12.31.2014

Stopping to say thanks for 2014


As I sit here at my green writing table, I can hardly wait for my fresh new, 2015 notebook. . . I geek-out on New Year's resolution thinking, excited for the energy that comes with a fresh start.  It's like I'm this penned-up dog ready for my owner to release the leash as I stand at this huge field of freshly fallen snow.

But it's not 2015 just yet.

Before we jump ahead, let's stop and look back.  Gratitude has a way of warming us up, rejuvenating us for what's next.  The best way to speed up is to slow down first.

One practical help I found for zooming up and looking back is an annual examen prayer.  If you've got a little time, check it out--I sense you'll be glad you did.  But if today is busy, you can still think a bit on the broad strokes of it:

  1. Looking back, what (and who) am I grateful for this year?
  2. Where have I felt true joy?
  3. What has challenged me?
  4. What has troubled me?
  5. When did I have time for renewal and pause?
  6. Have I noticed God in any of this?
  7. In light of all this. . . what is my response moving forward?

The pages in my 2015 notebook are blank, unknown. . . and yet I'm thankful, knowing that no matter what comes, all will be well (Julian of Norwich).

Cheers to all of it!  And happy new year.


12.24.2014

The best Christmas gift


Last night at 1:52 a high-pitched toddler voice jolted me awake.

"Where are you mama?  Where ARE YOU MAMA!?"

My two-year-old's screams came from the living room.  Trying to find me, she was lost.

As I sat rubbing her back, wrinkling her new red and white Christmas reindeer pajamas, I wished I could take her fear away.  Even when I physically touched her and repeated, "Mama's here, mama's here, mama's here.  Everything is going to be okay," it took time for her to stop crying.

Why couldn't she notice, take a deep breath, calm herself and realize she had exactly what she wanted?

In this season of Advent--and all year round--I get in a funk from time to time, drowsy from the cares of day-to-day life.  I find myself asking. . . where are you God?  Sometimes even, Where ARE YOU GOD?

God is all around us, daring to shine through people and situations--even hard ones--right in front of our eyes.  God didn't come as a book.  He came as a person.

So let's live gratitude today for the best Christmas gift, Immanuel, God WITH US. . . rubbing our back, daring us to quit crying, to see him physically with us saying, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here.  Everything is going to be okay."


12.01.2014

What I'm doing this December


I have a #gratitudeparty hangover--the absolute best kind--as I sit here warmed up by words over the last chilly month.  As I sit here all cozy, I remember one of my favorite author's words, "Oh that's cute. . . now on to the next thing."  I think he's right, but my next thing is listening and waiting for a bit.  I want to live thanks in advent this year instead of doing the whole Christmas rush around.  I'd love it if you joined me in one or both of my waiting practices:

1.  I'm taking a daily walk between Thanksgiving and New Year's.  Julia Cameron (one of my favorite authors on creativity) is really intense about the importance of taking walks.  I think it sounds stupid. . . so that probably means it's life-changing.  Thoreau walked daily for like four hours (I'm thinking minutes here), but I'm reading his 1861 work, Walking (free ebook - public library - IndieBound), which he wrote seven years after Walden.  

2.  I'm posting a daily photo on Instagram for my church's Word-of-the-Day challenge.  To participate, take a picture each day, December 1-25, that illustrates the daily word for you after reading the related Bible passage for inspiration, then post your pic to Instagram with these hashtags: #SouthwoodSightings #Watch (for example, for December 1).  The challenge is described in more detail here.  If you're new to Instagram, ask a student to show you the basics, or click here.  

Subscribe via e-mail to get your #gratitudeparty thank you gift.

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11.27.2014

Day 30: Happy Thanksgiving



"We don't think ourselves into new ways of living.  
We live ourselves into new ways of thinking." 
- Richard Rohr

My two-year-old daughter asked for milk.  I gave her milk.  She threw the milk on the floor.

Awesome.

I picked it up and asked her if she wanted the milk.  She said, yes, then thanks, then started looking around the room, dancing, listing everything she could see, quickly forgetting her little bout of anger.  "I'm thankful for milk.  Thankful for mommy.  Thankful for lamp."  She went on and on, and I thought, how cute. . . a little gratitude party.  It reminded me of this devotion I'd read earlier in the week about gratitude being an action.  

And here we are 30-days later.  I'm thankful today for a lot of things, and that God dropped this sippy cup of an idea into my lap.  

I am like fist pumping right now that we made it.  Holy adventure.  Thirty days is a long time!  I'm amazed at the tenacity of people, at their willingness to jump in, knowing and trusting that it's a process.  I've learned that if you're willing to devote yourself to learning something, and if you trust that God's grace is going to accomplish the part we can't ourselves, that even the biggest visions don't sound all that crazy.

So thanks.  It's been such a gift.  

p.s. I am trying to "publish" this on my parent's home dinosaur computer--they have an iPad, but I need the keyboard.  I've hit "publish" four times--so close to being done with this thing.  Arghhh (mad pirate voice).  Even now, when I feel like I should "get it," God's not done teaching me about gratitude.  God's probably not done with you either.  I read somewhere that if you really think you're spiritual, go and spend a weekend with your family, then see how you're doing.  Hah!  So, cheers to that.  I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Dinosaur computers and all--there's a lot to be thankful for.

Day 30 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: Tonight, and maybe many nights from now on, tuck your ten fingers under your pillow and count ten gratitudes before going to sleep.  
  • Choice 2:  Write yourself a future e-mail about what you've learned from #gratitudeparty at futureme.org.  Have it delivered a month or a year from today.
  • Choice 3: Do absolutely nothing.  You're loved just the way you are.  Just marinate in that for a bit.  I bet you'll find yourself giving thanks.
#750. Thinking about my next gratitude notebook.

Congratulations to Shawna for winning the pie.  Thanks to all who entered!


11.26.2014

Day 29: The Empty Chair



It was breathtaking. . . I was at a conference, high on thought-shifting conversations and coffee much buzzier in the big city than at home in small town, Nebraska.  I was skipping through life, jazzed by the fun of the 30-day gratitude thingy I was doing at my blog (which I was trying to quit downplaying by calling it a thingy).   In the middle of all that life rhythm, pulsing, on pace, lively, breath in and out. . . no breath.

The blue seat in the center back of the bus with a vibrant pattern stopped me short.

My last vision of that seat is one filled with a young man, around 14, his feet propped on a red cooler of our mission-trip snacks, joking with friends as they tussled each others' hair.  I remember them roughhousing--just being kids--in between checking their phones, all swimming in the noise bustle that is adolescence, this time of not quite yet.  This young man, thin, dark hair, was the epitome of not quite yet.  He was quirky, smart, interesting, one maybe seen more truly by adults than his peers at this stage.

. . .  I'm guest posting over at my friend Deidra's blog today.  Will you join me over there for the rest of the story?


11.25.2014

Day 28: Five Ways to turn Wantsgiving back into Thanksgiving

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,
and not rather a new wearer of clothes."

- Thoreau's Walden

I am pumped about Thanksgiving.  You see I love dressing--not stuffing, dressing.  If you don't know the difference, get out.  Just get out.  No really, this is an important day, one where we gather to say how thankful for what we have. . . and to sit around and highlight doorbuster adds with all of the stuff we don't have.  And while I look for gifts to give, I always end up shopping for myself.

When did Thanksgiving become Wantsgiving for me?

I am guilty of having too many shiny shopping bags at my shins this time of year.  So, how can I live thanks this season?   I don't want to undo all the #gratitudeparty stuff the same way that yummy dressing might undo my attempts at exercise.  With that in mind, here are five things I'm trying:
  1. Don't buy anything for myself.  (And, once the season is over, only buy things when they've been worked through this cool little printable I keep in my wallet.)
  2. Buy local.  I like to seek out the best deals at the big box stores, but once we add in milage and packaging, could a few extra bucks in the pockets of our neighbors be an added gift?
  3. Shop with friends and/or family and focus on relationships.  What would it look like for us to focus on the people shopping with us as much as we do on the price tags?  What if instead of bargains we were shopping for stories of the time we got up so early and that situation that made us laugh so hard?
  4. Before buying, sort out items to give away.  This is not about having a sleeker system for your home as much as it is about the spirit of the holiday.  How would it look to slash our things back severely enough so that it actually helps?
  5. Give an experience instead of stuff.  Are there events or experiences that can be gifted instead of things?  Think of creative ways to connect people and places.  
I don't need new things as much as I need new eyes to see the things--and more importantly, the people and relationships--I already have.  What if we greeted this week of Thanksgiving not with the culture's eyes--which teach us to want, want, want and red circle graffiti all those advertisements--but with fresh eyes that see the people around us anew?  My Grandma, who always made the best holiday dressing, passed away this year.  Time with our family is a precious gift.  What if we noticed something small and different about each one and illuminated it with a positive heart?  Wouldn't that be the gift we're all really looking for?

Day 28 Challenge:
  • Choose one of the holiday shopping ideas above to try.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.24.2014

Day 27: Seeing with Fresh Eyes


"It is not joy that makes us grateful.  It is gratitude that makes us joyful." - David Rast

Last night when all the cool kids were watching the American Music Awards, I was watching The Little Mermaid.  Yep, that's my life.  But--I actually enjoyed myself.  If you can't smile at the words dingle-hopper or snarf-blatt, you're taking yourself too seriously.  Anyway, I hadn't seen movie for a long time, and--hello--she gives up her family and her voice for a man?  All that aside, I was struck by one scene that I hadn't noticed before with all of the giant-sized Ursula hubbub and underwater musical extravaganza.

After Ariel loses her mermaid tail and flirts her way into Eric's house, he takes her on a tour of his kingdom.  I love this scene.  She dangles herself down over the carriage in awe at the horse's feet, she charges head-first into the day with this beautiful zest of someone who hadn't seen all of these "normal" things before.

I wonder if Eric saw his kingdom differently that day, seeing it through her eyes.

I'm thankful for two-year-old eyes this year.  They see everything.  Just this week as we put up our Christmas tree (yes, I'm one of those people drowning a baby reindeer), it stopped her short.  In this pool of wonder she just stood with her head cocked back and eyes sparkling.  And I too had never seen a more beautiful tree.  What would it look like to take that beginner's mind, that fresh perspective to your day-to-day Monday today?  What if, like Ariel, we took time to marvel at the simple wiggle of our own toes?

When I get home from work our dog, Daisy greets me with this beginner's mind, this joyful curiosity.  It might as well be the first time I've seen her every single day.  Her tail doesn't just wag--her whole butt goes crazy.  One of my co-workers has been taking time to notice something new each day on her way to work.  I loved this idea and took a little detour on my way this past week.  It takes a smidgen more time, but instead of going the most direct route, I've snuck in an extra loop to grab some nature gratitudes.  I'm surprised at the positive impact this little change has on my day.

So, maybe I'm not Ariel, in a "Whole New World" to explore (oh wait, that's Aladdin), but maybe, just maybe, I am.

#947.  Seeing the Christmas tree through two-year-old eyes.

Day 27 Challenge:
  • Choice 1:  Make a small change in your day to grab some nature gratitudes.
  • Choice 2:  Notice something new on your commute to work.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.23.2014

Day 26: Photo Quote Rest


"Your words create what you speak about.  Learn to speak positively." - Sanaya Roman

On Sundays during the 30-day gratitude challenge the goal is simple rest.  I don't want all of our gratitude muscles to get too taxed. :)

Day 26 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: Use your camera or phone to notice something that brings a sense of gratitude.
  • Choice 2: Spend some time with this quote.  Think on how it might speak to your upcoming week.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.22.2014

Day 25: Light

Today I am thankful to Charlie for sharing her heart and her words.  I was nervous to ask her to write as she's lived through perhaps my biggest fear.  Her courageous thoughts give hope as she dares to not just survive, but bring light to others.  I pray that my daughter, Charli might live to be even half as courageous as the woman who inspired her name.

* * *

Tonight our closest friends and family will gather around a bonfire, and let sky lanterns go into the prairie stars.  We will remember a little girl whose name means “light”, a little girl who died suddenly in her crib one year ago from a situation doctors describe as one in a million.

As the fall turns to winter, my body remembers even if I don’t want to. The damp cold under my knees as I knelt in the front yard screaming.  Ambulance lights flashing, paramedics holding me back, the blow of surreal terror. The sun reflecting on sparkling snow those strange days after, juxtaposed with the deepest dark feeling of being a stranger in a new world…blinding bright, blinding new reality, the cold light quiet of winter air and everything normal coming to a halt for weeks.

When my whole body hates the season, the darker days: how can I be grateful? When I see that faith feeds the hope that I so desperately need, that truth feeds faith, and that I simply don’t know how to figure out what’s true right now—how do I attain any sort of beautiful perspective? The answer is that I choose to. That I start small, and just try, and then try again and again. A practice, just like yoga.
  1. I am thankful for warmth. Warm down comforters, beanies with pompoms, wool socks, strong arms, our fireplace, the holidays, a hot mug between my hands. ALL THAT IS WARM!
  2. I am thankful for friends who stick with me like sisters. Practical friends who show up with the exact thing I don’t even know I needed, artist friends who tell me they felt like we were in an bitter-cold battle together last winter…she who texted me that she imagined “wrapping a big ole bear skin around you, with my arm around you, you with frozen tears”.
  3. I am thankful for generosity and hospitality. I have adopted those two values as cornerstones to work on/practice for the rest of my life after our tragedy, because people are all that matter.
  4. I am thankful for Tobin Moses Arrow, my son whose name means that God is good, whose namesake was a leader just like he is the leader of his future siblings. He continually saturates my life in goodness, keeps my heart tender with all the love and sadness and joy a girl could ever swallow all at once.
  5. I am thankful for the life of Lucy Garland, my firstborn. Another friend who lost her toddler daughter said of her, “I truly believe she was an angel that walked amongst us, as was Lucy . . . they were gifted to us briefly and brought back home where they will never experience pain or heartache or suffering, waiting until we can all be together again!” Dreamy, happy little girl who sang about sunny days, whose brown eyes swam with love just like her daddy’s: Forever, and ever, I am grateful you are mine.
Gratitude is a rebellion: a shoving back, a victory, a power. It is a light in the dark, like so many sky lanterns on a November evening—a recognition of the light here on this battleground, the light which we hope beyond all things is only a taste of the Light that is to come…where my own little light dwells very much alive, with me, and waiting.


Day 25 Challenge:
  • Light a candle for ones gone before, for gratitude today.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.21.2014

Day 24: The Tough Love Blank


"Mama, want to play puzzle games with me.  Do ya?"
"Oh, honey I would love to.  I just need to fold this laundry, and then we will play."
"Why?"
"Because I want to get the clothes clean for everyone."
"Why?"
"Well, the laundry keeps on coming."
"Why?"
"We wear clothes each day, and they get dirty."
"Why?"
Well, if we leave them in the basket too long they get wrinkly, and I don't want that."
"Why?"

Two-year-olds have a way of calling us out.  My trying--and sometimes failing--to avoid "Because I said so" has taught me something.  It wasn't until I started to form this argument that being non-wrinkly was a sign of respect for others--to a two-year-old--that I stopped, looked at her little face, and realized I was full of crap.

What would it look like for you to stop?

Today in the middle of your movements, maybe you're reading this at work or on your phone. . . what if you mentally zoom out and up and curiously take a look at yourself and what you're doing.  Maybe you've got some distance from the fast pace by slowing down to list some gratitudes in this challenge--and don't get me wrong, that's a good thing--but what if you look at the thing under the thing and ask, why?  Why?  No really, why?  Why are you doing this?

_________________________________

Is the 30-day gratitude challenge your way of not filling in that blank?  I know it might put you on the spot, but recently I received some tough love that was exactly what I needed.  So I need to ask, is there a challenge you're facing or running from or avoiding and this is just the latest Band-Aid?  Maybe you're just so mad you've been yelling--audibly or not.  Boredom, survival, hurts, fears, challenges, worries. . . If you really don't have a "thing" right now for your blank, quit reading this and go soak it in because, sorry to say. . . something is probably coming.  Ahh, there's the tough love.

I don't like tough love because I like to breeze by the thing, cross things off my list so I don't stop long enough to think about the thing or the thing one of those closest to me is going through.

Richard Rohr, one of my favorite authors, says that God comes to us disguised as our life.  If we all keep zooming by, what are we missing?  And maybe it's just a zooming season right now, and the stopping will come later, but (here's that tough love again) you can't outrun the one who gave you these legs to run with.  And living the questions--even the ugly questions--the doubts, the dirty laundry, the fears, the lens clearing. . . all of it is grace, some baby grace, not yet grown, but grace nonetheless.

And sometimes grace is awful.

But it's for something.  So sometime this weekend stop for a second and listen.

Listen to the love
Listen to the needs
Listen to yourself loving that need
All is giving and receiving
conversation
relationship
and yes, some taking
Still we listen and hear
others, giving some more
and strangely receiving, Listening
in tandem with the love that's there.

It's the moments when I stop that make me hungry, that threaten to spiral me into wanting, but instead I'm trying to sit still and say thank you, knowing that now is preparing me for what's next.


#768.  Stopping to play puzzle games.  

Day 24 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: Write a little poem.  Maybe it's just three sentences that notice the glint on the table leg next to you, but actually write it down, even if it's on a napkin.  Stop, notice, put words to it as a thank you.
  • Choice 2: If your blank makes you feel stuck and scared, play some music that says "Unstuck and Not Scared," then, write your little poem. :)  
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.20.2014

Day 23 - Gratitude Glasses: Listen with Your Eyes



Day 23 Challenge:
  • We all know someone who could use a little gratitude.  Share this video to invite a friend to the last week of the challenge!
Special thanks to Mitchell at shiftworship.com for this video!

*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.19.2014

Day 22: A Life that Makes Ripples


"Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love." - Mother Teresa

This morning I woke up to wetness on my right elbow.  I sniffed.  Decided it wasn't poop or vomit, and rolled over.   Spit-up doesn't phase me like it used to.  My seven-month-old-son and I had fallen asleep on the couch after he woke up crying and running a fever.

I get up, wipe off my elbow.
I change him.
I let the dog out.
I toss the towel in the laundry under the sink.
I set out some meat for supper.

I look at my gratitude-notebook and wonder if I should try to find gratitude in the spit-up.  But sometimes it's just spit-up.

In that unromantic day-to-day moment I got to thinking of my recent trip to a conference.  While my hubby was home manning the spit-up (God bless him), I learned about this guru, someone who had made a huge difference in her field, she inspired and helped a tribe of people who each inspired and helped their own tribe of people.  I heard again and again of the broad sweep of her humility, always helping others in real ways.  She came up so often I started to wonder, who is this lady?  So. . . awesome-sauce. . . I ended up talking to her.  Feeling a little bold because of #gratitudeparty, I flat out asked her how she did it, how she lived a life that made such big ripples.

Before she said anything, she apologized for the simplicity of her answer.

"Well, I don't have a big philosophy," she said.  "I just listen to people, find a way to connect, and try to bring them into my world."

I love the image of this woman's humble approach, small ripples here, small ripples there, stacking up, making a difference for just one person. . . and then another. . . and then another.

A simple smile, responding with kindness when the situation begs for anger and hurt, choosing to be space for a hard feeling, all of it matters, and all of it ripples.  So, if you find yourself with spit-up on your elbow today, remember your gratitude ripples.  One of the teachers who rippled on me, told me once to  "Just be a light house.  You don't see them running around trying to change the world."  They just live in their normal life, do their normal good thing, do simple good, all the while making some waves.

Day 22 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: LISTEN to the people in your life today, slow down and really hear them.  Sneakily help someone without them knowing it.  (I write this with tented fingers, loving the idea of us all being sneaky ripple-makers.  Muahaha.)
  • Choice 2: WRITE a letter thanking a teacher in your life who made a large impact. 
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.18.2014

Day 21: Wear What's You


"It is the things that you cannot do anything about and the things that you cannot do anything with that do something with you." - Richard Rohr 
One time in a conversation about dress code--as we women tend to have--I felt completely out of place, not because I didn't have fancy enough clothes or because I felt shabby, but because I was told the dress code was to, "Wear what's you."

This person might as well have been telling me to be 5 feet tall.  It seems simple enough, right?  My gray hoodie and sweatpants were the clear answer.  Hah!  Now I do love my comfies especially when it's getting colder, but the question really did trip me up.  If, in a professional setting, I was directed to "wear what's me," what would I choose?

Funny how this grown-up conversation threw me right into middle school mindset.  I spent my years between elementary and high school wearing a back brace, affectionately named George.  I love how my cool "Z Cavaricci" shirt isn't disguising anything in my school pic.  It's hard to be oober-comfortable in junior high skin even without an aluminum and plastic contraption camouflaging any chance you ever had at curves.  I joked my way through that season, often acting like it didn't bother me, but it was a time of intense wishing to be someone else--anyone else.

You would think after I grew out of George I would really grow out of him.

Yet he still hangs around in his own way.  So, when someone challenges me to "wear what's me," it's scary.  If we quit posing, quit starting our sentences defensively with things like "this is probably stupid but. . ." or "this is really dorky but. . ." and just say what's us, be what's us, what might people think?  What if that real you, the one not gussied-up isn't enough?

But what if you are?

A friend of mine recently heard a speaker who said, "Let your freak flag fly!"  We joke about this, but it is an important challenge, a fear that we need to courageously embrace.  What would it look like to worry more about what the big G Giver--a.k.a. Creator of me--thinks than what everyone else does?

Have you seen the middle school clones?  You'll recognize them as a set of 3-5 girls all wearing the exact same hair band and the exact same boots and the exact same shirt--often in different colors.  Whenever I run across a set, I find myself wondering how it would look for gals this age to be courageously themselves.  I especially wonder about the one on the end, the one trying so hard to be anything but herself.  I wonder how it would look if she embraced the part of her that's real, the part not posing, her curious, not-quite-there-yet-beauty.  I wonder if other girls on the end would team up with her.

The elderly man who mowed the grass on all my summers working as a church camp counselor told me once that I should, "Teach those kiddos to love themselves, after all when they're old and wrinkly like me, that's the only face that will look back at them in the mirror."

So today I dare you to live thanks for the You, you've been given, even the parts that don't make you feel all that thankful.

Day 21 Challenge:
  • Wear something, buy something, or do something that's courageously You in a good way.  *Disclaimer:  Honor your Designer and--if you work outside the home--honor the heart of the institution you serve.    
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.

11.17.2014

Day 20: Gratitude Lessons on My Bike

With gloved hands clenched around handlebars, I was surprised I hadn't felt cold yet.  My riding partner and I were warmed by sunshine and conversation on this brisk morning.

After realizing I needed to head home before her, I turned my tires north.  Only then did I realize what I couldn't heading south.  The headwind smacked me, causing my sweaty skin to prickle, and my riding smile to fizzle.

Like a Monday after a great weekend, this ride back felt like work.  Each turn of the pedal required oomph, as I tucked my chin hoping to cut through the bracing wind.  Needless to say, this gratitude gal wasn't feeling all that thankful.

Thoughts bounced all over the place.  I wished I hadn't gone out so far--looking back without thanks, I dreaded the rest of the ride back--looking forward without thanks, and I thought over and over, IF ONLY I could be somewhere else on the trail.

It wasn't until I chose to look at only the road directly ahead of my bike and the nature on the sides of the trail that I remembered #gratitudeparty and found a way to actually enjoy the ride.

It IS hard to find gratitude when life feels like a gail-force wind coming at us, when the end isn't in sight.  But how often am I focusing on what's pushing me back?  Or on what's way ahead in the future with IF ONLY's crowding out room for thanks.

On my ride back I noticed these little clearings.  I enjoyed a respite--however brief--from the wind's rough push.  These little rejuvenation stations refueled my tank, and I wonder how much harder the ride would have been if I weren't looking.

So if you're pedaling hard today, remember three things:
  1. A clearing is coming.
  2. Keep your eyes just ahead.
  3. Even if you have to get off and walk, even if you have to stop completely--you're still moving forward--time does the work when we can't ourselves.  
The challenge lies in seeing the moving, whether we're pedaling or standing still, in looking around to see the birds in the thicket just to our right, or the others around us pedaling against their own wind.  Gratitude gives us eyes to see it.

Day 20 Challenge:
  • Choice 1: Think of someone in your life who is facing an extreme challenge--grief, depression, illness.  Send them a note of thanks or give them a call.
  • Choice 2: Make yourself a gratitude totem--a blank sticky note, a small little figurine, or a special cup or picture.  It doesn't have to be expensive or mean anything to anyone else, but place a visual reminder for gratitude in your most challenging environment.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.


11.16.2014

Day 19: Photo rest


On Sundays during the 30-day gratitude challenge the goal is simple rest.  I don't want all of our gratitude muscles to get too taxed. :)

Day 19 Challenge:
  • Use your camera or phone to notice something that brings a sense of gratitude.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.


11.15.2014

Day 18: It's a Wonderful Life

Today I am thankful for my friend Matt's writing.  My first memory of Matt was as a camper at Carol Joy Holling.  I remember rolling over with my junior-high head smushed into my bunk pillow, waking to my counselor--Matt--singing at the top of his lungs, "Oh what a beautiful morning!"  The thing was, he sang this no matter the weather.  Matt was gracious enough to share his story of hope in the midst of loss, and to abridge it for my Type-A length limits.  The beautiful, longer version can be read here.



A gorgeous leaf in the middle of leaves charred from the fire. 
Beauty amidst destruction. Hope amidst darkness.

* * *


On May 29, 2014, my family suffered a terrible loss as a fire started in our garage. By the time the fire department arrived, flames engulfed the entire garage and had begun to spread into the main dwelling area. My wife Karin and I could only watch helplessly as smoke billowed from the house. When it was finally put out, the heat had melted the vinyl siding off the side of our next door neighbor’s house, it had obliterated our garage including the minivan that had been parked inside, it had basically melted our kitchen, and the heat and soot had destroyed the vast majority of our belongings. It only took three crates to hold everything the restoration company classified as “salvageable.”

Karin and I had purchased that house when we got married, and were the first owners to live in it. We had brought two children home from the hospital to that house. We had laughed and cried, we had suffered tremendous loss and had shared incredible joy, we had grown from young kids barely out of college to adult parents with careers and responsibilities. That house, and the mementos of our lives we had collected there over the years, had been the setting for many, many memories. And in such an incredibly short time, so much of that was gone.
However, and this is a huge however, in what our family experienced that day in May, God took destruction and created hope. Just as a burning bush spoke to Moses and assured him that God would be by his side and lead him, just as a pillar of fire led Israel out of slavery and into the freedom of the promised land, God has worked through our experience. So much of what we’ve learned and what we have been thankful for through all of this are lessons echoed in one of my favorite movies, It’s A Wonderful Life, as I’m constantly reminded of what a wonderful gift our lives really are.

1)    When the things we rely on and put our trust in other than God are stripped away, we discover what really matters. We discover that our faith, which is so easily professed when things are going our way, really and truly is our rock when the storms come. We discover that as long as we have each other and as long as we have God’s love, the rest of it really is superfluous. It doesn’t mean that things are easy—goodness knows I don’t want to romanticize our situation and make it sound as though what we’ve experienced has been sunshine and rainbows. It certainly hasn’t. But in the midst of adversity, when everything else we tend to rely on as a false idol is stripped away, that's when we most fully experience God’s presence in our lives.

2)    God dwells in the dark places. When we look for God, we shouldn’t be looking to the high and the mighty and the powerful and the successful…we should be looking to places like the burnt out remains of a house with a husband and wife clinging to each other, trying to shield two frightened children, wondering how they’re going to get by and just live day to day while the insurance companies and the powers that be drag their feet. That is where our family has experienced God at work.

3)    No one is a failure who has friends, as the angel Clarence wrote (using less gender-inclusive language) in a note to George at the end of the movie. Now, Karin and I knew that we had friends. What we didn’t realize, however, was the extreme depth nor the extreme breadth of those friendships. In the movie, George gets into financial trouble trying to help out the savings and loan he’s responsible for. When the town gets wind of it, without even being asked they give whatever they can to help him out. All it takes is the word “George is in trouble,” and the town begins trying to find ways to meet his family’s needs. That is precisely what we experienced as well after our fire. So many people came from everywhere, giving what they could simply because they heard we needed help. We were simply surrounded by an incredible amount of support and love. A group of neighbors coordinated giving drives and a huge fundraiser at our church. A family offered us their home for 6 months as they left for a professorial sabbatical elsewhere. There have just been so many incredible responses, overwhelming in the best possible way—that humbling feeling of being enveloped in life-changing, transformative love.

4)    Our lives have far more significance than we will ever fully know. Since our house fire, Karin and I have both been told stories of how our lives have impacted others—so many times, these stories have been things that we had no idea about. I had a member of the online Husker sports forum I frequent tell me that because of my words and encouragement, they found their way back to church and rediscovered their faith. I had no idea of any of that until this person told me. Others have told us stories of how our family has impacted their lives, and how they’re more than happy to help us because we have been such a help to them or to others—most of what we’ve been told, we would have had no idea about otherwise. The lesson here for all of us is a huge one. Don't discount your impact. The scripture reference about the body having many members and everyone having a part to play is so amazingly true—you DO make a difference, often in ways you will never realize.

Over the last six months, my family has experienced God through the faces of those around us. We’ve experienced God through the stripping away of everything else we’ve tried to put our faith in. We’ve experienced God through very real adversity, adversity where we are still facing a number of huge question marks even today. Yet in it we all have found reassurance of a God who walks alongside us, reassurance of that same God’s presence through so many who surround us with their love and prayer, reassurance that our lives do make an impact and a difference, that God does work through us, and reassurance that no matter what, we trust in a God who has the final word, who in the cross and the empty tomb has already won the ultimate victory on our behalf.

For all of those things, how could we not be thankful? Thanks be to God.



Day 18 Challenge:
  • Reflect on an instance of darkness or destruction experienced today either in your life or in the news. . .  look for the Hope.
*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  Subscribe via e-mail (on the left) or post a gratitude to WIN A PIE HERE.