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Unpredictable Moments of Connection

The kids and I recently started a routine of taking long drives on Friday afternoons after school; not every week, but frequently.  We usually swing through the Starbucks drive-through and then head to the coast via Rancho Santa Fe.  What began as a pandemic coping strategy turned into one of the highlights of our week!  We’ve had some wonderful conversations about school and life during these pretty drives.

Back in the fall, Teo and I discovered a cool little used bookstore in Encinitas called Artifact Books.  For the past month or so, I kept thinking we should hit this bookstore on one of our Friday drives, and this past Friday was the day.  After getting fuel, both for our vehicle and us, we headed to Encinitas by a different route through Rancho Santa Fe.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the drive was so lovely!  Winding, tree-lined roads, with vegetation in full spring bloom. 

Early in the drive, Sienna turned on Michael Card’s The Life, Disc 2.  This two disc sets the life of Jesus from his incarnation through his resurrection to music.  The second disc includes songs covering his passion and crucifixion and the CD was already on track #7.  I warned the kids, “We’re about to get to Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, so the tone of these songs will be sad and dark.” 

“We know, it’s okay,” Sienna replied.

As the music played, Teo asked some historical and theological questions about the song lyrics, most of which Sienna promptly answered while I marveled at her Biblical knowledge.  Bible class at school the past three years have definitely infiltrated her mind and heart.

We made it to the coast, parked in the tiny lot, masked up and walked to the entrance of the store.  We were greeted with a posted sign: “Closed on Friday, March 26th, sorry for the inconvenience”. 

“Oh man, they’re closed!” I exclaimed.  Teo read the sign aloud and we all looked at one another, bewildered. 

We got back in the car and I did a quick search for other used bookstores in the area, to no avail.  “Well, guys, I guess we’ll just head home,” I said. “Yep.  Okay,” they conceded. We all rolled with this change of plans quite easily.  The kids are pretty tired by Friday afternoon and seem to enjoy the peace of the drive more than anything. 

One of my favorite Michael Card songs came on as we started our drive back through Encinitas, Joy in the Journey:

There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
and freedom for those who obey
All those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe

We turned down a particularly picturesque street, lined with mesquite trees and pastures full of horses. Sienna suddenly sighed and said, “I’m just so happy with life right now.”  It was such a relatable moment, that feeling of everything being right in the world.  I smiled at her and patted her leg.  When these tender moments arise, I try to really soak them in. 

Reflecting on our drive, I marveled that the bookstore being closed was just a funny anecdote to our trip. It didn’t ruin the outing or leave us feeling disappointed and frustrated.  Having an attitude of “Oops, these things happen!” helped me accept the moment and not dwell on it.  What I’ll remember from this Friday drive was simply being with the kids, sharing sacred music and enriching conversation.  

You can’t plan or predict when moments of connection and meaning will occur, but being present helps you enjoy them fully. 

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Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

Ever since she was a baby, Sienna wakes up in a dreamy and happy way.  The old adage to “never wake a sleeping baby” totally didn’t apply to her.  She’d wake up with joy and enthusiasm, as if to say “What exciting new thing awaits me?!”  Fortunately, this sweet trait continues to bless our mornings. 

Sienna picking out her pink climbing rose

Typically, I’ll go into Sienna’s room to wake her, after Dennis, Teo and I have been up for a while already.  As she’s a young teenager now, I really cherish the morning routine of waking her. I bask in her sweetness before she’s conscious enough to roll her eyes at me.  Often I’ll gentle stroke her face until her eyes flutter open.  Other times, I’ll be silly (on mornings when I’ve already had some coffee) and animate her teddy bear, or I’ll start singing a song like “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory”. 

We recently planted a couple vines outside her bedroom window, so I started pulling aside the curtain by her bed as we greet the day.  One is a baby pink climbing rose and the other is a beautiful jasmine plant that smells amazing!  They’re both just getting started, but we’re excited to watch them grow. 

This past Monday morning, I pulled the curtain back and spontaneously broke into the old Oklahoma song “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”:

Oh, what a beautiful morning,
Oh, what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

Before her eyes even opened, Sienna smiled at me.

Both of my parents brought music and special songs into our lives.  It’s amazing how often those songs make the trek from the recesses of my mind into the present moment.  Throughout my childhood, my dad would often sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” all the way through.  Just when we were giggling and assumed the song had to stop soon, he’d go for the next verse or another time through the chorus.  I have such fond memories of him belting out that tune!

I’ve been reflecting on the sweet moments of family life lately.  Sienna and Mateo have grown so much this past year and time feels like it’s flying by!  I want to cherish the routine moments of our days, the ones I will miss when they’re off to college and living away from home.  When I think back to my childhood, it’s the songs, traditions, and moments of connection with my mom, dad, brother and sister that remind me of the love that surrounded us.  I pray our kids cherish these moments too.   

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The Moments That Matter

Dennis and I started a routine, years ago at Grace Lutheran, where we’d go on coffee dates while the kids were in Sunday school.  In Hillcrest, there were many fun little coffee shops we could walk to and also a Farmer’s Market that included a few coffee vendors.  It was a delightful time and we both looked forward to it!  Especially when the kids were small and we needed some time to connect without little ears and voices contributing to the conversation.

When we transferred to Gloria Dei Lutheran this summer, we reinstated our coffee dates by driving to the Starbucks down the street, while the kids were in Sunday school.  Our rationale that we need time in the week to connect and talk to one another is a little less relevant now.  Between the pandemic and Dennis being a stay-at-home parent, we have plenty of opportunities to connect.

I started to wonder: Maybe we should stay and attend ABC (Adult Bible Class) during the Sunday school hour instead of going on our coffee date?   During the sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Horn made a couple appeals to the congregation to attend ABC following the service.  The readings were so rich and full of gospel lessons, he was particularly excited to unpack them in more detail.  After his second reference to the class, Dennis and I looked across Sienna and made eye contact.  “Let’s stay for the bible study,” I whispered.

“I need my coffee,” Dennis whispered back.

“We can go after class with the kids…” I offered.

“Okay,” Dennis nodded and agreed.

Dennis and Leo at his 1st Birthday – October, 2020

After the divine service, the kids scurried off to their classes while the adults caught up with one another in the fellowship hall.  Dennis then carried our godson, Leo into the sanctuary for ABC.  Our friend Brandon, a.k.a. Leo’s dad, and I joined them in the pew, right up front.  Leo is 17 months old and such a delightful little guy! He sat on Dennis’s lap for a bit, then cuddled between us on the pew.   

About halfway through class, Leo was back in Dennis arms and feel asleep.  We joke that Dennis is the “baby whisperer” because seriously all babies and toddlers LOVE him!  It’s just the sweetest thing. 

Toward the end of class, Pastor concluded his comments on Ephesians 2:4-7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seating us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” and John, chapter 3.  Pastor said, “Jesus is always right there beside you, ready to answer your prayers.  He’s always holding you close, just like that…” he pointed to Leo asleep in Dennis’s arms.  “See how he’s sleeping in such peace because he knows he’s being held and he’s safe?  That’s how close Jesus holds us.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I silently prayed, “Thank you Lord for putting us here in this moment.”  I felt such peace that we’d opted for Bible study instead of our coffee date this week! 

Class ended and a lovely woman in the congregation came by to tell Dennis and me, “Oh, your baby is so sweet!”  We giggled as I told her, “Oh, he’s our godson, but thank you!  This is his father…” I gestured to Brandon and we all smiled, basking in the joy of the moment.

Time and again, I discover that peace and joy spontaneously occur when I stop striving.  When I allow the day to unfold and let go of my plans, tender moments of connection have the chance to happen. They truly are the moments that matter.

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The Prayer that Never Fails

For a variety of reasons, I’m in a period of quietness and waiting right now.  It’s an unusual place for me. The planner inside wants to analyze and figure out how events may play out.  But, I’m finally learning that God’s plans are high above my plans.  Any stories or ideas I generate in this waiting are quite unlikely to be accurate.  Indulging those thoughts is an exercise in pretending to control what is completely out of my control.

So, I’m using all of my mindfulness skills to stay present in the moment and connect with the people around me.  Beginning each day, I’m asking for strength to remain engaged and aware of how I can contribute during this slower, quieter season of life.  Jesus words: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34) have never rung more true. 

When my thoughts start pulling me toward the unknown future, my prayer over the past couple weeks has consistently been: Thy will be done, Lord.  It’s been a mantra of sorts: Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

As I wrote those words in my journal the other night, I remembered a reference to this prayer in one of the Mitford books (I believe it was Book #4: Out to Canaan).  Father Tim and his wife Cynthia would often cite “the prayer that never fails” which stumped me at first.  Finally, through the context of the story, it became clear that Thy will be done is the prayer that never fails. 

It’s so true, right?!

God’s will always comes to fruition. All of our plotting and planning and trying to figure things out often run in opposition to God’s will.  This conflict between what we want to happen and what God wills is the source of much of our angst.  Whether we think of it as surrendering or acceptance or resting in God’s grace, it all amounts to the same posture towards the triune God and our life.  He is in control and will reveal his plan in his own perfect timing.

I’ve sure I’ve quoted this sentence before, but it’s so fitting in this season. John Kleinig wrote: “We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy.” Grace Upon Grace, pg. 23.

The abundance of God’s grace and providence means that this life is full of experiences, activities, and delights for us to enjoy.  We want to do it all and experience the fullness of his blessings!  But, this side of heaven, this abundance is tempered with our human sinfulness, not to mention just the limits of time and energy.  We can’t do it all or experience everything that we might wish to enjoy. True peace and joy come from relying on Christ and enjoying what he graciously gives us. 

So, I wait and hope and pray.  All the while knowing that the prayer that never fails is good and true. 

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Finding novelty in mountain views, ear piercings, fancy meals, and lost teeth

One thing this pandemic has taught me is the joy and energy that novelty adds to life.  After the monotony of 2020, I started to crave change and look for opportunities to break out of the daily routine.  The ability to try something new is exciting, and experiencing those once-in-a-lifetime events or milestones is exhilarating!  This is also one of the joys of parenthood, when you enjoy these new and exciting events through the lives of your children. 

Fortunately, 2021 has ushered in more fun and novel experiences!  Just this past weekend we enjoyed many fun things…

First, we joined many of the other Cambridge sixth graders and their families to hike Iron Mountain. We’ve been doing many hikes around San Diego County to get the students in shape for their Yosemite trip in late May.  There’s no confirmation that the trip is still on, but the practice hikes have been fun!  Iron Mountain was a great one and the first that our entire family, including our dog Claira, attended. 

Less than a mile into the 6 mile hike, it occurred to me that my blood sugar may be dropping.  I didn’t really feel low yet, but I tested and confirmed my suspicion: 66 mg/dl.  I scarfed down a whole Clif bar and then started to feel low a few minutes later.  Dennis, Claira and Teo hung back with me so I could slow down and allow the glucose a chance to get into my body.  Sienna and her friends ran ahead and we trailed behind the group by several minutes. 

After mentally drafting a few #diabetessucks posts in my mind, I decided to let go of those thoughts and just enjoy the peace and pace of hiking with my guys and our very energetic little dog.  Claira looked like a Billy goat jumping between rocks as she climbed the mountain with enthusiasm!  

The view at the top was spectacular!  It was truly one of those days that make Southern California living worthwhile.  There was a very friendly vibe among the many hikers out that morning.  One lady offered to take our picture at the summit, after watching me try to get a selfie shot.  As we passed other hikers, choruses of “Good morning!” rang out.  You could tell some extroverts really missed socializing and wanted to chat!

After our hike, we were just home enjoying a relaxing afternoon when Sienna asked me, “Could I get my ears pierced today?” 

“Sure, if you want to!” I replied with restrained enthusiasm.  I’ve learned that my excitement can often have a subduing effect on Sienna.

“Well, does it hurt?” she asked.  We went on to discuss the process and I confirmed that it does hurt, like an injection does.  Sienna also wanted to know how likely it was to get infected and other very sensible concerns.  Once I’d addressed them to her comfort, she said, “Yes, I want to do it.”

Just the two of us headed out to Claire’s in Carmel Mountain where we proceeded to stand in an “Ear Piercing Starts Here” line for about half an hour, while I recounted my experience of fainting when I was twelve and got my ears pierced at the Claire’s in Bayshore Mall.  Ah, memories! When we made it inside, we learned that appointments were needed or they could “fit us in” as time permitted.  A little 5 or 6 year old was being coaxed back into the chair by her mom, so fitting us in didn’t look very promising. 

Sienna opted to make an appointment for the next day after church and we headed to the car.  Watching her face as we drove away, I said, “Honey, are you sure you don’t want to get it done today?  We could go back and take the 6:00 p.m. appointment or maybe they’ll fit us in sooner.”  Sienna wrestled with the choice and I told her, “It’s really fine, we can go back.” 

“Okay, yeah, let’s do that,” she said.  I could so relate to the anticipating of the event (including tackling a fear) and then the disappointment of having to wait. 

Sienna was so brave and mature!  I watched her brace herself for the first piercing.  “Breathe, breathe, breathe…” I coached her after the first earring was in.  She took a couple deep breaths and was fine for the second ear.  When she looked in the mirror she exclaimed, “Oh, I love it!  That was so worth it!”

We had fun picking out earrings and taking pictures of her adorable ears!  What a fun and unexpected way to spend the afternoon.  Sienna’s growing up so much this year and I’m savoring these sweet moments with my girl.

After a wonderful Lenten divine service and a powerful sermon about the love and grace in God’s perfect law, Dennis and I went for a coffee date while the kids were in Sunday school.  I told Dennis I was making pork chops, his favorite, for dinner.  I’ve recently started making a “fancier” meal for Sunday Night Dinner and I’m really enjoying the intentionality of a special meal for the Sabbath Day. 

“I’ll just have my pork chop with beans, tortillas, and hot sauce” my loving husband informed me.

It took me a second to recover from the disappointment, then I said, “Love, I was planning on making a mushroom gravy, beans, and asparagus with the pork chops.”  He loves asparagus, so I teasingly asked, “Do you think asparagus will go well with your tortillas and hot sauce?” 

Dennis laughed, and I thanked God for the millionth time for blessing me with a man who finds me so funny!  I also reassured him that a meal including beans, tortillas and hot sauce was most definitely on the menu this week, so could he please try my mushroom gravy?  Indeed, he could.

If I do say so myself, dinner turned out great!  Our oven was having heating issues so I totally guessed at the cooking time, which actually did my pork chops a favor because they weren’t overdone and dry!  The mushroom gravy was rich and delicious!  I felt like a real cook because I made up the recipe as I went.  Novelty again… so fun! 

Dennis raved about the meal and I couldn’t resist asking him, “Are you glad you forfeited your tortillas and hot sauce tonight?!”  “Yes, definitely!” he agreed. 

Finally, Teo lost a tooth today at school!  It’s been a long time since a child lost a tooth in our household.  When he came home with it today, we joked with him (who understands how the tooth fairy works), “I hope the tooth fairy has some cash!” 

For many reasons, I’ve felt in an “in between” place in life recently.  Which, perhaps ironically, has helped me embrace being present in the moment.  I’m not planning ahead or trying to control my emotions. Instead, I’m feeling deeply and allowing each day to unfold in God’s perfect timing.  It is such a beautiful and exciting place to be!  Letting go also allows me to appreciate the enjoyment that novelty brings, whether in the form of mountain views, ear piercings, fancy meals, or lost teeth. 

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

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Seven Years of Sharing

Today Be Still and Know turns seven years old! Also, before this post, I’ve posted 300 times on this blog. That’s a lot of sharing!

Looking back on my first post on February 22, 2014, I’m struck by how much still rings true. Over these seven years I’ve been walking with Christ and trusting in grace, through ups and down, mountains and valleys. God is always faithful and the Holy Spirit is a constant source of comfort. When I struggle with control and anxiety, it’s because I’ve strayed, never Him.

Through these years, I have grown in my dependence on Christ for everything. Sanctification is a lifelong process and maturity as a Christian looks like deeper dependence, rather than independence. In a Lutheran Hour Ministries Daily Devotion last year, Dr. Kari Vo wrote this about the process of sanctification: “So what is our part in this great transformation process? It is simply to let it happen—to let God do what He’s going to do—to relax and enjoy the process, and every so often, try something new that God is putting before us—a new challenge, a small change or an insight into a difficult situation that might make a difference.”

I love this idea so much! It encapsulates the idea of cease striving, which is another translation of be still. Over these seven years, through acceptance and trust in God, I have been present in the moment to truly experience the full spectrum of emotions. Whether I’m facing medical concerns with my diabetes or cancer screenings, or sharing parenting struggles, or fighting my inner perfectionist, acceptance of myself and dependence on God’s grace are ever present themes. John Kleinig writes: “We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy,” Grace Upon Grace, pg. 23. God provides everything we need for this life. Resting in that truth brings such peace and joy.

Thank you for coming alongside me through these years of sharing life and learning to be present to the gifts of grace that only God provides!

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Magic Beans

As a diabetic, I evaluate my food intake quite a lot.  For years, considering what I was going to eat took up way more mental space and energy than I wanted.  I’ve eaten a pretty low carbohydrate diet since I was pregnant with Sienna and had to dramatically cut and monitor my daily carbs to ensure a healthy pregnancy.  Then, probably about eight years ago, I discovered the paleo diet and further limited my food choices to meat, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and some fruit. 

At first, this style of eating was really helpful for maintaining my blood sugar.  However, it was obviously limiting and my other health numbers weren’t where we needed them to be: cholesterol, most notably. Since I started taking an additional diabetes medication about five years ago, my cholesterol had been elevated.  My endocrinologist kept telling me that a statin in was my future, once I hit 40.  There are so many things that magically become an issue at 40! 

Eye sight, cancer screenings, and cholesterol medication, oh my!

At the end of last summer, I started reading about the bean protocol. Ironically, it was a paleo blog that introduced me to this approach to eating!  Juli of PaleOMG struggled with acne for years and eating beans several times per day cleared up her skin completely. I went to the source of this protocol and discovered an amazing story of one mom’s quest to save her daughter after she was poisoned by insecticide as a toddler.  Eating a ton of fiber (mostly from beans) helped her daughter’s liver and kidneys to fully detox when doctors told her (back in 1989) that there was no way to treat her symptoms.

If you’re interested, definitely check out Karen Hurd’s website.  The theory, in a nutshell, is that many of the health conditions people experience are due to our hormones being recycled through the body. When we eat enough fiber, those excess hormones are excreted from the body and therefore are not recycled and wreaking havoc on our immune systems.  As I researched further, I was intrigued mostly on behalf of Sienna.  We’ve tried various dietary approaches to help her focus, in an effort to avoid the medications she does not want to take.  ADD/ADHD is one of many conditions that this protocol can improve. 

Curiosity and a gut instinct that this protocol could help us all, I gradually increased my bean and fiber intake over a couple weeks, until I was eating 5-6 servings of beans daily in early September. I then started transitioning our entire family, adding beans to meals and researching fun recipes to try. As you would imagine, your body has to adjust to all the fiber, but it wasn’t a big deal for any of us.

Sienna is doing well in school and not taking any medications!  She says that math tutoring and her overall maturation as a student are the reason for her success, which is definitely true.  However, I think her healthy diet and the extra fiber are helping too. 

An unexpected and delightful result of this approach came when I had my annual blood test in late October.  I knew that my endocrinologist would advise I start a statin for my cholesterol, if my numbers continued to run in the 200-220 range.  After two months of eating a ton of beans, my total cholesterol was down to 154!  Wow.  That was all the proof I needed that this works and I’m sticking with it! Other benefits I’ve noticed are weight loss, healthier skin, obviously regularity, and more interesting meal options! 

There are so many delicious recipes to fit beans into baked goods and treats. This cookie dough dip is a favorite! I’ll use a sugar substitute to keep the carbohydrates down. I created a pizza crust for me to enjoy on our Friday pizza nights. It includes a couple tablespoons of chickpea flour and it’s much closer to a real crust than the many paleo options I’ve tried. My favorite option is a barbeque chicken pizza on this crust (that’s it in the photo!). I’ve really had fun with expanding the types of foods we’re eating, discovering new recipes, and feeling a deeper peace around food choices. 

Finding the bean protocol felt like an answer to prayer.  For months I’d prayed that God would help free my mind and spirit from struggling with food choices and the associated diabetic guilt. This approach has simplified my eating with one overarching focus: include beans in each meal. Beans are already so versatile, but there are also bean flours, bean chips, bean tortillas, and so many other products made of beans.  I’d also been praying for a clear path forward in treating Sienna’s ADD.  In addition to adding all the beans, we’ve also reduced sugar for the entire family, especially during the school week.  Those things together are helping so much. 

So, that’s my story of how beans are helping our family in a variety of ways.  Let me know if you have any questions!

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Quieting the Mental Chatter.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about the future a lot.  These aren’t deep thoughts about goals or dreams I hope to achieve.  They aren’t about planning trips or looking forward to something fun I’d love to do – though one day soon hopefully! 

No, these are little things like: Should I make the minestrone soup tonight or just serve leftovers? Should I go for a run this afternoon or would tomorrow morning be better? Do I have all the ingredients for those muffins I wanted to make later this week? Then again, I made those overnight oats which I should probably eat soon. Which book am I going to read next? Maybe I should change that eye doctor appointment for later in the month, or maybe I should keep it for next week to get it over with…?

You get the idea.

Decision fatigue is a real thing, let me tell you.  I’ve been known to ask one of my kids to pick out a shirt for me to wear or “Pick a number between one and three!” to help me select which book to read next from my “To Read” cubby. 

The worst part is when I get into the mental loop where options are endless and my mind strives to make the “right” choice when actually any choice is equally valid.  Run today or tomorrow?  Make one dish for dinner or another?  Listen to an audiobook on my walk or don’t?  It doesn’t matter! I’m sure some of this extra mental chatter is due to the ongoing pandemic and the amount of time we’re spending at home.  The routine feels very routine right now.  I’m sure on some level I’m trying to extract meaning and purpose from the daily humdrum.

There are also a lot of voices coming at us, all the time.  I’ve greatly limited my social media intake in 2021, but still between books, blogs, conversations and the occasional Instagram or Facebook scroll, there is so much information in the world that constantly sends the message that we should be effortlessly organized, fit, beautiful, and productive.  If things aren’t going your way, just think differently or try this new product or figure out a new life hack to make everything fall into place.

Not only is all of this exhausting, it’s also not what God teaches us about humanity or our need for Jesus’s saving grace.  I loved this quote from a recent (in)courage article: A life of simplicity, an un-frazzled mind, and a contented heart come not from what the world tells us to pursue but from trusting God. When we focus on Jesus rather than on what others are doing or thinking, we find the simpler life that allows us to rest and be at peace with who we are. Inner simplicity comes when we stop seeking wisdom in our own eyes or in the eyes of others, and we start seeking wisdom from the Lord.

God meets us in the messiness of our daily lives.  The ups and downs, struggles and successes are all part of our spiritual journey.  John Kleinig wrote: “We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy.” Grace Upon Grace, pg. 23. What I hear when I read those words is a relaxed, receptive posture towards life. 

Instead of striving to plan and accomplish all the things, we can rest in God’s provision for our lives.  Instead of trying to control our emotions, we can rest is Christ’s love and care, regardless of the emotional weather we’re currently in.  Instead of the mental chatter that the world exacerbates on a daily basis, we can live a simpler, less frazzled life that bring so much more peace. 

As St. Paul told the Romans: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2. 

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Change my Heart.

I’m navigating a lot of transitions in life right now.  My sweet girl just became a teenager and she’s asserting herself and taking more responsibility for her schoolwork.  At work, the Team I’ve managed for the past few years is being restructured.  One group has already split off and other individuals are slowly transitioning into new roles with new responsibilities.  My part to play in these cases is to support, listen, coach and encourage others to make decisions and solve problems for themselves. 

Through these changes, I keep reminding myself to ask questions instead of telling people how they ought to behave.  I set little electronic reminders on my computer and phone to keep me in this mindset.  Like this one for Sienna: Use information, consequences, choice. Without lectures, micro-management or rescue.  I’ve been praying before many interactions with both my daughter and my direct reports; asking God to guide my words and help me to listen first and seek to understand.

Through these experiences, I started hearing a little quiet voice ask “Is it your words you need to change or your heart?” 

Saying helpful words is the outward display of an inner state.  Trying to speak in a way that Sienna receives as supportive is flat out manipulative if deep down I’m trying to control her behavior.  If I want her to feel that I believe she’s capable and can handle difficult things, I need to actually believe it!  She reads me like a book. I can’t fool her with fancy wordsmithing (believe me, I’ve tried!).   

Reviewing an evaluation at work today, I noted several comments about “choosing my words carefully” which got me thinking.  No, you don’t have to choose your words carefully if you change your heart about the situation!   You’ll be able to speak freely and confidently, once your heart is aligned with your values and how you want to be in the world. 

Reminds me of something I was told years ago, “As long as you know you’re acting in accordance with the Holy Spirit, you’ll never have to fear making a mistake.”  Or, as my friend and I remind each other frequently, “Do the right thing for the right reason, and trust God with the result.”

These experiences have left me reflecting on the relationship between our hearts and our words. Trying to change my behavior without changing my heart is not helpful.  God wants to change my heart and oriented it toward him, rather than just be a self-help guru to get me through the day.

To drive home the message, my morning Bible reading brought me to Psalm 19 today, which concludes:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14. 

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Guided steps

In anticipation of a hike we’re leading in a couple weeks for Sienna and her classmates, our family took a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day hike up Black Mountain.  This mountain is right near our home and the school, but we’ve never hiked it!  Monday was the day.  The teachers recommended we take the Nighthawk Trail up to the summit, which is about 2 miles each day.  Easy peasy, we thought.  We brought Claira along and she was excited to get out of the house and stretch her legs!

Well, this route turned out to be steep and rocky!  The first pitch of the trail was particularly steep and the kids expressed their dismay.   Claira bounded up the path like a little Billy goat!  She provided some comic relief and joy as the day grew hotter and the rocky trail grew tedious.  Sienna wanted to turn around after less than a mile.  “Come on, you can do it!” I encouraged, “Think how proud you’ll be when you reach the top!”  We talked about perseverance as a virtue and value. 

At one point, she tried to call my bluff and retreated down the hill as the rest of us kept climbing.  Teo was torn and started to slow down.  “Mom, she’s really not turning around!” he called to me.  Fortunately, a sweet golden retriever named Ninja and his owner stopped to allow Claira and Ninja to greet one another.  Dennis petted Ninja (dogs and babies love this guy!) for several minutes, giving Sienna and Mateo the opportunity to slowly catch up to us. 

What a great reminder not to worry and try to micro-manage a family outing!  Everything works out when you let people have their authentic experience and express themselves.

We made it to the top and the attitudes of our family of hikers improved tremendously!  We took pictures and enjoyed the amazing view on a beautiful January day.  As we retraced our steps down the mountain, we stopped at another lookout spot where Claira stood on a rock and surveyed the landscape.  We laughed as we noted that she looked like Simba on Pride Rock and roared, like in the closing scenes of The Lion King.  So silly!

Going downhill in steep, rocky terrain actually requires more concentration than going uphill.  Especially if, like Sienna and me, you opt to wear Keds and worn running shoes, respectfully.  The guys were much more surefooted with their hiking boots.  We all slid a few times, which gives you such a burst of adrenaline!  I focused on keeping my balance and making confident steps and prayed: Holy Spirit, please guide my steps.  I knew there was a Bible verse about the Lord directing our steps, but didn’t know the specific reference. 

During my run yesterday afternoon, it was incredibly windy!  A few times I had to go off the paved pathway to go around other pedestrians and there was debris blowing in my face.  The same prayer popped into my mind: Holy Spirit, please guide my steps.  This simple mantra brought peace to my heart and calmed my mind. 

Today I opened a daily devotional book and turned to January 20th.  The Bible verse quoted was from Psalm 37, verse 23: The steps of a man are directed and established of the Lord, when he delights in his way… So, now I know.

Allowing God to guide my steps is such a reassuring place to live, both in the moments of potential danger and in the everyday moments of life.