On a cork-board above my green writing table I’ve pinned a bunch of little things I love. Concert tickets, kid drawings, quotes, a tiny colorful flower doodle I made with circles. After awhile the board gets cluttery, and I need to Mari Kondo it and simplify. Through a number of purges, this paper flower torn from a notebook makes the cut and gets hung up again.
It’s a little thing I love.
When it comes to gratitude, we can’t do it wrong, but there is a way I’ve found to do it that adds to the magic. Zoom in. Don’t just write–“I’m thankful for my son.” Write–“Ollie’s freckles as he crunches up his nose telling me how proud he is of his first ever loose tooth.” Instead of–“A Nebraska Sunrise,” I write–“Orange sky fading to blue behind tree silhouettes.”
It’s a slower kind of noticing that we, frankly, don’t have time for. But in that slower gaze, a snowball starts rolling down the hill of my life. I notice the little things more often. And when the big things come, I have a sort of permission-slip to sit and soak in the room. And no, you can’t soak in everything. But what if I would have missed my five and seven-year-old dancing around singing Feliz Navidad as they decorated our glowing Christmas tree? (Yes, I’m that early-decorater person the Internet loves to hate.) It was a holy time in our home–my biggest gratitude from my week–and at the start of it I was reading on my phone. Gratitude practice reminded me to put it down. . . and look around.
To be alive is a terrible and wonderful thing. And sometimes the goodness can overwhelm me.
Parker Palmer says the deepest and greatest truths are held in paradox. So while it may be 100% true that this life is so so hard. What if it’s also 100% true that it is the most rare and holy of things? This week the Internet has been celebrating Fred Rodgers, and yet I often scoot by his most profound lyric when I hear again and again. . . “It’s such a good feeling. To know you’re alive.” It really is. It’s the little things. . . and the big ones too.
Weekend Gratitude Dares
Enjoy an after school/work/noon treat.
Clean out a cupboard.
Soak-up time with family and friends. . . I’ll be back here posting on Monday. Thanks for reading along.
I love this guest post for many reasons. 1. It’s by one of my best friends, written for her birthday, today (Happy Birthday Janelle!), 2. It’s about Cindi, one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever known (here’s her own guest post from 2016.), and 3. Like this rose photo by Curt, Cindi had a way of shining beautiful and fierce through even the bleakest storm. . . Thanks Janelle, for celebrating her spirit. – Evi
My friend Cindi died just over a year ago – on November 6, 2018.
That seems like a pretty strange way to begin a conversation
about gratitude. I realize that. The truth is that I’m carrying around the
weight of that loss a bit more heavily this week than I have in a while. It’s a bit of a shadow looming in the corner
of my vision, although it also comes with a certain humble awareness that you
have to love before you can mourn. Anniversaries tend to bring this out in a
person, I suppose.
Here’s the deal. If I’m
going to talk about gratitude, I can’t really think of anyone that I’d rather
talk about than Cindi. She was a
gratitude champion, somehow managing, even in the last months of her life, to
think about others, to put plans in place to serve others, to raise up the
needs of others.
Cindi lived with multiple myeloma for over a decade, and
some of us had the incredible privilege to catch a glimpse into the process by
which she was able to LIVE with multiple myeloma, the ways in which she sought
to relegate it to the sidelines of her life and the ways in which she actively
made the choice to not be defined by an illness.
Remarkably, somehow, she was defined by gratitude. By “Glory be to God” and by “I saw God at
work this week.” It was pretty mind
boggling, really. While the rest of us lamented our work woes, our parenting
woes, our “I don’t like my haircut” woes, Cindi was quietly choosing to relish
her life. She loved her husband well,
she connected with her nieces as if they were her own children, she mentored
the heck out of her friends.
Cindi recognized the challenges of her illness, though. She would remind us that she didn’t expect
that she’d get to “15 or 50” – her reference to a milestone anniversary and a
milestone birthday. Amazingly, though,
she did. And when Cindi turned 50, do
you know what she did? 50 random acts of
kindness. Notes in the mail to friends, $5 bills on the windshield wipers of
strangers’ cars, coffee for the person in line behind her at the coffee shop,
and more, and more, and more, until she got to 50.
Also, by the way, today is MY birthday. It would be pretty
darned easy to just sit back, soak up the call from my mom and from close
friends, check out the Facebook birthday shout-outs, you know…just generally focus
on me. But instead I think I’ll follow
the lead of a mentor and friend and throw some love out into the world. Gratitude in action, my friends. It’s a beautiful day. Enjoy!
Today is World Kindness Day. So along with many of my co-workers I’ll be donning my #bekind shirt and sportin’ a cardigan. . . admittedly, the cardigan wear is not atypical for me. Many spots online connect this day with Fred Rodgers. I’ve always known Mr. Rogers was nice and kind, but in reading about him lately, I’ve come to realize he was an educational genius
His programs were meticulously scanned to make sure they met with early child education research. He would comb over the scripts to make sure that the lessons were appropriate developmentally for his viewers. It wasn’t so much about what he said as it was about ensuring what they heard. His way of speaking and communicating became jokingly known as Freddish.
Fundamentally, Freddish anticipated the ways its listeners might misinterpret what was being said. For instance. . . (in) a scene in a hospital in which a nurse inflating a blood-pressure cuff originally said “I’m going to blow this up.” Greenwald (a former producer of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) recalls: “Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.”
Maxwell King, The Atlantic, 2018
While this might sound extreme–what kids would really cover their ears?–If you’ve worked with kids, you know this might be an ultimate kindness, for little humans trying to make sense of the world. And who knows, it might be a kindness if we would employ this level of thoughtfulness when speaking to anyone, regardless of their age. So today I am thankful for this man who not only reminds us to be kind, but encourages us all to think more about the words we speak. For a Language Arts teacher, there’s nothing much better–except maybe a day where it’s finally cool to wear a cardigan.
I am so thankful to my co-worker, Jake Davenport, for sharing his story on the blog today. Jake is our business teacher and he earlier served in the Army National Guard. In this week where we honor service men and women, I am so glad to work alongside someone who makes a point to honor those who served in wars, and who works hard to help our students day in and day out. – Evi
When my wife (Shiloh) and I found out that we were expecting our first child we were ecstatic. We were ready to start a family. Shortly after, we found out that there were complications with our son’s development. Multiple doctors confirmed the diagnosis and it became clear that if our son survived the pregnancy and birth, he would never be able to come home with us. The odds we were given were a 50% chance of a live birth and a life expectancy in the minutes. The following months were painful, and we leaned heavily on each other and our family for support.
When the day finally arrived to meet our son, we felt a flood of mixed emotions. We had everyone there (a priest, photographers, and our entire families) although we didn’t know who we would allow to enter the room. His birth went smoothly. In the moment when we heard his cry, everything was perfect. Jaxon blessed us with seven hours before he passed. In seven hours, he was baptized, met his family, and spent every moment in our arms. It has taken time to understand just how blessed and grateful we were for having Jaxon.
I do not tell this story for sympathy, quite the opposite. Jaxon was an amazing blessing. The seven hours were a blessing. The support that we had from the community, our family, and each other was a blessing. Time has changed my attitude from “Why us, God?” to “Thank you for him, God.” My gratitude for my son and his unique situation has had a residual effect on other areas of my life. I find myself more grateful in general, though I know there are many things I still take for granted.
Around November 11th every year, special attention is drawn to the Armed Forces and Veterans and reminds me just how grateful I need to be for our way of life. To preface my writing this next part, I want to be clear that I do not, nor have I ever identified myself as a Veteran. Varying definitions would make my use in reference to myself controversial anyway. I served an eight year contract with the Army National Guard but never made sacrifices that would warrant such an honorable title.
During my time in the Army National Guard, I was required to leave home for short periods of time ranging from three weeks to 6 months. When I first joined, at the point I was at in my life, I enjoyed going. As situations in my life changed (adding a wife and kids) my attitude changed as well. Leaving became tougher and life goes on without you. I am thankful that my support system was strong and remained largely unchanged but that is not the case for many, and I’ve witnessed this first hand. Spouses grieve the absence of living service members or simply grow impatient and many find another. Children are born, take their first steps, have birthdays, and say their first words. Friends and family members die. Many times the opportunity to return home for these events was unavailable, but often the opportunities are passed up due to an unwavering sense of duty. Some do not ever come home. They did that and continue to do that for me, my family, and all of us.
I love this country. I love Nebraska. It truly is “The Good Life” (Nebraska State Sign, 2019). Yes, I take many things for granted. Life in America is intended to be that way. It is easy to understand that something works, but it takes reflection to understand how something works. The service members of present and past generations are the “how” for our way of life. I thank God for the centuries of selfless work provided by our Military to build our great country. I thank God for everything that I was afforded the opportunity to take for granted. I am thankful for Jaxon, for service, and for the good life.
Yesterday was Peggy’s Birthday. My kind mother-in-law died over two years ago. She was many things, but in the truck yesterday, our kids remembered how fun it was to fish with her, and how much she loved them. We loved her. We still do.
And yet I found myself thankful yesterday as saying memories made me smile a little more and hurt a little less than a year ago. Yes it hurts, but she really was a gem. She let the kids blow bubbles in the kitchen, and she had the very best smile. I miss her.
A friend reached out to me recently asking for book ideas as her family grieves. Pam Dineen, the founder of Mourning Hope, helped me find books, so I thought it might help someone to pass these titles along here on the blog. Today, on this Veterans Day, I am thinking of veterans (they fill my gratitude list and post tomorrow), but I am also thinking of folks who grieve: the ones who are angry, the ones who are sad, the ones who can’t feel much today, the ones who are confused, and the ones who find themselves–in moments of time-grown grace–saying thanks.
When Someone Very Special Dies by Marge Heegaard is a consumable (draw and write in it) book that processes them through. Pam described it as, “An oldie, but a goodie.”
My last recommendation isn’t a book, but an app. The Calm App, along with yoga, have been helpful to me. It costs 59.99 annually, but is free for teachers. Doing a 10-minute meditation/centering prayer with this app has helped me to notice and to be less scared to feel.
One other shout out is to Mourning Hope itself, Pam’s organization in Lincoln. They have grief groups, one starting in January and another in March, once a week for 10 weeks for school-aged kids and their caregivers. They also have 8-week groups just for adults, and it’s all totally free.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In Sunday School at our country church growing up, I had a teacher who had us memorize one Bible verse for what felt like a really long time. She knew that good teaching feels repetitive, and that our brains can memorize things better with a mnemonic device. Hers was TNRPLAEP. Every week we would come to our little classroom that was encircled by by foldable tan curtain-walls, our church shoes clicking on green and white floor tiles, and use pencil to paper to fill in each line:
T – True
N – Noble
R – Right
P – Pure
L – Lovely
A – Admirable
E – Excellent
P – Praiseworthy
The final words of this passage essentially say – think about THAT stuff. How often this week has my mind been hanging out there. . . pondering lovely things? Welp–not all that often. The tendency for me, at least, is to magnetically move toward the other stuff, to hang around there like a hog rolling in the mud.
Redirecting with gratitude, just like working out, takes practice.
We can buy all the exercise clothes and memberships in the world, but if we’re not actually sweating it out, um. . . it’s not the same. I can have memorized TNRPLAEP until the cows-come-home (this farm girl loves that phrase), but if I’m not doing it, making a point to turn my thoughts that way, it doesn’t always happen. I can write gratitude blog posts all week, but if I’m not really writing my own list, um. . . it’s not the same.
The cool part is that, just like working out, gratitude has a snow-ball effect. One of my friends has texted me lately on Saturday mornings to say, “Hey, wanna go to spin class?” Reading this with one eye squinting at my cell phone from my comfy, warm bed, I hardly ever want to, but her encouragement has more than once got me sitting up and moving. When I do make it over to the fitness center, I’m thankful for talking with my friend, thankful for what sweating does for my body and mind, and thankful for how I feel after a workout.
So here’s me, your friend who likes to write stuff, texting you in these early morning hours, “Hey, wanna think on some gratitudes, maybe even write them down?”
Here’s my list today, I’m doing more than three since I’m not feeling thankful–and if I’m honest–I haven’t written any yet this week. I’ve been doing the blog writing and forgetting the very thing this is all about. So here I am, starting again, for like the one-millionth time, but trusting the practice and it’s magic, Spirit-filled way of moving me back to thinking about THAT stuff and seeing more of it today.
#1: Curt’s awesome picture of a Jelly Fish, I love the colors and the soft focus.
#2: Ralph’s yummy pork-gravy-potatoes supper last night. Yum.
#3: A funny e-mail about grammar.
#4: A funny meme in an e-mail.
#5: Pink and purple Nebraska sunrise clouds
#6: A stack of seventh-grade writing that made me smile in more ways than one.
#7: My green, antique writing table.
#8: Leftover Halloween decorations on the window.
#9: A new idea. . .
#10: Starting up holiday book clubs in the library.
#11: Little hugs around my waist from elementary kiddos each day at school.
#12: Celebrity-level gasping recognition while handing out Halloween candy, “YOU’RE the library lady! You live here?”
#13: Seeing a combine moving through a half done field, thinking of my dad.
#14: Seven-year-old practicing a Christmas song on the piano.
Today I have a guest post by my friend Jodi Blazek Gehr. It’s not often you meet someone who loves teaching AND creativity AND Parker Palmer (my favorite writer on teaching). She is in her 23rd year of teaching and works at Lincoln Southeast High School, where she teaches Business and is the Business Department Chair. She also leads SoulCollage®retreats at the Benedictine center in Schuyler, Nebraska. Thanks for sharing your words and your teaching heart, Jodi! – Evi
“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy. . . I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace.”
am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales
and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me
about the importance of practicing gratitude.
I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”
I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage® (photo above). When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined.
I am grateful that teaching has shown me how diverse my community is and has given me the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion. My students are more economically and racially diverse than earlier in my career. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—more personal and family traumas, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty and more. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum; it is about connecting to the personal experiences of each student. Committing to learning about the impact of poverty, racism, and traumatic experiences in my students lives has been both eye-opening and heartbreaking.
am grateful for the creativity and spontaneity that I can bring to my lessons. Perhaps the most exciting part of teaching is surrendering to the sweet surprises that
can occur during a school day. My lesson plans give the day structure and
order, but being flexible and willing to let go of plans to respond to
unique situations, questions or spontaneous discussions, is sometimes messier, but
much more “colorful” and always well worth it.
I am grateful for students who love learning and for those “light bulb” moments that can happen in the learning process. I am grateful for teaching a subject that I have never lost my passion for. The joy that comes when a student learns something new about business or about themselves is the best reward for teaching topics that can be relevant to students now and in their future.
I am grateful for the opportunity
to begin again. I am grateful that I can keep learning. I am grateful for the
educators I work with who also have a commitment to growth and learning. Two of my
favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of
learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean
slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow, learn
and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students—are the
greatest gifts of being a teacher.
I am grateful
that I can accept my own imperfections (most of the time…I’m still practicing). I
think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right.I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each
day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting
over again the next day, week or semester.
I am grateful
I have had the courage to stay put and grow in my profession. It is the
Benedictine promise of stability that has given me the courage to stay in
teaching, to learn the valuable lessons that can only be learned slowly and
over time. My commitment to teaching is a
little like my marriage. It takes work. I give. I get. It
is hard. I want to quit. I recommit. There are days, weeks, months,
sometimes years, that don’t seem very rewarding. But there are moments that are
so affirming; it is then that the reward is revealed. It is only over time that the fruits of the
labor can be truly appreciated.
I am grateful
for the memories of deep connections with students. I was
with students the day the World Trade Center towers came down and when I went
to the 9/11 memorial. I’ve journeyed with students when they’ve made big
mistakes and major accomplishments. I am grateful for the students who have
stayed in touch through the years, celebrating their careers, marriages, and
I am grateful for my business teacher
colleagues who care about students and believe in what we teach. I
love the solitude and community we have—we respect each other’s individuality
but also work well as a department and professional learning community.
I am grateful that teaching
reveals more about who I am, giving me plenty of material for reflection and
holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run
from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is
as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” –Parker
I am grateful
for the good and the bad days. Not every day, nor for every student, do I feel grateful. But
gratefulness is a feeling; gratitude is a practice. It is a grace to embrace it
“Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the hearts—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be… If a work is mine to do, it will make me glad over the long haul, despite the difficult days.”—Parker Palmer
“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning . . .
Viktor Frankl, Man’s search for meaning
I wrote this post awhile ago. It’s had some alternate titles: “From Yuck to Yes,” and also something containing a cuss word . . . You’ll be proud, Mom, that I took the high road even though this post warrants profanity more than most.
Anyway, today’s thought is so fitting as I had a pretty crummy day yesterday. It’s not if crummy days are going to happen, it’s when. Life is nothing if it’s not seasons and starting over again and again. The failure comes in not learning from our crummy days, of sitting mired in the crummy days rehearsing them again and again in our minds. Now, I’m not saying it’s not okay to have a crummy day. Far from it. If you haven’t read the children’s book Grumpy Monkey, check that thing out. Here’s the gist: some times you just need to have a Grumpy Monkey day.
Grumpy Monkey days are gonna come that wallop the tears and our worst words and our worst thoughts right out of us, leaving us looking up feeling shellshocked. That’s called being a human. But in Viktor Frankl’s epic work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he reminds us that suffering doesn’t get the last word. It’s worth noting that he was writing about experiences he had in a Nazi concentration camp. . . always good for the ole perspective.
But this is not a suffering competition. No matter how petty or epic your crummy day has been–whether the “day” has been a month, a year, a decade–tomorrow can be the day to don our super-hero capes and say defiantly, “I’m doing something new today! . . . because yesterday sucked.”
That’s the gift. We get to choose.
Crummy days are the stuff that kills off teachers. If you haven’t seen the teacher attrition statistics, a huge percentage don’t make it past the first years. I love and believe in teacher prep, but sometimes we do preservice teachers a dis-service when we make it seem like teaching is figure-out-able, like there is some magic research-based-best-practice way to never have a hard teaching day. At a recent training, Jeffrey Wilhelm, a man I find to be a master teacher, said it plain and kind, “Teaching is hard forever.” And while that might sound discouraging, it’s actually liberating.
So what are we gonna do?
Sometimes that does mean quitting. There are situations that require a big ole death and rebirth. But it’s worth noting that as a teacher, as we commit to re-starting again and again, joy and deep professional satisfaction comes when we wipe our tears, re-calibrate and say, “What’s next? How can I follow up this crummy day like a hero?”
Sorry folks, but teaching is doing that again, and again, and again.
And I say sorry, but isn’t that everything? It’s not madness, that’s reflection. The one thing that I believe makes teaching figure-out-able. The real secret sauce. No matter what has happened, we can reflect, re-calibrate, and start again.
I was reminded of this recently, when I visited my grandpa in the hospital. He’s in his nineties and just had an epic surgery that left his face looking so painful. I walked in and felt like crying as I asked meekly, “How you feeling Grandpa?”
From under his bandages, I heard a half a chuckle as he said, “I’m everything but pregnant.” The last human freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude despite circumstances. It’s the freedom that allows us to mine for thanks on even the crummiest of days. My grandpa was–and still is hurting–but he’s a wise one who wanted to make sure that I wasn’t suffering too. There’s an ornery courage in that that I just plain adore.
So maybe the crummy day is today. That’s okay. The question is, what are we gonna do tomorrow?
Encourage someone who shows courage and perseverance.
The new romanticism won’t only be built on workplace incentives. It will be driven, too, by the inherent human craving for the transcendent. Through history there have always been moments when eras of pragmatism give way to eras of high idealism.”
Lesson plans can feel like a train that is forever ambling toward us as teachers. A lesson changes, kids are gone, and I am forever re-calibrating tomorrow’s plans, hoping I’ve got things together enough to get the students where I want them to go.
The funny thing is that some of my best teaching moments have come when things went terribly wrong, or when I abandoned the plans in favor of a teachable moment. Years ago I was the yearbook sponsor at Waverly. My staff was made up of all girls, and class periods were filled with mini-lessons and work time to meet our page deadlines for Walsworth Publishing.
One day one of my *co-editors was caught up more than normal. She was like done–and that never happened. I could have given her more work to do on the next deadline, but instead I told her, “You’ve been working hard. Go make something cool.”
In one hour of class time she proceeded to paint her hands, get this above photo of herself, and cut out the color on the area around her hands using Photoshop. It’s a piece of art I still love, and it was created simply because I decided to get out of a student’s way.
Many schools embrace this idea in formalized 20% Time or Genius Hour. And while I love these larger systematic ideas, I think there’s a lot to be said for being open to creating small spaces in a classroom. What does it look like to plan both structures and spaces, to be expectant of some Unplanned Creative Awesomeness coming our way? What does it look like to not only hope for that, but to seek it out, to mine for it like gratitude?
Now, I say all this knowing fully well that some kids can’t do this. And as a new teacher I couldn’t do this. Most days I still can’t. Plans = safety. Some kids will take a chunk of free time and use it to derail the whole class, but some of our students will surprise us in what they can do and what they can teach us if only given a little space.
What would happen if we held our plans a little more loosely, if we all got curious at how these students might surprise us? What if we asked for their ideas and really listened? When I truly ask students with genuine curiosity, yes, they will have joking answers, but with those will be real, concrete ways to make our classroom time better. So often when I over-plan, I choke the life right out of my classes–and out of my life.
The cool thing is that out of the nothing comes something. And often that something turns out to be creativity or learning or relationships or laughter. Yes, an open space can lead to trouble, but sometimes if we listen and trust and (here’s the key) artfully respond as curious teachers, those problematic things simply won’t show up.
Fear and gratitude can’t exist in the same space.
I am thankful that all those years ago I didn’t move Brooklyn on to the next deadline. Today she has her own photography business. I like to think I played some small part in that, but I know that she would have gotten there on her own. Some of my best teaching moves were simply getting out of her way and making a space for her gifts to to show up. Cheers to students who surprise and inspire us. May they find spaces to shine.
*I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my other co-editor that year, Kelsey Ratkovec. She has her own sweet photography business out of Seward, Nebraska: Kelsey Buss Photography. So proud of both these talented gals.