Let’s Start 2017 with Gratitude! (Day 1)

I am so excited you are here!  I just saw this video yesterday that shows how psychologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you show.  Also, gratitude practice has the most impact for the most unhappy people.

So, if you are unlikely to participate in this 30-day challenge, you will likely get the most out of it.

Just try it for a couple days if a whole month feels too much.  You won’t regret it, and I bet you’ll find yourself looking back as February rolls around, feeling grateful.   

Today’s gratitude dare is simple.  Either print the workbook below, or grab a favorite notebook so you can jot down three gratitudes each day.  It really is that simple.

If you could think of a friend or two who could use a little gratitude, pass the word!  To receive free challenge e-mails in your in-box subscribe below.

Click here or here for the free 
30-day Gratitude Workbook download.

Day 1 Jumpstart:
  • Stop what you are doing and look to the left.   In that field of vision identify three things or people that could inspire gratitude.  I like to use this practice when I notice myself complaining.  Stop it, you.  Bah, crabby Evi.  Look to the left.  Notice.  There’s always something there.

To get the 30-day challenge delivered to your in-box, subscribe below.  Thanks!

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2016 Thanks! (and an announcement)

Thank YOU.  

Thank you for reading Gratitude Gal in 2016.  I like to write for fun, and having anyone reading along is a big part of what makes it fun.

To celebrate this gratitude, I’ve created a 30-day Gratitude Challenge for January.  It is both alike and different from the one I did a couple of years ago.  I am trying out some new audio file stuff, and my friend Curt has agreed to share more of his inspiring photography!

So, get your Jock Jams playing because we kick off January 1.  There will be a generous give away from Krafty-Kash (Thank you Kashoan) and a little poetry along the way.  It will be like a funky thrift store of eclectic gratitude.  

Please join in and invite a friend.  To participate all you need to do is find three gratitudes each day and write them down.  By using a part of our day this way, it’s like wearing a new set of glasses geared toward goodness for the rest of the day, and who couldn’t use that?  

So, let’s start off 2017 looking at things with a truer and encouraging perspective.  Stay tuned for a print-out and directions in the next couple of days, or get your favorite notebook handy.

With Gratitude and Cheers to 2017, 

To get the 30-day challenge delivered to your in-box, subscribe below.  Thanks!

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The GIVING part of Thanksgiving

His tiny toddler fingers hug the glass bowl as I hand it to him. He 
looks down at the chocolate cereal and then up at me, smiling like he has a secret. He jump-skips into the living room for his morning cartoon, not dropping even one chocolate bunny morsel on the way.

I grin too as I turn down the plastic bag in the cereal box and then tuck one cardboard flap into another. After cleaning up a few dishes, I walk in to check on him, drying my hands with a towel. 

“Mama sit,” he says while tapping on the purple couch cushion next to him. Wanting to do just about anything else, I sit down for an episode of Blaze and the Monster Machines. Amazingly, I haven’t seen this one.

As we sit together, he turns his eyes away from the program to my face, still all smiles. He grabs a fist-full of chocolate bunnies and holds them up to my bottom lip. He hands me mouthful after mouthful while grinning the whole time, happy to share and watch me chew the yummy cereal.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes my little two-year-old blonde boy is selfish and screams and is everything that is pre-school–high–octane–Lord-help-me–emotion, but in this morning moment as the sun shines in, making angled rectangles on our carpet, he is a holder of deep truth as he gives and gives again, smiling the whole time.

Those who refresh others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25).

Those who give receive (Luke 6:38).

The first shall be last (Matthew 20:16).  

And the only thing better than eating chocolate cereal might just be giving chocolate cereal to someone else.

The backwards and upside down nature of these sayings from my Christian tradition fit what I have found to be true in my own life. The out-of-balance math all adds up somehow.

What if instead of Christmas wish lists this year (yes, it’s coming soon), we brainstormed giving lists? What if we put others first? What if instead of ruminating on how that other person should change, we took a step back and brainstormed ways to love him or her? What if instead of grumbling about everything that has been going wrong in our lives, we zoomed up and realized how very much is still–and will always be–deeply right?

Yesterday I went to see Doctor Strange, the new Marvel movie out in theaters.  I loved it.  The special effects–which usually aren’t my thing–had me saying again and again, “How am I seeing this, and how did they create this?”  

In the end, the main character, who has been dominated by his ego and pride, hears the words that change everything, “This is not about you.”  So, w
hat if instead of focusing on consuming, we honed in on giving and helping this year for Thanksgiving?  What if we looked at our families and didn’t focus on our differences, political or otherwise, and instead focused on how we might help each other, grabbing a dishtowel to pitch in and actively give thanks?  

We might be surprised by the deliciousness of sharing all the chocolate bunny goodness of this life, stopped short by 
living into the love that was what we’d been searching for the whole time.  Funny thing about Love, it’s always here–even when it feels so far away–waiting for us to tap into the joy of passing it around, somehow never exhausting the Source as it boomerangs back to us again and again as we try to give it away.  And for that, today and all year long, we say thanks. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you 
and your family and friends.  

Today’s Thanks:
– Cooking deviled eggs
– Free Christmas wrapping at the bookstore
– Another Bagels and Joe location in Lincoln
– New Prayer Room at church 
– Cookies shared, baked by a culinary student, yum
– New pencil-patterned LuLaRae leggings from a reader 🙂
Your turn. . . 

Announcement!  Another Gratitude Gal 30-day Gratitude Challenge is in the works for the new year.  If you know someone who is interested in buffing up his or her gratitude muscles, pass the word!  I am excited for us to spread the gratitude spirit of today into 2017 together. #gratitudeparty  

Peace Be With Us

Usually when I start a blog post I have a title, some idea of what I might write.  Today I’m just starting in the white box, no title yet.  I haven’t felt like writing in awhile, and even now I don’t totally trust my keystrokes.
Words have hurt lately. 
While all of the election stuff swirls, all the other “stuff” of life just keeps on a goin’ in the background.  So many of us, for so many reasons, had a rough week this last one.  A friend from college, Becky Cooper-Thumann, wrote on her blog that she felt Facebook whiplash.
She also wrote about picking up a shovel and digging in, reminding me and others that getting to work is part of what we do after the fray of the election cycle.  I agree.  I just texted with a friend who’s into exercise and nutrition.  She’s gonna help me get moving.  I also volunteered to be a TeamMates mentor this week.  I had been obstinate about saying no this opportunity, even though I have the time and felt called to it.  So I’m using my sad and trying to churn it into butter somehow, hoping to connect with one of the kiddos in our school who could use an adult who cares.  So I’m doing something, trying to pick up my shovel, I guess . . .  
But I’m also a word girl, so I’m trying to put words on what this all means, trying to find gratitude, when I frankly feel disheartened.
In our word-rich, scroll through society it’s easy to forget that sometimes the wisest people don’t say much at all.  So in this time in our history that feels topsy-turvy, I want to seek out the quiet ones, ask their advice and wisdom, and I want to get a little quieter myself.
The quietness helps us to choose hope even when it feels hard, even when it comes at our own expense.  Throughout this election, so many of us have shown our strong desire to be right.  The more I look and reflect on all of this, I think the only way we can get it “right” is in the collective.  The answers are somehow spread out and among us.  Community is the answer, with each of us bringing our unique gift to the table and thanking the others for bringing the part that we could not bring.  That body was broken, and now we are its pieces.  
We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
And without each contribution, the picture is incomplete.
We need each other.
And not because we are right, but because we are all here, holy from the get-go.
We all come from something. 
We all want something.  
What if we are all, if we’re honest, a little scared?  
What if we quit scrolling the world with a value judgement frame, what if we didn’t look at situations and other people asking if we should click the “like” button? 
What if we really looked at each other, and did the hard work of saying thanks?  
We need all of us in real conversations in real time face-to-face.  Writing online is easy.  The real stuff is messier, without a backspace button.  We’ve just got to try our best in the moment and actually listen, and then breathe, and then try to kindly use the voice we’ve been given.
Recently I wanted to understand why someone in my community was doing something.  After asking a friend–not the man in question–I was wisely reminded, “I don’t know, ask him.”  So I did.  I stopped in for a quick ten minutes on the way home from work, and just asked him.  It was a little weird at first, but quickly the conversation became passionate and enlightening and real, and I got to see a person in my community with a new perspective and understand why he was doing this thing that was out of the ordinary.  It was a real conversation with a  real human in real time.  The asking, instead of just knowing, felt holy.
I want to practice this “I don’t know, ask him,” mentality and spend less time assuming I know or talking to everyone except the actual person.
And I wonder even as I type this, if all of these sentences are just my new twisted way of wanting to be right, of wanting to somehow rise above the fray and have the last word. 
But at the end of this week, I don’t know if anyone is having a victory march (except the KKK, which is terrible and disturbing, and I can’t even), but I feel like we’re all trying to figure out where we are and what this all means and how we can talk to one another better and if our voice still matters.
I want my voice to matter.
A teacher friend has a sign in her classroom that says, “I can practice being right, or I can practice being kind.”
I want my voice to help the kindness grow.
So this week I have a goal of saying thanks to other people a lot more.  To notice.  To slow down.  To actually say the words and write the notes.  Even when I don’t feel thankful, the act of mining for thanks puts things in perspective.  It reminds me that I am not creating all of this.  I am not in charge.  
And today, I’m thankful for that.
I’m thankful that I am having a very human experience, even when it is hard and beautiful in whiplash fashion.
I’m thankful for this week that has given me a perspective that I didn’t have before.
I’m thankful for a good friend who just stopped by to say hi for no good reason.  
I’m thankful for two deep conversations I had with important men in my life that would not have happened without this election.  
I am thankful for the ones who came before, giving me the right to vote.
I am thankful this week for the veterans, and families of veterans, whose sacrifice I live into each day.
I am thankful for this little glint of sunshine that somehow warmed me up on my car ride today, for my daughter who sees my hurt.  She grabbed my chin during church this morning and said, “Why aren’t you smiling?  Chin up momma.” 
I’m thankful for the elderly and kind woman in the pew in front of us who turned and really looked into my eyes as she said with fierceness, “Peace be with you.”
Yes, peace be with you.
And also with you.  

Thankful for Community and a New Set of Lungs

My first memory of Dan Gerdes is seeing him receive a breathing treatment at my friend Tia’s house when we were in elementary school.  At the time, I didn’t know anything about the machine that rattled his rib cage to clear the mucus from his lungs from Cystic Fibrosis.  I remember wondering why and being impressed with how all of this didn’t seem to bother him.
Fast forward to today, and one of the things that draws my radar more than anything is gratitude, so when I recently saw the thanks pouring out from the now 27-year-old Dan online and the love pouring out from the small-town, Johnson community where I grew up, I wanted to learn more about the source of all this gratitude.
“For me it’s always been this way,” Dan told me in a phone call earlier this week when I recalled my early memory of the treatment machine.  “I’ve never known life without it.  I was diagnosed at three months old, so I’ve always had to have treatments.  My mom would even have to pat my back when I was a baby to help with my lungs.  But for most of my younger life, I was really healthy.  I ran around and played sports.  I didn’t have trouble until the end of high school when I had to quit playing sports.  Then through college my health started to deteriorate really rapidly.  It was hard to breathe.  They put me on oxygen.  One day the doctor recommended me to get evaluated for a lung transplant just in case my health would deteriorate.”
On August 4th Dan was put on the transplant list, and just a few short days later on August 9th he received a 54 second phone call that would change his life.
“I had been selling chickens and ducks for eggs for a farmer’s market.  I was stepping in my car to make an egg delivery when I got a call from the Med Center.  I didn’t think it was anything special, but it was my transplant coordinator, and she was like, ‘Do you want a new pair of lungs?’  And I was like, ‘Yeah I’ll take them.’  I actually delivered those eggs on the way and then went up to Omaha.  I guess I made a promise, and I had to.”
Dan got the call at 11:43 that morning, and after making his promised delivery, he was through preparations and in the operating room by 9 p.m.
Today he is breathing easier as he recovers from his double lung transplant.  While the road following the surgery hasn’t been easy, he is on the way to feeling much better.
“I didn’t realize what I was missing until I had it.  The disease progressed so gradually.  The cliché is to slowly boil a frog in a pot of hot water.  That’s kind of how the disease progressed.  It was hard to realize step by step how I was progressing until I got new lungs.  It was just so much better,” he said. 
Even twenty years ago Dan would not have had this chance as transplant science has developed rapidly.  Danny is thankful for the medicine and people who have brought this opportunity and brightened his outlook.
“This disease is pretty frustrating.  When I was younger, I just wanted to be normal; I wanted to hide it.  As I got older, it was frustrating that I didn’t get to progress.  Kids my age are having families and kids, and they’re progressing in their careers.  And I am just kind of stuck because my health wasn’t good enough to do all that.  But now I guess I’ve learned how to be calm about challenges and push through them.”
When asked what he wants people to know about him and CF, Dan is quick to answer. 
“More than anything I would just really push people to be organ donors.  You can really change somebody’s life.  Even my body, even though it has CF– I’m still an organ donor.  There are still some of my organs that could save somebody’s life.” 
Dan’s willingness to not only be a recipient, but also a donor of his organs is evidence that he is experiencing a deep sense of gratitude.
“My gratitude list obviously includes my donor, and also my family and community.  The community has been so supportive.  It’s made it really easy to keep fighting to get healthy again,” he said.
In addition to the well wishes he has already received, Dan needs financial help.  It turns out that lung transplants aren’t cheap.  Danny’s cousin Tia and her mom Annette are organizing a fundraiser event this weekend.  Dan has teamed with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), a 501c3 charity, so 100% of funds raised are used for transplant-related expenses.  Dan’s goal is to raise $50,000  
Tia’s experience in organizing the event has filled her with gratitude as well.
“Dan has overcome so much in his young life, much more than the typical person.  Living with a disease like Cystic Fibrosis—the respiratory therapy, the digestive enzymes, special diet, etc.—would be enough to overwhelm anyone.  Let alone living with a disease that has no cure. . . I had no idea the outreach of love, prayers, and support we (as a family) have received.  SO many have shown their concern for Dan and want to help him in so many different ways,” she said. 
The shredded pork and silent auction fundraiser is from 5-7 p.m. this Saturday, October 8 at the Johnson-Brock school cafeteria on 310 Main Street in Johnson, Nebraska.  After the silent auction ends at 6:30, an auction for a gun and quilt will be held.  The nearly 50 items for raffle can be viewed on the event’s Facebook page, Fundraiser for Dan Gerdes.  If you are unable to attend and would like to contribute, you can mail a donation or access the online donation page at www.COTAforTeamDanG.com. 

THANK YOU for reading.  If you could use some more gratitude and grace in your life, join other gratitude gals (and guys) in receiving 3-4 posts per month using the box below.  Thanks! – Evi

Why Your Gratitude List isn’t Working

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”  -G.K. Chesterton

I gathered the shirt arm holes up like a panty-hose leg one at a time, left arm then right.  My two-year-old’s blonde tuft of hair popped through the shirt’s red circular neck hole.  He looked down at his chest and then up at me, his face gleaming.  The Spider Man on his new hand-me-down pajamas had him buzzing, electric.

Like a dart, he spun away from me and shot fake spider webs, “Pew, pew, pew, pew,” he said with each wrist thrust.

My four-year-old daughter and I couldn’t quit grinning; this was cute stuff.

“Mama,” she said elbowing me, “I want Supergirl pajamas.”

Turning away from our little spider web shooter, we went to the one place guaranteed to help us hold onto this joy and give us lasting peace and happiness, Amazon.com.

We scrolled through pink and red, white and blue options, each one cuter than the next, but we were stumped again and again with sizes too small for my growing girl.

“How about this,” I said placing the phone down on the colorful bed quilt, “I’ll check tomorrow at Target and see if they have your size.”

“Okay,” she said looking disappointed but hopeful.

The next day I found myself in the Target girl’s section, turning hangers like pages of a book.

My Little Pony. . . No.  Dora the Explorer. . . No.  After the pajama rack came up empty, my eye caught the corner of a shiny-silver “S” in the shirt section.  Its soft gray arms were covered with stars, the perfect Supergirl shirt for C, just right.

As I checked out, the cashier in red said, “Find everything?”

“Yes,” I said, with growing excitement for the trip home.

After parking my car in our garage at home, I removed the tags and curled-up the shirt into an off-white roll-up, thinking unfurling would only add to the surprise.
I found C on my bed, playing a game.  After quietly setting the surprise beside her, she looked up at me with can’t-wait eyes, and set her game aside.  Holding her gift up, her shoulders instantly slumped down, her bottom lip darted out, and her soft whimper snowballed into an all-out hyena cry with aching moans between.
“I WANTED PAJAMAS!” she roared after gasping breaths and angry stares, “WHERE ARE THE PANTS?”
I sat there.  Split in two as my thoughts scolded me, “What were you thinking?” and then scolded her, “How can she be so ungrateful?”

But sometimes our thoughts are dual and wrong from both ends, and the third way is the only way as the only thing left to do is do nothing.  So I rubbed her back, kissed her head, and headed out of the room to wait out the storm.

My husband’s eyes raised as I walked into the living room, our daughter’s cries blaring in the background.  He headed in to talk to her.  
Minutes later, she trudged out of the room ahead of him and begrudgingly spit out the words with her eyes glued to the floor, “Thank you, mama.”

And in that moment I am and am not grateful.  Sometimes we bring our offering, our best efforts to the world, and the results aren’t results as much as they are a mess.  I heard a speaker say recently that if we lean hard into our deep-seated beliefs, they often give way.  And while that has been true for many things, others don’t shift no matter how hard I lean and kick and punch into them.

One of these is gratitude.

But the problem is that sometimes it doesn’t “work” right away.  It’s a slow burn, one that rewards “a long obedience in the same direction” (in the words of Eugene Person).  The reason why our gratitude doesn’t always work is that sometimes it is working upstream.  It is taking its time working on us, training us to see things that weren’t there before.  Sometimes we’re too busy seeing how what we’ve got today isn’t pajamas, so we’re blinded to the shirt that’s actually pretty cool right in front of us.

On the evening of the Supergirl shirt crying-pocalypse, I announced the time for teeth brushing to my two kiddos, and my daughter asked with clear eyes, “Can I wear that new shirt tonight?”
I gathered the arms holes up like a leg of pantyhose, pushing her arms through one at a time, left than right.  Her blonde tuft of hair emerged through the gray circular collar, and she looked up at me together in love, electric.
After a quick glimpse in the mirror, fingering the plastic-y silver “S” corner, she brushed past me, threw her left arm into the air with her right elbow bent and raised.  She flew into the living room, exclaiming the whole way, “Dun da da DA. . . Super girl!”
It doesn’t make sense how our pains can turn inside out, if we’re patient.  If we try gratitude and then try again, it comes around reminding us that we aren’t in control, in the best way.  It reminds us that all things contain everything somehow.  An entire tree lives inside a little, plain, brown seed.  What if instead of crying at it’s small, sure lack of potential, we watered it, waiting in thanks, hoping to see what might grow?  We might find ourselves sitting in the shade, soaring like a superhero waiting with anticipation to unfurl what’s next.

Today’s Thanks:
Fall chill in the air, a turn to something new
Morning coffee on the deck with friends
New brightly-colored Sticky notes
Pork chops grilled to salty perfection by my amazing bearded hubby
Carol Dwek’s empowering growth-mindset word, “yet”
Parenthood on Netflix, #allthefeels
Your turn. . . 

THANK YOU for reading.  If you like what you read here, if it helps you in some small way, would you share it with a friend?  I need your help: Facebook, Twitter, Pin it up on Pinterest.  Your words of recommendation mean more than mine.  Judging from the notes I get from people, we’re hungry for conversations around gratitude and grace, and your sharing is a form of gratitude–I appreciate it!

Use the box below to join the growing group of gratitude gals (and guys) in receiving 3-4 posts per month to help us all gain purpose and perspective through gratitude and grace.

Walking Courageous

My mom remembers sitting in the bathtub, her big pregnant belly encircled by the warm water.  She felt me kicking and kicking and then not.  She knew something was wrong with me, her baby.  She prayed, “Lord, don’t let it be her brain.

So, when I was born, my appearance was actually a relief.  My little left baby leg was curled up over my right shoulder, the kneecap on the back of my leg with my little left foot pointing in the wrong direction.

The small-town Nebraska doctor whisked me away, leaving my mother alone.  I didn’t realize until after having my own two kids, how awful this must have been for her. 

But in that space she prayed, “Thank you God it wasn’t her brain.”

After receiving phone directions from a big city Omaha physician, my doctor grabbed my small and loose-jointed baby leg at the hip and ankle and twisted.  My little baby kneecap danced around and things shifted into place, so my leg now looked like a normal-foot-is-on-the-front-of-the-leg thing.

The new problem was that it wouldn’t bend. 

The doctors planned to splint my leg throughout my first months of life.  At each early child visit, they would bend my little knee a bit more and re-splint, and re-splint to the tune of my cries and (I can only imagine) my mother’s wincing. 

This splinting must have been awful and painful, and if I could have talked, I would have told them to stop.  But now I can walk. 

Sometimes I wonder if metaphorical splinting has been going on in cycles throughout my life.  Peace and joy come again and again, but always after a bout of the tough stuff opening up a space.

Recently, I read a post on social media from a friend:

Today I was overwhelmed by the stress of money, lack of time, and post Labor Day blues. For some reason, I had a sudden burst of energy after work and was able to meet up with the Pastors from our sister churches (who are visiting from Honduras and Tanzania this week). As I was quickly venting to Pastor Robson Mmanga about my current stressors, he pulled me aside and said, “Oh dear one…if you let those small things stand in your way and get to your heart, you will miss out on why you are here in this life.” There, in the parking lot of Runza, I was reminded that we can’t let these small issues overpower us. So… if you have something holding you back this week, I pass on this advice. Let’s spend more time looking for ‘these’ moments and less time worrying about things that are out of our control.
And with that reminder, I can write my thanks.  Today I can catch myself seeing what is always here.  Tomorrow, well, we’ll see.  For me, the walk of life is as Augustine said, a series of consolations and desolations.  An ebb and flow of swimming in the goodness, looking around and finding thanks everywhere, and then scrapping to see it in a gray world echoing like a tin can.
Some days gratitude isn’t simple, it’s courageous white-knuckling your hope.  

If that’s you today.  Don’t be in charge of it all.  Somehow get under or over or around it, give yourself a get out of jail free card and say, “I don’t really have to think about that today,” take the next little tiny step that you are capable of.  

The fact that you are here is enough.  We’re here together, and that’s enough.  It’s always been enough.  Because you are more than enough.  Tomorrow or the next day the gratitude list will write itself again, if only for a moment.  Dare to be courageous when the splinting comes, and in between the wincing, when you want to yell at it all to just stop–Be splinted.  Breathe it all in.  And say thanks if nothing else, for the breathing.

I’ll recognize you, fellow daring one by your eyes, tired and wiser, still mining thanks in your own beautiful rebellion.  Walking in the middle of your own splinting, daring even to run.

Today’s Thanks:
A comedian with friends, giggling together
Chicken Tikka Marsala, yummy
A silly coffee mug each morning this week, Precious Moments then Spongebob
Teaching the meaning of “woke” to a friend
Book club real-ness with my girls
Another fresh start
Your turn. . . 

Be You

A middle school girl shouts to me in the busy, white-tiled hallway, “Hey, who are you?”

“Well,” I say, stopping to turn on my left foot while the stream of students flows by us.  “I’m Evi Wusk–you say Evi like Chevy–Er, I’m Doctor Wusk.  Who are you?”

After telling me her own name, she gets to the point, “Why do you walk like that?”

“Well,” I say, pretending not to be a little thrown.  “It’s actually a cool story.  When I was born, my left knee was sort of on backward, so it bent funny.”

“Like this?” she says, bending her arm in a contorted Z, scrunching up her face.

“Yes,” I laugh. “The doctors said I wouldn’t be able to walk.  So it’s cool that I can walk like this, I guess.”

“Cool,” she says. “High five!” she says, offering up her hand.  “I didn’t mean to be mean.”

“You’re fine,” I say, as she skips away, back into the flowing sea of students.

I turn and grin, knowing that the younger me would burn on the inside after these conversations, which happened a lot more often.  Today I’m fine with it, glad to have had a real interaction, glad to have met this spark-plug person.

I’ve been at my new job since August 18th.  It’s time for writing again.  The transition has been needed, as I’ve wanted to do this one differently.  I did a count for a book proposal I’m writing and realized that I’ve had six jobs in the ten years I’ve been working–just five more than my life-long farmer father.

A part of me finds this embarrassing, wishing I had more longevity on my resume, but the realer part knows it’s been a journey of trying to listen to call, trying to be what’s me.  In retrospect it seems that a few of these call stories have been more of a wrong number type of situation. . . but even as I write that, I know that each of those turns, each of those spaces, has led me here.

And I’m glad we’re here.

I’m thankful for my darling family, my two and four-year-old who are exhausting and awesome.  Last night I lay on the couch with my little O and felt the warmness of his head, his blonde hair growing long in a way that’s rebellious and cute, and I just squished him there for a minute knowing we won’t be this us for long.

Whether we’re shifting professions or not, we’re always changing, always learning something and waking up a different person than we were yesterday, and yet we’re the same.  The last year, more than any in my life, has been one where my edges have roughed off.  The unbecoming has left me more me.

And I like this me.  She seems realer and talks slower.  I think her hair is going to be less blonde, her shoes more comfy, and her clothes a little softer.  She’s more okay with being her intense self–really sad and really happy–and not often in the middle like she’s spent so much time wishing she’d be.  I actually think that’s a cool part about her.

Maybe I’m made like that on purpose.  Maybe it’s a gift.  My new job is the part-time coordinator of high ability learning at a school where I’ve worked before.  It’s a good school where people are organized and passionate and just kind.  I say just–but it’s the rubber band that’s brought me back.  I was nervous for this roundabout route; not the me anymore who was here before.  But neither is anyone.  We’re all growing, all finding new things to learn, all somehow walking a different path than we had planned.

The sun comes up again and again and yet the seasons change.

I haven’t posted anything here for awhile, and yet I’ve been writing.  This new job opens up a space for words in a way I’ve been ravenous for.  So I’ve been feasting on words, like some caged animal, just freed into the wild, and feeling more awake even though I’m getting less sleep.

Isn’t this what we all want, to do something that’s truly us–not the us we always show everyone, but the deep us that’s a bit quieter, a bit more of everything than the middle we wish we’d be.

A beautiful writer and human from Lincoln, Deidra, tells a story of her husband as a young boy; his mother was a shopper.  She would take him along to the large department stores, lower her gaze to his level and say, “If you get lost, just stay put and wait for me.  I’ll come find you.”

I love this story, and love the parallel between us and God.  In Gifts of the Dark Wood, by Dr. Eric Elnes, a minister from Omaha, I read a beautiful message about call.  I’ve been so white-knuckling this thing all along, asking if I’m a pastor or a full time mom or a teacher–all the while terrified that I’m gonna get it wrong.  Eric, like me, wants to listen and notice, to hone in on the “gentle intuitions that arise within human consciousness,” these tugs that come at my belly and my heart, the physical sensations of joy, peace, aliveness, the pattern that asks us to not jump dangerously at call, but to move with intention, incrementally, a little more here, a little daring there.  But he writes something that I hadn’t heard in all my reading and searching about call.  He writes that if we misinterpret, they’ll keep coming.  If we miss it, they will repeat.

Ah, the grace in that.  The warm-butter grace that slows me down and reminds me that I’m enough without beating myself on the back, without moving faster, without trying to organize myself better.  I’m addicted to this grace, surprised by it again and again.  I love that grace and pray that I might communicate and be that grace, that we all might feel less alone.  Only touch that grace, like a finger making ripples on a smooth pool, and everything changes.

I’m feeling realer, like this middle school girl I met this week.  In some ways she’s a little rude, but she’s just being her on the surface, and I prefer the rudeness to the pretending.  And maybe I’m gonna be a little ruder, post more before I’m ready.  Dare to open the gift of me.  I’m unwrapping the bow and worrying less about who’s looking, at who gawks at the way I walk.  I say that like it’s easy, but it’s hard to unlearn a life of wondering what others will think.  Maybe the truth is that others aren’t thinking about us all that much anyway.

To live my own junior high years with a scoliosis backtrace equipped me–gave me empathy, helped me realize the hurt so many swim in Monday, then Tuesday, and then Wednesday.  But it also left me wanting to hide, to be anyone but me.  Me, after all, wasn’t a good thing to be.  Me was broken.  Me was a sinner, sinner, sinner.  Me wasn’t enough.

I know now this was wrong.

And not that I am perfect, but what if our perfection is just that imperfection that we’ve been railing against?  What if, like Nadia Bolz Weber, an ELCA pastor recently said in a piece on her beautiful church on PBS, “the jagged edges of our humanity are what actually connect us to God and to one another”?  She’s a polarizing figure, but one who makes me proud I’m a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a piece of the larger Lutheran Church that will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation coming up in 2017.

So the plan for this this small-town Nebraska Lutheran gal–for today–is to stay put and wait for what is coming to find me.  I’ve spent enough time Googling jobs and chasing achievement and trying to find this magical something that will make me feel like I’m enough.  I am.  We are.  Loved and forgiven.  The end.  And also the beginning–not just enough, but we’re each unique and important, here for something, here for each other, here to take in the crazy beauty and experience the terrifying and awe-inspiring polarities of life.  I’m a writer and a mother and a girl who is at her core thankful for all of this–the beautiful and the awful.  All of it together–including us–is a gift.  And for that today, as I sit with new smelly candle from Target and my cup of green jasmine tea, warming my hands and my insides, I’m filled with thanks.

Gratitude melts me like grace.  A different flavor of butter, but melty nonetheless.

This week I read a book like a love affair.  I gobbled it up, and snuck glances in the corners of my life.  I don’t remember the last time I’ve read a book so fast.  I’m not in the habit of saying that we should do stuff–There’s enough should-ing on ourselves without me adding to the din–but you should read this book.  I’m gonna read it again.

This book matters.  Her voice is real, and her story dares us all to embrace the gift that is us.  I don’t know her, but I love her.  She’s like me.  She’s probably a little like you.  Her views on things are–like Nadia’s–a little polarizing, but they’re honest, maybe a little rude, but her on the surface.  I got tingly so often while reading this book.  I’m learning to trust those tingles, to listen to them.  I think they’re a part of what makes me me–a good part, not one to ignore.  I’m a bookworm in the real sense of the word.  Worms take soil and churn it in a good way.  Maybe that’s part of what I want to do with this me.

So if you can, read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.  It is intimate and searing, and it’s made me think and feel below the thinking about God and identity in a way that melts like that grace butter.

So cheers to being all buttery at a new job in a new school year as the brown dry leaves fall on the green wet grass in my back yard.  Things are changing, like they do.  And I am thankful for so many things today, Gratitude Gal again, at home in my own skin.

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water then with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” – C.P. Estes

Today’s Thanks:
 The doctors who took care of P this week
P feeling better at home
A new coworker who stopped in to say hi and chat about Boxer dogs
Tacos outside with the family last night
Chilly air and canned yellow-orange peaches on a maroon plaid cloth napkin
A giggly text string among friends, working to spend time together
Seeing someone I love feed ice to another I love, so caring, so alive and worthy of respect
Your turn. . .

We Will Find Her

The more I start to feel like I understand the Holy Spirit, the more the Holy Spirit is beyond my understanding. And yet, we are promised that if we seek the Holy Spirit, we will find Her.  Ask. Seek. Knock–and things get opened up.

Sitting alongside other little kids at short tables surrounded by cinder block walls and paper posters of Jesus, I learned many things in Sunday School.  There and in Confirmation I learned that the Holy Spirit is the third person of God: God’s spirit dwelling in us, counseling us, being with us, but how has this head understanding put its feet on the ground in my life?  

I can look back and feel in certain instances that the Holy Spirit was working through me, but can I say any of them were for sure?  The Holy Spirit is the part of my faith that I feel most certain about and least certain about all at the same time.   

For me the Holy Spirit is this sense that your actions and thoughts are aligning with something deeper.  One of the times in my life when this became tangible was when I was a camp counselor.  After the whirlwind weeks, we would load campers and sleeping bags into vans and cars and trucks, and find ourselves in an open field of freedom knowing that we were once again college-aged young adults who no longer had children under our charge.  Woohoo!

Shortly after this unchaining (if you’ll forgive the comparison), we would gather for prayer.  With sun-tanned ankles hiding sock-lines beneath and friend-o (friendship bracelets) circling our arms, we would stand in a circle hand in hand.  

During this time we shared prayer concerns, and one by one random people would pipe in saying, “I’ve got that one,” or “I’ll pray for that one.”  This tired circle of different experiences, backgrounds, races, and college majors, would then pray for each other.  Something about it felt strong in a way I haven’t experienced in regular life, like there was a deep and Holy Spirit dwelling in it.  

In that circle I realized many of the people I’d been working closely with were dealing with complicated life behind their smiles as they hiked and sang and cleaned breakfast dishes.  How had I not known?
One of my supervisors joked that being a camp counselor equips and ruins you for the rest of life.  The experience of living and working in community reminds me that the Holy Spirit works through us, through our words, through our hands helping the needs we see and praying for those we can’t.  The more we try to understand the Holy Spirit, the closer we come, and yet the more we throw up our hands and just try to love the mystery.  

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:21-22, NLT)​

Today’s Thanks:
Baking my Dad’s Birthday Cake
Unpacking bags from the best trip
Morning cuddles with little ones 
Snow boots splashing in puddles (we don’t have rain boots around here)
Your turn . . . 

Thankful for Mountains. . . and It’s not about the Bike (Guest Post by Cindi McNair)

Photo from http://www.movingmountainsformultiplemyeloma.com

I open one eye and blink towards the blue illuminated numbers showing 5:50 AM.  With a stretch, I roll over and slip one foot on the floor, gently sliding out of bed.  I dress in the dark, tip-toe past my husband, and quietly close the bedroom door behind me.  Next, I creep past the dog in his kennel, (who doesn’t miss a thing), giving me a quiet whimper-yawn as I sneak out the front door to my bike locked up on the front porch.  It feels like it must be nearly 80 degrees and the humidity seems 90% as I swing my leg over my bike and roll down the driveway to begin my ride.  Still sleepy, and with a yawn, I whisper “Thank you God” as I get myself ready to bike some hills, pump my legs and get my heart racing for 6-7 miles of bike trails.

They say it takes the benefits of regular exercise 6-8 weeks to appear, and the investment in your health will be invaluable.  I do feel stronger, and my husband even says I move like I’m stronger, as I’ve been doing this now for over 6 weeks now. Thank you God.  A lot of people would be looking at this as terrific progress in creating a healthy habit of morning exercise, but to be honest, I am counting the days until I can quit!  Walking and yoga are much more my style for sure.  

But I am in training, getting ready for my personal “Super Bowl” if you will, because in less than a month I will be hiking the Inca Trail up Machu Picchu in Peru with a team of 20 people, most of whom I’ve never met.  So I’m doing my best to get this bod in shape, as the better shape I’m in, the more I will enjoy the trek up 11,000 feet in the Andes Mts. to one of the most incredible places on earth.  The hike is quite a reach for me.  I’m not a hiker (haven’t hiked in 30 years since high school!) and I’m really not a biker.  (Not since college when I peddled around 40 hours a week as a Bike Cop…ok, Bike Patrol is the right language, for two summers.)

But this is like a victory lap I am excited to be working toward.  See I am a survivor, and this year I am celebrating a big victory.  And as I pondered a way to celebrate, or give back, and be thankful, I became aware of an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for Multiple Myeloma (a blood cancer) through a program called Moving Mountains for Myelmona (MM4MM), through Takeda Oncology. As I learned about the opportunity, it seemed surreal that I could hike one of the most celebrated places on earth to benefit others with cancer!  The team consists of multiple myeloma patients, caregivers, doctors, nurses and researchers who have come together to raise funds and awareness for research.  

Ten years ago this October I had a stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, with the life expectancy at the time of 5-7 years. I remember making the decision to take on this hike (and certainly jump out of my box) in January, being able to raise funds and awareness as I trained for the journey.  It wasn’t really about the hike or about the mountain or even about this beautiful place, but rather a way to celebrate these 10 amazing and remarkable years of LIVING.  Thank you God! Since then I’ve been climbing my own “mountain”, every day, one step after another, just keeping on, keeping on.  Working through remission, and relapse, and chemo drugs, pushing through the physical burdens to take another breath and appreciate the gift of every day’s “view”.  

So as I train and climb my mountain, I have so much to be thankful for, EVERY DAY.  Having cancer allows me to live my life with intention, to not let the little things in life de-rail me (most days!) from what’s important.  My gratitude builds as I train for my climb.  And I’m counting the days to getting back to walking and yoga!  Thank you God!

(What wisdom, awesome Cindi.  Thank you.  You can contribute and/or check out my friend’s story here, and find Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma on Facebook. #MovingMtns4MM)