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.


Stumbling Our Way to Gratitude (Day 27: Guest Post from Danielle)

It is a delight to introduce you to Danielle!  She and I met through the Nebraska Writing Project (which is something life changing to check out if you are a teacher who loves words).  Reading her writing feels like you're having coffee together, enjoying her perfect mix of humor and insight.  Not many writers capture their own voice so well--such a gift.  Today I am thankful for her reminder of how hard and yet beautiful gratitude can be.  


Full disclosure: Lately, gratitude has not been my first reaction. I feel a bit like a frazzled, cantankerous old woman who pads around in a pilling pajama set and a bathrobe muttering, "Who moved my cheese?! Why is the floor so sticky?! Who ate all the bread?! How many more questions are you going to ask tonight?!" Picture Mrs. Dubose from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; that's about what I look like right now.

In the last month, life has kicked my husband and me square in the shins. Some of our dear friends experienced the pain and loss of a miscarriage after years of trying to get pregnant. We had to put our beloved dog down; the same dog who has been by our side for nearly 11 years. Our dishwasher bit the dust and gave us a new water feature in our basement. My husband's work schedule has been INSANE, and our kids have experienced a month-long holiday hangover from all the sugar, events, and general commotion of December. I'm one catastrophe away from chain smoking.
I have not handled these moments with grace and optimism. Honestly, I've never been a glass is half-full kind of gal. I'm more of a realist with a touch of snark. I tend to see the world as it is and then think about what I can do to make it better...and then binge on Red Vines when I realize how hard this work will be.

But I want gratitude. I long to be someone who can see bright spots in the darkness. Someone who can look at the gaping hole where my dishwasher once stood and think, I've got money in the bank to buy a dishwasher #soblessed. I usually stumble around in the dark for a good while stubbing my toes, cursing under my breath, before I eventually see the light.

Usually, this light--this feeling of gratitude, comes from the most unexpected of places. It comes from fifty degree weather in January in Nebraska, from hearing my kids work together to convert a dishwasher box into a rocketship, from a blueberry so perfectly plump and crisp that it snaps when I bite down on it, from seeing floods of humans marching peacefully in solidarity for marginalized peoples. These are glimmers of gratitude in dark moments. They aren't big or deliberate; they are organic and hit me when I need them most.

The key to all of this, to experiencing these glimmers of gratitude: we must remain aware to our surroundings. We must keep our eyes open and our ears bent even in the darkness. But, I'm a realist, so I know that grief and pain and hopelessness will sometimes consume us. When my world looks akin to a raging dumpster fire, and I feel caught in the middle without escape, I turn to my tribe. My tribe is a handful of people who know me on different levels, who connect with me in different ways. These people often pull me out of the fire through funny text messages, encouraging words, or simply with coffee and their presence. We don't need to do life on our own. When gratitude doesn’t come easy, when we find ourselves muttering in our bathrobes, stumbling through the dark--we can reach for our tribe to flip on the light when we can't seem to find it.

Katrina Lee Photography 
Atkinson, Nebraska

***Last chance to win! The drawing for the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge (Krafty Kash Necklace pair valued at $42.00) will be posted on Monday. If you haven't yet, comment with a name of a friend you'd like to see win along with you. All you need to do is post the name on this link.

Prescription for Gratitude (Day 26)

RX #101
Wusk, Evi Ed.D. (Not M.D.)

In addition to writing three gratitudes, take 10-20 minutes of silence or music once daily.  Avoid taking with low-level hum of life.  Can be taken with water, friends, dishes, mindless paperwork, a long commute and/or laundry.  

For Treatment of: Malaise, Ungratefulness, Eeyore-like-ness, Grumpiness, Anger, Impatience and when someone says to you, "Are you tired?  You look tired."

Possible Side Effects:  Smiles, Peaceful Heart, Patience, Dancing and possible Giggles.

Refills: Unlimited  

1.  Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry
2. Shake it Off by Taylor Swift
3.  Jump in the Line by Harry Belafonte
4.  Roar by Katy Perry
5.  Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson
6.  I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by the Proclaimers
7.  Home by Phillip Phillips 
8.  Ho Hey by the Lumineers
9.  Budapest by George Ezra
10.  Heartbeat Song by Kelly Clarkson
11.  Geronimo by Sheppard
12.  Shut up and Dance by Walk the Moon
13.  Good to be Alive (Hallelujah) by Andy Grammar
14.  The General Specific by Band of Horses
15.  Try Everything by Shakira
16.  Brand New by Ben Rector 


Today is a Gift (Day 25: Cool Stuff from Frances)

THANK YOU Frances for creating this Bible Journaling page as part of the 30-day Gratitude challenge!  The work is beautiful, it makes me think, and it inspires thanks--three of my favorite things all happening at the same time.

I first met the artist, (the amazing) Frances, at a retreat hosted by (the also amazing) Deidra Riggs.  Or I guess I should say I met her art.  Her last name is Patterson, but in my mind she's just Frances, like Cher or Oprah or something. 

Frances created the decor for Deidra's event, and I was struck by the seemingly inexpensive art media that came together in a way that was beautiful and valuable.  Before Frances was thanked publicly in the event, I kept wondering, who made all this cool stuff?  

I don't know Frances that well in real life, but to "friend" her on social media is a blessing; she's one of my positive reasons to stay in the stream.  Her quirky way of creating things, reflecting on being a caregiver, and playing in the creation space all inspire me.  If you enjoy her stuff like I do, check out my favorite lighthearted blog post of hers where she encourages us all to take lots of pictures.  You'll be glad you did.  


 P.S. Calling all cool people (yes, that's you).  Amazing Deidra is having another retreat this April in Lincoln.  I will be there for the 22nd and hopefully the 21st too (fingers crossed).  At both of her former retreats I've been inspired, and the the people singing with hands in the air were welcoming to the Lutheran gals swaying happily in the back with hands in their pockets. :)  Click below for more info.  I would love to connect with you there! 


Thankful, Even in This Season (Day 24)

I pick up my four-year-old's Minnie Mouse balled-up sock from the bedroom floor for what feels like the one millionth time.  As I uncurl the toe and fling it into the laundry basket, mere feet away, I shake my head.  How is it possible that small humans make such a big mess?  And how is it that they do this every day?  

When I start to get in this lovely frame of mind toward my kiddos, I want to remind myself of what my wise friend Carrie once said, "Each new phase with my kids is my favorite."  Instead of hopefully looking ahead to a time without diapers or sentimentally back, trying to keep her kids from ever growing up, her aim is to enjoy them just as they are in the present season of life.   

But maybe you're in a season that has you marking off days on the calendar, like some enormous Jell-O fluff salad that you have to push yourself through to just survive.  Been there.  Done that.  And it is not easy to keep perspective when your current reality seems like a prison you want to escape.  So what can we do?

One idea comes from an article I read where the author described her mother as a textile artist.  As I read along, a lightbulb came on as I thought, oh she's a quilter. . . like my mom.  In all the years of machines whirring and fabrics snipping, I'd never thought of it that way.  Textile artist sounded different, like I'd been looking at something my whole life never really seeing it.  

It wasn't that I hadn't appreciated my mom's quilting, but simply labeling it in a new way opened something up.  Because of this (and mom's generosity), we now have a quilt hanging in our dining room.  I adore it.  I'd been in looking a piece of "art" for that wall for so long, never finding the right thing.  Who knew the perfect piece was in our house the whole time?  

Sometimes we're so close to the amazing stuff we don't realize it's amazing.

So how are you labeling this season?  Are you always looking forward. . . once I have that baby, once I get married, once I get the promotion, once the flowers start blooming again, once I finish my degree. . . The truth is we will never arrive.  Life is change.  Life is growth.  So what would it look like to simply live this season and say thanks--even for this?  This house.  This job (or lack thereof).  This age of kids in my family.  This season of grief or pain.  This empty nest.  

This one millionth balled-up sock on the floor.

What would it look like to see this season in its best light and label it that way in my thoughts?  Not just a quilter, but a textile artist.  Not pre-school chaos, but two little explorers filled with wonder.  And yes in every season there is a version of the mess, but it's easier to pick up that sock realizing that someday the hamper and so many things will be emptier.  

And it's not a simply sentimental "You're gonna miss this," type of thing, but a deep knowing that for now, this balled up sock and the toys strewn around are good, just where they need to be, right here, right now.  In this amazing time to say thanks for all the gifts hiding right in front of our eyes.

by Holly Steffens

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