Mrs. Alexandra Kuykendall: And it was that slowing down and noticing what God was doing already, that allowed me to change my heart posture to one of gratitude and being grateful for the gifts that He has given me and when I embrace those gifts daily, I’m loving my actual life more.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Alexandra Kuykendall joins us today on “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, today we want to help families. We want to help marriages particularly have a healthy thriving relationship, but not just in marriage, in every relationship in your life. You know, in this life, we’re getting so busy that it’s hard to concentrate on what means the most to us and what matters the most to us.
And I think today this is the time to grab a cup of tea or a cup of coffee. Put your feet up and kick back for the next 25 minutes or so and listen to some great wisdom from our guest.
John: Yeah, Alexandra Kuykendall is gonna help us really think through some things, some priorities. She wrote a great book. It’s called Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me. And it’s the telling of her nine-month experiment to kind of rekindle a love for what she called “ordinary life.” And in addition to her writing, Alex is a speaker, a podcaster and a retreat hostess. (Laughter) And she’s married to Derek and they have four girls, ages 5 to 14.
Jim: You are one busy mom.
Alexandra: I am (Laughter), as most moms are.
Jim: How did you have time to write a book and come to Focus?
Alexandra: (Laughing) Well, I was writing about my life, so that helped.
Jim: (Laughing) Welcome, by the way.
Alexandra: Thank you.
Jim: It’s so good to have you here. What sparked this idea about loving my actual life, as compared to your not actual life? (Laughing)
Alexandra: Well, you know, I think we go into marriage and parenting, really adulthood with expectations of how it’s gonna go. And then real life hits and the mundane kind of kicks in and we start living in what I call the “when’s” and “if only’s.” When this happens, then life will be better.
So, as parents, we do that a lot with our kids. When the baby’s sleeping through the night, when I’m pregnant again, when the kids are off at school, then I’ll have more time for myself. If only we had a bigger house, then we could have people over. If only he got a promotion and then we could afford to go on vacation, then life would be good.
And I didn’t want to live that way and I realized that I was living for the future and I had a few major life events happen that kind of caught my attention. The first was, I had a dear friend whose husband died unexpectedly.
Jim: How old was he?
Alexandra: He was my age at the time, so around 40 and he left her with three children. The youngest was still in preschool and that was a wake-up call to me that tomorrow is not promised, because in my mind they were living life the right way. You know, he was a healthy guy and it was a total sudden surprise.
Jim: Yeah, when you look at that, how many years would you say it took you to come to this realization that maybe it’s not about tomorrow, it’s about right now and today?
Alexandra: Well, pretty soon after that I thought, I need to make some changes in my life. And the other thing that caught my attention is my oldest daughter was entering middle school. And as a mom, right away, a number popped in my head—seven. We have seven years left with her at home. And I get kind of emotion whenever I talk about it because it was the countdown.
Alexandra: Like we had been on the upswing and now we were starting to go downhill and it was starting to feel really fast. And I thought, if I don’t stop and pay attention, I’m gonna regret that I was so busy during these years and that I was striving in lots of ways to do really good things, but I was missing my ordinary life.
Jim: It’s an epiphany. You basically had this epiphany through an unfortunate tragic accident. In that context, what did that lead you to do? You talked about your nine-month adventure.
Jim: What is it and why did you go there?
Alexandra: Well, I realized it was this combination of, I want to maximize the time that I have right now with my family, with my kids at home and my life is filled with busy tasks. So, how can I break down my life in kind of manageable ways and examine it in order to love it a little more, so that I’m not living in the “when” and the “if only’s.”
So, I decided I can’t really tackle my whole life at once, that’s just too overwhelming, but what if I looked at one area of my life at a time? And so, I chose nine months for the entire length of my experiment, because for moms, we tend to think in nine-month chunks.
Alexandra: You know, I’ve been pregnant four times and the school year is nine-months’ long. So, I thought, nine months works. And so, I took a different area of my life for nine months at a time.
Jim: Each month a different area.
Alexandra: Each month a different area and thought, if I just focus in on this and if I make small changes, will I enjoy my days a little more and will I be present with my family a little more? And I don’t say this in the book, but my gauge kind of was, if I can make the change in the next 24 hours, I’m more likely to actually do it and it’s more likely to be sustainable. So, it needed to be small enough that I could do it.
Jim: Right and you’re saying you emphasized that thing for a month, but hopefully, to develop a habit -that you don’t jettison it when you go to the next thing, correct? You’re still deploying those good habits that you learned in that month.
Alexandra: Right and so, I learned practical things. I learned a lot about myself, how I’m wired, that some things come naturally to me and others don’t. And I learned some ways to manage and do things better, but in a lot of cases, I simply had a perspective change that I wasn’t expecting, ’cause I was going into the month thinking I’m gonna have these practical changes and that’s gonna help me do life better, but really when I started looking at life differently, that was what changed my heart.
Jim: What are the nine, if I could ask you? And then we’re gonna concentrate on those that are relational, that kind of the marriage ones, but give us the nine.
Alexandra: Sure, well, it’s a combination of kind of big picture and then really practical from a mom’s standpoint.
Alexandra: So, I started with quiet, because quiet, I can’t even hear myself think some days and I thought, if I’m gonna start this experiment, I need to really head God speak to me and I can’t unless I just stop.
Jim: You labeled it, “Bring It Down.”
Alexandra: Yes. (Laughter)
Jim: I like that better than quiet, ’cause that speaks to most moms’ hearts right there. Just bring it down.
Alexandra: That’s right; there’s constant noise in my house and in my life. So, that was the first month and then mornings, our morning routines. So, I titled that “First Things First,” because really we do set the tone for the day by how our morning goes as a family.
And I realized as I was yelling at kids to find their shoes and yelling at them to get out of the car at school because the car behind me was honking, we were constantly rushed and harried. I wasn’t sending them off into the world well.
Jim: Do you think moms really understand how valuable they are in setting that thermometer? I mean, they’re it. They’re the Mercury.
Alexandra: When we stopped and consider it, yes, but we’re so busy that I think we’re just in that mode of getting lunches made, getting out the door. In Colorado, we have to have gloves and hats and snow boots (Laughter) part of the year and–
Jim: Part of the day.
Alexandra: –right, (Laughter) the frenzy of getting everybody ready, not to mention my poor husband. You know, as I’m running around trying to get everyone out the door for the day, he’s setting out on his day, too and I want to send him off well.
Jim: So, you have “Bring it Down,” “First Things First” and then the third one, “My Peeps.”
Alexandra: My peeps. (Laughter) So, one of the things I realized is, I am surrounded by people all day long, but am I having quality time with them? There is a difference between again, telling my kids to pick up their room and really being with them.
So, how can I connect? So, I didn’t focus in just on my relationship with my husband, it was just all the people around me. How can I maximize my time with people? That was my goal.
Jim: That’s good. Hit No. 4.
Alexandra: Four was being kind to my body, just my physical health. So, as a mom, I tend to take care of everybody else’s physical needs. I feed them. I make sure they bathe. (Laughter) I take them to soccer practice, so they’re getting exercise.
Jim: Oh, that’s right. You have four girls. (
Alexandra: That’s right. (Laughter)
Jim: Bathing may come a little easier than our house.
Alexandra: That’s right; I don’t quite probably have as many fights as some (Laughter) moms do, but I’m constantly meeting other people’s needs. Doctors’ appointments is [are] a great example. I make sure my kids go their pediatrician appointments, but I had to ask myself, when was the last time I went for a checkup, not because something was wrong, but because I have a body that needs to be taken care of?
Alexandra: So, that was the fourth month. And the fifth was “Unleashing the Wild,” adventure. Now this gets a little bit to the mundane of life, of waking up and realizing, you know, today isn’t really looking much different than yesterday. And when I look at tomorrow, it’s not promising to be much different either And the “boredom” almost, which is a funny word for moms to use, because when my kids tell me they’re bored, I hear them say, “I don’t have anything to do.”
Alexandra: I always have something to do, but the tasks can be very routine. So, how do we address the routine just to mix it up a little? The six month was probably my weakest point personally and I went into it knowing this and that’s home organization.
Alexandra: So, I called it “Pushing Through the Piles,” because I literally have piles of laundry and dishes in my home. So, I also know that for everyone in my household does better if our house has some kind of order to it. I feel better. My husband definitely feels better when he comes home from his day at work. And my kids feel better if it’s not in total chaos. So, knowing who I am, how do I make some small changes in that are?
The seventh month was the month that I say was hardest for me to really value and that’s creativity. And I called it, “Love Is In the Details.” And you know, God has wired each of us to be a creator. If we know anything about Him, we know that He is the Creator. And if we know anything about ourselves, it’s that we are made in His image.
Therefore, we are meant to be creative, but what that looks like for me or for somebody else is going to be different. For my mom, her creative outlet is gardening. For me it happens to be writing. For others it’s cooking. So, if we spend a little bit of time each day in those elements, we are going to feel closer to Him and feel better about or ordinaries. And so, that felt like, almost like a frivolous topic, but as I got into that month, I realized, no, this really is necessary to live into God’s purposes for me.
Jim: Yeah. Okay, what’s next? I mean, we’re almost there.
Alexandra: Well, I think most moms will relate to this, meals was the eighth month and I called it, “Three Times a Day,” but I quickly realized no, it’s really all day long.
John: Yeah. (Laughter) Fourteen, fifteen meals a day.
Alexandra: Right, especially if you have kids at home in the summertime.
Alexandra: I was doing that month in the summer and snacks, it’s just this constant need to feed people.
Jim: All the friends, yeah.
Alexandra: And this was not rocket science. This was, if you have a plan, things will go better. And what I learned that month though had more to do with welcoming people to the table and that God’s provision is abundant in our life and that He uses food often as an example to talk about abundance and also hospitality. And so, those were areas where I went a little deeper.
Jim: Yeah, it’s so good. That’s eight. What’s No. 9?
Alexandra: So, 9, the last one to kind of wrap it up was passion. And I title that, “I Am Made to Do Great Things.” And this gets a little bit to the creativity element, but about how God has wired me. How has He wired me so that I have a unique purpose in the world? Part of that is being a mom and a wife, but part of it is other things, too, whether it’s ministry in my church or paid work or simply an interest that I like to participate in. If I feed that passion just a little bit every day, again, I’m not going to wake up resentful for the tasks that are ahead, but excited that this little interest is going to be fed.
John: Well, we’re listening to some great insights from Alexandra Kuykendall and her book is called Loving My Actual Life. It’s a reflection of her experiment of trying to make sure she’s not overlooking what’s taking place right here and right now. And we’ll have copies of that book and of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we’ll send a CD to you. It’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Alex, I really like the overall theme of what you have done here and in some ways as I hear you express it, it’s almost the countercultural thing for women today, to embrace their God-given role, if I could say it that way and be politically correct, I mean, that it’s good to be a woman, that you give life. You nurture life. You provide life. It’s an awesome thing and right now in this culture, so many women seem conflicted about what their identity is and what their role is and do we want to be men? Or what do we want to be? And I love the refreshing approach of, hey, this is my actual life and I’m gonna embrace it.
Let’s concentrate on three or four of them that deal in the marital space and certainly, if you want to expand that to parenting, whatever you want to do in the application, but month No. 3 caught my attention where you focused on dating. And certainly, that’s something we encourage people to do here at Focus, is to do date nights and John and I may struggle occasionally with our wives on that, but—
Jim: –occasionally. (Laughter) But it’s something good to aim at, so talk about how in that month, what specifically did you do to say, okay, this month I’m gonna really concentrate on dating my husband?
Alexandra: Well, it’s funny, ’cause the term “date night” is not something that we tend to use in our house.
Alexandra: In fact, we tend to be a little bit smug about it, like we don’t need to set aside that time. We’re so romantic. (Laughter) We want to be spontaneous. You know, we don’t do big Valentine’s Day or anniversary, ’cause we just want it to be organic. Well, what happens is that life takes over.
Jim: It’s called “weeds.”
Alexandra: And it’s called (Laughter) “children,” too, right? So, at the beginning of the month, I sat down with my calendar, which is on my computer and every person in our family has a different color. And so, the more colorful the computer screen, the busier I know we are as a family.
And I thought, I’m going to pencil in time with each person in my family—one-on-one time. And I got overwhelmed and I didn’t do it, because we were so busy I couldn’t find a regular chunk of time to be with my husband. And so, I walked away from that computer and thought, okay, well, I’m just gonna have to squeeze it into our regular schedule.
And I did this month even in February, which is Valentine’s Day, right? And at the end of the month, I looked back and I thought, we didn’t have one significant date. Had I made it happen and put it on the calendar at the beginning of the month, we would’ve done it. But because I walked away from that calendar, we didn’t make it happen because we’re so busy.
Now I did find some great ways to kind of sneak it in and take advantage. But I think schedule really does make a difference and that’s again, not rocket science. Like there’s no huge big news here to any person, but if you put it on the calendar and are intentional, it’s just more likely to happen.
Jim: And that was the thing you learned in essence.
Alexandra: That’s what I learned.
Jim: Be more intentional about doing that, at least once a month if not more often.
Alexandra: Right and just last night my husband called me on his way home from work. He was in traffic and he needed to get his exercise in and he said, “Why don’t we go for a walk.” And now our kids are old enough that, since we have a 14-year-old, we can leave them at home. And we went for a walk for 20 minutes. And it was a way for him to get some exercise and for us to spend some one-on-one time together that was just part of our schedule anyway.
Jim: And that leads right into another one of your monthly desires, was health and that’s an important feature. How have you worked that out? I think that’s where Jean and I maybe struggle the most. We seem so busy with the travel schedule and taking care of our teen boys and all the home and school issues. I think Jean’s like the school mom (Laughing) and does so much there at the school that she’s really busy with that. It’s hard to find time for ourselves to just go out and do a walk or something like that, but we have to do it, don’t we?
Alexandra: We do and when Derek and I, we’re in that really non-sexy part of our lives, that middle life (Laughter) and our bodies are changing and we can’t get away with the things we could when we were 25. If we eat Cheetos, we’re gonna know it. (Laughter)
Jim: Right. (Laughter)
Alexandra: And I’ve had four children and it’s just the changing of our bodies is a reality. So, if we can encourage each other in healthy behaviors, [it’s a good thing].
Jim: How do we embrace that though? I mean, I love [that] you’re very factual. You know, these are things, “I was seeing a deficit in my attitude, in my life. I put ’em out. I did a nine-month plan. I concentrated on them and they helped me to live life better.” That’s a beautiful thing to do, but how do we embrace that? That took some motivation, I guess is what I’m saying. Not everybody feels that motivated in that (Laughing ) middle part of life that you described, where Cheetos make a difference.
Alexandra: Right. (Laughing) I know.
Jim: How do you get motivated to make a change like that?
Alexandra: Well, I think part of it was the reality of knowing that tomorrow is not promised and we’re likely to be around and to be able to enjoy life more fully, we’re able to thrive if we are healthy. This was one of the months where I really had a big perspective shift, because especially for women when we go into a goal of, I’m going to exercise better and eat better, it often has to do with, I want my body to look different than it does right now. That’s my motivation. Either swimsuit season is coming or simply, I want to fit into those jeans again.
As I entered this month, I realized, you know, I’m pretty fortunate. It’s kind of like the food in the cabinet, right at dinner time. I’m fortunate that I have a body that works. I’m fortunate that I had a body that made four beautiful people. I am fortunate that my husband finds me attractive right now, the way that it is.
And I’m gonna live into that, because part of middle age is, I’m getting serious about [the fact that] God has purposes for me. And if I take care of my physical self, I am better able to do His purposes in the world. And I think of all the ways I use my body to impact the world. I hug my children. I’m intimate with my husband. I wave to people. I walk across the room so that I can sit at my computer and use my fingers and my brain to write words of encouragement to people.
So, my body is a tool that God has given me and that perspective shift of saying, “Okay, Lord, this is Yours.” That was huge for me, because no longer was it about fitting in a size 2 jean, which, hey, that’s always nice (Laughing) and always a benefit, but it wasn’t about that anymore. It was about how can I better serve You through my physical health?
Jim: Alex, one of the things I think I struggle with as a husband is how much guilt women express. You know, I see it in Jean. She feels guilty that this isn’t done or that isn’t done. And I struggle with that. It’s just something we’ve gotta work on, so let’s just put it out there and say by the end of the month, we want to try to accomplish that.
But I think this is true of most women. They do tend to carry a lot of guilt about their life not being perfect or the closet not being perfect or dinner not being perfect or the kids not dressed perfectly. How can we recognize that? In part I see that in your book. That’s really what you were doing, is just coming to grips with this is life.
Jim: It is messy. This is how it’s gonna be. The kids aren’t always gonna be super clean. And we’re gonna get through it and how does a woman just exhale and say, “Okay, Lord, I know You got me?”
Alexandra: Uh-hm, that’s a great question. It speaks to our expectations and the question is where do those expectations come from, right? If we have these standards that we think are essential to being a good woman, a good Christian woman, a good wife, a good mother, whatever the label is, we have in our mind what this standard is.
Part of it I will say, is I think, social media, because we have never as a people, lived in this intense environment of looking at everybody’s highlight reel like we do now. I am less likely to post a picture of my messy closet than I am my clean closet, right?
John: Uh-hm, yeah.
Alexandra: So, we look at people’s vacations, their amazing Christmas experiences, whatever it is, their kids getting an award, you name it. It’s likely to show a positive bent on their life. And we’re looking at that in the midst of our actual lives, in the midst of our mess.
So, even if we were already feeling kind of a little bit bad about what was going on at home, all of a sudden, the dirty dishes in the sink look really dirty and look even worse and so, as a people we’ve never had to deal with this before. And I think our generation’s trying to figure out, how do I live this one God-given life that I have been gifted in the context of seeing everybody else’s highlight reel?
So, one thing I tell women all the time is, just turn it off. Turn it off. Pinterest, now you guys may not be big into Pinterest. (Laughter) I personally am not either, but for some women, it’s huge. And what it does is, it sets these standards of, you’re not just gonna throw a birthday party. You’re gonna throw the birthday party with the best treats that match the theme of the party and the best decorations and the cake that’s in the shape of whatever.
John: And a lovely bag of things to take away at the end.
Alexandra: Yeah and if you’re not a woman who knows how to make a cake in the shape of whatever, your value or your self-worth suddenly takes a little bit of a plummet, even if you’re a pretty confident woman.
Jim: And that’s in part why I asked the question, because it seems like with everything at our fingertips today, there’s so much more anxiety, so much more depression, so much more hopelessness in a time when it should be the opposite. And I think a lot of it is that expectation you talk about that we put on ourselves and particularly women. They just have an amazing attribute to look at themselves pretty harshly and then turn outwardly.
But you look at yourselves so hard and say, “I’m not bein’ the right mom. I’m not bein’ the right wife.” And I think it’s just like, ah! I know the Lord just wants to put His arms around you and say, “Relax, daughter. I’m with you. I’ve got you.” And I think that’s what your book does in such a beautiful way. Loving My Actual Life speaks to that yearning in a woman’s heart to accept where God has you and then enjoy the journey. That’s what I’m hearing and is that a fair assessment? Are you enjoying it more?
Alexandra: I am. I am and I have been intentional about taking the things that I learned about myself and moving those into my regular routine. And that was my goal, was to discover the things that worked for me. And I’m really clear in the book that just because something works for me doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for somebody else, because God has wired us differently. And the things that I struggle with may be easy breezy for somebody else. And the things that were easy for me, may be difficult [for others].
So, I really was able to discover what is working better as a result of this month’s experiment. And at the end of each month, I’d make a list of, these are the things I want to continue in my actual life.
Jim: Alexandra, this has been terrific. If you’re living in that spot where life seems overwhelming, it sounds noisy all the time and you’re not finding that space where you’re rejuvenating and feeling God’s presence, this is a resource for you. And man, John, we need to make this available to anybody who needs it. So, we would just ask you to make a contribution to Focus of any amount and we will say thank you by giving you a copy of Loving My Actual Life. It’s our way of saying thank you and really putting a resource into your hands that will challenge you. It’s not gonna do the work for you, right, Alex?
Alexandra: Right, oh, no.
Jim: And you may have nine different types of things you want to work in and you know, that’s fine. The idea is the process is there. You can plug and play these things, I would think.
Alexandra: Exactly and I’ve had women say, you know, we’re doing it as a group together, because then we can hold each other accountable. Or I just did a week of each of these months, instead of a full month. So, it’s very adaptable.
Jim: Well, let me encourage you to get that resource and John, how can they get that?
John: Well, that first step is to call us or go online and our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or you’ll find the book, a CD of our conversation and an opportunity to donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Alex, it’s been great to have you on “Focus on the Family.”
Alexandra: Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me.
John: Well, be with us again tomorrow. We’ll have Patsy Clairmont encouraging you with humor and laughter.
Mrs. Patsy Clairmont: There are days when I wake up and I say, “This is the day that the Lord hath made.” And there are other days I wake up and I go, “This is the day that the Lord has made?” Doesn’t feel like it. There are days I wake up and I say, “I don’t feel like gettin’ out of this bed.” So, for years, I didn’t.
End of Excerpt
John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.