Alexandra Kuykendall: You know, in the end we want to not miss the life that God has for us. He has gifted us every day with a new day. And so, we can go into that Groundhog Day experience with an attitude of dread, or we can go into it recognizing the pain and the grief but saying, “God, I want to find you in it, and I know that there is good in there.”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Alexandra Kuykendall, and she’s our guest today on Focus on the Family with your host, Focus President and Author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And, uh, she’s going to be talking about helping you glean some life lessons from the pandemic so you can dig in and find the beauty in ordinary life during these rather extraordinary times.
Jim Daly: And John, we often share powerful life changing stories on the broadcast. And those are great opportunities for ministry. But right now, when life is uncertain and the news we read is still, uh, pretty intense, uh, I think what we’re all craving are simple day-to-day reminders of God’s goodness and provision for us. Um-
John: I, I think that’s true. I mean, the, the, these stay-at-home orders and shelter-at-home and safe-at-home orders are starting to lift, and people are starting to kind of year to go back to ordinary, whatever that is.
John: And, uh, we, we do need some time to kind of think through, “What just happened? How’d that work out?”
Jim: Yeah. Well, exactly. And today we want to take some time to reflect on the positive things we’ve learned through this crisis and how those can improve our relationships as we move forward. And I can’t think of a better person to do that than Alexandra.
John: Yeah, we’re really pleased to have her back. Um, she has been on a few times before. And Alexandra is a wife and a mom of four girls. The youngest is eight, the oldest is 17.
John: And she’s, uh, written a number of books. The one that, uh, really seems to have resonated with our audience in the past that we’re coming back to today is called, Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me.
John: And of course, we’ve got that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Alexandra, welcome back to Focus.
Alexandra: Oh, thank you. It’s great to be here.
Jim: All right. You’ve described this crisis, uh, the stay-at-home orders as a recalibration. So, tell us how you’re seeing it as a recalibration.
Alexandra: Well, all of the extras of life were canceled really. I am a mom who was just transitioning out of basketball season.
Alexandra: I have three basketball players, and we had four teams going. My husband was coaching one. So, we were going from a season where on Friday nights we had three games at three different places. So, literally, running from the car into the gym.
Alexandra: Um, and we were transitioning into soccer season, and then all of a sudden everything stopped. So, we went from a schedule that really was too insane to a schedule where we were all at home, all six of us.
Alexandra: And we have never, I will say, we have never spent eight weeks, all six of us, in the same house nonstop. So, in a way, we were getting (laughs) to know each other a little bit, but we were starting to ask ourselves what makes a life. Because these things that were regular components that we found to be pretty ordinary things were all of a sudden gone. And yet, God was still present, and our life was still moving forward.
And so, it brought us back to the essentials, which was we were waking up every day. We needed to get some work done, but we were together in an intense way. And so, it really just forced us to ask what makes our life. What is key? And as we start to maybe reenter life and add things in, what do we want to add in and what do we not want to add back in?
Jim: Yeah. And that’s a good evaluation of what’s taken place. I think Jean and I, uh, particularly in the parenting modality, that’s what we’ve noticed as well, that all the … kind of the time pressure things that we’ve added to get going, you know, you, you, you, you do the work thing. Then you come home and you’ve got a camping coming up, or you’ve got the basketball season or what have you. It has been a revelation to really see how much pressure we add to our family life when it comes to a busy schedule and how, I think, negative that is.
Alexandra: Right. We, we’re just exhausted. And so, the last few months we’ve been sleeping more (laughs). We definitely have been eating more together-
Alexandra: … as a family. I mean, just volume of food, but also frequency. Our schedule is available for us to sit down and have dinner together every night.
Alexandra: Now that it’s nice out, we’ve been going on walks. I can’t remember the last time we went on a walk as a family, um, in the last few years with all of the crazy crazy. So, it just has brought us back to some simple things.
Jim: Yeah. I, uh, it’s funny, you mentioned because of your four girls. Having two boys on our end, we’ll say, “Hey, you guys want to go for a walk (laughs)?” And they’re like, “Nah.”
Alexandra: (laughs) Yeah.
Jim: “We’re going to, we’re going to do something else.” (laughs) And so-
Alexandra: Well, and our girls would say that too before, but now, there’s nothing else to do. They want to get out of the house. So-
Jim: I thought that may just be that wonderful compliant-
Jim: … woman, girl thing that they want to do it with you because they’re just wonderful daughters. (laughs)
Alexandra: No. I will say, last night we started, all six of us, and people peeled off. And at the end, the youngest and I were the last ones to come home. So, it, it sometimes-
Alexandra: You just have to go with the waves of people’s involvement (laughs). So-
Jim: That’s for sure. You, you say in your wonderful book that, uh, being intentional is really critical. Kind of that day to day living is a way to trust God with our lives. Um, kind of unfold that for us. What does that mean to live intentionally and noticing God in that intentionality?
Alexandra: Right. Well, we’ve experienced this Groundhog Day kind of experience-
Jim: (laughs) That’s good.
Alexandra: … where we wake up every morning (laughs), and the day in front of us looks very much like yesterday. And tomorrow doesn’t promise to look much different. And so, how do we intentionally order our days so that they’re components to things we want to get done, um, and things that we need to do to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally and spiritually? And then how do we intentionally make some joy in the midst of this grief?
Now, I will say, I am a family that has been impacted, obviously, by the pandemic. But my husband has not lost his job, so we are not experiencing the pressure of income loss. And we have stayed home, because my husband is in a higher risk category with the virus. So, we have some stress around medical issues, but every family is carrying different types of stress, but we’re all carrying stress. And so, how do we intentionally take care of ourselves, keep ourselves safe, and at the same time, take care of our bodies and our minds and our spirits in the process?
Jim: Yeah, and that’s really good. You know, it’s, it’s interesting, uh, several years ago, it’s almost like the Lord gave you a peek into what you were going to go through in the future. But you did an experiment of some sort, uh, with your life, and kind of the stay-at-home orders have caused you to revisit that experiment. What was the experiment? Kind of explain it to the listeners. And what did you learn in that context?
Alexandra: My motivation with the experiment was to not miss the gifts that God had for me in the everyday ordinary of my life. And so, as the pandemic hit and the stay-at-home orders were in place, I thought, “Okay, I can either complain about all of the things that we’ve lost or the things I don’t like about this, or I can look for what God has for me today in this and has for our family.”
So, the experiment I did nine months ago is I decided to look at a different area of my life for a month at a time.
So, some things were kind of big, like creativity, uh, or quiet. And other things were much more practical, like home organization or meal planning. And I just kind of had the idea if I focus in on this one area for my life, maybe I can streamline some things and make them go better and be more intentional about how I use my time. But maybe I can also see new aspects of who God is and what he has for me through those areas.
Jim: Yeah, and in Loving My Actual Life, which is a great title, I love that, you mention this idea finding quiet. And I can imagine (laughs), uh, it’s kind of hard to find that in the house with four girls running around. How many bathrooms do you have, by the way, seven?
Alexandra: We have two. We manage with two pretty well (laughs).
Jim: Oh, two bathrooms. Oh, that’s got to be tough on your husband.
Alexandra: (laughs) Yes, well, he-
Jim: Five girls and one guy. (laughs)
Alexandra: He is sometimes asking, “Is there a bathroom I can use right now?”
Jim: He probably has to put his name on the chalkboard to get in, right?
Alexandra: Yeah (laughs). Yeah.
Jim: But, uh, uh, speak to the finding quiet. I think that is kind of what we were alluding to earlier, but how do we be intentional about finding that quiet?
Alexandra: It’s hard, we’ll say, when there are six people at home. And so, the intentionality is, “How can I find quiet? And what exactly is quiet?”
And so, for me, I realized that quiet was in part the noise, the audible noise in my life. And so, I get up early or I go sit outside. I try to separate myself physically from people. But part of it is the quiet of the spirit, too. How do I quiet myself and not let my thoughts go crazy, my fears go crazy during this uncertain time?
And so, part of it was going back to God when those thoughts would kind of start going out of control. And I really think part of quieting our spirit is quieting our intake. We live in a world where we can consume so much information. And in a time when there’s a lot of uncertain information out there around circumstances that feel scary to a lot of us, I think just cutting out our intake of information can be helpful too in going back to who God is and what he has promised us. Now, I will say, every day I try to check in with my local news and my national news. And I have sources that I find to be reliable in that, uh, because I do want to know what’s going on. But at the same time, I can over-consume, and that can create chaos in my spirit.
Jim: Yeah, that’s, um, well said. I think, uh, a reasonable diet of news at this time-
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: … is a good thing. You don’t want to take in too many caloric news stories (laughs) if I can say it that way.
Alexandra: Exactly. Right. Right.
Jim: It’s like eating Big Macs (laughs).
Alexandra: It is. And you know how you feel after you eat a whole bunch of Big Macs, not great.
Jim: (laughs) Not great. Agitated maybe.
Alexandra: Right (laughs).
Jim: Um, you, uh… Also, uh, the creativity of finding quiet, you and your husband … I don’t know who came up with the idea, but you can tell us, the driveway-
Jim: … driveway dating. That one caught my eye, obviously (laughs). And we’re not talking about high school stuff. Right?
Alexandra: No. Well, we’re not. But it kind of came just naturally. We weren’t really … This wasn’t a time when it wasn’t intentional, but as we were experiencing, I thought, “Oh, we need to do this again,” which that’s part of intentionality. When you discover something accidentally that works, –
Jim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alexandra: … you want to then be intentional about implementing it again. So, we needed to talk about some adult kinds of things. And we didn’t (laughs) want to be interrupted. And we were so tired of being able to talk in 30 second increments. And so, we thought, “Where can we go to just have a conversation?” And we realized, the car.
Alexandra: We can go sit in the car. And so, we, we, uh, made a pot of coffee. We each took our coffee (laughs) out to the car. We turned the car around in the driveway so that it was facing away from the house and into the street, because we were just trying to create this mental barrier from our home. We couldn’t leave the house, but we could certainly not face the house. And-
Jim: Well, that’s good you qualified that, because I thought you were planning a getaway (laughs).
Alexandra: No. Well, no. No, we just fantasized. No, I’m kidding. We, we’ve really had a great time with our kids.
But we did need to have that alone time. And so, we sat in the car and had a conversation. And we live in a very pedestrian heavy neighborhood. And so, people were walking by, and they looked at us a little bit like, “What are you guys doing?” (laughs). But I think then they quickly realized, “Oh, we know what you’re doing. You’re sitting in your car so you can have a conversation.” And so, it just was a lovely way to spend 45 minutes, uh, uninterrupted.
Jim: I’m going to have to try that with Jean, I think. We’re going to do some car driveway dating. That might be fun.
Alexandra: Yeah (laughs).
John: And I hope, uh, that works out well for you two and that you can really have some good talk time that way.
Our guest today on Focus on the Family is Alexandra Kuykendall. And, uh, she’s written a great book, Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me. And of course, we have copies of that. Uh, give us a call or stop by our website. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or online we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Hey, Alex, uh, another area … And I, I’m so proud of Jean because we.. This is a natural rhythm for our family, but that, that family mealtime, uh, idea. I mean, I cannot remember a night that we missed a family mealtime as, you know, when I’m at home and not traveling, et cetera.
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: And when I’m not there, Jean keeps that rhythm going with the boys. And now it’s poor Troy who has to sit there and we say, “H-how was your day, Troy?”, in more than one word.
Jim: (laughs) And, you know, “How did that make you feel, Troy? And what are you going to do tomorrow, Troy?” So, mealtime’s really been one of those, uh, steadfast things that the Daly household has always committed to.
But for people that have been busy and the, uh, pandemic has shown them a different, uh, angle on this to actually have meal time together, speak to that revelation and the need to keep that moving forward, uh, even when, you know, the culture’s opened up again.
Alexandra: Yeah. Well, I think we’ve really remembered how much we love it. And it’s closely tied to food, too. I’ve heard moms over and over say, “How are we creating so many dishes? And how are we eating so much food right now?” Because-
Alexandra: … everybody’s home all the time. It’s like summer, but all the time. And I want to remember when we sit down together that I want to continue to do this once our life starts getting a little bit busier and a little bit more hectic. Our kids have looked forward to that coming together time.
Now, I will say we kind of joke in our house that we’re together all the time right now. So, sitting down to a meal isn’t, um, as much as a coming together as it is at the end of a busy day when we’ve all been at school and work. But that just emphasizes how much more important that is during those busy times.
And so, mealtime is a great time for adults to lead a conversation. It helps us to introduce new topics to our kids. It helps with older kids to start getting some perspectives and, um, insight going into how they think about things and how we think about things.
Now, if you have younger kids who have a hard time sitting at the table, I want to recognize that and to say just having that rhythm of everyone coming together, and maybe it’s only for 15 minutes until the three year old is up and running around, but it creates a sense of safety and of predictability for that three year old that is invaluable.
Jim: Yeah, it’s so good. In fact, uh, there’s lots of conversation starters and question books out there. Jean and I, the other night, it was pretty funny actually because the question we looked at … And Focus has some of these questions that you can ask around your dinner table. Uh, ours was, uh, what would be three autographs that you would want to collect?
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: And quickly we’re all (laughs), “Jesus, Peter and Paul.”
Jim: “Okay, now we’ve got to think of people outside of the faith and, uh … ” You know, so we moved to sports figures and others. But those are the kind of questions that are kind of fun. And, and you know, the kids light up, and they think about it. So, it’s good.
Hey, Alex, another, uh, area that you cover in your wonderful book, Loving My Actual Life, is this idea of adventure. Now, I love that. I think that is, um, refreshing in your family structure, you know, in your marriage certainly, in your parenting, to have a sense of adventure. It’s a little more difficult right now with everything kind of being in a shelter-in-place or an only go out if you need to kind of environment. So, how do you invoke uh, a sense of adventure regularly? And then how do you do it in this circumstance?
Alexandra: When I wrote this chapter, I was really thinking about the mom, the parent that is stuck in the mundane of everyday life. I’m standing at the sink washing the same dishes I washed yesterday. I’m filling the same sippy cup. I’m cutting the same carrots. Where is the beauty in my life? Is this as good as it’s going to get kind of mentality.
And what I realized is that, you know, for a lot of us, we can’t go out and do it an around the world trip or climb a fourteener like we used to be able to do or run a marathon. The time constraints, the physical constraints, financial constraints, they’re not there to do what we would maybe picture as a big adventure. But we can mix up our life. That’s really what it gets to, is how do we create some mini adventures in our day to day life, which means driving to school a different way or letting our kids decide how we drive to school. It’s making something new for dinner. It’s, uh, trying a new craft or planting a new plant. It just is mixing things up a little bit.
So, during the pandemic when we’re living in this Groundhog Day of kind of every day is an open canvas where you can decide, “This is how I’m going to fill my day.” You know there are some things that need to get done. Kids need to get their schoolwork done. If you’re working remotely, you need to get your work done. The house needs to be cleaned. But how can you mix it up and create an interesting day so that it doesn’t feel just like yesterday and the last 25 days?
Jim: John, I think this is a good place. I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but barbarian night is the right way to go.
Jim: Throw out the picnic, uh, cloth and, and let the kids eat spaghetti with no utensils and no hands. It’s face first.
Jim: And mom’s going to cringe, but dads are going to have a lot of fun with this one. And just, you know, get your face in those noodles and suck them up (laughs). So, uh, but that kind of thing is a lot of fun. And the kids will enjoy it for sure. Um, you did something … We both have, uh, 17-year-old juniors, I believe.
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: And, uh, you know, I thought of these school seniors that are missing so much of the end of their senior year, the prom. And, you know-
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: … they don’t get that back. Uh, juniors will hopefully have a chance to do everything next year as seniors. But my heart breaks for those seniors to enjoy the last semester, it’s gone.
Alexandra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: And they’re not going to have that back. And that is unfortunate in so many ways. But what did you do with your junior to make sure she didn’t have a, a total bad experience?
Alexandra: Right. We realized school was going to be canceled for three weeks, and that was not within the window of prom. So, our hope was that prom was still going to happen at the end of April. And then as it became clear that prom was going to be canceled, she was disappointed. And that’s the reality, we are all experiencing disappointments right now. But we thought, “How can we still make something special happen on a day when she’s feeling sad about the disappointment?”
And so, we asked her if it would be okay if we ordered takeout that night. We hadn’t ordered takeout from a restaurant up to that point. Uh, so she got to pick where we ordered food from. She got her dress on. We knew that she wanted to take pictures. So, we kind of all got dressed up too and took some pictures and had a really fun night stuck at home all together. But it felt different and it set the evening apart from all of the other evenings where we were eating dinner at home during the stay-at-home orders.
So, it was a memory that she will remember. It wasn’t the prom that she had hoped for. But it’s also a memory that the rest of us are going to remember. My younger girls knew that the night was all about their oldest sister. And it was very sweet to see how they rallied around her. Now, we can’t make our kids react and respond (laughs) in the ways that we hope they will. But when they do, it is a wonderful gift. And she went along with it. She was, um, you know, she’s 17. It’s not the prom that she thought she was going to have.
Alexandra: But it was better than sitting at home in our pajamas. And so, um, it’s those moments that we can make with intentionality happen without a lot of work. Um, I just went into my closet and picked out the fanciest dress I could find, and I put it on. It wasn’t a big production, but it made the night stand out.
Jim: Yeah, it made it special. Just let her know on the boy side of this equation … So, my junior, we were, I was teaching him how to drive a stick shift because he wanted to take a little car that I have, uh, for the prom-
Alexandra: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Jim: … night. So, all that got suspended, uh, when prom was not going to happen. So, he was disappointed (laughs) in that. And we’ve still got to teach him how to drive that stick so that he can have fun next year. But, uh-
Jim: You know. Um, anyway, uh, Alex, um, we’re right up against the clock now. Your book, Loving My Actual Life, let me end with that obvious question. Uh, you break out a way to focus on how to love your actual life using that phrase. What is it?
Alexandra: You know, in the end we want to not miss the life that God has for us. He has gifted us every day with a new day. And so, we can go into that Groundhog Day experience with an attitude of dread, or we can go into it recognizing the pain and the grief but saying, “God, I want to find you in it, and I know that there is good in there.” And so, if I love my life, that means that I really cherish it, that I relish it, that I’m grateful for it. Um, if I love my life, it means I’m not comparing my life and my circumstances to other people’s, because right now that’s very easy to do. And so, I try to stay off social media, but I also just try to check my heart and recognize God has put me in a unique place with a unique family.
My actual life, that means the life I’m living today under circumstances I didn’t ask for or choose, but it is the reality that I needed to deal with. And it is a life. And I have to recognize that God creates life. And I am grateful to breathe every day, to experience what he has for me while I have a short time here on Earth. And so, loving my actual life is really an attitude of being grateful and looking for God in every corner, in every space, in every experience because he is there.
Jim: Yeah, that’s really good. Alexandra, it’s been so good to have you on Focus. Thank you for being with us.
Alexandra: Aww…thanks for having me and for being interested in talking about loving the everyday during this time.
Jim: It’s such a good reminder to use this time as a way to re-calibrate and re-prioritize your family and, uh, to really put the emphasis on what matters most.
John: Yeah. It’s, uh, it’s interesting, Jim, isn’t it that sometimes a simple reminder can have a really profound impact on us.
Jim: That’s true, John. And we’re hearing that from listeners as well. Uh, one woman named Shelly told us that she listened to one of our recent broadcasts with Dr. Kathy Koch. Uh, she wrote down the four main points and hung them in two rooms of her house.
John: Yeah. I think, uh, I think she also went onto say that she, uh, not, not only posts those but let’s those be a reminder every day to rely on God. Again, a simple reminder with a profound impact.
Jim: Well, and I love the simplicity. That’s what you’re, uh, addressing.
And I want to thank those of you who make this broadcast possible. I mean, especially our monthly sustainers. It’s because of your support, uh, that people like Shelly can get encouragement and do the right thing and hopefully change the course of their marriage, their parenting, their relationship with God.
And, you know, John, so often we, uh, fail to mention this, but usually every year, about 280,000 to 300,000 people are making a commitment to Christ or rededicating their life to the Lord because of listening to Focus on the Family.
And man, my hat goes off to the supporters. And, you know, oftentimes I’ll mention this, um, you know, in God’s economy, you’re making that happen. We may be the hands and feet right here at Focus that put the broadcast together or the podcast or the YouTube version of this, and, you know, that’s great. But you, the supporter, are the ones that accrue it to your account.
I totally believe that is how God sees it. And I hope you feel that. So often, uh, all of us fail to mention that from time to time. But God knows that. And I hope if you haven’t supported Focus, you’ll step up and be a part of the ministry and not to our, uh, credit, but to yours.
Jim: Uh, recognize God’s work in your life by helping others through Focus. It’s a wonderful thing to do and I think a great investment.
John: Well, and, uh, Jim and I both are committed to being monthly, uh, donors to the ministry. I hope you’ll join us in that. Uh, we do understand, uh, times are tough for some folks. If perhaps you can just make a one-time gift, either way, uh, contribute to the work of Focus on the Family today and we’ll send a copy of Alexandra’s book to you. It’d be our privilege to thank you in that way and to put this great resource into your hand. Again, it’s called Loving My Actual Life. Uh, and you can call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to contribute and to get that book.
John: Well, coming up next time, we’ll be taking a look at the future – what heaven is like.
Randy Alcorn: It’s a tunnel, or it’s a doorway, that you go through to be with the Lord. And to be with the Lord forever.