Slow Down

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Last Friday I attended a Mother’s Day program at the kids’ school.  After each grammar school grade presented either a poem or a song about mothers, Jean, the Head of School, read a very sweet book to us called Let Me Hold You a Little Longer by Karen Kingsbury.  It was a cool twist on looking back on your children’s younger years.  Instead of remembering all their “firsts” it spoke of being present and mindful for all of their “lasts” – the last hit they had in Little League, the last time they came to your bed to sleep, the last time you cuddled up with them to read a story.

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There wasn’t a dry eye in the place… well, at least in the first couple rows!  I sat in the second row, right behind the reserved seating for the moms of all the Seniors.  I thought it was so cool they came to this event, since none of their students were likely in the grammr school any longer. Apparently this annual event was one they wanted to cherish one last time.  As the women in front of me passed tissues between themselves, I was even more overwhelmed with emotions.  Their kids are truly experiencing so many “lasts” this year and they’re watching them launch into the world.  It’s so hard to let go.

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If that wasn’t enough, our heart strings were further tugged when they started a slide show of pictures of all the students.  They played a couple songs that were extremely poignant.  The first one stuck with me, so I looked it up later and played it repeatedly over Mother’s Day weekend.   The song is Slow Down by Nichole Nordeman.  The lyrics that always get me are:

Had to crawl before you walked
Before you ran
Before I knew it
You were trying to free your fingers from my hand
‘Cause you could it on your own now
Somehow, slow down

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I’d decided to take Friday off of work, for a much needed personal day!  The program was in the morning and I could think of several different ways to spend the rest of the day.  But, I finally felt inspired to pull out all my scrapbooking supplies and start on Mateo’s scrapbook.  Last year I got Sienna’s first 18 months finished and into a book, but I hadn’t started Mateo’s at all yet.  It had been on my list of goals for two years already!  All it took was  slowing down and letting myself feel the sadness of his young childhood passing to prioritize this important, but obviously not urgent, task.

Oh man, looking back at baby Teo is such a joy!  Sometimes I lament the fact that I wasn’t as present and capable of being in the moment when he was a baby.  But, then I remember all the time I spent singing to him and rocking him to sleep.  I was there. I was present.

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When I think back on my children’s baby and toddler years, even though this was the season where I controlled my feelings and spent too much time in my head, I always adored being with Sienna and Mateo.  They were able to ground me like nothing else.  Even now, as I’ve learned to be present, my kids are my daily touchstone to the here-and-now.  They are perpetually in the moment.  I love hearing their thoughts, seeing their expressions, and just watching them learn and grow through the ebbs and flows of life.  It’s the best.

But, it’s true, I often wish that time would somehow slow down.

It’s all worth it.

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I had the wonderful opportunity to receive training this week in Chicago, along with some of the ladies on my Team.  The training was awesome and I loved getting the chance to spend time with Corinna, Brandi and Rachel as we all work to grow our management skills.  Actually, it’s misleading to say we were in Chicago!  Our flights landed at O’Hare but then we went straight to a southern suburb for the two days of training.  It rained most of our visit, thus we didn’t venture out to the city.  I never even saw the Chicago skyline!

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Getting home on Thursday night late, I didn’t get much sleep before having to be at work Friday morning.  Most of the day involved a long meeting with folks from corporate and our local office to discuss a process that’s transitioning from my plate, now that I’ve taken on managing the entire Admin Team.  It was draining for me – emotionally and mentally.  By the grace of God, I was able to stay present and engage appropriately.  It was hard because earlier in the week, I had to be assertive to get upper management to understand that this role HAD to be reassigned to someone else.  I’d been trying to get this message across for months, but clearly compromised too much and therefore they continued to expect me to fulfill the role!  So, in this half-day meeting I had to navigate the dance between being helpful in the transition while stepping back from taking on too much responsibility.

Then, all these meetings and discussions went long and I didn’t make it to Teo’s class party to help out. Fortunately the Room Mom and I chatted the week before.  When I told her I’d just be getting back from Chicago on Thursday night, she said she wouldn’t count on me to help with the party, if I could just bring her the veggies and treats before I left.  Good thinking, Room Mom!

Friday afternoon we needed to run an errand before Sienna and I went to a slumber party.  I was looking forward to helping for the evening and spending time with friends, but I was tired.  Also, the errand was making us late for the party, which made me uncomfortable and frustrated.  The kids and Dennis could see that I was flustered as we rushed through Target and I had several moments of prayer and defusion to keep myself from losing it.  “Kelsey, it’s fine.  You’re going to be late but Kristi will understand.  You do not want to take your frustration out on your family,” I told myself.

Finally, Sienna and I were driving to the party.  She’s big enough to sit in the front seat now!  I was still working to get out of my head, with all the thoughts of the workday swirling around my mind.  Suddenly, Sienna touched my arm gently and said, “Thank you.”

“Thank you for what, Lovie?” I asked.

“For everything.  For the Cambridge School. For everything,” she replied as I looked into her big brown eyes.

“Oh, you’re so welcome,” I said as tears started to flow beneath my sunglasses.

I took a very deep breath and exhaled, thanking God for this loving and wise little daughter who so often reminds me of what’s important in life.  Her simple words of gratitude made me feel seen and appreciated.  These days of busyness with work, school, and family life are all for a reason.  It’s okay for me to be tired and not have it all together, all the time.  What fuels my efforts is love for my sweet children and loving husband.  It’s all worth it.

Giving my Harsh Inner Critic a Name

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Realizing some hard truths about myself recently. My Enneagram Type 1-ness has really been apparent. My harsh inner critic is constantly talking to me about what I could do better, what should be done, how it should be done, how my family should behave, etc. It’s exhausting. But, it’s so clear to me now how The Happiness Trap and ACT are so impactful for me. I’m never going to silence the inner critic, but I sure can defuse the thoughts and not believe everything she’s telling me. I really ought to give her a name…

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Another layer of this dichotomy I’ve come to recognize in my life – surrendering versus controlling; being “in my head” versus present in the moment; paying attention to thoughts versus feelings, etc. – is trying to improve my loved ones versus just loving them. It’s ironic, I’ve had “Only Love Today” popping up on my phone as a daily reminder for over a year. But, what does that mean in practice? It probably means not commenting on everything Sienna could do better or differently, from her room cleanliness to her choice of words in a writing assignment. Probably looks like not criticizing the way Dennis talks to the kids. Like I’m so good at only speaking lovingly to them?! Probably looks like giving Mateo comfort when he’s sad at night, instead of being irritable that his emotional outburst is throwing off my “plan” for the evening. Yep, probably all of those things… and more.

Last week, as Sienna and I drove downtown for a mother/daughter date, I talked to her about my struggles to let go of needing things to be a certain way. I asked her if she feels like things are never good enough for me, when I comment on her school work, bedroom cleanliness, or anything really. She agreed that those moments do hurt her feelings. I then joked that we needed to give that unhelpful voice a name. She giggled and suggested: “How about Nutzo Butzo!”

I cracked up and replied, “That’s perfect! I love it. It’s silly so I can easily dismiss her. Then, when I criticize something you can say, ‘Mom, did Nutzo Butzo tell you to say that?’”

I’m reading and journaling through a devotional this year by Shauna Niequist called Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are. Today’s devotion is called “More Love, Less Hustle” and her definition of hustle is the “voice that says you’re never done, you have to push harder, think ahead, plan ahead, hold it together, go, go, go.”

Oh, the voice that tells me to hurry up, get something done, rush, rush, rush. Her name is Nutzo Butzo and she tells me that everything depends on me – my efforts, my planning, me, me, me. When I ignore this voice and focus my awareness on the people I love, the people I meet, our church and school families, life is infinitely fuller, richer and more connected. What ultimately drives me to hustle? A feeling that things aren’t quite right, not yet perfected, and needing to be changed or fixed. This side of Christ’s return, our fallen world will always be broken. It’s much wiser to accept this fact and spend my energy loving the people God puts in my path during this particular moment. There I can do some good, there I can fulfill a need or lessen someone’s burden. Hustling doesn’t facilitate connection. Love does.

You Are What You Love

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The beginning of a New Year is the highpoint of self-actualization rhetoric in American culture and I typically jump in with both feet.  The idea that we can change our habits and routines so everything stays in perfect balance and we’ll be thinner, fitter, happier and more productive this year than last year is so enticing!  But, for a reformed hyper-planner and self-aware Type 1 perfectionist, this time of year is a very slippery slope for me.

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Sure enough, the past few weeks, I’ve been “in my head” and less in touch with my heart; relying on myself instead of God, expecting everything to work out just right if I plan properly, and missing the moments of connection all around me.  However, simultaneously I’ve been reading a very interesting and helpful book: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.  Our pastor, who recently moved across the country, preached from this book for several weeks before he left last year.  I loved the sermons and looked forward to deepening my understanding of how our loves are shaped by liturgical practices, both inside and outside the church.

Dr. Smith argues: “In ways that are more “modern” than biblical, we have been taught to assume that human beings are fundamentally thinking things.”  Most of our efforts toward discipleship focus on collecting information as if “we can think our way to holiness – sanctification by information transfer.”  This approach is diametrically opposed to biblical wisdom, where Jesus continually refers to the human heart as the center of our being.  Of Christ, Smith states, “He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”

This argument really hit home when Smith asked “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?  Have you ever found that new knowledge and information don’t seem to translate into a new way of life?”  I imagine everyone who’s currently struggling with maintaining a health related resolution has experienced just this gap!  We know what is healthy, but that doesn’t mean we always do it!  Smith goes on to suggest: “What if it’s because you aren’t just a thinking thing?”  Indeed, what if our “epicenter of human identity” is what Augustine articulated when he said, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you…”?

Smith goes on to describe the Augustinian alternative: “…since our hearts are made to find their end in God, we will experience a besetting anxiety and restlessness when we try to love substitutes.  To be human is to have a heart.  You can’t not love. So the question isn’t whether you will love something as ultimate; the question is what you will love as ultimate. And you are what you love.”

If loves aren’t cultivated by information transfer, in other words, we can’t collect ideas in order to transform our loves.  How are our hearts oriented?  Smith explains that loves are shaped over time by the liturgical practices in our lives.  Rival liturgies are the habits we have, which over time shape what we perceive as the “good life” or the end to which our life is headed.  The book includes a lengthy metaphor of the shopping mall as the modern “church” in America; illustrating how everything from the cathedral style architecture to the economic transaction at the altar of consumerism.  It’s really interesting and comical too.  I could relate to the feeling of aimlessly strolling through a mall (or more commonly Target!) looking for something that I “need”.

The biggest takeaway from this book, for me, is the idea that what we ultimately love and desire is shaped, over time, by our daily habits.  If our family routinely spends the weekend shopping, then being a consumer is what we cultivate as “the good life”.  If we watch television each evening, our worldview is shaped to mirror that which we see in popular culture.  If we read classic, wholesome books with our children, then their desires are shaped by things that are good, true, and timeless.  When we pray before dinner, attend the Divine Service each week, read before bed, and spend time as a family, our loves are oriented toward God and family.  These little daily habits shape what we value, desire, love and ultimately you are what you love.

Here’s What Happened: January 13, 2019

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I’m writing this from a train, headed north to Oxnard for a work visit. I wrote a blog post on Sunday, but haven’t posted it yet.  I had some stories to share, but what came out was more like a book review or scholarly article.  It didn’t lead into the story I hoped to share.  I tried to make it work, then gave up.

This is something I battle regularly.  Most of my writing experience is scholarly.  Give me texts to read, a topic to research, evidence to site, and a thesis to defend and I’m golden.  But, I want this blog, and my writing in general, to be about life, feelings, what’s most important.  When I’m in the “figure things out” mindset, it’s very hard for me to connect with my emotions.  The same day that I abandoned the post referenced above, I continued reading my first Anne Lamott book – Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.  So, in addition to wanting to read everything by Anne Lamott, I’m now inspired to write what I see, what is happening around me.  She advises that writers need to pay close attention to their surroundings.  This presence enriches both our writing and our lives.

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So, here’s what happened.  On Sunday morning, we got up early for church as usual.  Dennis had the idea of encouraging the kids to get ready quickly by suggesting a Starbucks visit on the way to church.  We have a drive thru Starbucks less than a half mile from our house, it’s dangerous.  It worked; the kids got ready in record time!  Mateo started whining about wanting the “big hot chocolate” instead of the kids’ size.  I reasoned that the kids’ version is cooler and more reasonably sized, so he’ll be able to drink it on the fifteen minute drive to church.  He relented eventually and I didn’t think anything more of it.

Also, in the drive thru, I noticed my Dexcom (continuous glucose monitor) reported that my blood sugars had been “in range” 89% of the time this week.  That’s a great improvement over the prior week when I was still in holiday celebration mode and eating a lot more carbohydrates!

A little later, we were sitting in church.  I had one child on each side of me and was cuddled up with Mateo just before the sermon started.  Out of the blue, he whispered to me, “Mommy, I’m sorry I got so upset about the hot chocolate.”  Oh my heart.  I started to reply when he continued, “… and good job on your diabetes, Mom.”

Tears sprung into my eyes and I had to swallow hard.  Telling him he was forgiven, I then took a deep breath and thanked God for this precious moment of connection.

Personally, I was coming out of another cycle of feeling disconnected, being fused with my thoughts, and generally not present in the moment.  Over the previous several days, I’d been relearning lessons about the joy that comes from acceptance and presence.  Moments of tenderness are the pinnacle of joyful connection.  Mateo reminded me of that so poignantly.

Immediately after the sermon, is the collection.  While I’ve been using our monthly bill pay to electronically submit our giving for several years now, I usually give Sienna and Mateo a few dollars to put in the collection basket.  It satisfies the theological dynamic of giving within the service.  As I started to hand Mateo two dollar bills, he suddenly said “Mom, I want to give my fifty dollars.”  His grandma had given him $50 for his birthday the week before and I was carrying it in my wallet for safekeeping.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Really?  You’re sure?” I said once more.

“Yes.”

I handed him the fifty dollar bill and he promptly deposited it into the collection basket.  He then smiled at me so sweetly, I could hardly stand it.  I leaned down and whispered in his ear: “You humble me with your generosity.”  He smiled and hugged me.

The book review that I haven’t posted yet (still deciding whether I will!) is about a great book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith.   In it, Dr. Smith argues that our loves are directed by our habits.  When we cultivate habits that orient ourselves toward God, then we will seek God as our ultimate love and end.  Any other secular liturgies become rivals and orient our loves towards worldly things that ultimately don’t satisfy us.

I immediately thought of the liturgical habits that we’ve slowly, over time, instilled in our children.  The weekly giving of a few dollars into the collection, routinely confessing to one another, and forgiving one another.  Our faith tells us that Jesus did everything to accomplish our salvation and we live under his divine grace.  As such, we aren’t big on punishments or shaming the kids when they fall short.  We’re big on hugs and loving one another.  I apologize to my kids for sinning against them all the time. We are hoping to cultivate hearts of love, hope, joy, and service to others.  Within these twenty minutes last Sunday, I felt such peace.  Within twenty minutes, Mateo’s behavior and words felt like confirmation that his heart is being shaped toward loving God and relying on grace.

I am hard on myself and often feel like I’m falling short in many areas of life.  These tender moments with Mateo were a reminder that God is the one doing the growing and shaping of my children’s hearts.  I don’t have to do everything just right.  Instead we can simply orient our family toward Jesus Christ, and practice faithful liturgies. God will take care of the rest.

All the Good Things.

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Every time I come back to this blog after a prolonged silence I want to start by explaining that life has been full the past several weeks or months.  It’s once again true!  Life for me and my little family has been exceptionally full and very good the past couple months.

IMG_0973We’ve all been growing and learning by leaps and bounds.  The kids in their new wonderful school, Dennis and me as we guide them through this educational transition!  The classical Christian education at The Cambridge School is exceptional, but also a lot more work!

I’m also undergoing yet another transition at work.  My career at CBIZ has been full of growth opportunities and periods of transition.  Currently I’m training a replacement for the scheduling function as I take over management of the Admin Team, all by myself.  I had a great co-manager for the past year, but her recent promotion allowed me to grow into this role of sole manager over a team of 25 people across six locations!  I’m so excited for the opportunity to focus all my work time and effort on management, but it’s not without growing pains.

In 2018 we remodeled our living room, master bedroom and entire backyard into an outdoor living space.  At one point late this summer Mateo lamented, “Why does everything in my life have to change?!”  I could see his point and relate.  As a kid I hated when we changed things like a sofa or a car.  We sought to spend lots of time as a family cocooning the kids during this period of so much change.

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November was a packed month.  Once we got through fall “busy season” at work, my personal busier time kicked in.  I helped chaperone Sienna’s field trip to Medieval Times just the day before we left for five nights in Anaheim with my mom and my sister’s family.  We spent 4 full days at Disneyland!  Five kids and five adults was a good ratio.  They never outnumbered us and everyone had a hand to hold!  We headed to San Diego for Thanksgiving dinner at our house.  It was relaxing to kick back after all the days of Disney fun.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I headed out for a four day/three night work trip to visit offices throughout Southern California.  My mom helped Dennis hold down the fort while I was gone.  My coworkers kept asking me if my kids we’re missing me, to which I replied, “No, my mom made everyone fried chicken and Teo is getting to sleep in my bed, they’re happy!”  It was good timing to be away, since we’d just enjoyed a long span of intense togetherness. 🙂

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December truly seems to fly by faster and faster every year (as Amy Grant wisely observed)!  We enjoyed my office holiday party, Christmas on the Prado in Balboa Park, two weekends of All Star soccer tournaments, and I ran a half marathon with my friend, Leslie.  We’ve also spent many evenings watching Christmas movies and relaxing as a family and with our dear friends.

Earlier this fall I dug into The Enneagram, an ancient system of personality types, and learned that I’m undoubtedly a Type 1: The Perfectionist (or, The Improver).  This realization has been very helpful as I continue to embrace a growth mindset and let go of my need for control.  I’ve had a few episodes of painful growth, including losing it over Teo’s performance in a soccer tournament.  Not my best moment.  That’s an understatement.  I felt relatively balanced and present as work became busier this fall, but eventually I started fusing with the thoughts “I’m overwhelmed!” and “I don’t want to be this busy!” a couple weeks ago.

When I start believing my thoughts, I retreat into my mind and away from the present moment.  Fortunately, I’m more in touch with my feelings and can fairly quickly identify the problem.  The solution is always the same: pray, acknowledge my weaknesses and sinfulness, surrender, look around me at what matters most, pray some more, be intentional with my actions.  Repeat. Repeat again.

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This past Friday I attended my first Lessons & Carols program at The Cambridge School.  The kids each performed a carol with their class and Sienna also performed with the choir.  The lessons and music were exactly what I needed to slow down and focus on the advent season more fully.  My dear friend Michelle arrived for a holiday visit the same evening.  It’s always such a joy to reconnect with her!  She asked the kids about their new school and teachers.  Sienna explained that her favorite thing about the school is “…they don’t stifle my creativity.  They let us talk about myths and legends!”

When Teo and I tried to describe his teacher, I said, “She’s so wise, poised, loving and incredibly gifted with communicating with the kids…”  Teo chimed in, “She is all the good words.”  I loved the sweet, simple honesty of that statement.   It truly describes not only Teo’s incredible teacher but all the gifts we enjoy in this life.  As Christmas and New Year are upon us, I’m so thankful for all the grace and love we have through Christ Jesus.  As we all grow and change, He is constant in providing all we need for this life and the next.

Merry Christmas!