down and letting myself feel the sadness of his young childhood passing to prioritize this important, but obviously not urgent, task.

Oh man, looking back at baby Teo is such a joy!  Sometimes I lament the fact that I wasn’t as present and capable of being in the moment when he was a baby.  But, then I remember all the time I spent singing to him and rocking him to sleep.  I was there. I was present.

Summer-Fall 2011 128

When I think back on my children’s baby and toddler years, even though this was the season where I controlled my feelings and spent too much time in my head, I always adored being with Sienna and Mateo.  They were able to ground me like nothing else.  Even now, as I’ve learned to be present, my kids are my daily touchstone to the here-and-now.  They are perpetually in the moment.  I love hearing their thoughts, seeing their expressions, and just watching them learn and grow through the ebbs and flows of life.  It’s the best.

But, it’s true, I often wish that time would somehow slow down.

It’s all worth it.

Standard

I had the wonderful opportunity to receive training this week in Chicago, along with some of the ladies on my Team.  The training was awesome and I loved getting the chance to spend time with Corinna, Brandi and Rachel as we all work to grow our management skills.  Actually, it’s misleading to say we were in Chicago!  Our flights landed at O’Hare but then we went straight to a southern suburb for the two days of training.  It rained most of our visit, thus we didn’t venture out to the city.  I never even saw the Chicago skyline!

IMG_0914

Getting home on Thursday night late, I didn’t get much sleep before having to be at work Friday morning.  Most of the day involved a long meeting with folks from corporate and our local office to discuss a process that’s transitioning from my plate, now that I’ve taken on managing the entire Admin Team.  It was draining for me – emotionally and mentally.  By the grace of God, I was able to stay present and engage appropriately.  It was hard because earlier in the week, I had to be assertive to get upper management to understand that this role HAD to be reassigned to someone else.  I’d been trying to get this message across for months, but clearly compromised too much and therefore they continued to expect me to fulfill the role!  So, in this half-day meeting I had to navigate the dance between being helpful in the transition while stepping back from taking on too much responsibility.

Then, all these meetings and discussions went long and I didn’t make it to Teo’s class party to help out. Fortunately the Room Mom and I chatted the week before.  When I told her I’d just be getting back from Chicago on Thursday night, she said she wouldn’t count on me to help with the party, if I could just bring her the veggies and treats before I left.  Good thinking, Room Mom!

Friday afternoon we needed to run an errand before Sienna and I went to a slumber party.  I was looking forward to helping for the evening and spending time with friends, but I was tired.  Also, the errand was making us late for the party, which made me uncomfortable and frustrated.  The kids and Dennis could see that I was flustered as we rushed through Target and I had several moments of prayer and defusion to keep myself from losing it.  “Kelsey, it’s fine.  You’re going to be late but Kristi will understand.  You do not want to take your frustration out on your family,” I told myself.

Finally, Sienna and I were driving to the party.  She’s big enough to sit in the front seat now!  I was still working to get out of my head, with all the thoughts of the workday swirling around my mind.  Suddenly, Sienna touched my arm gently and said, “Thank you.”

“Thank you for what, Lovie?” I asked.

“For everything.  For the Cambridge School. For everything,” she replied as I looked into her big brown eyes.

“Oh, you’re so welcome,” I said as tears started to flow beneath my sunglasses.

I took a very deep breath and exhaled, thanking God for this loving and wise little daughter who so often reminds me of what’s important in life.  Her simple words of gratitude made me feel seen and appreciated.  These days of busyness with work, school, and family life are all for a reason.  It’s okay for me to be tired and not have it all together, all the time.  What fuels my efforts is love for my sweet children and loving husband.  It’s all worth it.

You Are What You Love

Standard

The beginning of a New Year is the highpoint of self-actualization rhetoric in American culture and I typically jump in with both feet.  The idea that we can change our habits and routines so everything stays in perfect balance and we’ll be thinner, fitter, happier and more productive this year than last year is so enticing!  But, for a reformed hyper-planner and self-aware Type 1 perfectionist, this time of year is a very slippery slope for me.

images1EHYEMAO

Sure enough, the past few weeks, I’ve been “in my head” and less in touch with my heart; relying on myself instead of God, expecting everything to work out just right if I plan properly, and missing the moments of connection all around me.  However, simultaneously I’ve been reading a very interesting and helpful book: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.  Our pastor, who recently moved across the country, preached from this book for several weeks before he left last year.  I loved the sermons and looked forward to deepening my understanding of how our loves are shaped by liturgical practices, both inside and outside the church.

Dr. Smith argues: “In ways that are more “modern” than biblical, we have been taught to assume that human beings are fundamentally thinking things.”  Most of our efforts toward discipleship focus on collecting information as if “we can think our way to holiness – sanctification by information transfer.”  This approach is diametrically opposed to biblical wisdom, where Jesus continually refers to the human heart as the center of our being.  Of Christ, Smith states, “He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”

This argument really hit home when Smith asked “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?  Have you ever found that new knowledge and information don’t seem to translate into a new way of life?”  I imagine everyone who’s currently struggling with maintaining a health related resolution has experienced just this gap!  We know what is healthy, but that doesn’t mean we always do it!  Smith goes on to suggest: “What if it’s because you aren’t just a thinking thing?”  Indeed, what if our “epicenter of human identity” is what Augustine articulated when he said, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you…”?

Smith goes on to describe the Augustinian alternative: “…since our hearts are made to find their end in God, we will experience a besetting anxiety and restlessness when we try to love substitutes.  To be human is to have a heart.  You can’t not love. So the question isn’t whether you will love something as ultimate; the question is what you will love as ultimate. And you are what you love.”

If loves aren’t cultivated by information transfer, in other words, we can’t collect ideas in order to transform our loves.  How are our hearts oriented?  Smith explains that loves are shaped over time by the liturgical practices in our lives.  Rival liturgies are the habits we have, which over time shape what we perceive as the “good life” or the end to which our life is headed.  The book includes a lengthy metaphor of the shopping mall as the modern “church” in America; illustrating how everything from the cathedral style architecture to the economic transaction at the altar of consumerism.  It’s really interesting and comical too.  I could relate to the feeling of aimlessly strolling through a mall (or more commonly Target!) looking for something that I “need”.

The biggest takeaway from this book, for me, is the idea that what we ultimately love and desire is shaped, over time, by our daily habits.  If our family routinely spends the weekend shopping, then being a consumer is what we cultivate as “the good life”.  If we watch television each evening, our worldview is shaped to mirror that which we see in popular culture.  If we read classic, wholesome books with our children, then their desires are shaped by things that are good, true, and timeless.  When we pray before dinner, attend the Divine Service each week, read before bed, and spend time as a family, our loves are oriented toward God and family.  These little daily habits shape what we value, desire, love and ultimately you are what you love.

The One About Sewing Four Dresses.

Standard

Recently I renewed a prayer that helped me learn to trust God and be more present in the moment: “Lord, please keep me on this path of growth and help me learn the lessons you want me to know.” God is faithful and he’s been teaching me lessons at every turn the past couple weeks.

When I’m in a period of growth, I often recall the expression “growing pains” because usually there’s some pain or discomfort in the process. I’ve also recognized that a lot of self-awareness can be learned and growth opportunities found when you step back to ask yourself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?” Then, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, you’ll discover areas that need to be surrendered to God and hopefully improved in your life.

IMG_0914

I had this type of moment recently, while in the fabric store with my family. Sienna has been very excited about writing, producing, and performing a play with her friends. She wants to perform it in our newly renovated backyard, where the fit pit resembles a stage in her imagination. I’d been encouraging this idea, until she announced that she wanted to sew dresses for the four main characters. This sounded very labor intensive to me!

Some backstory: my mom is a talented sewer and she got Sienna a sewing machine and all the accessories one year for Christmas. Sienna loves sewing clothes for her dolls and being creative with making pillows and other small projects. She doesn’t follow a pattern, but she is happy with her creations.

Okay, back to Joann’s. We’re in the fabric store and finding little accessories for the play – headbands and fake flowers. I explained to Sienna that we didn’t have time to pick out all the patterns or have fabric cut that day, but we’d come back another time. Then, I tried to dissuade her a bit. “Love, I’m not sure we can make four dresses. I’m not a good sewer and won’t be able to help you very much.”

“I don’t need your help, Gaga taught me to sew,” she replied.

“Yes, but it’s going to take a lot of time and I don’t know that we have the skills between us to take on this project,” I continued.

This type of reasoning went back and forth between us until we got in line with our purchases. I knelt down to talk to Sienna and she stoically said, “It sure would be nice if I had a mom who supported me.”

Ouch.

I got angry and tensely replied, “I support you all the time.” Then I turned away.

That afternoon and into the next day, her words haunted me. Sure, there’s an element of manipulation that she was employing, but I started to ask myself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?”   I called my mom and she said something very helpful: “Why don’t you buy the pattern and material for one dress and let her try to sew it? She’ll get to experience how challenging it is and then you can decide whether to make more?”

“I never would have thought of that, Mom. Of course, that makes perfect sense. In my mind, we’re either going to make four perfect dresses or we’re not going to try at all.” Hello there, fixed mindset!

IMG_0789

As the kids have begun this wonderful new school, that’s more rigorous and challenging than they’re used to, I’m finding my old fixed mindset popping up. I believe in having a growth mindset and allowing people the grace to learn and grow. But, when the rubber meets the road, I fall back into old patterns of perfectionism or avoidance.

During this very same time, I’ve begun casually studying the Enneagram. If you’re not familiar, the Enneagram is a model of nine personality types. The first test I took told me that I was Type 2, The Giver, but I had a distinct feeling that my true type is Type 1, the Perfectionist (or, most positively, the Reformer or the Improver). This experience at the fabric store caused me to dig into the information, including a couple podcasts on Enneagram Type 1s. Oh, man. All the comments hit so close to home! I could relate to so much of what other Type 1s said about their life experiences. We tend to have a sense of “how things should be” that is over emphasized. Our “attention-to-detail” is on steroids!

Returning to my comments about sewing the dress, I recognize that my need for the dresses to be made “right” is part of where Sienna and I disconnect. My artistic daughter doesn’t need the dress to be made “how it should be”. She’d happily throw a sash around the dress or cut a hemline in an asymmetrical design and call it done! I need things to be done “right”. It wasn’t Sienna’s frustration or disappointment that I was trying to spare, it was my own. With a fixed mindset, I would have hovered over her project, trying to “fix” and “help” while only succeeding at hurting my daughter and sending the message that she wasn’t capable.

I can write about a growth mindset and intellectually understand it, but man, it’s challenging to really embrace it in my daily life. I’m praying that God will help me use this Enneagram realization to recognize my tendencies and find new ways to grow. My children are such amazing teachers! I told Sienna that I appreciated her comment that she’d like a mom that supported her: “God knew I needed a daughter like you to help me grow.”

“He Hugged Me”

Standard

Yesterday morning, we were doing our typically Sunday morning getting ready sprint before leaving for the 8:00 a.m. divine service.  I’d spent several minutes in Teo’s room with him, trying to figure out what he wanted to wear.  Finally, I reached my breaking point, as he objected to every suggestion I made.  Rather than scold or yell, I just walked to my bedroom and said, “Okay, Mom has to get ready too, Teo.”  I heard him cry and protest: “But, I need you, Mom!”

His tears persisted for a few minutes.  Then, I heard Dennis come back from taking our dog Claira for a quick walk.  He was ready for church, so I hoped he’d be able to step in to help Teo rally.  I heard the beginning of their conversation in low murmurs, but then it was quiet.  When I emerged from my bedroom a few minutes later, Dennis was carrying Teo toward the bathroom and he was fully dressed.  Good job, Dad!

Dennis and Teo

As the coffee was brewing, I asked Dennis, “What did you do to get Teo to calm down and cooperate this morning?”

“I did what you always suggest.  I hugged him,” he replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I just held him for awhile and then he was fine,” he said with smile.

I loved hearing this so much, and I felt like this was an important tender, teaching moment for all of us. I went over to Teo who was sitting in the living room and crouched down next to him.

“Hey, Lovie.  What did daddy do this morning to help you calm down?”

“He hugged me,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Oh, my heart!  I said, “That’s wonderful.  Sometimes that’s just what we need, isn’t it?  Love, you help Mom and Dad to remember, when you get upset, by asking us for a hug.  You could say, ‘Can I just have a hug?'”  He nodded and smiled at me.

Both of my children are highly emotional, and I know they come by that honestly!  We’re all constantly learning how to manage and deal with our feelings in helpful and effective ways.  I want Mateo to know that he can ask for what he needs specifically, but first we have to identify what those needs are.  Clearly, he’s looking for connection with his parents, even though it comes out like he’s resisting our direction.

We recently attended a truly remarkable parenting seminar at the kids’ new school.  The material was based on the teachings of Paul Tripp.  In the section entitled “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” he calls the family “God’s primary learning community.”   He explains that family is where kids learn what’s fundamental to being human and know what to do and how to be the way we’re designed to be.

In my notes, I summarized the main ideas as: “Family is where we teach children to love and live in the awe of God.  This allows them to receive His wisdom, interpret life through Him, and worship Him (instead of themselves). They will see their parents’ example of love and also recognized that they cannot fulfill God’s law on their own.  This realization of our shared sinfulness drives us to Christ for forgiveness and grace.  We live and practice this process of sin and redemption in the family daily – that’s what it means to be a learning community.”

So often, moments of tenderness and connection come out of conflict.  As a family, we must not shy away from conflict, but always be quick to forgive and reconnect in loving ways.

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

Standard

I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap of thinking every moment needs to be accomplishing a goal or achieving something. In this mindset, I have a litany of “shoulds” running through my mind: I should be intentional with my time. I should either work and be productive or relax and have fun.  I shouldn’t waste time. But, this line of thinking quickly causes me to strive for control.  I start planning excessively and rush from one activity to the next, never being fully present in any of them.

The kids and I got home about a half hour ago. Sienna spent the day at The Cambridge School Summer Academy and Mateo was at baseball camp. I’d promised Sienna we could look at Halloween costumes when we got home.  She has her heart set on being Anakin Skywalker and has been researching costumes for several days.  As we came in the house, I agreed that we could look at costumes first, but there were many things we needed to get done – homework and bathing being of most importance.

003

I sat down at my computer, expecting the kids to start asking about the costumes. But, they didn’t. They went to Teo’s room and began collecting stuffed animals.  I didn’t know what they were doing but whenever they start playing something imaginative together, I never interrupt their flow.  So, what to do next?  My mind starting bouncing around to various ideas – should I get some more work done?  Sit and read for a few minutes?  Pick up around the house and start on the evening chores?  I ended up making a decision without making a decision.  I started reviewing and replying to several work emails.

The kids were playing in the living room, just a few feet away. I suddenly heard something fall to the ground.  Teo called out, “I’ll pick it up, Sienna!”  To which she replied, “Thank you, Teo.”  I smiled at their sweet, polite exchange as I turned around to see what they were doing.  They’d created an animal hospital, bandaging up their stuffed animals. (Note the animals’ bandages in the photos!) Each injury or medical condition had an involved back story.

Taking in the moment, I thought: “Stop, take this in. This is your life.”  These are the moments that I would have missed, or worse, would have stopped, when I lived inside my head; when my To Do list demanded all my attention.

005

I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. As the kids get ready to start a new school in the fall (more about that later!), I’ve been recognizing how much of their learning and growth happens at home.  This is where they learn how to treat other people, how to express their needs and wants, how to forgive, and how to receive grace.  Hearing Mateo’s offer to help, and Sienna’s loving appreciation, I was struck by how everyday moments between family members are so valuable.  These moments don’t have to be planned or structured, they just happen.  But, in those moments, we shape the culture of our family.  We shape the worldview of our children.

Now, this was a sweet moment, but there are just as many challenging ones in a family! When a child is frustrated about not getting what they want.  When a parent sets a limit that the child doesn’t like.  When we simply all have different ideas of what we want to do in that moment.  So much good comes from these moments of grace, growth, and learning.

I’m letting go of trying to figure out exactly what our afternoon and evening should entail. I’ll say a prayer that our family time would be blessed today.  Then, I’ll pay attention to whatever these moments have to teach me.

Tell Me Everything that Happened

Standard

On our long car ride back home from the Grand Canyon, Mateo starting asking Dennis and me about life before the kids were born. He’s been doing this more lately and it tickles me to no end!  He’ll continually ask “Then what?” when we gloss over years with general statements.  He wants details!  This time he said “Tell me everything that happened.”  With hours of driving ahead of us, we indulged him and enjoyed a trip down memory lane.  We told the kids about the apartment downtown and how we ended up moving to a condo in Hillcrest, that we toured while looking for a place for Gaga (aka my mom) to rent.

064

We went through my high risk pregnancy with Sienna and her joyful birth. We shared about Gaga moving back up north and how we found Grace Lutheran Church and Preschool so Sienna could attend school and be baptized.  Then, we told them about the miscarriage we had in the fall, when Sienna was just under two years old.  Teo had a lot of questions!  I assured him that we had indeed told him about this before, but he must not have been old enough to understand or remember.  We recounted how, while wiping tears and driving home from the medical office where they discovered the missing heartbeat, I prayed and then told Dennis: “We’re going to look back in a few years and we’ll have the children we were meant to have.”

After answering several questions, there was a long pause in the conversation. Then, Mateo asked “Would you have had me, if that baby had lived?”  Time froze for a second as I pondered the poignancy of his question.  “Well, no. We wouldn’t have.”

As I’ve told people this story, a few have prompted, “Of course you would have!” before I told them my response to Teo’s question. I understand the sentiment there, not wanting Mateo to feel that his existence was ever in doubt.  But I’m pragmatic and tend to be very transparent.  Just based on biology, my response was accurate. If that pregnancy had continued successfully, the baby would have been born in June, 2010.  Teo was conceived in April, 2010.  We likely would have stopped after two children, and, even if we hadn’t, a baby conceived at any other time would have been a different child.

I turned around to face Teo in the backseat of the car. “Lovie, remember what I just said.  We knew that God was blessing us with the children we were meant to have.  You had to be born.  You completed our family.”  He smiled and rubbed my hand.  I turned around and swallowed the lump in my throat.  I couldn’t believe how insightful and philosophical Mateo was to consider his place in the history of our family life.

It’s so fun to have kids at an age where they’re curious about our life before they were born.  I remember my parents telling us stories about their years in Sacramento where my dad was in law school.   The passage of time feels so real when you reflect back on the years this way.