8.25.2017

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.

3.20.2017

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.

Skunk.

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.





2.27.2017

Lenten Devotional Booklet - Free Resource!


If you've been hungry for a way to reflect and focus this season, I hope you'll check this out.  My friend, Michelle DeRusha, her husband Brad and I wrote the devotions, and Dan Noennig did the beautiful and simple design layout.  It's been a cool project, and I'm excited to share it here.  Pass it on to anyone who might use it.  Thanks!


Click here for your copy!

2.07.2017

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.

1.29.2017

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. :)  






1.27.2017

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.

1.26.2017

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.