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.
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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: Uh, John, today we want to help families. We want to help marriages particularly have a healthy, thriving relationship, um, but not just in marriage, in every relationship in your life. Uh, you know, in this life we’re getting so busy, um, 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, uh, 25 minutes or so and listen to some great wisdom from our guest.
John: Yeah, Alexandra Kuykendall, uh, is going to help us really think through some things, some priorities. Uh, she wrote a great book. It’s called Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me and, uh, 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, uh, Alex is a speaker, a podcaster, and a retreat hostess.
John: And, uh, she’s married to Derrick, and they have four girls, ages 5 to 14.
Jim: You are one busy mom. (laughs)
Alexandra: I am, as most moms are.
Jim: How did you have time to write a book and come to Focus?
Alexandra: (laughs) Well, um, I was writing about my life, so that helps.
Jim: (laughs) Welcome, by the way.
Alexandra: Thank you, thank you.
Jim: It’s so good to have you here. What, uh, what sparked this, uh, idea about loving my actual life as compared to your not actual life? (laughs)
Alexandra: Well, um, you know, I think we go into marriage and parenting, really adulthood, with expectations of how it’s going to 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 onlies”.
Alexandra: 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. 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, um, 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.
Alexandra: Uh, the first was I had a dear friend whose husband died unexpectedly. He left-
Jim: How old was he?
Alexandra: He was my age at the time, so, um, 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.
Alexandra: 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. Uh, 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.
Alexandra: And I get kind of emotional whenever I talk about it, um, 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.
Alexandra: And I thought if I don’t stop and pay attention, I’m going to regret that I was so busy during these years and that I was striving, in lots of ways, to do really good things…
Alexandra: … but I was missing my ordinary life.
Jim: I- it’s an epiphany. You basically had this epiphany, um, through an unfortunate tragic accident. In that context, what did that lead you to do? Um, you talked about your nine-month adventure.
Jim: What is it and wh- 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’s and if onlies. 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.
Jim: Okay. (laughs)
Alexandra: You know, I’ve been pregnant four times…
Alexandra: … and the school year is nine months long. So I thought nine months works. Um, and so I, I took a different area of my life for nine months at a time and just-
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?
Alexandra: 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, you’re saying you emphasized that thing for a month, but hopefully to develop a habit…
Jim: … 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, um, 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.
Alexandra: That I wasn’t expecting.
Alexandra: Because I was going into the month thi- thinking I’m going to have these practical changes and that’s going to 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 going to concentrate on those that are relational, the 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 standpoint.
Alexandra: So I started with quiet, because quiet, I can’t even hear myself think some days, and I thought if I’m going to start this experiment, I need to, to really hear God speak to me, and I can’t unless I just stop.
Jim: You labeled it Bring It Down.
Alexandra: Yes. (laughs)
Jim: (laughs) I like that better than quiet because that, that speaks to most moms’ hearts right there, yeah, 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, um, mornings, our morning routine. So I titled that First Things First because, really, we do set the tone for the day by how our mor- 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: So you have Bring It Down, First Things First, and then the third one, My Peeps.
Alexandra: My Peeps.
Alexandra: 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’s a difference between, again, telling my kids to pick up their room and really being with them. So how can I connect?
Alexandra: So it’s dates. I, 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 number four.
Alexandra: Four was, um, Being Kind to my Body, my, 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.
Alexandra: Um, I take them to soccer practice so they’re getting exercise.
Jim: Oh, that’s right. You have four girls.
Alexandra: That’s right. (laughs)
Jim: That’s right. (laughs) Bathing may come a little easier in that house.
Alexandra: That’s right. I don’t quite, probably, have as many fights as some moms do.
Alexandra: But I’m constantly meeting other people’s needs. Doctor’s appointments is a great example. I make sure my kids go to their pediatrician appointments, but I had to ask myself when was the last time I went for a checkup?
Alexandra: Not because something was wrong, but because I have a body that needs to be taken care of.
Alexandra: So that was, um, 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, the boredom almost, which is a funny word for me 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 those tasks can be very routine. So how do we address the routine just to mix it up a little? The sixth 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 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 area? 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 a 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. Um, 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 our ordinary. And so that felt like, almost like a frivolous topic, but as I got into that month, I realized, no, this really is necessary.
Alexandra: Um, to live into God’s purposes for me.
Jim: Yeah. Okay, what’s next? Uh, we’re almost there.
Alexandra: Well, uh, I think most moms will relate to this. Um, 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: It’s 14, 15 times 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.
Jim: All the friends.
Alexandra: This constant need to feed people.
Alexandra: And, um, 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, um, 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 number nine?
Alexandra: So nine, the last one, to kind of wrap it up, was passions, and I titled 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, uh, some great insights from Alexandra Kuykendall and, uh, her book is called Loving My Actual Life. It’s a reflection of, uh, her experiment of trying to make sure she’s not overlooking what’s taking place right here, right now. And, uh, we’ll have copies of that book and, uh, of this conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call us and we’ll send a CD, uh, to you. It’s 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Alex, I really like the overall theme of what you’ve done here. And in some ways as I hear you express it, it’s almost a, the countercultural thing for women today to embrace, um, th- their God-given role, if I can 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, uh, I love the refreshing approach of, hey, this is my actual life.
Jim: And I’m going to 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, uh, whatever you want to do in the application, but month number three caught my attention, uh, 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…
John: Occasionally. (laughs)
Jim: Occasionally. But, but it’s a good, 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 going to really concentrate on dating my husband?”
Alexandra: Well, it’s funny because the word, 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.
Alexandra: We want to be spontaneous. You know, we don’t do big Valentine’s Day or anniversary because we just want it to be organic. Well, what happens is that life takes over.
Jim: It’s called weeds. (laughs)
Alexandra: That, well, and it’s called children too, right?
Alexandra: So, um, 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 going to 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 have 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 scheduling (laughs) 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, and f- that was the thing you learned, in essence…
Alexandra: That’s what I learned.
Jim: … is 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, um, 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, uh, desires was, uh, health and, and that’s an important feature. Um, 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.
Jim: (laughs) And does so much, uh, there at the school that she’s really busy with that. Um, it’s hard to find time for ourselves to just, uh, go out and do a walk or something like that, but we have to do it, don’t we?
Alexandra: We do, and, I mean, Derrick and I, we’re in that really non-sexy part of our lives that’s middle life.
Alexandra: And (laughs) our bodies are changing, and we can’t get away with the things we could when we were 25. Um, if we eat Cheetos, we’re going to know it.
Jim: (laughs) Right.
Alexandra: And, and I’ve had four children and it’s just the, the changing of our bodies is a reality. So if we can encourage each other in healthy behaviors, so…
Jim: How do we embrace that, though? I mean, I love, you, you’re very factual.
Jim: You know, these are the things I was, uh, uh, seeing a deficit in my attitude, in my life. I put them out. I did a nine-month plan. I concentrated on them, and they helped me to, to live life better. That’s a beautiful thing to do. But how do we embrace that? How do we actually, that took some motivation, I guess is what I’m saying? Not everybody feels that motivated in that un- (laughs) you know that middle part of life that you described.
Jim: And where Cheetos make a difference.
Alexandra: I know. (laughs)
Jim: Um, how do you get motivated to, to make 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 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, uh, 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 dinnertime. I’m fortunate that I have a body that works. I’m fortunate that I have 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 going to live into that, because I, part of middle age is I’m getting serious about, 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…”
Alexandra: That was huge for me, because no longer was it about fitting in the size 2 jeans which, hey, that’s always nice (laughs) and always a benefit.
Alexandra: But, um, it wasn’t about that anymore.
Alexandra: It was about how can I better serve you through my physical health.
Jim: Alex, uh, one of the things I think I struggle with as a husband is how much guilt, um, women express. You know, I see it in Jean. She feels guilty that this isn’t done or that isn’t done, and I, I struggle with that. It’s, it’s, it’s just something we’ve got to 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 why generally, I think this is true of most women, th- 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.
Jim: 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 going to be. The kids aren’t always going to be super clean, and we’re going to get through it. And h- how, how does a woman just exhale and say, “Okay, Lord, I know you got me?”
Alexandra: Mm-hmm. 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.
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, of our mess. 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.
Alexandra: I personally am not either, but for some women, it’s huge. And what it does is it sets these standards of…
Alexandra: … you’re not just going to throw a birthday party. You’re going to throw THE birthday party…
Alexandra: … 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, and you’re-
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: Uh, 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 just that expectation you talk about that we put on ourselves, and particularly women.
Jim: They just, they have the, an amazing attribute to look at themselves pretty harshly, uh, and then turn outwardly. But you look at yourselves so hard and say, “I’m not being the right mom. I’m not being the right wife.” And I think it’s just like, uh, I know the Lord just wants to put his arms around you and say, “Relax, daughter.”
Jim: “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, uh, speaks to that yearning in a woman’s heart to accept where God has you.
Jim: And then enjoy the journey. Uh, that’s what I’m hearing. And is that a fair assessment?
Alexandra: Yeah, I, uh, that would be my joy if-
Jim: 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 routines. I mean, 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 going to work for somebody else, because God has wired us differently. And the things that I struggle with may be easy breezy for somebody else.
Alexandra: And the things that were easy for me may be difficult, 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 make a list of these are the things I want to continue in my actual life.
Jim: When you look at the experiment of nine months now and you have the chance to have the hindsight…
Jim: … um, what, if you’re willing to tell us, uh, what went well and what did not go so well?
Alexandra: Right. (laughs)
Alexandra: Well, I will s- say that it has not changed that home organization is still my biggest challenge.
Jim: (laughs) Okay.
Alexandra: Um, G- God didn’t rewire me in that way. Uh, but I do know some practical things that I can do to help me manage my home a little more.
Jim: Do you embrace it better? Do you accept it better?
Alexandra: Yes. I accept it better and I’m more proactive.
Jim: That’s good.
Alexandra: Because I know that this isn’t just going to happen on its own. But when it, when I make it happen, when I walk through the room and pick up the toys off the floor, maybe before my husband comes home, maybe at the end of the day, tomorrow’s just going to feel a little bit fresher and a little bit better. So I’m able to be more intentional. I’d say my biggest takeaway is really slowing down, because, like I said, so many of my months were a change in perspective 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.
John: Well, such great insight from Alexandra Kuykendall on today’s Focus on the Family, and I hope she’s inspired you to step back and to examine ways that you can embrace life more fully with your spouse. If you’d like to go deeper on this topic, we do have helpful resources for you, including our focus on marriage assessment, which is a quick online quiz. It’s free and it’s going to help you see some areas where you’re doing well, hooray, (laughs) and, uh, offer some areas for growth, perhaps, as well within your marriage. And then we have Alexandra’s terrific book, Loving My Actual Life, in which she walks through that nine-month experiment to embrace life as it is and find contentment in ways that she didn’t expect. I know you’ll, uh, probably have a parallel journey working through that book. And when you make a donation today of any amount, either a monthly pledge or a one-time gift, we’ll say thank you for joining the support team by sending a copy of Alexandra’s book to you. Contribute to the work here, take that marriage assessment, and get your copy of Loving My Actual Life at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. You can also give us a call if, uh, you prefer. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Have a wonderful weekend with your family and your church family too, and then join us on Monday. We’ll hear from Natasha Crain explaining why it’s crucial to have faith conversations with your child.
Natasha Crain: You have to be honest with yourself as a parent and say that the number one most important objective for my parenting is to raise kids that know and love the Lord.
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John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.