Stopping to say thanks for 2014

As I sit here at my green writing table, I can hardly wait for my fresh new, 2015 notebook. . . I geek-out on New Year’s resolution thinking, excited for the energy that comes with a fresh start.  It’s like I’m this penned-up dog ready for my owner to release the leash as I stand at this huge field of freshly fallen snow.

But it’s not 2015 just yet.

Before we jump ahead, let’s stop and look back.  Gratitude has a way of warming us up, rejuvenating us for what’s next.  The best way to speed up is to slow down first.

One practical help I found for zooming up and looking back is an annual examen prayer.  If you’ve got a little time, check it out–I sense you’ll be glad you did.  But if today is busy, you can still think a bit on the broad strokes of it:

  1. Looking back, what (and who) am I grateful for this year?
  2. Where have I felt true joy?
  3. What has challenged me?
  4. What has troubled me?
  5. When did I have time for renewal and pause?
  6. Have I noticed God in any of this?
  7. In light of all this. . . what is my response moving forward?

The pages in my 2015 notebook are blank, unknown. . . and yet I’m thankful, knowing that no matter what comes, all will be well (Julian of Norwich).

Cheers to all of it!  And happy new year.

The best Christmas gift

Last night at 1:52 a high-pitched toddler voice jolted me awake.

“Where are you mama?  Where ARE YOU MAMA!?”

My two-year-old’s screams came from the living room.  Trying to find me, she was lost.

As I sat rubbing her back, wrinkling her new red and white Christmas reindeer pajamas, I wished I could take her fear away.  Even when I physically touched her and repeated, “Mama’s here, mama’s here, mama’s here.  Everything is going to be okay,” it took time for her to stop crying.

Why couldn’t she notice, take a deep breath, calm herself and realize she had exactly what she wanted?

In this season of Advent–and all year round–I get in a funk from time to time, drowsy from the cares of day-to-day life.  I find myself asking. . . where are you God?  Sometimes even, Where ARE YOU GOD?

God is all around us, daring to shine through people and situations–even hard ones–right in front of our eyes.  God didn’t come as a book.  He came as a person.

So let’s live gratitude today for the best Christmas gift, Immanuel, God WITH US. . . rubbing our back, daring us to quit crying, to see him physically with us saying, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.  Everything is going to be okay.”

What I’m doing this December

I have a #gratitudeparty hangover–the absolute best kind–as I sit here warmed up by words over the last chilly month.  As I sit here all cozy, I remember one of my favorite author’s words, “Oh that’s cute. . . now on to the next thing.”  I think he’s right, but my next thing is listening and waiting for a bit.  I want to live thanks in advent this year instead of doing the whole Christmas rush around.  I’d love it if you joined me in one or both of my waiting practices:
1.  I’m taking a daily walk between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  Julia Cameron (one of my favorite authors on creativity) is really intense about the importance of taking walks.  I think it sounds stupid. . . so that probably means it’s life-changing.  Thoreau walked daily for like four hours (I’m thinking minutes here), but I’m reading his 1861 work, Walking (free ebookpublic libraryIndieBound), which he wrote seven years after Walden.  
2.  I’m posting a daily photo on Instagram for my church’s Word-of-the-Day challenge.  To participate, take a picture each day, December 1-25, that illustrates the daily word for you after reading the related Bible passage for inspiration, then post your pic to Instagram with these hashtags: #SouthwoodSightings #Watch (for example, for December 1).  The challenge is described in more detail here.  If you’re new to Instagram, ask a student to show you the basics, or click here.  

#mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block. We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */

Subscribe via e-mail to get your #gratitudeparty thank you gift.

* indicates required
Email Address *

//$) {window.fnames = new Array(); window.ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]=’EMAIL’;ftypes[0]=’email’;fnames[1]=’FNAME’;ftypes[1]=’text’;fnames[2]=’LNAME’;ftypes[2]=’text’;}(jQuery));var $mcj = jQuery.noConflict(true);

Day 30: Happy Thanksgiving

“We don’t think ourselves into new ways of living.  
We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” 

– Richard Rohr

My two-year-old daughter asked for milk.  I gave her milk.  She threw the milk on the floor.


I picked it up and asked her if she wanted the milk.  She said, yes, then thanks, then started looking around the room, dancing, listing everything she could see, quickly forgetting her little bout of anger.  “I’m thankful for milk.  Thankful for mommy.  Thankful for lamp.”  She went on and on, and I thought, how cute. . . a little gratitude party.  It reminded me of this devotion I’d read earlier in the week about gratitude being an action.  

And here we are 30-days later.  I’m thankful today for a lot of things, and that God dropped this sippy cup of an idea into my lap.  

I am like fist pumping right now that we made it.  Holy adventure.  Thirty days is a long time!  I’m amazed at the tenacity of people, at their willingness to jump in, knowing and trusting that it’s a process.  I’ve learned that if you’re willing to devote yourself to learning something, and if you trust that God’s grace is going to accomplish the part we can’t ourselves, that even the biggest visions don’t sound all that crazy.

So thanks.  It’s been such a gift.  

p.s. I am trying to “publish” this on my parent’s home dinosaur computer–they have an iPad, but I need the keyboard.  I’ve hit “publish” four times–so close to being done with this thing.  Arghhh (mad pirate voice).  Even now, when I feel like I should “get it,” God’s not done teaching me about gratitude.  God’s probably not done with you either.  I read somewhere that if you really think you’re spiritual, go and spend a weekend with your family, then see how you’re doing.  Hah!  So, cheers to that.  I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Dinosaur computers and all–there’s a lot to be thankful for.

Day 30 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: Tonight, and maybe many nights from now on, tuck your ten fingers under your pillow and count ten gratitudes before going to sleep.  
  • Choice 2:  Write yourself a future e-mail about what you’ve learned from #gratitudeparty at  Have it delivered a month or a year from today.
  • Choice 3: Do absolutely nothing.  You’re loved just the way you are.  Just marinate in that for a bit.  I bet you’ll find yourself giving thanks.
#750. Thinking about my next gratitude notebook.
Congratulations to Shawna for winning the pie.  Thanks to all who entered!

Day 29: The Empty Chair

It was breathtaking. . . I was at a conference, high on thought-shifting conversations and coffee much buzzier in the big city than at home in small town, Nebraska.  I was skipping through life, jazzed by the fun of the 30-day gratitude thingy I was doing at my blog (which I was trying to quit downplaying by calling it a thingy).   In the middle of all that life rhythm, pulsing, on pace, lively, breath in and out. . . no breath.

The blue seat in the center back of the bus with a vibrant pattern stopped me short.

My last vision of that seat is one filled with a young man, around 14, his feet propped on a red cooler of our mission-trip snacks, joking with friends as they tussled each others’ hair.  I remember them roughhousing–just being kids–in between checking their phones, all swimming in the noise bustle that is adolescence, this time of not quite yet.  This young man, thin, dark hair, was the epitome of not quite yet.  He was quirky, smart, interesting, one maybe seen more truly by adults than his peers at this stage.

. . .  I’m guest posting over at my friend Deidra’s blog today.  Will you join me over there for the rest of the story?

Day 28: Five Ways to turn Wantsgiving back into Thanksgiving

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,
and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

– Thoreau’s Walden

I am pumped about Thanksgiving.  You see I love dressing–not stuffing, dressing.  If you don’t know the difference, get out.  Just get out.  No really, this is an important day, one where we gather to say how thankful for what we have. . . and to sit around and highlight doorbuster adds with all of the stuff we don’t have.  And while I look for gifts to give, I always end up shopping for myself.

When did Thanksgiving become Wantsgiving for me?

I am guilty of having too many shiny shopping bags at my shins this time of year.  So, how can I live thanks this season?   I don’t want to undo all the #gratitudeparty stuff the same way that yummy dressing might undo my attempts at exercise.  With that in mind, here are five things I’m trying:

  1. Don’t buy anything for myself.  (And, once the season is over, only buy things when they’ve been worked through this cool little printable I keep in my wallet.)
  2. Buy local.  I like to seek out the best deals at the big box stores, but once we add in milage and packaging, could a few extra bucks in the pockets of our neighbors be an added gift?
  3. Shop with friends and/or family and focus on relationships.  What would it look like for us to focus on the people shopping with us as much as we do on the price tags?  What if instead of bargains we were shopping for stories of the time we got up so early and that situation that made us laugh so hard?
  4. Before buying, sort out items to give away.  This is not about having a sleeker system for your home as much as it is about the spirit of the holiday.  How would it look to slash our things back severely enough so that it actually helps?
  5. Give an experience instead of stuff.  Are there events or experiences that can be gifted instead of things?  Think of creative ways to connect people and places.  

I don’t need new things as much as I need new eyes to see the things–and more importantly, the people and relationships–I already have.  What if we greeted this week of Thanksgiving not with the culture’s eyes–which teach us to want, want, want and red circle graffiti all those advertisements–but with fresh eyes that see the people around us anew?  My Grandma, who always made the best holiday dressing, passed away this year.  Time with our family is a precious gift.  What if we noticed something small and different about each one and illuminated it with a positive heart?  Wouldn’t that be the gift we’re all really looking for?

Day 28 Challenge:

  • Choose one of the holiday shopping ideas above to try.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

Day 27: Seeing with Fresh Eyes

“It is not joy that makes us grateful.  It is gratitude that makes us joyful.” – David Rast

Last night when all the cool kids were watching the American Music Awards, I was watching The Little Mermaid.  Yep, that’s my life.  But–I actually enjoyed myself.  If you can’t smile at the words dingle-hopper or snarf-blatt, you’re taking yourself too seriously.  Anyway, I hadn’t seen movie for a long time, and–hello–she gives up her family and her voice for a man?  All that aside, I was struck by one scene that I hadn’t noticed before with all of the giant-sized Ursula hubbub and underwater musical extravaganza.

After Ariel loses her mermaid tail and flirts her way into Eric’s house, he takes her on a tour of his kingdom.  I love this scene.  She dangles herself down over the carriage in awe at the horse’s feet, she charges head-first into the day with this beautiful zest of someone who hadn’t seen all of these “normal” things before.

I wonder if Eric saw his kingdom differently that day, seeing it through her eyes.

I’m thankful for two-year-old eyes this year.  They see everything.  Just this week as we put up our Christmas tree (yes, I’m one of those people drowning a baby reindeer), it stopped her short.  In this pool of wonder she just stood with her head cocked back and eyes sparkling.  And I too had never seen a more beautiful tree.  What would it look like to take that beginner’s mind, that fresh perspective to your day-to-day Monday today?  What if, like Ariel, we took time to marvel at the simple wiggle of our own toes?

When I get home from work our dog, Daisy greets me with this beginner’s mind, this joyful curiosity.  It might as well be the first time I’ve seen her every single day.  Her tail doesn’t just wag–her whole butt goes crazy.  One of my co-workers has been taking time to notice something new each day on her way to work.  I loved this idea and took a little detour on my way this past week.  It takes a smidgen more time, but instead of going the most direct route, I’ve snuck in an extra loop to grab some nature gratitudes.  I’m surprised at the positive impact this little change has on my day.

So, maybe I’m not Ariel, in a “Whole New World” to explore (oh wait, that’s Aladdin), but maybe, just maybe, I am.

#947.  Seeing the Christmas tree through two-year-old eyes.

Day 27 Challenge:

  • Choice 1:  Make a small change in your day to grab some nature gratitudes.
  • Choice 2:  Notice something new on your commute to work.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

Day 26: Photo Quote Rest

“Your words create what you speak about.  Learn to speak positively.” – Sanaya Roman

On Sundays during the 30-day gratitude challenge the goal is simple rest.  I don’t want all of our gratitude muscles to get too taxed. 🙂

Day 26 Challenge:

  • Choice 1: Use your camera or phone to notice something that brings a sense of gratitude.
  • Choice 2: Spend some time with this quote.  Think on how it might speak to your upcoming week.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

Day 25: Light

Today I am thankful to Charlie for sharing her heart and her words.  I was nervous to ask her to write as she’s lived through perhaps my biggest fear.  Her courageous thoughts give hope as she dares to not just survive, but bring light to others.  I pray that my daughter, Charli might live to be even half as courageous as the woman who inspired her name.

* * *

Tonight our closest friends and family will gather around a bonfire, and let sky lanterns go into the prairie stars.  We will remember a little girl whose name means “light”, a little girl who died suddenly in her crib one year ago from a situation doctors describe as one in a million.
As the fall turns to winter, my body remembers even if I don’t want to. The damp cold under my knees as I knelt in the front yard screaming.  Ambulance lights flashing, paramedics holding me back, the blow of surreal terror. The sun reflecting on sparkling snow those strange days after, juxtaposed with the deepest dark feeling of being a stranger in a new world…blinding bright, blinding new reality, the cold light quiet of winter air and everything normal coming to a halt for weeks.
When my whole body hates the season, the darker days: how can I be grateful? When I see that faith feeds the hope that I so desperately need, that truth feeds faith, and that I simply don’t know how to figure out what’s true right now—how do I attain any sort of beautiful perspective? The answer is that I choose to. That I start small, and just try, and then try again and again. A practice, just like yoga.
  1. I am thankful for warmth. Warm down comforters, beanies with pompoms, wool socks, strong arms, our fireplace, the holidays, a hot mug between my hands. ALL THAT IS WARM!
  2. I am thankful for friends who stick with me like sisters. Practical friends who show up with the exact thing I don’t even know I needed, artist friends who tell me they felt like we were in an bitter-cold battle together last winter…she who texted me that she imagined “wrapping a big ole bear skin around you, with my arm around you, you with frozen tears”.
  3. I am thankful for generosity and hospitality. I have adopted those two values as cornerstones to work on/practice for the rest of my life after our tragedy, because people are all that matter.
  4. I am thankful for Tobin Moses Arrow, my son whose name means that God is good, whose namesake was a leader just like he is the leader of his future siblings. He continually saturates my life in goodness, keeps my heart tender with all the love and sadness and joy a girl could ever swallow all at once.
  5. I am thankful for the life of Lucy Garland, my firstborn. Another friend who lost her toddler daughter said of her, “I truly believe she was an angel that walked amongst us, as was Lucy . . . they were gifted to us briefly and brought back home where they will never experience pain or heartache or suffering, waiting until we can all be together again!” Dreamy, happy little girl who sang about sunny days, whose brown eyes swam with love just like her daddy’s: Forever, and ever, I am grateful you are mine.
Gratitude is a rebellion: a shoving back, a victory, a power.It is a light in the dark, like so many sky lanterns on a November evening—a recognition of the light here on this battleground, the light which we hope beyond all things is only a taste of the Light that is to come…where my own little light dwells very much alive, with me, and waiting.

Day 25 Challenge:

  • Light a candle for ones gone before, for gratitude today.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

Day 24: The Tough Love Blank

“Mama, want to play puzzle games with me.  Do ya?”
“Oh, honey I would love to.  I just need to fold this laundry, and then we will play.”
“Because I want to get the clothes clean for everyone.”
“Well, the laundry keeps on coming.”
“We wear clothes each day, and they get dirty.”
Well, if we leave them in the basket too long they get wrinkly, and I don’t want that.”

Two-year-olds have a way of calling us out.  My trying–and sometimes failing–to avoid “Because I said so” has taught me something.  It wasn’t until I started to form this argument that being non-wrinkly was a sign of respect for others–to a two-year-old–that I stopped, looked at her little face, and realized I was full of crap.

What would it look like for you to stop?

Today in the middle of your movements, maybe you’re reading this at work or on your phone. . . what if you mentally zoom out and up and curiously take a look at yourself and what you’re doing.  Maybe you’ve got some distance from the fast pace by slowing down to list some gratitudes in this challenge–and don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing–but what if you look at the thing under the thing and ask, why?  Why?  No really, why?  Why are you doing this?


Is the 30-day gratitude challenge your way of not filling in that blank?  I know it might put you on the spot, but recently I received some tough love that was exactly what I needed.  So I need to ask, is there a challenge you’re facing or running from or avoiding and this is just the latest Band-Aid?  Maybe you’re just so mad you’ve been yelling–audibly or not.  Boredom, survival, hurts, fears, challenges, worries. . . If you really don’t have a “thing” right now for your blank, quit reading this and go soak it in because, sorry to say. . . something is probably coming.  Ahh, there’s the tough love.

I don’t like tough love because I like to breeze by the thing, cross things off my list so I don’t stop long enough to think about the thing or the thing one of those closest to me is going through.

Richard Rohr, one of my favorite authors, says that God comes to us disguised as our life.  If we all keep zooming by, what are we missing?  And maybe it’s just a zooming season right now, and the stopping will come later, but (here’s that tough love again) you can’t outrun the one who gave you these legs to run with.  And living the questions–even the ugly questions–the doubts, the dirty laundry, the fears, the lens clearing. . . all of it is grace, some baby grace, not yet grown, but grace nonetheless.

And sometimes grace is awful.

But it’s for something.  So sometime this weekend stop for a second and listen.

Listen to the love
Listen to the needs
Listen to yourself loving that need
All is giving and receiving
and yes, some taking
Still we listen and hear
others, giving some more
and strangely receiving, Listening
in tandem with the love that’s there.

It’s the moments when I stop that make me hungry, that threaten to spiral me into wanting, but instead I’m trying to sit still and say thank you, knowing that now is preparing me for what’s next.

#768.  Stopping to play puzzle games.  

Day 24 Challenge:

  • Choice 1: Write a little poem.  Maybe it’s just three sentences that notice the glint on the table leg next to you, but actually write it down, even if it’s on a napkin.  Stop, notice, put words to it as a thank you.
  • Choice 2: If your blank makes you feel stuck and scared, play some music that says “Unstuck and Not Scared,” then, write your little poem. 🙂  
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.