A Carol Joy Nebraska Summer

I sit on the crackling dirt,
my flip flop spurs up dust on top,
like powdered sugar
just holding the black below, muddy.

It’s still.

Crickets chirp left,
then right.
Thunder flashes in the west-
My chin turns quick.

Last year’s corn stocks begin to fade beneath white circle clover flowers.

The northwest sunset paints lava red with lavender brushstrokes
I try to take it in
But can’t
So I breathe thanks
and again.

Two mosquitoes (who weren’t here yesterday) buzz in my ear,
cracking the perfection, and yet part of it somehow.
I slap my upper arm left,
then right.
And it’s time to go in for the night.

A semi hums in the distance, and I taste a Carol Joy Holling summer just starting.

Up above my head. . .
I hear singing in the air
and taste Kool-Aid in my cuppie,
tinged with leftover sno cone.
Squish s’more between my lips, crisp marshmallow toasted hollow, melting chocolate stars
as nervous new friends bounce down the hill
with flashlights and toothbrushes
and questions. . .

And I feel alive
and close to Something Deeper,
and now
in Love once again.
Nebraska summer.

Today’s Thanks:
Newly commissioned camp counselors
A home-run ball retrieved by a friend
Grilled pork chops with perfect crisp edges
Toddler grins with twinkle eyes
Your turn. . . 

Face-Down, In Need of Forgiveness

The voice that came out of my mouth did not seem to be my own.

“YOU AND YOU ARE OUT OF HERE!  FOLLOW ME,” I bellowed as I flung the classroom door open, leaving my students in my churning anger wake.

As I tromped down the hallway toward the office, leading these two young men to their doom, I had a moment of clarity.  Thank goodness the boys were behind me and couldn’t see me almost giggle.

What was I doing?  I wondered, as I led them down the hallway and dropped them off with the principal.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that my middle school students can behave with a certain level of maturity, but I knew that my tantrum wasn’t really going to fix anything.  And in the searing moment of my thirst-quenching anger, I didn’t even recognize myself.

In my attempts to get this class back on track, I had come up empty one too many times, so I grasped for control the only remaining way I knew how.  I yelled and threw my hands up, asserting my volume and “power” with toddler-like finality.  Anyone who disagreed could just get out.

I might have giggled in embarrassment on the walk to the office, but I cried in shame on the drive home from work.  How could I have let things get so out of control?  Didn’t I know better?

Apparently on this day, I didn’t.  And at the end of the day I needed forgiveness for stepping into the easier path that I knew to be wrong.

It’s hard to remember in these moments, when we’re face-down in a pile of the mess that we’ve made, that the failure we feel is not the failure we are.  Quite the opposite.  This turning, this repentance is a sign of the deep goodness within all of us, this “made in the image of God” part of us that can’t be eclipsed by our bad behavior.

In these moments when I want to dissolve in a puddle, the turning gives me hope for the loving mystery that I cannot, no matter how hard I try, understand.  These face-down moments, while terrible, are also weirdly comforting.  I am reminded, yet again, that it is not my job to have everything together, to never screw up.  God’s got that covered.  And for that, I say thanks.

“I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love.  I will praise the LORD for all he has done.” (Isaiah 63:7)

Today’s Thanks:
Catching a free T-Shirt at the Husker baseball game
Scheduling summer activities
A stack of pink books that somehow look like art
T-Ball giggles

When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

My four-year-old swelled with pride as she held out her pink Mother’s Day card, pinching it between her thumb and forefinger, each topped with chipped, neon pink polish.  Her signature was barely legible, but her facial expression said it all.

The pride she felt in the card was the pride I felt in her.  I wrapped her up in a hug, so thankful for the gift, and thankful to be her mom.

Later in the day, my two-year-old son looked up at me during church and whispered, “Kiss me, Momma.”  I nuzzled into his sweet face and smiled, so thankful to be his mom too.

On days like these, when motherhood is blissful, and my husband grills steak to celebrate Mother’s Day, it’s easy to say thanks.  It’s like gratitude jumps out of me; I’m swimming in it.

But some days gratitude doesn’t work.  I grab my notebook, and no matter how hard I try to write myself into thankfulness, I cannot manufacture it.

#1. I’m thankful for the seventy degree day–I will be working inside for most of it. Boo.
#2. I’m thankful for our home–which is messy AGAIN.
#3. I’m thankful for this pen–WHICH JUST RAN OUT OF INK!  BAH!

On these days, the negative cascades like a veil over my eyes as I notice the ugly, complain-y, whiny things of life.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes gratitude works wonders.  Sometimes just the practice of making a little list completely shifts my perspective.  But sometimes it’s like the gears are jammed up, and gratitude feels broken, no matter how many things I list.

I learned recently that the word gratitude has the same word root as the word grace. Neither grace nor gratitude is a cheap sing-songy thing.  Both sound sweet and innocent, but real gratitude, real grace, costs something.

On these gray days it’s not the gratitude that’s broken, it’s something in me that needs shifting.

The inability to “feel” my gratitude list is a reminder that I need a reset, and sometimes a rest.  Sometimes the reset I need is to forgive someone, quite often I need to forgive myself, or I need to say kindly what I’ve really been thinking.  Other times I’m sad or angry, but haven’t slowed down enough to take a deep breath and notice.

And just seeing that, just knowing, just stopping long enough to see my ungratefulness is strangely something to be thankful for.

So, when I say this blog’s title, Gratitude Gal, I don’t say it like a spunky cheerleader.  No, gratitude gal has a different tone to it, one that’s only shininess comes from the waves of life crashing over and over again. Sometimes I’ve felt bad about myself when I don’t feel sunny, when gratitude doesn’t flow out of me like a faucet.  Where did I get the idea that life would be perfect?  Sometimes in rare moments we can be thankful even for the hard parts.

Yes, life is beautiful and amazing, but it’s also full of really tough stuff.  Real gratitude realizes this isn’t all perfect, and says thanks anyway.

Gratitude holds on to wonder even when its grip is slipping.  Gratitude has the courage to look for lightness and possibility, even in the midst of the muckiness of life.  And yes, sometimes gratitude feels pretty crappy, and her pen runs out of ink.  But she tosses it out and grabs a new one, offering her barely legible gift of thanks to a Giver who sees her offering as more than enough.

“You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.”  (John 16:20)

Today’s Thanks:
Purple flowers in the ditch
A Mother’s Day nap
Our family together for T-ball
Strawberry rhubarb pie
A sonogram from my sis

I Never Knew Larry Meyer

I never knew Larry Meyer, but if we should ever meet, I feel like we’ll somehow recognize one another.  

Larry was, among other things, the Lutheran campus pastor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln for a time.  I never knew him, but his ripples keep bumping into me.

His son, Mikah is embarking on an amazing road trip.  This is the fourth time I’ve read something online that was inspired by this unassuming Nebraska pastor, and all of the somethings have been so very alive and vibrant and renewing as I read about them.  

How do we live life like that?  

How do we spend our days in a way that leaves ripples?  And not just any ripples, but life-giving ripples that bring sun on a Monday.  I’m starting to think that it is less about trying harder and more about loving and saying thanks, leaning into the fact that we are each uniquely beloved, nothing less than precious and of unimaginable value just as we are.

Without knowing him, I think Larry knew about this kind of love.  Maybe for him, it was a long time coming, etched by experience, or maybe it was just pure gift.  On some level I will never know.

It is hard to not know and know all at once.  These metaphors in life remind me that this is all so beyond my understanding.  All I can do is try to trust.  The “feeling” of faith goes in and out, even though God doesn’t.   How do we waken and re-awaken to wonder, making space for the questions?  For some reason, I sense that Larry made space for what mattered, space that didn’t always require answers.  

And yet, I can never know this man who seems to re-introduce himself to me from time to time.  If he were still around, I would ask him to tell me more.  I weirdly miss him somehow.  If you knew Larry, what do you think he would say?  I’m curious to know this man I never knew.  For some reason I want to tell him thanks.

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life. . . ” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Today’s Thanks:
 Trading flannel sheets for crisp, white cotton
A twirly blue and white-striped skirt
Two yolks in one egg at breakfast
Small town walks with my family
Your turn. . .