The One About Sewing Four Dresses.

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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.

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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!

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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.”

Cultivating Curiosity.

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I’ve been thinking of the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” lately. I recently read a book that I added to my Goodreads “To read” list nearly nine years ago! Apparently, I wasn’t ready to learn its lessons until now. The book is called Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. It’s written by Todd Kashdan, a psychologist who argues that (as the subtitle suggests) it’s not “happiness” that we should seek, but rather focus on cultivating our curiosity and inviting novelty into our lives, in order to find fulfillment.

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A couple years ago, I wrote this post about my discovery that curiosity and embracing the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen in life actually makes life more fun and interesting. I’ve recently been digging deeper into the idea of novelty. I realized the other day: there are many activities that I never consider doing. My life is fairly routine and I find myself struggling to even do familiar activities in a time or place that deviate from my routine. One night I thought, “I’ll write a blog post after the kids go to bed.” But, then it felt too odd, because I typically read in bed or watch TV with Dennis once the kids are asleep. Why couldn’t I decide to write instead?!

This insight from Curious? really hit home for me:

It is easy to stick with structure and order because routines make us feel safe and secure in an uncertain world. But, we can open our eyes to the fact that novelty and enticing things that can grab our attention are everywhere. We can change our habits, change the way we act, and change the way we see the world anytime, anyplace. Appreciate and search for more than what you already know, already assume, and already expect to happen. I am talking about a mindset of expecting there to be things you don’t know and realizing that this does not mean you are vulnerable or unintelligent because you can’t predict what is going to happen. Rather, it means there are opportunities for learning, discovering, and growing.

I have found this to be so true! Spontaneity is fun and exciting for this exact reason. When an idea suddenly occurs to me (or to one of my family members) and we decide to act on it – go to the pool, go for a hike, go out for dinner, etc. – there’s a surge of energy and good feeling as we embrace the moment. It can be something smaller too. Like, when one of my kids is frustrated or upset and I say or do something silly that cheers them up.  Being spontaneous in our responses requires that space between catalyst and response, where we can choose our reaction.  This means, we have to be present. Thinking “outside the box” and not just falling into the same patterns and reactions takes real intention.

When I learned about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), I loved how curiosity wove throughout the mindfulness practices. In ACT, the goal is to let go of unhelpful thoughts so you can experience the moment with openness and curiosity. When we accept what is, instead of trying to force thoughts and feelings to be under our control, we are able to be curious about this moment and what will happen next.

I’m in a book club at my office. We recently read Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. Turns out, Dr. David’s book is based on the principles of ACT – what fun! It was really cool to see ACT broken down and presented in this very accessible way. She also describes the benefits of having a curious mindset: “When we decide to curiously explore the world inside us and outside, we can make other decisions more flexibly. We can intentionally breathe space into our reactions and make choices based on what matters to us and what we hope to be.”

Are there areas of your life that have become too routine? Are you stuck in thought patterns that aren’t helping you? How would things change if you were curious and sought out something novel and new in your experience?

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Practice of Presence While Exploring Arizona

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Our family just returned from a delightful road trip vacation through Arizona!  By the time we left last Friday, I was beyond ready to vacate regular life, relax, and enjoy time with Dennis and our little ones.  Leading up to our departure, I’d been struggling to let go of my critical thoughts telling me how I wasn’t doing everything right.  Oh, that old fixed mindset rearing her ugly head!  So, I prayed… and prayed, asking God to help me embrace being present, accept each moment, and allow all of us grace to grow and learn.  God is always faithful!  I found myself completely present, focused on all the fun and new experiences rather than being distracted by my thoughts and plans.

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As I’ve been on this journey of growth the past several years, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I LOVE going to new places and letting the days unfold without planning ahead.  It’s just the best!  There’s something about being away from home (with all the responsibilities it contains) and in a new place (where I don’t know what to expect) that creates the perfect environment for me to just BE.  I absorb my surroundings.  I really see and hear my kids and husband.  I’m present in a way that can tend to allude me in the familiar places of home and work.

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We first headed to Tombstone, Arizona to experience the Old West!   Dennis is very interested in Wyatt Earp and has read a few biographies about his life and experiences in Tombstone.  Most of what I know is from the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer movie!  We checked in at Tombstone Monument Ranch on Friday evening, just in time for a steak and potatoes dinner, followed by cowboy music in the saloon.  The ranch is a replica of an Old West town, with each room built into the town.  We were in the Wyatt Earp Room!  Across the “street” was the Marshall’s office.  It was so cool!  The musicians played covers of lots of old country and western songs.  My heart soared as I watched Mateo’s face light up when they sang “La Bamba” – one of his favorites!

Our first breakfast was a classic “chuck wagon” meal down by the campfire.  Arizona Bill was our host, and he taught us a lot about the ranch.  He would feature in the rest of our trip too!  After breakfast, the kids begged to go swimming.  The pool was small and unfortunately had attracted a lot of hornets.  Sienna and Teo were afraid, so I got in the pool and started swimming laps to show them it was okay.   But, they were obviously wiser than their mother because, as I reached for the wall right in front of Dennis and the kids, I got stung in the index finger!  Oh man, it hurt!  I came out of the water yelling and then plucked the stinger out of my finger.  It stung me right in the bend of the knuckle.  It continued to swell for the next two days, until it was so swollen I couldn’t bend my finger.  But, other than being annoying, it really didn’t impact the trip, except for not being able to bowl at our hotel near the Grand Canyon!

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We visited Tombstone’s historic downtown, saw a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, toured the Courthouse, and generally soaked up all things Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Old West.  Back at the ranch Dennis got to shoot several different types of guns.  Arizona Bill was the instructor for Dennis and the three other guests that participated in the shooting.  He was such a throwback to the era of the Old West!  His commentary was insightful as he discussed border issues (it’s very close to Tombstone).  He also told endearing stories of his wife outshooting him after he had hundreds of hours of shooting training in the army.  Arizona Bill even gave marriage advice, telling us to always do things together, that’s the key to keeping your relationship strong.  We loved him!

We all tried archery, which was really fun!  Later we had a family horseback riding lesson.  Both kids were scared and Sienna opted out, but she loved the horses and kept asking to go visit them in their stable, so hopefully she’ll try another time.  I got to follow the lesson with a trial ride on my horse Pablo.  It was a great way to see the dessert landscape and have some alone time.  Pablo was a lazy walker so we dragged a bit behind the wrangler and other couple on the trial ride, but that was okay with me.

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After three days of enjoying ranch life, getting to know the other guests, and having all our meals provided for us, it was time to start the second leg of our trip.  We headed northwest toward the Grand Canyon!  The drive was pretty easy and we kept entertained with music – country, Broadway musicals, and some 90s pop.  I loved overhearing the imaginative stories that Sienna and Mateo made up.  Sienna has the liveliest imagination and she gets Teo involved in long stories.  This trip the themes were the west and horses (obviously) and Star Wars, because they both love it despite being afraid to actually watch the movies!  We don’t take any electronic devices on our road trips (except cell phones for texting, GPS, and music), which definitely helps them engage with one another and their imaginations.

Tuesday morning we headed into Grand Canyon National Park to view the canyon from the South Rim.  It was more tremendous than I was expecting!  You hear people joke that it’s “a big hole in the ground” which is true.  But, it’s so immense and beautiful.  We spent several hours walking the rim and talking dozens of pictures.  Every angle seemed new and photo worthy!  The kids were interested, but got much more engaged with the visit once we got Teo a souvenir: a ring-tailed cat stuffed animal that he named Ringo.  We expected the kids to start complaining about the hike back, but they got really involved in caring for Ringo and explaining the canyon to him, so they walked back happily.  It was the best timed souvenir ever!

272The rest of our vacation included a day trip to Flagstaff – such a cute mountain town.  We explored downtown, found a great little bookstore, had brunch and then headed back to our hotel to swim and read.  I got to read a bunch on this trip – my favorite!  Our hotel also featured a small bowling alley and arcade!  We concluded our day in the arcade for the last two nights and all enjoyed playing basketball, pinball, Mrs. Packman, and racecar driving.  Teo’s poor driving skills had me hysterically laughing!

So, we’re home now and I’m reflecting on this delightful vacation.  Going in, I thought that the Tombstone part of the trip was mostly for Dennis.  But, it was so enjoyable!  I loved the inclusiveness of the ranch, getting to meet new people, having all our meals prepared for us.  It felt like summer camp!  We definitely want to go back.  But, we’ll see… there are so many places to explore!

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.