One of these is Gratitude (2019 Gratitude Party Teaser)

Photo by Curt Brinkmann

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” 

Parker Palmer, my favorite writer on teaching

I heard someone say once that if we lean really hard into our deep-seated beliefs, they often give way.  While that has been true for many things, others don’t shift, no matter how hard I lean and kick and punch.

One of these is gratitude.

I circle back to it again . . . and again.

It’s somehow part of my DNA, like teaching is.

I decided to quit teaching my first year out, and even left a couple of times, but here I am fourteen years later, waking up on and putting on my teaching shoes.

Gratitude and teaching intersect in each of the students I’ve taught.  They were and are my teachers more often than I was theirs.

I’ve only ever had one student in which I didn’t find something to like. It was my first year, and I didn’t yet know how to dig.

I am thankful him, for the lesson plans that go so wrong once so they can go right the next time.

I am thankful phone conversation with my sister after school.  These talks have more than once helped me zoom up and out and find the courage to start teaching again tomorrow.

I am thankful for Ralph, the best one.  “If you like to write, just write,” might have been the kindest and most helpful thing anyone’s ever said to me.  For I love writing, but maybe I love the teaching of writing even more.

I am thankful for the Nebraska Writing Project and Robert daring me to say, “I am a writer.”  There have been few deeper graces for me–I love daring students to say it too.

I believe that this gratitude is powerful stuff. So is teaching. Both speaks of the stuff that shimmers, somehow holy, peeking through the dingy and the hard.  I learned gratitude and teaching at first from my parents, Jim and Holly.  I’m thankful for them.

Sometimes I don’t feel all that thankful for teaching, but in the long haul, the thanks always come. This is the time of the year where I like to share out my gratitudes . . . writing dares leading up to Thanksgiving and all that. This year I will share a series of never-before seen essays I wrote on teaching.  They are precious to me, so much so they ‘ve been in the notebook for longer than I usually hold things.  Something about the classroom calls forth a deeper care in me–wanting to make sure I steward these growing people and their stories as they intersect with mine.

So if you know anyone who could use some gratitude–especially a teacher–share this link below so they can get in on the dailies in November. And if you’re not a teacher, don’t worry, in so many ways you might just be.  😉

Thanks for reading, and cheers–as always–to beefing up our gratitude muscles.

Evi (say it like Chevy), Gratitude Party 2019

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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 courage? 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 sentence pushed from my mouth? 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 while pulling my arms toward the water. 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, for my own boundaries stretched, my sense of what’s possible still growing. 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 and 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? What if real courage is collective, what if we’re missing the best part when we try to go at it all alone?

Read along to Part Six.

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 camp site, my friend yelled, “Oh sweet! There’s a rope swing!”

A rope swing?

There it was, a swing tied to a tree growing up out of the rocks just near the edge. You could see down through the clear water and tell that many before had used this rope to fling themselves out into the deep water.

Oh great.

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

So I proceeded to 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. Through all this angst I finally came to a place in my 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 felt the stress and worry and fear melt from my shoulders. I was so relieved that I had the most restful night of sleep I’ve ever had camping. I woke to birds chirping–with an idea. I slipped into my swimsuit, zipped up my life vest, 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 gliding along.

There’s a grace in realizing that we don’t have to jump, and sometimes that we can–if we do it our own way. May we all look back in the Woohoo After this year, smiling at the things we’ve done that we we were sure we just couldn’t do. Amen.

Read on to Part Five.

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, scared me, and taught me things about myself. . . but 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 want to look around at my own work-a-day life with a new set of eyes. There is NEW every day. What if we dare to notice the things, to make the gratitude list that re-orients our gaze, to get in the rhythm of looking for good and not just the bad? Again and again I see beauty laid bare not only on epic trips, but in the most ordinary of places. What if all of this 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 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 portages–is to keep moving forward, maybe even a bit faster than feels comfortable. You need to ride the canoe’s energy, somehow be one with it–instead of trying to muscle against it.

It’s funny how portaging–a thing that scared me so much–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. Trust the time. Trust the wait. One step, one day at a time.

Read on to Part Three.

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

Part One. . .

This year instead of backpacking, three former book club friends and I 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 imagined 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. On the way she said with a smile, “Oh, and on one of the lakes there is 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 did the logical thing and prayed that God might strike us blind as we went by this cliff so that we could miss it entirely.

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.

The Joy of Bringing Things Back

After much deliberation, I decided on what I was sure was just the right camera. I spent the whole month before and after Christmas debating about which camera to buy. I e-mailed my photographer friend, Curt Brinkmann for advice. Even though it was the best logical fit something about it didn’t feel quite right. Even if it fit in my head, something wouldn’t settle in my heart.

A little defeated, 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 camera, he wanted to understand it and what it meant to me.

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.

When I finally got my prints back, 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. Yes, 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 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 much we’ve had 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 see 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 grow.


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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