The Relationships that Help Me Grow

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Every once in awhile, I find myself reflecting on life and seeing the loving hand of God guiding my life and shaping my growth.  This week I had a couple experiences that helped me appreciate the relationships in my life, particularly the ones that challenge me to grow.

I am very fortunate to have a mentor at work.  She’s reads this blog regularly too, (“Hi Debby!).  Over the past few years, she has encouraged, pushed, and challenged me to be a better manager (and person, for that matter!) through regular feedback. She has walked side-by-side with me through several difficult work situations, always with the delicate balance of empathy and advice.  Beyond work, when I experienced acute anxiety in the summer of 2013, her office is where I retreated to cry and seek counsel.

As I grew, both professional and personally, I relied on her less and less for the daily management decisions I needed to make.  But, when the bigger issues arose, she was the first person I ran to for advice.  However, I wasn’t as moldable as I’d been previously.  Sometimes I bristled as her feedback, thinking that my track record must mean that I had figured something out.  But, even when I couldn’t immediately accept the gift of feedback she provided me, her training kicked in and I would reply, “Thank you for the feedback” and then go away to wrestle with it awhile.

GERBERASI realized this week that, when I struggle against accepting Debby’s feedback, it’s a very good indicator that I’ve slipped back into a fixed mindset.  When I feel the need to justify my actions and deflect blame, it’s a good sign that my struggle switch is flipped and I’m not owning my behavior.  Fortunately, Debby also gives me the grace to struggle with the feedback before accepting it.  In doing so, I’m able to humbly surrender and acknowledge that she has given me the gift of information to help me grow.

There’s such amazing peace that comes from accepting responsibility and recognizing when your thoughts and behavior in a given situation are causing you pain.  In another workplace relationship, I caused myself years of heartache by perceiving a coworker’s  actions as antagonistic and then acting out in response.  A few years ago, we both decided that we wanted to move forward with a different kind of relationship.  It wasn’t easy and there were several missteps as we tried to overcome years of distrust and build trust with one another.

This process of growth has brought me indescribable peace and hope.  This week, I went to lunch with this coworker for the first time!  We had a delightful conversation and she gave me a most treasured compliment.  She said that she truly feels heard and understood when she talks to me.   That moment was so special and provided such healing.

I have a reminder that pops up on my phone each day.  It helps me be mindful to stay in a growth mindset through acceptance: “How I perceive a situation dictates my emotional state, which dictates my behavior.”  Given my experience with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”), I think of my perception as the thoughts I fuse with about that situation.  So, if I tell myself that a piece of feedback is a challenge to my abilities or a threat, then I respond by defending myself.  Whereas, if I fuse with the thought that feedback is a gift to help me grow, then I can accept and learn more quickly.  Likewise, if I tell myself that another person is “out to get me” or has negative intentions toward me, then I’m likely to act aggressively based on that perception.  Whereas, if I assume positive intent and seek to understand another person’s actions, I can remain calm, learn, and grow from the experience.

There are times when I consider my employment options in life and wonder if something would be a better fit for me.  But, then weeks like this occur and I realize that God has put me in this particular vocation with these particular people in my life, for a reason.  Growing, learning, accepting, and understanding are happening to me every day.

I’m so grateful for the relationships that challenge me and help me grow.

Getting Out of My Head and Into My Life, In New York City

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Sometimes the greatest insights into ourselves come in the most unexpected ways.

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At the end of January, Dennis and I got to take an amazing trip, just the two of us!  My dad and stepmom gifted us with a trip to New York City to see my childhood friend Sara Bareilles perform in her Broadway musical Waitress.  We had a simply wonderful time!  In addition to Waitress, we saw two other Broadway shows: The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera.  In four and a half days we saw so many of the major attractions in NYC – Central Park, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial, The Met, Rockefeller Center, and Top of the Rock, to name the highlights.  It was so fun to be just the two of us, exploring and having adventures. We left plenty of space in our itinerary for spontaneous plans, which made for a more adventurous and exciting trip.

While touring the Michelangelo exhibit at The Met, I had an insight into myself that stopped me in my tracks.  Instead of gazing at the art and experiencing it directly, I was drawn to reading the commentary next to each piece.  Rather than having an emotional reaction to the art, I wanted to understand the history, context, and importance of the artist or subject.  When I realized this, it was somewhat startling.  I feel like I’ve come so far in my personal growth of being present in the moment and accepting emotional ups and downs, but still… I’m naturally inclined to analyze and think about something as emotionally significant as art.

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Returning home, I’ve been contemplating this realization.  I want to give my emotional life more of my attention, and not spend so much time “in my head”.  Why do I tend toward analyzing rather than experiencing the world?

This afternoon, I read my mom’s recent blog post at her website: A Woman’s Path.  She wrote about a book she read called “Starting With Why” and the concept of getting to the why behind your behavior through the Golden Circle exercise:

The Golden Circle, as described by Sinek, is a method we can use to bring about a clear understanding of why we do what we do. The Golden Circle represents 3 circles, one within the other.  The largest circle represents what we do.  The middle circle represents how we do it, and the inner circle, or the core, represents why we do what we do.

Returning to the epiphany at The Met, I struggled a bit with the words and then drew out a Golden Circle that went like this:

  • What: I tend to analyze and pay attention to my thoughts instead of directly experiencing my emotions
  • How: By ignoring feelings and fusing with my thoughts, I have a sense of safety and control
  • Why: I ultimately fear that I’ll encounter something that’s emotionally overwhelming

I can feel that I’m on the cusp of another deepen layer of growth that is necessary for my personal development.  It’s important and necessary, but not easy.  It’s so obvious to me that the path to peace is through Christ.  I can’t keep devastation and pain away, but I can certainly seek the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Creator of the Universe to provide love, hope, guidance, and wisdom.

I’m clinging to my Savior as I pray for continued growth.  I want to feel life more than analyze it.  But, the only way that feels safe for me is when I’m trusting in God.  When I’m “in my head” my ultimate trust is in myself, my thoughts.  But, when I am present and not trying to control my emotions, I put my trust in God.  So much more comforting! I know that I’m a more loving wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend when I can accept my feelings and be in the moment with my loved ones.  I’m praying that God continues to draw me close and show me how to embrace Him more.

The Best Resolution of All.

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The lesson I learned this week?  Never write on a calendar with permanent marker.

Actually, this realization started to set in at the end of last month, as my hairdresser and dog groomer each cancelled appointments due to illness.  Then, just this week, I didn’t attend a meeting on Monday evening, a work trip got cancelled on Tuesday evening due to weather, and a coffee date with a friend got moved from Thursday to Friday.  That last one was in pencil.  I finally wised up.

Most of those events were entered into our family calendar in permanent marker several weeks before.  I giggled when I recognized this gentle reminder that, though we want to believe we know what the future holds, every day is an unfolding mystery.  It’s best to be prepared and then curiously watch as the day unfolds and we have opportunities to learn and grow.

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This week was full of transitions for me and our little family.  After being home for two weeks wherein we celebrated Christmas, New Years, Sienna’s birthday, Mateo’s birthday, and a surprise trip to Disneyland (Whew!), it was time to get back into the school and work routine.

I love these two weeks that cap off the year and usher us into the New Year knitted as a family unit.  For the past few years, we’ve done a family goal setting session on New Year’s Eve.  For 2018, our family theme is “Home” and we set a goal to make our home more comfortable and inviting.  I just read this book: The Little Book of Hygee: Danish Secrets to Happy Living and it brought together so many of the ideas I’ve had swirling in my mind about making a cozy home!  I recently got a reading chair for the corner of our bedroom and it’s transformed the feel and function of that room.  I love having a dedicated cozy spot to read with my cup of tea!

This year the kids were really into the goal setting!  Sienna set a goal to read 40 books  and Mateo set a few goals, one of which is to “invent something to make things invisible”.   At first I started to reason with him that this wasn’t a very attainable goal, but then I figured: Shoot for the stars, kid!

As I posted the goals on the bulletin board in the kitchen, I realized that there was something missing.  We set these goals and intentions without properly acknowledging that we live and move and have our being in Christ.  God is in control, we’re not. For goodness sakes, I can’t even write something on the calendar and know for sure it will happen that day!  So, I added a verse to our goal list: … yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes… you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

I love goal setting and annual planning.  It’s motivating to imagine the habits and behaviors that will make life valuable and fulfilling.  It’s also fun to look forward to summer vacations, holidays, and annual events.  But, it’s easy to let all that planning create a sense of self-reliance or self-determination that’s simply false.  We control so very little and God provides all.  Keeping that perspective firming in mind is the best resolution of all.

Finding Peace in Seasons of Busyness

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It feels like I haven’t written a blog post in FOREVER!  But, looks like it’s only been a month.  That speaks volumes about how full and busy the last month has been.  Given that this is the Year of “Only What’s Essential” it seems something has gone wrong… or has it?

My personal workload at the office has been at an all-time high the past couple of months.  Between upgrades to my primary software programs, busy season planning (of which I do the scheduling for all the auditors), an integration of our administrative structure and processes between six locations (of which I manage 2), and other large, year-end projects that demand a lot of time, it’s been crazy.  “My own personal busy season” is what I’ve dubbed it.

Several weeks ago I heard myself muttering about being “overwhelmed” regularly.  My brain jumped and skipped all over the place as I took mental inventory of all that I had to do.  Fortunately, the mindfulness techniques I’ve learned kicked in and I decided not to pay attention to the “I’m overwhelmed” thought and just let it pass by.

Being so busy at work actually encouraged me to be intentional with my time, and figure out ways to delegate more.  Instead of getting caught up in mental loop of all the things I potentially could or should be doing, I just jumped in and started getting things done.

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After running with my friend on a weekly basis for much of the year, I’d encouraged her to run her first half marathon (“Hi Leslie!”) and then made a hasty retreat when she asked if I was going to run it too.  By encouraging another friend from church to run the race at a Friendsgiving event, I somehow talked myself into it too.  Although I hadn’t run more than 5 miles at a time for months, this race was looming and long runs had to be done.

Since I was busy at work and wanting to thoroughly enjoy the holiday festivities with my family on the weekends, I fit running in where I could and didn’t stress about it.  The week leading up to the race last Saturday was particularly hectic.  Fortunately, Leslie and I had a good run on Monday morning.  I then decided to rest until the race, which worked out well.  Instead of feeling like I was neglecting exercise because of my office workload, it was easily reframed as rest and recovery for the upcoming race!

Going into the race, I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I’d been for races in the past, particularly in terms of recent mileage.  But, I knew that I could run the distance and would just go out to enjoy the race, listen to my Christmas music (it’s the Holiday Half Marathon, after all), and not have any preconceived notions about a finishing time.

To my surprise and delight, I ran a personal best: 1:55.51.  Over four minutes faster than I ran on the same course 2 years ago!  Also, I felt awesome during the race!  When I returned home later that morning, I got cleaned-up and into my pajamas.  Teo and I cuddled on the couch watching “Holiday Baking Championship” on Food Network.  Later, I wrapped most of the Christmas gifts that were stashed in the closet, while listening to more Christmas music and drinking almond milk hot chocolate.  Sienna came to help and I got to teach her how to wrap presents.  Sitting on the floor, I watched her carefully fold the corners and resisted the urge to “help” too much!  We all got to bed early since Dennis and I had altar guild for the 8:00 a.m. service on Sunday.  That meant we needed to be there by 7:00 a.m. Whew!  Pastor asked our family to light the Advent wreath during the early service; so special!

Throughout the entire weekend, I felt myself breathing into the moment and remaining present.  When I was running, I didn’t think too far ahead; instead, I looked around, listened to the music, and focused on the feel of running.  When I wrapped presents, I did just that; I didn’t worry about work or think of all the things we needed to get done.  Setting the altar for the divine service on Sunday morning always brings me in touch with the ultimate gift that Christ gives us, in himself, week after week.

I’ve found that, when I’m especially busy or feeling overwhelmed, it’s an opportunity to practice mindfulness and being present in the moment.  All the activities or items on the “To Do” list, don’t add up to feeling crazed, if I’m able to stay present and do one thing at a time.  Running that race didn’t leave me feeling remorseful, as if I opted to prioritize it before family/holiday time, because I purposefully didn’t schedule anything else for the day.  A very busy work week didn’t leave me feeling like I was being robbed of the joyful holidays because I left work in the office on Friday afternoon and enjoyed the weekend fully with Dennis and the kids, and celebrated the Advent season with our church family.  When, every now and then, the thought would occur to me: “I shouldn’t be this busy right now, it’s the holidays!” I chose not to give that thought my attention, so it didn’t hook me into feeling frustrated or angry.

Through this season of busyness, festivities, and joyous times with family and friends, there are so many opportunities to get caught up in the chaos and miss out on tender moments of connection.  But, there are just as many opportunities to stop, breathe, look around, and be present in the moment where life is happening right in the here-and-now.  May this Christmas season bring you hope, peace, joy, and love as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

What a Soccer Game Taught Me About Parenting and Letting Go…

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I’ve been applying the Serenity Prayer to my parenting lately; praying for wisdom and discernment for what I can change and what I need to accept. As my kids are growing and maturing every day, they need the grace and space to make mistakes and learn from them. They need me to cheer them on, support them in failure and success, and love them through each stage and phase of life.

A couple weeks ago, Teo had a soccer tournament and played very well. I loved every second of watching him and his buddies play!  The moment that taught me an important lesson came in the second of three games that day.  Teo’s team, the Ice Wolves, were playing one of the strongest teams in the division, one that they’d lost to earlier in the season.  Midway through the first half, Teo and another player collided as they went for the ball.  Teo sprawled out on the ground, knocking the wind out of him.  His coach and I helped Teo to the sideline as he tried to catch his breath.

He was mad at the other player, feeling that he had intentionally taken him out. He was in tears and out of breath.  As I tried to calm him down and prayed that he’d be able to pull himself together to reenter the game, he suddenly said, “I want back in the game!”

“Teo, catch your breath first,” I tried to counsel him.

Getting up from his chair, he said “Coach, I’m ready to go back in.”

As he walked out to his position in the defense, Teo was still taking those short jerky breaths you get after crying and trying to calm his breathing down. I was dubious that he was actually ready to play again.

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But, about a minute later, the ball was kicked toward Teo all alone on the field. He was midway between the center line and the goal he was defending.  He ran up and gave it a big boot down the field… and almost scored into the corner of the goal!  It was incredible!  I’m pretty enthusiastic on the sideline and cheered like crazy as tears filled my eyes.  He had taken all his frustrations and emotions and poured them into the game.  He hadn’t broken down and decided to quit.  After the struggle at the beginning of this season, I was so moved by Teo’s growth and development in this way.

As I thought back to my own emotions when Teo didn’t want to play soccer just a couple months earlier, I could appreciate a new perspective. He was going through a stage then – getting used to the harder academics of first grade and realizing that he could opt out of class, practice, whatever by feigning illness or injury.  That phase passed as he got comfortable in these new environments.  My need to control his experiences (and therefore his emotions), caused us both undue anxiety and stress.

Since that time, I’ve been praying for a serene mindset toward my parenting. I cannot control my children or make them behave or feel a certain way.  I can guide and lovingly support them, but they need to make choices and learn hard lessons when they make poor choices.  They need to explore the world, decide what they like, learn what they’re good at, and in doing so they’ll try things they don’t like and struggle to succeed.  They have their own journeys of growth that they need to experience.  They’ll benefit from parents who help them navigate their emotions while they grow and change rather than trying to coerce them to act the way we think they should.

To this end, I’m trying to listen more than I talk and ask questions more than provide answers. It feels much like the process of surrendering control over my own life, learning to be present in the moment, and trusting God.  Now I’m mindfully handing over my parenting to Him too.

L-O-V-E

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The Gospel reading for this past Sunday was from Matthew, chapter 18, when the disciples asked Jesus “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replies by calling a child over to him and He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I love this reminder and oh, how I need to keep it in front of me daily.

The prevailing message in our society is self-determination.  We are encouraged to strive hard, be productive, and generally make our way in the world.  Jesus’s message couldn’t be more different.  His definition of greatness is the opposite of what the world tells us.  The child who is humble, meek, and readily surrenders to the care and guidance of their Father in heaven, that one is the greatest.

I don’t know about you, but this message brings me such relief! It tells me: “Stop striving, Kels!  Stop trying to live up to the expectations of this world.  Stop needing things to go a certain way so you can feel comfortable and in control. Stop measuring your worth through productivity, wealth, or accomplishments.”

Instead, look around you, be present in the moment, what are you called to do right now?  Try praying for guidance.  Try resting and waiting for God’s timing to be fulfilled. Be humble and surrender.  God knows what’s best and he’ll let you in on his plan for your life a little bit at a time.  You don’t get to see the whole picture.  You don’t know what’s best.  But, your Father in heaven does.  Stop. Rest.

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As a parent actively raising young children, this imagery of childhood and submitting to the guidance of loving parents is particularly meaningful.  Just last night, I had the opportunity to pray for wisdom, stay present, and help my son through a challenging moment.  Teo was sitting at the dining table and making a consistent, annoying noise.  After asking him to stop a few times, I decided to put music on in the kitchen to divert his attention.  He didn’t react well to the music coming on.

“I don’t like this music!” he complained as Frank Sinatra’s crooning filled the room.  I explained that this was mommy’s time for cooking and listening to music, so I wasn’t going to change it.  He continued to throw quite a fit.  I let him cry and yell for a few minutes, then tried to reason with him again.  He calmed a bit, but then came into the kitchen complaining again, “Turn this off, I don’t like it.”

The Nat King Cole song “L-O-V-E” was just starting.  Without any forethought, I scooped Teo up in my arms (which is getting harder and harder to do!) and started dancing with him in the kitchen.  He instantly relaxed and put his head on my shoulder as I sang along:

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore

And love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you

As the song came to an end, I silently prayed: “Thank you for that moment, Lord.”  Then I kissed Teo on the cheek as I put him down.  Within a few minutes he grabbed his glove and baseball to practice pop-flys in the backyard while dinner finished cooking.

When I think of the way that God lovingly guides and cares for us, despite our persistent sin, pridefulness, and general disregard for his direction, I’m inspired to love my children unconditionally.  Children are often sent the message that they will be loved when they obey their parents or other authority figures.  Being a “good girl” or “good boy” and being praised for those traits leads to many “people pleasers” and “approval addicts”.   What if we allowed our children to feel their emotions, express them, assert their will, and have their own perspectives?  Then, we can teach, guide, and coach them with loving support and big doses of hugs and love.  What if we tried to model God’s grace for us in the way we parent our children?

11:06

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Several months ago, I noticed an odd phenomenon.  Most days, at the office, I checked the time at precisely 11:06 a.m.  At first, this just made me pause and smile to myself.  But, after several instances, I considered this random event more consciously.

Dennis and my wedding anniversary is November 6th. Seeing 11:06 on the clock on a nearly daily basis, was a sweet reminder of my husband and our marriage.  I started emailing or texting Dennis when I caught “our time” on the clock.   Such a small little thing, but it was fun to turn it into something special in our daily routine.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that noticing 11:06 began during this stage in our life.  I’ve been quite aware lately that marriages are difficult to maintain.  We’re in the child raising phase of life and it’s very easy to let the world revolve around our kids.  While we love them like crazy, ultimately Sienna and Mateo are going to grow up, leave the nest, find a spouse, and create a family of their own (at least that’s our hope and prayer!).  Building a life that revolves around them will not bode well for our marriage once they’re launched into the world.

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Dennis and I were friends before we fell in love, bonding over a shared love of sports, faith, and San Diego.  We still have a lot in common; there are so many things we enjoy doing together.  Football is Dennis’s passion.  When we lived downtown, before we had kids, going out to watch the Dolphins’ game was a weekly tradition.  Then, for several years, I was too distracted with my need to plan and so “in my head” that I didn’t make the time to sit down and watch a football game with Dennis.  As we settled in to watch football together today, I reached for his hand and decided to just watch the game and share this time with my husband.  Productivity went out the window today, but our relationship got nurtured, so that’s a win.

In the busyness of life, it’s easy to accept so many invitations and requests for our time that we don’t have space to connect to the most important people in our lives.  To protect and support our marriage, we’re making an effort to consciously connect on a daily basis, even if it’s just sharing about our day for a few minutes without the kids’ interrupting!  We just restarted our coffee date routine today, as Sunday school resumed for the year.  It’s my favorite.  We’re looking forward to some “date days” once I get through this fall busy season at work.  We’re making it a priority to spend meaningful time with one another.  That’s something worth planning!

At the beginning of this year, we decided this was the year of “Only What’s Essential”.  In my life, Dennis is essential.

On the drive home from church this morning, I glanced at the clock. It was 11:06.  “Look, Babe!” I said and pointed to the clock.  It turned to 11:07 about 3 seconds later, but we caught “our time”.