Cheers to Gratitude and Writing

Photo by Charli Wusk (age 6)

(While playing superheroes.) 

“Come on mom, be brave!”
“How do I be brave?”
“Show other people your feelings.” – Charli (age 4)

I’ve sharpened the new skeleton pencil I found.  It’s a little creepy with its white skulls sporting red glowing eyes.  It must have been a stowaway in a trick-or-treat bag.  Creepy or not, it’s sharp.  The kids are in bed.  The house is quiet, and I’m snuggling in with my notebook when I hear little footsteps.

“Ollie, is that you?” I say across the next darkened room.

The footsteps scoot along the wood floor, quickened.

“I just had to go potty, momma,” he says while he curls into my lap, pushing the notebook over.

“I’m writing a story,” I say.

“You should put characters in it. You should have Elsa,” he says matter-of-factly, as he hugs me one last time and skips along to the bathroom.

An Elsa from Frozen cameo would be a creative twist to this piece, but I’m not sure that’s where I’ll begin.  Simon Sinek says start with why, and there’s wisdom in that. . . for a business man, that’s just the place.

But I’m a storyteller.  

Storytellers tend to start with characters, setting, a problem that needs fixing.

So, today the characters are you and me.  Me in my sweats, my hair less blonde than it used to be.  You reading this somewhere, maybe on your phone or in your e-mail or just scrolling Facebook.  Here we are together, wanting a little more gratitude in these lives of ours.  

My setting today is small-town-big-heart, Sterling, Nebraska, fall 2018.  

This is the place where I’m teaching.  

This is the place where we’re raising our family.  

This is home.  

Our town water-tower rises just a block or so down the road.  In the daylight, I can see it out the window with its fresh coat of paint.  Like a lot of things around here lately, it feels new.  New teachers, a new community center in the works, a pair of dear friends with a new house.  There’s new energy, and yet the old iron of that water-tower sits underneath the paint, solid.  Not everything is new, and that too is good.  

I’m glad we’re here.

This time of year my notebook always feels a little full, like the few farm fields still lined with brown stalks, the last ones waiting for harvest.  

I’m a word collector.  I’m convinced there’s magic in ’em.  Just this week I was reading Eugene Peterson–a writer I love–and it was like he was right here talking with me.  He passed away ten days ago, but those words still felt very much alive.  

So as I set my creepy skeleton pencil down for the night, it’s tip a little duller, I’m sending these words out hoping they might have some life in them.  Perhaps Elsa will make her cameo tomorrow.  These are the words I have today.  Thanks for reading.  I’m glad you’re here.  Cheers to gratitude and sharing some writing this November . . . two of my very favorite things.  


Gratitude Dare: Flip through your camera photos until you find something you are grateful for.  For the entire month of dares, print the easy-peasy calendar at

If you or someone you know wants a little more gratitude in their in-box, subscribe just under the header image at  


If We Dare to Wrestle

I still have football on the brain.  A while back my family and I were at Old Chicago.  I was eating bite after bite of pizza until I saw Scott Frost’s grey suit and red tie repeated across the multiple TV screens.  I set my pizza back on the plate.
​I’m honestly not that big of a football fan, but something about how he spoke, how he talked about a shift toward positive culture, heartened me.  Anyone who’s lived in Nebraska the last few years knows the football team has struggled compared to the past.  (And anyone paying attention knows the volleyball team is pretty awesome.)

The Omaha World Herald ran a story about the football press conference noting how the word “Championship” was never mentioned.  Even without a trophy focus the new direction felt like a victory after a struggle.

I recently read a Bible story about Jacob wrestling “a man” (maybe some sort of angel) in a dream.  He won’t give up.  Jacob holds the man down until he receives a blessing.
​I love a story like that.
Hard work, dedication, and determination that results in a win.  Pete Carrol has a book on his football philosophy titled, “Win Forever.”  He tries to daily look at his seasons with a zoomed-up, big picture viewpoint.  It’s one thing to be good.  It’s another to be sustainably good over a long period of time.  
The start of a new year is a time to zoom up and see the big picture–a time to step back and say thanks as we gear up for what’s next.  How can we turn our energy toward goals that matter, goals even more important than victory?  

What if we each scheduled a chunk of time as January turns to February to take one hour, four hours, or even just ten minutes to zoom-up and get perspective?  What if we take hold of 2018 and use the fresh start in ways that really matter?  What blessings might be waiting if we dare to wrestle? 


Special thanks to Curt for this gorgeous and thought-provoking image he took to go with a football piece.  I appreciate it.  🙂   

Show Yourself; You’re Beautiful

“Art isn’t about showing off, it’s about showing yourself.  Show yourself; you’re beautiful.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

As I thumb-swipe through my pictures on my phone, brainstorming ideas for my Christmas card, I stop short at one-too-many-for-it-to-be-random pictures of colorful things.  I love little arrays of color, and lately I’ve been giving myself permission to stop and take a picture when I notice one.  

At a recent workshop I asked a woman at my table if I could snap a pic of her pens.  She lit up like a firework, “Oh, I just love flair pens, don’t you.”  

Yep.  I do.  

It’s a small thing, a simple joy.  And the stopping doesn’t take much time, but every time I do, I get a shot of smiley energy, like an iPhone battery filled up from a five-second plug in.  I’ve always liked colors, but before this year I didn’t often let myself take the pictures I saw.  After all. . . that’s a waste of time and . . . haven’t you got more important things to do. . . and . . . harrumph, harrumph, grown-up harrumph.  

I’ve wondered more lately if it’s the frivolous things, the tiny little joy spots in our days, that are actually the important stuff.  

  • To really look into my daughter’s eyes as we run around the kitchen table laughing and playing tickle-tag.
  • To send a text to a mama friend who’s just back to work after maternity leave.
  • To stop and notice how perfectly the curve of the handle of this one tea mug fits my hand.

These little gratitude flips of the switch don’t take much time, but piled up, they enliven my life.   

A friend who loves to sew has recently been giving herself permission to, “Just slip down and do a few stitches.”  No, she’s not spending hours and hours or neglecting her responsibilities, but she’s finding time for joy.  It’s funny how her talking about it gives me joy too. . . like maybe the joy-energy is exponential and catchy.

So what is the thing that you’ve always loved to do, the thing that’s a little weird, but just so you What if you took time to do it today, this week, this  month?  What if you squished it into your calendar? 

What is joy about for you?

What if your little joys aren’t silly, but a way to be part of the living, creative force that’s ebbing in all of us and under all of this?  I’d like to think so.  And to that I say cheers, let’s get busy living and notice the joy that springs up.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elizabeth Kubler Ross

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Gratitude Lives (Read to the end for a Giveaway!)

A good friend said to me recently, “So where’s Gratitude Gal this month?”

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving, and no I haven’t written much here lately.  While I’m pumped for pie and stuffing (Um, yeah, can you please pass more stuffing?) it’s a hard year to mine for thanks.

This year we lost my darling mother-in-law, Peggy.  She watched our kids.  She made us cookies, and she was lovely in a simple way that I admire.  I miss her.  Her Cancer progressed quickly (and slowly, I guess) after a stroke.  When I typed that, I capitalized Cancer, and I know there’s no reason to.  On many days since then, I’ve noticed my three-year-old son O looking sad.  When I ask him about it, he says plainly.  “I’m sad about Grandma Peggy.  My heart is broken.”

Mine too.

Our new childcare provider (whom I love) said recently, “I just love Thanksgiving.  It’s the last non-commercialized holiday.”

Cheers to that.

I AM thankful for a lot of stuff in the midst of the muck this year.  I am thankful for her and how she swooped in to help our family in a practical and self-sacrificial way that has mattered.  It has mattered a lot.

I AM thankful for writing, for art.  My daughter C said recently in her own bout of sadness about grandma, “Let’s do some art, it makes me feel better.”

Cheers to that too.

In the face of death, of loss, of not measuring up ourselves, or in the midst of whatever rough patch we’re in, one way to live our thanks is to make stuff.  Rub your hands together and invoke the Creative Energy that says life comes after death and that death does not win.  Make a pie.  Make a picture.  Make a mess.  Plant a tree.  Do anything, write, create, savor, whatever.  To do those things with thanks, is one way to say that hope wins, Hope with a capital H, not cancer.

Some days it takes fierce tenacity to wait and wait for the light that’s coming, even if it’s just a glint.

In all of it, I’m still quietly thankful in the midst of being sad, thankful for the light of Peggy’s life and how it crossed over into mine.  Gratitude Lives.  May it live on in you too.

Gratitude Dare:

Instead of just rushing through cooking or football this Thanksgiving, get a hot beverage and pull out your notebook for 20 minutes.  Take the time this year to write a 2017 gratitude list.  Zoom up.  Look around.  Notice.  You’ll be thankful you did.

One more thing. . .  here’s the giveaway!  I wrote some devotions in this book.  I’m giving away a free copy for Thanksgiving.   Post a short gratitude list in a response to this on the blog or on Facebook this week and you’ll be entered to win.

Oh, and really just one more thing.  A friend from College, Rebecca Cooper, has a sweet Facebook Author page (she’s written four books)  I find her quirky and uplifting.  You will too.  Take a sec to follow her on Facebook.  She’s a gem who will add a little sparkle to your feed.

Thank you for reading.  
It means a lot to me.  – Evi like Chevy (gratitude gal)

Say Thank You and Grow

When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow. —Shauna Niequist

The funny thing about the idyllic picture above (and pretty much every beautiful picture on the Internet) is that it doesn’t tell the whole story.  There’s always something cropped out or some detail that we can’t see when we’re scrolling and comparing our hum-drum existence to the Pinterest-worthy lives of everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved our New Hampshire trip.  I hiked places where my grandfather and mother grew up, and it was beautiful.

But the whole story is much rockier.

At one point on the scrabble (which is basically a pile of rocks that someone decided was a trail) my inner monologue got all dark and twisty, like it does some times.

“Stupid rocks.  Stupid stupid rocks.  Who ever knew there could be so many rocks?  I think this is worse than childbirth.  I actually would prefer to be giving birth to a human from my nether-regions right now.  I want to stop.  I want to rest.  I cannot stop.  I cannot rest.  Must get to campsite.  We cannot go back.  So many rocks.  Stupid stupid rocks.”

If you are from the mountains, you’re probably having a good chuckle right about now about us flat-landers.  And rightfully so.  We are humbled, and your mountains are hard core.  I actually fell on them and cut my hand and hurt my pride.  I am no longer the same.  You win.

While the mountain was beating up my body and I was mentally beating up my psyche, one of the gals in my party–who is much heartier in body and spirit than I–says, “Look at the lichen on these rocks.  Isn’t it beautiful?”

Apparently she and I were on two very different hikes.

And sometimes that’s how I feel about life.  I know that life is beautiful and amazing all around me, but some days I cannot see it.  Buchner says it best, “Here is life.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”

It’s not always that we’re fearful.  Sometimes just getting through is hard enough.

In New Hampshire they have these big trees growing on boulders that know what I’m talking about.  It’s like there’s no dirt there and yet they somehow keep on growing.  They stretch and contort and find a way to keep living in spite of the fact that they really should just give up because they’re being ridiculous.  But they don’t just get by, they grow big.

Some days in the last few months have been pretty rocky (hence the no writing here), but I want to keep reaching for soil, keep hoping.  Keep noticing that C has started kindergarten and she is soooo straight-up kindergarten material.  Notice that O is potty trained.  Notice that the mornings are getting crisp like fall and Husker football.  Notice and say thanks.  It’s easier to walk by it all.  Easier to get all dark and twisty, mentally cussing at the rocks.  And sometimes you just hate the rocks and get through.  The getting through is something too.  But I think part of the why we’re here–even for what seems like too short a time sometimes–is to notice.  Notice each other.  Notice the lichen.  Notice the lichen and point it out for someone who can’t see it for themselves.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Marcus Aurelius

Gratitude Dare:  Keep something visible around you (a little sketch, a gift from a child, a leaf you found outside, a rock from a hike) to remind you about your habit of gratitude.  Try to notice it every day.

Four Candles and a Dog Story

Four years ago I wrote my first blog post here.  I had a one-year-old when I hit publish that first time.  Now, I have a five and just about three-year-old. Even though things have changed, I’m still, like I wrote back then, “Just writing, trying to make sense of things and turn up the volume on the still small voice of God in my life.”  

This week my gratitude list has felt short as my family walks together through a tough time.  Mining for gratitude or trying to write anything here feels like a prayer, and at least something to do when I don’t quite know what to do.

So today my list feels short.  I am thankful for my family, and thankful for our dog Daisy whose tail wags no matter the day or it’s circumstance.  So, to mark this blog birthday, I want to share a Daisy story just because it makes me laugh.  Cheers to four years here and to anyone who could use a little gratitude.


I am reading a book on my bed when I hear the door squeak.  Our dog, Daisy, comes in after having run away. I’m glad she’s home, but she smells. I take her to the bathroom, and give her a quick scrub, thinking it’s gotta be gasoline, but I keep wondering, “What is that smell?”

It dawns on me like a traffic light turning from green to red.


The pure head-on skunk smell was so strong I didn’t recognize it.

My first instinct, of course, is to get on Facebook, pretend this isn’t happening, but I realize I can’t hide forever, so I dial my husband while he’s at bowling.  He answers, and I can hear pins and voices in the background.  The bowling team’s verdict is unanimous: tomato bath.

I trudge downstairs to the basement and eye the jars lining the shelves like an opponent in a Rocky Balboa fight. The red filling seems almost funny as I realize what I have to do. Chuck tomatoes and salsa, order up.  My canning from the last summer had been prolific, if not delicious.  But I guess, at least it was for something.

As a pop lid after lid and dump contents into our white bathtub, I can’t help thinking of the movie Psycho, and of my hours spent canning.  Wreh–wreh–wreh.  

It looks like a bloodbath.

After dousing Daisy in it and then spraying her off, I set to work with my kitchen strainer scooping the tomatoes, onions and peppers from the tub into the toilet, leaving a delightful splatter along the way.

Well this is hard-core disgusting.

Scoop after scoop I find myself reminded, as I often am, of the things I learned as a camp counselor.  This is a cross between a number of cleanups done in the middle of the night with sick or bedwetting campers.

This is easier, I guess, because I don’t have to worry what the dog’s parents will think or wonder what this means for her relationship with Jesus.  

Soon enough the bathroom is white-ish again, while still smelling like skunky nachos.  As I turn the washing machine dial to start the load of towels, my thoughts finally catch up.  

“Pretty interesting day, God,” I think and smile.  “No really, you’re getting creative.  Well played.”  And in these moments, I like to think God smiles too, with us in all of it.

Where I’m From

I grew up in a white farm house at the end of a long(ish) driveway just down the hill from our church.  We could see the purple light-up cross from our windows at night.  In that house we learned that we were good.  We were loved.

It’s funny how we forget that.

This week I went to the grocery store to get cream cheese for our Super Bowl party shrimp dip.  I came out of the store with Pull-ups training pants that get cold when the kid pees (I’m trying anything at this point), a variegated scan of yarn to try (and I stress try) to knit something out of, and a pack of valentines for my daughter (which I later realized doesn’t have enough for her whole class).  

And yep, you guessed it, no cream cheese.  

I put it on the conveyor-belt thingy.  I can picture it in my mind.  It was red.  The package font was curly white, I tell you!  But somewhere between that belt and my home, it was not in the bag.  And even though it wasn’t a big deal, and even though we could borrow some, I still felt like an idiot.

“How could you forget something so simple?” the voice in my head says.  This voice has not been all that kind to me historically.

I used to let it get me down, believing its bullying wholeheartedly.  It’s only recently where God’s got me learning that wholeheartedness is this whole other thing.  Growing up in that white two-story farm house, my parents didn’t teach me to believe fear like that.  
In my writing space at home I have pictures and cards hung up to remind me of love when the fear gets loud, to remind who I am and where I’m from.  One is a 35-mm shot of my childhood home, another is a silly “Rockstar for Jesus” pic where I’m serving sno-cones as a camp counselor with a Sharpie-drawn tattoo, another is a Wonder Woman card a dear friend gave me at a time when I needed someone to believe in me.  

We need reminders.  We need nudges back to the Goodness when the bullies get loud.  

As a part of the Nebraska Writing Project, I was introduced to a writing exercise that is pure magic, a nudge that I’ve seen work for everyone who tries it.  

Writing an “I Am From” poem made me cry the first time I did it, and it still resonates the two other times I’ve done it since.  The exercise is based on a George Ella Lyon poem titled “Where I’m From.”  It takes the original poem and puts in blanks for you to insert your own story.  So, if you’ve always wanted to write poetry, but didn’t think you had the chops, here’s an easy start.  

In true teacher form, I have a handout, so click here to print off or use this page.  The directions are straightforward and there are two examples.

One more thing, after you’ve written, don’t judge the writing or apologize for it, just say thanks for the Goodness that shines through. Maybe that’s a good stance for more than just this poem.  What if, instead of apologizing or critiquing, you shared it with someone and it warmed their heart? Hearing these from others is part of the magic.  

That said, I’d love to hear it if you write one.  May we all remember where we’re from, sitting back comfortable in our own skin, at home again in that two-story white farmhouse, home in the Love that’s been holding us since the beginning, may we remember and help each other when we forget.

I am From by Evi Wusk (2017)

I am from notebooks and library bags, filled.
From Noxema and “Our Family” store brand everything.
I am from the white two-story farmhouse down the hill on Rohrs Road.

I am from Bleeding Hearts blooming and Daylillies in the ditch.
From Birthday Cake on Christmas and “Do what you say you’re gonna do.”

I am from Elmer and Pearl, from Herbert and Nancy
From quiet Midwest farmers who smile loud and New England nature lovers who ate brown bread and beans every week.

From, “Go run around the house,” and “I’ll pay you a quarter if you can be quiet for 10 minutes.”
I am from potluck Lutherans, and week-long Bible school with root beer floats and water balloon clothes sopping wet.

I am from Auburn, Nebraska, from Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland and Holland.  From crunch cones in the summer, corn chowder in the winter, and tuna salad all days in between with a bowl of pickles on the side.  

From that time my quiet Grandma put one hole and then another in the kitchen linoleum, as that garden snake shirked her garden hoe swings, as my child eyes grew big as saucers.

From sitting around the table at noon, our family and our hired hand, a big meal at dinner and then again at supper, all passing bowls, sitting, talking, and saying grace.

From the Steffens farm quarry.  From St. Paul’s (Hickory Grove) Church.  From a Bible on the table, corners worn in the white two-story farmhouse down the hill on Rohrs Road.

How to Hold On to Little Moments (Day 30)

I watch my mom with my kids as they climb up and then fly down the slide, their pants leaving dust trails on the shiny metal curve at Coryell Parkjust off the country road.  Trucks barrel by, leaving a new layer of dust for the next kids to come visit the playground.  

In the middle of nowhere between Auburn and Johnson, Nebraska, this place conjures memories of birthday parties, church hayrack ride bonfires, and time exploring with my sister on the old bridges, life-size play house, and small-yet-beautiful chapel.  

Being here as an adult feels serene, as I watch my own children giggle, rocking back and forth on metal animals welded to old bendy spirals with paint worn off.  They creak with every buck back and forth, showing age, yet working all the same, in this well-maintained, time-warp space.  

As I smell the leaves and hear their laughter, I get this feeling (that I often get) that I need to bottle this.  I reach for my phone in my back pocket–but stop myself, wondering how I can ever be present in these fleeting, beautiful moments.    
So I do the only thing I can do, and say a prayer of thanks.

And in the gratitude, something shifts and the leaves, the goodness, the children shine in a new way, a deeper way, an alive way, and I sense I am not experiencing it alone.  

I’m experiencing it with.  

And suddenly there’s no need to bottle, or Snapchat, and re-create the Deep Goodness because I am a part of It, interacting with IT, reminded how I always have been, as much as I would like to pretend otherwise, running in all directions.  

So as we finish up this 30-day challenge, I’m thankful for That, and for what’s starting.  We never really know what’s next, the things coming tomorrow and the next day.  But look around, this moment, right now, this is.  Say thanks for the people, for the giggles, for the meal you just had–even if it was a rushed-by train wreck.  Because this, this is the life we get, the beauty and the mess.  

Tomorrow another truck will come by and fling new dust on the slipper slide.  But today we get to leave our mark.  And not our mark on the world so much as our mark on each other.  We get to etch life in memory, love in the daily.

So get up.  Climb up the steps.  Forget that phone for a bit; you can dust those pants off later.  Make a mess one more time and fly down that slide and dare to enjoy even the bumpiest ride.  Enjoy the ride dear ones and say thanks.

Congratulations to Krafty Kash giveaway winner: Tandreasen25 and her mom!  I don’t have contact info, so can Tandreasen please FB message me so we can get you set up for delivery?  Thanks Kashoan for this generous gift.  Thanks Curt for inspiring photography.  Thanks Gail, Renee, Danielle & Frances for stories and creativity.   And a special thanks to anyone who read along (especially you Dad).  It means a lot to me.  Love you all.  

Today’s Gratitude: First baby calf at the farm. And for these old pictures I found while sifting through old files.  May photography help us to see, instead of distracting us from seeing.  Cheers to gratitude in 2017. 🙂  

A Weekend to Reflect (Day 28 & 29)

Special thanks to Curt for sharing his photography throughout the challenge.  I love this image as we near the very end of our month together, seems so fitting.  So, either today or tomorrow, make a space for Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” a method for praying with images or other media (Tim Mooney).  Maybe enjoy a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate as you take time to enjoy some quiet.  It might surprise you what thoughts bubble up, what new thanks become visible. 

Visio Divina Questions
  1. What do you notice at first about this picture?  What jumps out at you?  
  2. Does it remind you of anything in particular?  Does it make you think ahead to something?
  3. How might this image be related to God’s continuing work in your life?  
Spend as much or as little time with this image as is helpful, and (if you like) you can jot some notes about your time in your packet or notebook.