Starting Off With Thanksgiving

It’s funny how, as a North American culture, we don’t get around to celebrating Thanksgiving until the end of the year: November for the United States, and October for our cousins in Canada.  And what’s even funnier is how, after we’ve gone around the table and given thanks for whatever pops into our head and stuffed ourselves senseless on enough food to feed a third world country, we start bidding the current year goodbye and begging the new one to hurry up and come and please be better than the last.

2017-horrible-year

When I was reviewing 2017 in my own life, I decided to look for great things that happened instead of focusing on crap that came my way, annoying people who wouldn’t leave, or, God have mercy, politics.  And what I found was that, by-in-large, 2017 was AMAZING!

  • I made it through a very difficult year of teaching – what a victory!
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    Completing a teaching credential at the same time as taking over a secondary level choral program and only being there half the time because of grad program demands was crazy-making for not just me, but all the students who needed and deserved my full attention. But we all made it, even if by the skin of our teeth…

    I finished a graduate program.

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    Master’s degree Number Two.
  • I lost 53 pounds (there’s a 2017 resolution checked off!).
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    After a lifetime of struggle, I finally found a program that works!  Feeling great these days!
  • We celebrated TWENTY YEARS of marriage!
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    I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend life with – life here and now and life there and then! I’m so grateful that God has brought us this far!
  • And we welcomed a new puppy into our home (yes, we are staying positive on that one).
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Boudicca, Destroyer of Worlds and Fartmonster Extraordinaire. Our 5-month old Rottweiler who is, regardless of what she chews or where she poos, a sweet little bundle of blessing…I will keep saying that…

So I decided to approach this year differently – starting with gratitude.  And, after all, that’s why I blog – to keep track of all God’s tender mercies that He just showers on me, day after day, month after month, year after year.

It’s so easy to get bogged down with the daily grind, isn’t it? And that grind sometimes grinds a little harder than we’d like it to.  And, for whatever reason, the negatives stick in our minds and hearts far more easily and for a lot longer than the positives.  But if we can make a habit of being consciously mindful of the wonderful things that cross our paths, it really will make our lives better.

But don’t take my word for it…you’ll listen to Huffington Post, won’t you?

“Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off” (from The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier).

Now, habitual gratitude can be tricky to develop, so I decided to actually use one of those awesome Pinterest projects I perpetually pin; I made my very own Gratitude Jar!  I put some serious effort into this jar – we’re talking paper tearing, Mod Podge (gosh, I LOVE that stuff, and the smell…I know, totally weird…), hand lettering even.  Then I set up a little thanksgiving station in our dining room.  It’s very obvious and we will always be prompted to take a moment, write down what we’re thankful for, and drop it in the jar. I think it turned out rather well!

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Then, when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, we can spend the evening doing more than binging on Netflix and hoping the crazies won’t crash outside our house and wake us up (because we’re now old and we like to sleep in, rather than party in, the new year). We can go through each little moment of gratitude we’ve deposited and reflect on the amazing tender mercies of God as they’ve been bestowed throughout 2018.

And I daresay that, while we’re doing this, our overall outlook will be transformed.  It is, after all, our mental life that determines how we interpret our outer life.  The state of our mind is what primes us to recognize God at work, and also what primes us to miss His hand in our lives.   Paul tells us this in Romans 12:

Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2, KJV)

I am determined to grow my faith in the Savior’s guidance, and am utterly convinced that cultivating an eye for what He’s doing and a heart of gratitude for it will do just that.  And, as I recognize and give Him thanks for the small things, I will find bigger things to marvel in and bless Him for.

Have a simply BEAUTIFUL 2018!

Fresh Starts

This is not the post I meant to write.

The post I meant to write is one I’ve been chewing on for weeks.  That one’s about patience, about the bite of patience, the burden of patience, and the blessing of patience.(Alliteration is so fun!)  Very serious and contemplative and deep stuff.

Keep your eyes open for that one – it’s gonna be AWESOME.

This one, on the other hand, is one I’m just dashing off because…because of THIS:

new journal
I thought I’d go with this cool Celtic design, being 22% Irish and all…

Yes, you’re right! It’s a new journal!

Not everyone is a journaler (I don’t know if that’s a word!), but I have been since I was a freshman in college.  I would journal faithfully, every day, logging events and emotions and story ideas and frustrations and spiritual insights…I LOVED my journals, and eagerly anticipated reaching the end of one so I could crack open a brand new one.  My “hope” chest is crammed full of volume after volume after volume…

And then came marriage. And children. And financial worries and woes. And stress. And packing. And moving. And again. And self-care (of which journaling is most certainly a part) went out the window for years…

But just over two years ago, right when my personal story was getting super dramatic and the growing crisis was reaching a boiling-over-point, I picked up my pen and a half-used journal and started there.

In the last 2 years, as I’ve made a habit of penning my thoughts and feelings and insights and questions (no, not daily- still married, still parenting, still sorting out finances and dealing with stress…fortunately NOT moving, at least not anytime soon!), I’ve found a sense of stability and release and have re-claimed the ability to look at what I’ve written and receive insight on how to manage it.  Once it’s on paper, everything is so much less threatening.

And a new journal – ohmygoodnessitsafreshstartanewchapterawholenewworld!

Congratulations if you could read that the first time.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

fresh journal page
Just look at that pretty blank page!

Something about a blank journal page is so promising and hopeful and exciting!  As much as I loved writing in the last one, I couldn’t help but quiver in anticipation as I saw that last page getting closer and closer, knowing that, when I close the back cover of that volume, it’s all history! Sure, I can go back and read and ponder (and I do frequently), but that new volume gets all my creative juices flowing and reminds me that I can write my life however I want to.  The last chapter has ended, the new has begun.

It’s a lot like New Year.

And it also reminds me of our Heavenly Father – the grandest Writer and Architect and Composer ever.  I am a master of mucking things up (explaining the crisis I found myself in 2 years ago), but He?  He is the Author of fresh starts, new chapters, blank pages.  That He can walk into a life and re-boot it, wipe away all the mistakes and the wrong turns and the poor decisions and say, “Here’s a new book – try again!” is, by far, a tender mercy beyond compare.

In 1993, I wrote a sonnet.  Yes, a sonnet.  One of those Shakespearean language nightmares.  It was never accepted for publication, but perhaps that was meant to be because now I get to share it. Looking at that new journal, that fresh start, that steppingstone towards greater things, brought it to my memory, and it’s so perfect for this moment:

WRITER

With pen in hand, I’m poised to make a mark

Upon a brand new page, so clean and white.

The words reflect my thoughts: confused and dark

And jumbled; nothing that I scrawl sounds right.

I dash and scribble, frantically erase

Mistakes that mar the beauty of my piece;

I sweat and toil and gasp for words of grace

And elegance – the struggle does not cease!

The piles of crumpled paper on the floor

Are proof that untried words may have no part;

But patience soon prevails…my eyes, strained sore,

Behold the finished work of priceless art.

The Writer of my life, with no less care

Inscribes in me a text of radiance rare.

God can, and will, rewrite your life. It is His joy to “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).