Boundary Waters 2019 – So What? (Part Six)

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

anais nin

One of my favorite teaching questions is, “So what?” At the end of this lesson, at the end of this project, at the end of this Boundary Waters trip. . . what is the big take away? What does this mean for living? Why even write about it?

For me, the So What lies in little daily moments of courage. It’s not all about thrill-seeking or cliff jumping (which actually can cause you to break your tailbone according to my hairdresser). It’s about small acts of courage done day in and day out.

What is the thing in my life today that is asking me to be just a little bit bolder, to step out with just a little more chutzpa? Is it a phone call that needs dialing? A card that needs sending? A meeting that needs scheduled? A long-overdue conversation that can start with just a phrase? What might it look like to take one tiny step toward the thing that needs doing, taking the courage that’s being handed to us, if we dare to look for it in unexpected ways?

Daily courage doesn’t need to be dramatic. Just the other day I took my kids to the Lincoln Zoo. I didn’t realize the new addition included a water feature. “Can we play in it mama?” they said in unison. My worried brain started in its normal circles. . . “Maybe just get your feet wet.” “We can’t spend all day here we won’t get to all the zoo.” “We should have brought our swim suits. . . “

Instead of going down those normal patterns, for some reason–maybe this trip–I had a little more courage to lean over, look them in the eye and say, “Go for it.”

No one melted. No one cared that Oliver had on see-through-when-wet yellow cotton shorts. And no car seats were harmed by being a little wet. Instead, I got a chance to sit back and watch these beautiful little humans living life, to watch them splash and play and run. I am grateful for Boundary Waters 2019. For the time away that reminds me and wakes me up to the time we have together. Amen.

Courage is Collective (Part Five)

“Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.” 
― Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Shortly after I flung myself off the rope swing, we were paddling along and one of my friends cheered, “There’s the cliffs!”

Cliff jumping?

Great. Seriously God? Did you forget that I already did my brave thing today?

Why? Why a cliff?

As we paddled up to the rock side, my one friend and then the other two climbed up without waiting the exorbitant amount of time that I thought garnering their courage would require. Nope, they climbed up, thought a bit, and then leaped out into the beautiful deep pool. It wasn’t outrageously high, but yet again I found myself mired in my own fear. When is fear keeping me safe. . . and when is it holding me back? I inched my way up onto the cliff, like some elementary school kid mustering her courage to go off the diving board for the first time.

I peered out into the water–felt some vertigo–and moved back. Oh crap that’s high. Seriously? Why can’t we just go to Holiday Inn for our vacations as my friend Jo suggests. . . I moved back and forth analyzing, thinking, thinking, overthinking. My friend even got a picture of me standing in the bushes, staring at the ground pondering all the multiple ways I might die from this–and how my friends would have to lug my body out of the wilderness along with their canoes and gear. This picture maybe most accurately depicts how adventuresome I actually am.

“You can do it Evi!” one of my friends hollered from down in the water. I looked out at my friends, treading water with their life vests on in the beautiful Woohoo After. This wasn’t about my fear. This was about being together, about challenging ourselves and supporting each other in what we can do and what we can’t. And from their cheers and that space of grace the courage came–being handed to me in the most beautiful and strange ways again and again. Just two seconds is all you really need to get off the cliff.

When I hit the water, my feet whooshed down like a rocket. Deeper than the rope swing, I had to push myself up and up to the surface to join my friends, once again the Woohoo After, this time bigger, better. . . together.

Funny thing is, it’s not up to us to do all of this on our own. What, after all, would be the fun in that?

Read along to Part Six.

Just Jump (Part four)

Taken with my Grandma Nancy’s refurbished film camera. Summer Boundary Waters Trip 2019.

When we brought our canoes up to the site where we would camp, I heard my friend exclaim, “Oh sweet! There’s a rope swing!”

A rope swing?

My stomach fell to my feet as I took in the tall tree right off the water at the right side of our campsite. It grew up out of the rocks where the depth of the water went down quickly. You could see down through the clear water and tell that many before had used this rope to fling themselves out into the water.

Oh great.

We didn’t even set up camp before my friend put on her swimsuit and life vest and and athletically flung herself out into the water, gracefully releasing the hold she had on the wooden log under her arms.

So of course I proceeded to silently worry myself sick the entire evening. My journal from that night is filled with a million creative ways why this a horribly irresponsible and bad idea. The journal also includes a rather disturbing graphic depiction of how I might bash my brains on a rock and require my friends to carry me out of the boundary waters. Lovely. Through all this angst I finally came to a place in the journal where I sensed God telling me–“So just don’t do it, Evi.”

Huh. Just don’t do it.

Don’t do it? As a German Lutheran I don’t know if I missed that lesson in school–that you can say no to good things, that saying no is actually an option.

And in this thought I got a slice of that peace that passes understanding, that led to the most restful night of sleep. I woke to birds chirping–with an idea. I slipped into my swimsuit, zipped up my life vest and handed my camera to my friend and pulled back on the log with my hands instead of trying to hold it under my arms.

I ran and flung myself out into the waiting water: a morning polar bear plunge.

It is simply science or math that after something like that you come up out of the water with a huge, “Woohoo!!”

And there I was. . . in the Woohoo After. . . no longer worrying, no longer analyzing, no longer thinking. Just swimming.

One of my brilliant seventh graders told me this week, “You know it’s not all about the success. I think failure is actually a really important part of success,” she said. “After all, if you’ve failed, you really understand what the success means.” #mindblown. Kids are awesome. Thanks for being MY teacher. Love my job.

Anyway, yet again there’s a grace in that. In realizing that we don’t have to jump, and sometimes that we can–if we do it our own way. May we look back in the Woohoo After, smiling at the things we’ve done that we we were sure we couldn’t do, thankful for the failures that remind us what success really means. Amen.

Read on to Part Five.

In Search of Beauty Laid Bare (Part Three)

The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything.

Julian of Norwich

Our Boundary Waters canoe trip this summer challenged me and scared me and taught me things about myself. . . but maybe most importantly it reminded me–once again–to just look around and notice.

I went on this trip hoping to see beauty laid bare, to be inspired by nature and to re-connect with some dear friends. All of these things happened. My gratitude list on this trip is long:

  • Lily pads
  • Dragonflies
  • Little frogs
  • Giggling until my sides hurt
  • The feel of steering with a partner
  • Setting up camp as a cooperative group
  • Campfire food
  • The feel of tennis shoes after wearing wet Chacos all day.

In the wilderness it’s easy to look around and have gratitude with so many distractions pulled back. The benefits of forest bathing are real, and something magical always catches me and brings me home no matter how far off course I’ve gotten.

The challenge of these trips is to take these Third Day Lyrics to heart, “When I climb down the mountain, and get back to my life, I won’t settle for ordinary things. . .”

So once again I dare us all to look around at our own work-a-day lives and dare to believe that today is not simply a photocopy of yesterday. There is NEW every morning. Dare to notice the things, to make the gratitude list that re-orients the gaze, that teaches us too look for the good and not just the bad. Who knows, we might just see beauty laid bare in the most ordinary of places. What if it all isn’t so ordinary after all?

Read on to Part Four.

The Balance Comes in Moving Forward (Part Two)

A portage, I learned on our Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe trip, is hiking with your canoe and gear between lakes. I was nervous about this part of the journey as I wasn’t sure how to carry a canoe–or if I even could. On my first portage I panicked, feeling bugs swarm my face that I couldn’t swat as I exhausted my forearms muscling the canoe nose up only to have it too far up so that I had to muscle it down.

The key, I learned after a few different portages–is to keep moving forward, maybe even a bit faster than feels comfortable. This is the only way to be one with the canoe–to ride its energy–instead of trying to muscle against it.

It’s funny how the portaging–a thing that scared me so–turned into the thing that gave me the greatest sense of pride at the end of this trip. Perhaps the things that are hardest are the things really worth doing. Maybe. . . but don’t tell me that when I’m in the middle. The middle is hard and it’s time that builds our courage. Trust the time. Trust the wait. There’s always a deep breath coming.

Read on to Part Three.

How the “Boundary” Waters Pushed Mine (Part One)

Part One. . .

Some former book club friends and I have been gone on outdoor adventures the last few years. This year instead of backpacking, we explored the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota. I was excited to pack up my gear, picturing myself gliding along a mirror-flat lake.

All this excitement faded as I lay in my cabin the night before we set out. I missed my family and my creative mind was up to no good. Instead of imagining all of the ways that this trip was going to be awesome, I was worrying about every which way that things might go wrong. I am a land animal. I grew up in Southeast Nebraska. This water might be choppy. This water might be dangerous. What if I sprain my ankle?

At the end of some really pitiful journal writing, I prayed that I might be courageous. In retrospect this is not something you should pray for.

At Sawbill Canoe Outfitters we rented all of our gear. Canoes, check. Life vests, check. Paddles, check. Introduction video that basically warns you that you’re going into the WILDERNESS and that you can die and–oh, don’t sue us for it, (throat gulp) check.

A college-aged gal employed there stepped up into the drivers seat of the large van loaded with our gear and drove us to our put-in spot. We would through and stay three nights, ending up back at the outfitter. On the way she said with a smile, “Oh, and on such-and-such lake that you’ll be on there’s cliff jumping!”

Cliff jumping?

Seriously. In all my angst about rolling my ankle, this hadn’t even entered my mind. My friend in the passenger seat seemed excited at this, so I prayed that God might strike us blind as we went by said cliff so that we casually and oh-so-easily happen to miss the cliff.

Little did I know how much courage I was actually going to need on this trip.

*This is Part One of a Six-Part series. Read on to Part Two.

Making Something from What You’ve Got

You know how someone says they bought something without thinking–an impulse buy. This was the opposite of that. I agonized the whole month before and after Christmas about which camera to buy. I e-mailed my photographer friend, Curt Brinkmann about which digital camera would be best.

After much deliberation, I decided on what I was sure was just the right camera. Even though it was the best logical fit something about it didn’t feel quite right. I only had it two days before I realized that it was just too much camera for me. Even if it fit in my head, something wouldn’t settle in my heart.

A little defeated after all this deliberation, I returned it to the camera store, only to find a man there for a “buy back” program. “We buy back old cameras,” he said. “Just bring them in and we’ll give you cash.” Hmm, I thought, now this is interesting. After more talk I learned of a repair guy in Omaha who refurbishes old cameras. “Give him a call,” he said handing me the phone number. “For a fair price, he’ll bring any camera back to life.”

He’ll bring your camera back to life–something about those words enchanted me. I’m a sucker for a fixer-upper, remodel show. My Grandmother Nancy had gone to college in her retirement years, “Get all the school you can,” she’d said. “They can’t take that away from you.” She had taken photography. Her fancy film camera sat in my mom’s basement, unused and broken.

Meeting the camera repair man over the phone was different from what I’d expected. He wasn’t just planning to fix the phone, he wanted to understand the camera and what it was to me. Maybe this would annoy a lot of people, something taking longer than it needed to–but something about his curiosity felt so genuine, that I spoke to him for almost a half an hour. His questions felt so human, said in a slower, more thoughtful pace, more like he actually cared, more like an encounter with something real.

I told him about my grandmother, Nancy. I told him about the photo of irises that she took that hung on our farmhouse wall. I told him how she loved chocolates and seasonal peppermint ice cream, and how she gave the best grandma hugs. How Santa’s handwriting always looked like hers. . .

When my camera came back, fixed up and functional, I couldn’t help but think of how my eye was looking through a lens that hers had, that we were somehow taking photos together through space and time.

I took one roll of film and then screwed up the rewind process. I opened the back without having the film totally rewound, destroying a number of pictures that I will never see. But a few, the ones on the start of the roll came through, developed. Their grainy imperfection was perfect to me. There was something about remembering the moments instead of trying to perfect them in the moment, taking one digital and then another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a luddite. I still use my phone camera and still use filters on Instagram, but it has been such a cool experience to take film photos with Grandma Nancy’s camera this summer, to wait to get them developed, and to hold the few that turn out in my hands.

Two of my photos that came out–after weeks of waiting for development–are of my kiddos. I love how the actual light of my son wearing that awesome fedora (that he insists on wearing to so many places) is captured. I love that I have an old-timey shot of my daughter in her young fierceness–kissing her bicep at the lake. If only all grown up women could get another dose of the unashamed confidence they had in moments as a young girl.

The next time I set out to buy something, probably on Amazon or somewhere fast, I pray that I might slow down a bit, ask myself if I have something at home that might work–something that could come to life again with a little time, a little love, a little Fixer-Upper spirit. I know I don’t have time for it, but I know this summer that the time I wasted fixing up Grandma’s camera wasn’t wasted at all. With a little love and spit-shine who knows what treasures might be waiting in our homes? Who knows how much more we might truly enjoy our things, how much we might realize how rich we’ve been all along.

A Prayer For Our Classroom . . .

Last year I taught fifth and sixth grade. At the year’s onset I was nervous, as many teachers are this time of year. The kids are coming and we know that very soon we will be “on,” and we will have names to memorize and planning to do. I wrote this note of hope in my journal at the start last year. It is in the shape of a spiral (one of my favorite shapes). It looks like a fingerprint. Perhaps that is my prayer again this year, that the uniqueness of me might find the uniqueness of the students who really need it. That we might all learn new things and smile on the looking back. Cheers to 2019/20.

A new prayer for our classroom. . .

That we might be and find ourselves in wonder, where we find spaces to just BE together,

to have our eyes opened to each other. Organized – yes, but strangled, no.

My very best, restarting again and again.

Time to play. GROWTH. Soil of kindness and consistency, composed with personal writer’s notebooks and good pens, with quotes and stories that leave us changed.

A space where you belong, with your highs and lows–you’re home and we belong to each other.

Help us love each other through, so that in 20 years they still have that thing they made in Dr. W’s class, reminded who they are and knowing they have power to change and to love.


Do One Thing . . .

I love summer. . . and it is winding down. (Sigh)

One thing I love about summer is more opportunity to write–but I haven’t taken time to share anything. This Eleanor Roosevelt Quote has crossed my path multiple times lately, so I’m daring myself (and you!) to do ONE THING each day left before school starts.

So, in that spirit, I’ll be sharing some pieces I wrote about what I learned on our canoe trip and what I learned from my teachers (a.k.a. my students) this year.

Nothing too long or heavy–it’s summer after all–just some favorites from the ‘ole notebook.

In the meantime, let’s find gratitude doing ONE THING each day left in sum-sum-summertime.

Cheers to that!

Evi (say it like Chevy)

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gratitude gal turns six

“But if your strife strikes at your sleep, remember spring swaps snow for leaves.”

-Mumford and Sons

This spring marks six years of writing here at the ole blog. Six. A lot has happened in that time. Instead of a one-year-old, my tall first grader is turning seven.

She just cut her hair.

She looks older.

So today, in the spirit of haircuts, springtime, and fresh starts, welcome to the renewed space here at WordPress. Thanks to Blogger for six years of good stuff.

Along with a new layout, I’m sending a gratitude dare out into the cold and snow-covered universe. I dare us all to find time in the next week to sit down and make a little gratitude list. We’re talking 20 minutes tops, folks. Find a hot beverage, a comfy seat; find a little quiet. This time at the start of March–Ash Wednesday–is the time where we might need to wake up those gratitude muscles.

Mine are feeling weak. But I’m here. And you’re here. And as I write a few down my list, I randomly think about that one kid at school who drives me crazy–but whose little routine at the end of each day has me smiling.

The class lines up with backpacks loaded, and I fist-bump them all on the way out the door. For some reason this little guy insists that I fist bump his head. For him, a normal fist bump just won’t do. It’s a quirky part of my days, but one little thing that makes me smile as I add it to my list. I’m not experiencing it now, and yet I am.

Gratitude is magic like that.

Let’s not forget about gratitude.

Let’s not forget.

“The void is filled with love.”

– Parker J. Palmer