Where the Heart Is…

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We just returned from our annual trip to northern California to visit family in Humboldt County and Marysville.  It was a great trip!  My brother Rob and his family made the trip up north too, so the whole gang was there! We got to spend a lot of time just hanging out with our loved ones, watching the cousins play and make precious memories.  I got to cuddle my sweet, little nieces a bunch!   The only missing part of the trip was a visit to the ranch.  We opted out because we couldn’t pull the kids away from their cousins!

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Over the past several years, I find myself romanticizing the idea of living back in Humboldt County again.  There’s so much I love about it – the natural beauty including the amazing redwood trees, the quaint homes and shops, and the fact that I lived there for the first 18 years of my life! But, mostly I want to live closer to my mom, dad, stepmom, my sister Sarah and her family.  I love these people so much!  As all the cousins have bonded over the years, it’s especially sweet when we’re together.  They love one another and run around in this big pack of kids, it’s the best.

This trip, I let my thoughts wander to the possibility of living up north more than usual.  My thoughts became judgements as I mentally listed the pros and cons of Humboldt versus the pros and cons of San Diego.  Then, I started to brood.  Why did we all have to live so far apart?  Why is California such a long state?  Why does the traffic in Southern California have to be so terrible??  This last part kicked in as we sat in a traffic jam at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday.

By the time we arrived home, I was super irritable.  Maybe it was the transition back to “real” life, or the fact it was 90 degrees in our house, or the annoyance of traffic.  Or, all of those contributing factors!  I could feel my crankiness growing as the evening went on.  I prayed for patience and tried to get to bed as soon as possible.   The nagging feeling of being conflicted between wanting to live in Humboldt and San Diego continued the following morning.  My thoughts were swirling with a negativity that was not helpful.

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Then, as I unpacked some of my purchases from the trip, I opened a little bowl for holding jewelry.  I read the quote inside: “Home is Where the Heart Is…”  This very familiar expression caught my attention with its poignancy.  Instead of feeling conflicted, I thought, what if I fused with another thought: “How lucky am I to have some many places that feel like home?!  Aren’t I fortunate to have a heart that loves people in both places?” I sighed a peaceful sigh as I put the little bowl on my dresser.  What a great example of reframing!

At church later that morning, God continued to reveal a lesson I needed to learn.  Pastor Brian preached on the metaphor of Jesus being the bread of life.  He started by describing the universal human condition of searching for life’s meaning: “There must be more to life…” we’ve all asked at some point.  When I heard that expression, I related deeply.  That’s exactly what I was doing on this trip.  Looking for the idyllic, perfect place to live.  When, in reality, no place this side of heaven is perfect.  They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

This lead me to think about the concept of home along with the verse from Matthew, chapter 6: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   What am I treasuring in this seeking?  Ultimately, what I treasure is God and the people he’s called me to love and serve.  My family are the most treasured, so it makes sense that I feel a pull to be with them more.  However, I have friends and a church family in San Diego that also feels like home.  So much love.

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I also jotted down this part of Pastor’s sermon: “When Jesus says he’s the bread of life, he means he’s the most important part of your life.”  Ah, yes.  I reflected back on my lack of prayer during this trip.  When I get into one of my “control” mindsets, striving to figure things out overwhelms my thoughts.  Turning to God and asking him to enlighten this seeking didn’t occur to me.  Until it did. When I released my desire to “figure it out” and surrendered to God’s perfect will, I felt peace, which after all, is what he promises. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 5-7. 

 

 

 

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?

“He Hugged Me”

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

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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.

Tell Me Everything that Happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mateo’s Moment of Connection and Compassion

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After Palm Sunday service, we decided to go out for brunch downtown. Sienna’s sweet friend Gracie had spent the night and gone to church with us, so the five of us drove down Park Boulevard on a beautiful early spring morning on a hunt for food.

Our brunch was yummy and they actually made my hash browns extra crispy, but as typically happens after eating out at a restaurant, I started to have that bit of buyer’s remorse. As I was reminding myself that we were paying for the experience, not just the food, the girls and I exited the restaurant to meet Dennis and Teo, who’d left a few minutes before us.  I found them talking to a homeless man that looked in pretty bad shape.  As I approached them, Dennis asked: “Kels, do you have a dollar or two?”

I grabbed my wallet and pulled out the only two singles I had, handed them to the man, and said “God bless you.” He smiled without making eye contact and we all walked away.

Teo and I were holding hands and his questions started right away. “How much did you give him?  Could we give him more? He needs more than that, Mommy.”

I tried to explain, the best I could and asked him: “Do you want to do more to help people who don’t have homes or enough to eat?” He replied, “I want to help that man.” The simplicity of his connection to seeing this particular man’s pain was poignant.  I didn’t need to turn this into a grandiose teaching moment, Mateo just wanted to do something to ease this man’s suffering.

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We were about a block from the restaurant and crossing the street when Teo said, “I wish I could give him my allowance.” Once safely on the other curb, I stopped Dennis and the girls, then turned to Teo. “You want to give him your allowance?  We can, if you’re sure.  We can go back.”

“Yes, let’s go back,” he replied as he pulled me back toward the intersection.

His questions continued as we walked quickly down the street and noticed that the man was slowly walking away, so we had to catch up to him. “How much will we give him?”

“Well, your allowance is $7.00 and we already gave him $2.00.”

He employed his counting up method of addition: “Two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Okay, then that makes seven dollars. Mommy, what will he do with this money?… Maybe he’ll get a dog!”

“Seven dollars isn’t enough for a dog, but he could get a good meal today, that would be good,” I explained.

“Okay. Then, maybe other people will give him money for food tomorrow and for a jacket, maybe a bigger backpack to carry his stuff…”

We caught up to the man, and I handed him the five dollar bill at Mateo’s request. He thanked us in a vacant kind of way and I studied Mateo’s face as he watched the man.  His care and compassion were palpable.

We turned the corner to head to our car, just outside of Petco Park, where the Padres play. Teo said, “Oh, he could go to a baseball game!”  I again explained that a meal was probably the best way he could spend the money Teo gave him.

Walking hand in hand with my precious son, I thanked God for this moment. Sure, we spent more on breakfast than we needed to and there was the irony that parking literally cost twice what we gave this man.  But, that moment of connection and compassion only happened because we were there.  Dennis and I have been talking about finding a charity and volunteer opportunity for our family.  As I’ve been learning, more often than not, the kids lead and teach through their innocence and love.  This moment taught Mateo more about compassion and the spirit of giving than anything we could instill.

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.