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Life Lately, July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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C.S. Lewis and the Art of French Eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fear Divides, Love Connects

As the kids lay in bed falling asleep last Friday night, Dennis and I stayed up late into the night taking in the coverage of George Floyd’s horrific death and the protests raging around our country.  During Egypt Day earlier that afternoon, Mateo had abandoned the movie The Prince of Egypt because he was disturbed by the whipping sounds.  He asked me later that day, “Why would someone whip a slave?”  My mother’s heart ached specifically for my son and the fact that one day soon he’d have to learn about violence and evil perpetrated against African Americans throughout our country’s history and even today.  More widely, my heart hurt for all the families who have lost loved ones to violence.  When does this stop?  

Like many others, there is something about this instance of police brutality and disdain for life that finally got my attention.  I feel shame for not recognizing earlier the extent of the injustice black Americans continue to experience in our society.  I’d like to share here some of my reflections on the issues of race, police brutality, white privilege, and racism.  These are just thoughts and feelings that I’ve been wrestling with and praying about for the past few days.  I’ve taken in a lot of data and information this past week and certain comments and ideas made an impact on me.

One of the advisors from Obama’s Administration was on a news show Friday evening discussing the issues surrounding the protests.  He explained that in a society that values law and order, we extend a “monopoly on violence” to law enforcement.  In other words, police officers are allowed to use violence to the extent necessary to maintain order and protect the public.  Officers must respect that they’ve been entrusted to use violence and be held accountable when they abuse that trust.  When society stops trusting our system of law and order due to an abuse of power, anarchy logically follows.

This idea, that we entrust law enforcement to use violence in a specific and controlled way, wasn’t something I consciously considered before.  It rings very true to me.  Even more so as many police officers condemned the officers that murdered George Floyd and others who have abused their power.  Good cops cherish the responsibility they’ve been entrusted with to serve and protect. The issue of police brutality has all too often been presented as a false dichotomy – those supporting law enforcement versus those supporting the African American Community.  Most people support both of these groups and condemn violence done by either of them. 

Several months ago I purchased the book: White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker.  I recently read another of Amy Julia’s books and related to her immensely.  As I watched the news unfold this week, the book practically jumped off the shelf and demanded to be read.  It was incredibly timely and helpful.  Amy Julia’s oldest daughter, Penny, was born with Down syndrome.  This experience changed her life and began to shape her concept of privilege, as she experienced prejudice against her daughter’s disability.  From the introduction: “This book tells a story of my growing awareness not only that I have received unwarranted benefits by virtue of my white skin, Protestant heritage, and able body, but also that these unwarranted benefits have done harm to me and others,” (White Picket Fences, p. xxi). Amy Julia’s main point is that privilege hurts all of us – both those who benefit from privileges and those who are excluded from its benefits – because it cuts us off from one another and mutual dependence. 

As Amy Julia’s awareness grew, she was fortunate to have close friends that gently helped her see what she hadn’t seen before.  First, she started exploring the bookshelves of her children and recognized that all the classics she chose to read with her kids focused entirely on white characters.  By choosing books that were classic, and therefore written at least 100 years ago, she unwittingly represented a world where the only African American characters were slaves or servants.  When she tried to find books with black protagonists, such as Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, she was concerned about exposing her relatively young children to violence and hatred.  So, she reached out to a couple friends to ask for book recommendations and then asked her friend Patricia (who wrote the Forward to this book) an important question: “When did you introduce your kids to the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow?” Patricia replies in part: “My own children learned that by being African American themselves and getting treated badly by white school children, in the same way that I was also treated badly… In fact, until reading about your concerns about Roll of Thunder, I never imagined that some parents even have a choice whether to talk about it,” (p. 25).

Patricia’s reply clearly demonstrates how white privilege works.  White privilege doesn’t mean that you’ve had an easy life and haven’t worked for things; it simply means that the color of your skin hasn’t been one of the hardships in your life.  The fact that white mothers and fathers get to decide when to expose their children to the horrors of slavery, racism and prejudice in the world is because of that privilege.  Those who experience racism and prejudice don’t have the privilege of deciding when to introduce their children to these ideas.

This all reminded me of times early in our marriage when Dennis and I would discuss race.  When I didn’t get it and said something ignorant about the minority experience, Dennis occasionally said to me: “You don’t understand, you’re not a minority,” which left me feeling hurt and defensive.  However, as our life together has unfolded, I can now easily discuss these topics and agree, “You’re right, I’m not a minority and don’t know how that feels.”  That’s true and honest.  In much the same way that Dennis cannot relate to being a woman or a diabetic, none of us truly know what another person or group of people have experienced.  All the more so when that experience is one that includes racism, hatred, and bigotry.  That’s where empathy comes in as we recognize the pain and suffering that people experience, based on their description of it. 

In her book, Amy Julia argues that privilege hurts everyone because it creates an unjust society where groups are separated from one another.  Describing her own experience as an educated, affluent woman, she notes that wealthy people are able to pay for the services they need such as babysitting, counseling, housekeeping, etc.  In this way, they create an illusion of self-sufficiency because they don’t rely on their neighbors or community for support.  The affluent in America are some of the most depressed and anxious people in society in part because they don’t have deep relationships based on interdependence.  She explains, “It is as if those of us with wealth try to deny something core to who we are as human beings.  Whether we like it or not, we are needy, and no amount of money will ever change this fact.  When we try to outsource our neediness, we strip ourselves of the gift of relationships built on trust and hardship and care for one another.  Perhaps it is that unwillingness to admit and face our human neediness that leads to a sense of deprivation among the affluent,” (p. 92).

I think many of us are wondering, where do we go from here?  How do we fix something so deeply broken as racial inequality in America and the divisive rhetoric that surrounds the issues?  This book I keep referencing was impactful for me because it roots itself in Christian faith that binds us all together under the love of Christ.  Echoing her description of neediness for human connection, Amy Julia says: “Broken and beloved – these truths of my identity connect me to every human being who walks this earth.  If I start to see people who seem radically different from me as those who instead are radically similar to me – needy, broken, with the potential for beauty and joy and glory – then love could begin to connect us, and fear would not be able to divide us.  Love could hold us together,” (p. 141).

Amen.

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Daily Dependence.

It’s safe to say that the novelty of being cozy at home all the time is starting to wear thin. I must admit, when this “shelter in place” order started, my little soul was ready to checkout of regular life and hunker down with my family. The refrain running through my mind for a few weeks was, “Wow, I could do this forever!” Not so much anymore. I don’t long for weekends full of reading and relaxing now that I’ve had several of them in a row!

With my diabetes putting me in the “high risk” category, I haven’t been out in public for over two months now. The future looks like more of the same, which makes it hard to be hopeful about looking forward to summer fun. So, recently I’ve had to pray and embrace being present in a deeper, more intentional way. This has taken me back to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) basics of accepting my thoughts and feelings so I can focus my attention on connecting to the present moment.

Within this mindset, I keep encountering wonderful spiritual practices and prayers that reinforce the reliance on God daily. I wrote about this a few months ago, as God was preparing my heart and soul to rely on Him. Now, with this SIP order going on to it’s third month, I’ve found this moment-by-moment awareness of God’s provision to be vital for my spiritual and mental health.

Luther wrote two wonderful daily prayers to open and end the day. One morning this week, Mateo and I recited his morning prayer together:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

There’s a realistic scope to this prayer. Asking God to keep us this day from sin and evil feels honest and true, because we need his protection for the immediate moments ahead. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves by praying for things far in the future, but relying on our Heavenly Father for today’s needs. It reminds me of the verses from Matthew, Chapter 6: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matt. 6:34).

I love how Luther’s Evening Prayer beautifully echoes the Morning Prayer in both spirit and word choice:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

These prayers bookend the day by seeking God’s grace and protection at both the start and end of the day. In the morning, we ask that God would keep us from sin; and in the evening we ask God to forgive the sins we committed that day. This feels both hopeful and humble in receiving the grace and protection that God loving provides, daily.

When I think back to periods of my life where I opted to live independently from dependence on God, it’s like I thought that God’s grace was the safety net in life, but I could “take it from there” in managing my daily needs. Or, if I prayed faithfully for awhile and trusted God more fully, then I’d have it “all figured out” spiritually. There’s actually great liberation in recognizing that I’m never going to outgrow my dependence on Christ for my daily needs. John Kleinig explains this spiritual maturity in this way:

“In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually. On our journey we become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation.” (Grace Upon Grace, pg. 34).

Our growing dependence on God unfolds in our daily lives as we live out our vocations and traverse the years of our lives. Kleinig describes it this way: “Our repentance is not just an initial act or an occasional event in our journey with Christ; it is a daily event, a lifelong process. Our whole life is a process of conversion from ourselves to God, a dying to self that is complete only when we die.” (pg. 34).

Depending on and trusting in God on a daily basis for the strength to get through today brings such peace. I’ve come to know that relying on Him for my needs is how His strength is made perfect in my weakness. I love resting in His grace today rather than planning and looking ahead to the needs of tomorrow.

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The Wonder of Little Souls

I love this expression: the wonder of little souls. I just came across it in Mitch Albom’s book Finding Chika: A Little Girl, An Earthquake, and the Making of a Family. It’s a sweet, poignant book that’s reinforcing the nostalgic mood I’ve had lately. Last weekend the kids and I went through my three large boxes of keepsakes in the garage: pictures, awards, yearbooks, trinkets, poems, and other assorted items from my childhood, high school and college years. Looking at all those things reminds me of my childlike wonder and enthusiasm for life.

Interacting with Sienna and Mateo, I’m constantly in awe of their imagination and wonderment. They can make up a game or imaginary world out of anything! As an adult, I have a hard time entering into that world. I can tell Sienna notices this about me. When I allow myself to be carried away by her story or engage in a silly game without reservation, she usually will say something like: “I love it when you’re silly, Mom!”

A few nights ago, the kids were playing in Teo’s room for awhile. Sienna ran to the living room and said, “Mom, come play with us!” I put down my book and joined them.

Teo has a lot of stuffed animals that all reside in his bed. They had sorted them by size. Sienna had the small set and Teo had the large set. “You get the medium sized ones!” Sienna informed me. I was then given a plastic sword and a Marine Corps dress uniform hat from an old Halloween costume. Our “troops” of stuffed animals were fighting a wicked witch and eventually the “battle” resulted in stuffed animals flying through the air. A few times the silliness caused hysterical giggles over those types of things you “had to be there” to find amusing.

The validation of my engagement in their fun came as Sienna exclaimed, “I love it when you’re silly!” I do too. But, I don’t often go there and I’ve been pondering why on and off ever since. It takes reaching a certain space of freedom and inhibition for me to join in imaginative play. Freedom from striving, accomplishing, keeping my interior world orderly. In other words, tapping into the childlike innocence and wonder that I am nostalgic for when I reminisce with old keepsakes.

The wonder of little souls is just this delightful aspect of childhood, isn’t it? The ability to create an imaginative world with your sibling that isn’t bound by the rational, realistic laws of nature or normative behavior. Stuffed bunnies can be Generals and kangaroos can dress up like Darth Vader.

Kids also bring that sense of wonder to the world around them, asking questions and exclaiming with delight when they discover something new or interesting. This just happened for Sienna and Mateo when they discovered a family of baby squirrels behind the fence in our backyard. I later found about 50 pictures on my cell phone of the squirrels!

Reflecting on his time with Chika, the Haitian little girl that became his daughter, Mitch Albom wrote to her:

“You put me on the other end of a magnifying glass or a toy telescope, and through those lenses, I could marvel at the world the way you did. You were an unfailing antidote to adult preoccupation.

All you had to say was, “Look!”

Look. It’s one of the shortest sentences in the English language. But we don’t really look, Chika. Not as adults. We look over. We glance. We move on.

You looked. Your eyes flickered with curiosity. You caught fireflies and asked if they had batteries. You unearthed a penny and asked if it was “treasure.” And without prompting, you knew discovery should be shared.” (pg. 90).

The adult world is a little boring these days. Being isolated as we continue to shelter in place, there is only so much we can do to be productive or relax within the confines of our homes. But, children can find things to marvel at on a walk around the block, in the backyard, in their bedrooms, or in the pages of a story. Engaging in their worlds of wonder can bring a little more innocence and fun to our adult experiences.

Albom’s words struck me as so true: “Children wonder at the world. Parents wonder at their children’s wonder. In so doing, we are all young together.” (pg. 91).

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My Own Devices

I don’t know about you, but I find myself resolving to pray more consistently and then failing, time and time again.  I mean to pray first thing in the morning, before meals, and throughout the day as life unfolds, but many times I simply forget.  Left to my own devices, I tend to rely on my own (ineffective) devices! 

In Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, John W. Kleinig explains that prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we do.  By way of a contrast, he explains: “Much of the popular Christian literature and current Protestant teaching on prayer reinforces the notion that improvement in prayer depends on us – our knowledge, faith, discipline, attitude, and expertise.  These teachings are popular for many reasons.  They are practical, helpful, and superficially empowering.  They feed on our guilt and, for a while, seems to allay our since of spiritual dissatisfaction.  Because they concentrate on what we need to do to become prayer warriors and victors in prayer, they boost our self-confidence and overlook our spiritual impotence.  The basic assumption… is that prayer is something that we do by ourselves. So success in prayer depends on our willpower and our performance.  These teachings, then, disconnect prayer from Jesus and His atonement.  They seldom teach that prayer is God’s doing, something that the triune God produces in us,” (pg. 161).

Kleinig describes in detail how Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in order to teach them how to pray and states: “The point of prayer is to receive from God the Father.  Jesus gives us His own prayer so that we can use it and our faith in Him to receive the good things that He has promised to give us.  We cash in on His promises in prayer. So Jesus teaches us how to pray by promising that God will give us what we ask for when we pray His prayer for ourselves and for others. He is not reluctant to give.  The problem lies with us; we are reluctant to ask for what He wants to give to us,” (pg. 165).

What does God want to give us?  Himself and the gift of His Word. He wants to bless us with his gracious will for our lives.  We often pray for what we want, which may or may not be in accordance with what God wants for us.  It’s not unlike children when they ask for things they desire but aren’t healthy or good for them.  Loving parents will say no to those requests, as God will to his children.  The Lord’s Prayer asks for God’s will to be done, not ours.

How then do we pray?  Kleinig recounts St. Paul’s teaching in Romans, chapter 8: “He teaches us that even though we do not know how to pray, or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us deep inside us in accordance with God’s good and gracious will.  The Spirit helps to articulate our hidden needs and prompts us in what we say.  Since we don’t know how to pray, He takes over from us and intercedes within us by getting us to pour out our hearts to God. When we pray, we can follow His urging, even if it is evident only in sighing and groaning and deep distress.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer,” (pg. 167). 

Prayer then, is a gift that we receive.  It’s not dependent on our strength or piety, instead “when we pray, we engage with the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  We pray to the Father; we pray together with the Son; and we pray by the power of the Holy Spirit. What we do when we pray depends entirely on what the Son gives us in His Word and on what the Spirit does with us through faith in Christ. Our ability to pray does not come from us, but from faith in Jesus Christ and His Word, faith that receives the gift of prayer,” (pg. 167).

What a relief that I’m not left to my own devices in prayer.

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A Precious Experience

This week the weather turned hot and I had two nagging blisters on my toes. Suffice it to say, my runs were practically non-existent. I tried going out early on Wednesday to beat the heat, but ended up doing a run/walk because my blisters hurt.

Cutting myself some slack, I decided to rest my body and prepare for a nice long run today. I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m., figuring I needed to get out early to fit in two hours of running before the heat caught up with me. I laid out my clothes, found some sunscreen to apply in the morning, bandaged up one big toe for blister prevention, and settled into bed to read for a bit before sleep.

Having not set an alarm for several weeks, my mind started racing after I read for nearly an hour, then finally turned off the light. “I need to get to sleep, my alarm goes off in 6 hours!” my mind told me. “I’m not going to have enough energy to run 13.1 miles if I only get 5 hours of sleep!” it taunted later.

The past couple months I’ve been sleeping quite well. After the trauma of returning from our overseas trip and battling the insomnia induced anxiety for weeks and weeks, I’d accepted my situation and rested in God’s faithfulness. Last night, I took a deep breath and prayed for calm and comfort.

Then I remembered why I run.

I don’t run to cross something off my list or achieve a goal I set for myself.

I love my long runs because I get to spend two hours alone with God. I pray, meditate on God’s love, ask for strength, and enjoy the companionable silence of His presence.

This prayerful, contemplative time with God isn’t dependent on achieving a specific emotional or physical state. Sometimes my runs hurt and I struggle through the miles, other times I feel euphoric, like I could run forever. Either way, and in all the many types of runs in between, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is with me. Simply soaking in the moment and relying on God’s provision for the next step, the next breath, the next moment, is a precious experience.

I peacefully surrendered to the fact that I would feel tired on my run, but that was okay. I didn’t have to run a half marathon distance or hit a certain pace. Those goals are fun to set and shoot for, but they aren’t the true reason I run.

For the first hour of running today, I listened to a book study on Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig. I’m about half way through the 32 sessions that ponder this book that I’ve come to cherish. Pastor Rhode leads his study group through the book slowly and carefully. I’ve loved listening to a session daily since starting this practice on Easter.

Today’s section of the book discussed how the Psalms are wonderful meditations on God’s love and plan for us. They noted many more Psalms are focused on laments, pain and struggle, than on joy and celebration. It’s easy to praise God when we’re feeling contented and hopeful. It’s much harder to acknowledge God’s faithfulness when we hurt and struggle.

I broke into a big smile as this passage was recounted: “The righteous do not know their own way; they do not see where they are going; they travel on an unseen journey with an unseen guide. But the Lord knows their way; invisibly He leads them step-by-step along their way with Him. As they meditate on His World each morning and evening, they discover their way through life, the unseen way in which they travel, like pilgrims to a holy place…” (pg 135).

In little ways, this uncertain, unknowing way of life plays itself out while I run. I don’t know what route I’m going to take exactly, deciding along the way which turns and paths to take. I don’t know what thoughts and feelings will occur to me, what songs I’ll listen to or what moments of inspiration may or may not strike.

There’s so much I don’t know, so I trust that the Lord knows the way. And he faithfully does.

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A Deep Dive into Our Founding Fathers

Sienna is currently in her bedroom working on a Latin assignment. On a Sunday. Without being prompted. I’m so tickled by this development. While this time of shutdown has been challenging in ways, I’ve been blown away by the good qualities growing in our family, especially the kids. Sienna and Mateo have been diligent about their school work and are taking greater responsibility for completing their work each day.

As a family, the slower pace of life has given us time and space to linger with thoughts and follow our curiosities. One fun way to indulge this urge is to take a “deep dive” into a topic together. Sienna is studying the Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers and Mothers right now. She loves history and storytelling, so our family conversations are peppered with stories of the battles and the characters (real and fictional) that she’s recently read. On a walk one afternoon she narrated to me the story of Johnny Tremain for nearly a half hour! I’d never normally have that long an attention span to listen to a retelling of a story.

So that we could better engage with Sienna’s historical accounts, Teo and I read Who Was Alexander Hamilton? during our bedtime readings in early April. It was helpful to remind myself of the struggles between the northern and southern states as they formed our Constitution and figured out how to govern a new nation, especially as Sienna continued her study of the Constitutional Convention.

Typically I’ll listen to Broadway musicals after seeing the show on stage. But, all this information about Alexander Hamilton made me curious to hear the Hamilton musical songs. I played a couple for the kids while we hung out Saturday afternoon, then today I ran for over an hour to the music of Hamilton. So fun! Having the basic biographical info about Alexander Hamilton fresh in mind from my recent reading with Teo made the musical so easy to follow!

I’m in the middle of reading a very interesting Bill Bryson book called At Home: A Short History of Private Life which covers a very wide variety of topics. Today’s section detailed the architectural significance of Monticello and Mount Vernon, the plantation homes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, respectively. Sienna was supposed to visit both of these historical homes during her class visit to Williamsburg and the surrounding ares this past month. Unfortunately the trip was cancelled. Her class spent the last week of March doing research projects on the areas they had planned to visit including online virtual tours of Colonial Williamsburg and these Presidential homes. Having just been to Paris, she was obsessed with Monticello because of it’s French influence. She showed me the immense canopies over the bed and asked if she could have one for her room!

There are an endless number of topics or areas of study you could take a deep dive into as a family, especially during this time of quarantine. Getting everyone involved in exploring a topic and learning together as a family is such a joy!

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There to See It.

Sitting in the chair in my bedroom is often where I’ll retreat to read. Now that I’m exclusively working from home, it’s where I’ll go to work when the rest of the family is using the living room.  During this quarantine, I’ve discovered a new activity to participate in from my cozy reading corner: watching the kids play together.  Last week they created an elaborate story where they were shepherds; the lamb stuffed animals and large stick (which I assume was a staff) gave it away. 

Since they’ve been at Cambridge, Sienna often makes up stories where she reenacts historical eras.  Last year she was constantly pretending to be medieval characters.  This year she (and her little brother who will pretty much play anything she tells him to) frequently pretend to be colonists.  As she’s been re-reading many of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books recently, they have also created frontier story-lines.  When they gather up dolls, stuffed animals, blankets, and assorted home goods and head to the backyard, you can pretty much bet they’ll be involved in their make-believe world for a few hours. 

When I crack open the sliding glass door in our bedroom, I’ll catch some of their dialogue.  I always grin to myself when I hear them start a sentence with, “Why don’t we pretend that…” or “Okay, now you…” as their imaginative world unfolds.  If you ask Teo, he’ll say he doesn’t have much of an imagination because he’s comparing himself to Sienna.  Her imagination is truly remarkable and she often initiates the story-line of their games.  But, I have seen him engage and contribute more as he’s gotten older and more confident.  

When conflict arises (I mean, they’re siblings, it has to happen), Sienna typically prevails as Teo will relent because he just wants to play with her so much.  But, I’ve even seen that start to balance out a bit more, especially now that we’re quarantined.  If Sienna takes a stand and Teo decides to go play something else, she’s without a playmate!  They’ve both made reconciliation attempts more quickly in this safer-at-home environment. 

I’ve also enjoyed watching them individually during this long period of cozy time at home.  Yesterday, while on the phone with my sister for a couple hours, I watched Teo kicking soccer goals in the backyard.  One of the zip-ties broke and the goal target panel started to gape on one side.  He concentrated on trying to fix the zip-tie for several minutes.  I considered going to help him, but then I remembered something I’d read years ago about mothers and sons.  Boys need to be able to figure things out themselves, it does a lot for their confidence and self-concept.  So, I watched and waited to see if he either figured it out, gave up, or sought help.  He stuck with it for a long time.  Way longer than I would have!  But, eventually he went and found Dennis and they decided to remove the goal targets from the goal.

Sienna has been working on a painting for the past week, as they’ve been on spring break.  She sets up at the patio table which is under a gazebo, so she has been painting rain or shine.  One afternoon I watched her paint as she narrated a story.  I couldn’t hear her, but I assume she was either pretending to be an important painter, or narrating a story of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael, since they are the subject of her painting.  Watching her lost in a story of her own making brings me such joy!

Right now, I’m sitting in my bedroom chair working on my computer and watching Sienna, Mateo and Dennis play football.  Currently, Sienna is quarterback and throwing the ball to the guys while they take turns defending against each other.  Dennis does not take it easy on Teo!  They play hard and crash into the turf frequently.  One end of our yard has a built in fire pit made of stone pavers.  I cringe when I watch Teo jump for balls just inches away from the bricks!  But, he’s pretty sure-footed and hasn’t injured himself yet, so I say little prayers of protection and try to only occasionally shout reminders to be careful.  

This time of quarantine has brought a lot of special moments of connection to our lives.  Slowing way down allows for the time and space to linger in conversation and let days unfold gently and calmly.  Watching my kids play, learn, giggle, grow, try new things, fight, reconcile, and explore the world has been my new favorite pastime.  Like just now, Sienna spiked a football for probably the first time in her life. The look of exhilaration on her face was priceless!  I’m so grateful I was there to see it.