Tag Archives: gratitude

Wobbly

We were gathered around a table for book club — a book club that does include some discussion of a book, but mainly provides a chance to decompress, to gather a group of women around a patio and chat without being needed or summoned by anyone else for a few lovely hours.

Photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash

One of my friends mentioned she spent the afternoon at a minor league ballgame with her kids, and that someone had snapped a cute picture of her family. She explained that she had started to post it on Facebook, on Instagram — but stopped because it just didn’t feel authentic. That shiny moment wasn’t reflective of the messy reality of the day. It didn’t seem to tell the whole truth: the overstimulation of the crowds, the innings of whining, the exhausted tantrum on the way home.

Few people overtly lie on social media — but most of us would admit that the whole system is based on selective truth-telling. We get to decide what milliseconds of our lives are put on display and which ones aren’t recorded. We miss all the moments that are deleted or when no one would think to reach for a camera.

Photo by Colin N on Unsplash

This summer, I’ve headed back to yoga. My friend and I haven’t been able to coordinate our attendance often, so I don’t usually know anyone in the class and most are older than me. Tree pose is a favorite of the instructor and each class I find myself (clumsily) attempting it: one foot rooted firmly to the ground, the sole of the other foot placed upon the standing leg. It’s a posture about stability, about staying rooted and strong, even when my body begins to sway.

Like many things involving grace, it appears easy at first glance, but as I am asked to hold the pose, the seconds tick by and what is only one minute feels like five.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Balance-challenged, I do my best.

Yet, as I stare ahead, trying to center on a focal point, I’m so grateful for the wobbly women in my periphery. I’m grateful for those who stand in front of me without perfection, also tapping an occasional toe to the floor. I’m grateful for those who push themselves enough to struggle with unsteadiness, and thus give me silent permission to do the same.

Can’t you feel the exhale in the room when we wobble together?

It’s a conversation I’ve had so often — how social media can make us feel unhappy, but yet we’re drawn to it. We feel a tug toward community, even a fictitious one, even if it can make us feel “less than.” Recent headlines and research tell us social media leads to depression, and yet very few walk away completely once that app is downloaded and is just a touch away.

I am, at times, an obsessive picture-taker (ask my family…) and I admit to feeling the tension between posting versus posing. I’d like to believe my propensity to share on social media comes from a place of gratitude rather than measuring up, but I often find myself checking my motives, adjusting my balance.

When I post a picture on social media, I understand that I’m sharing a millisecond of something that feels like — not perfection — but goodness. I’m close enough to my own reality to know that the majority of my day has not been photo worthy: bickering kids in the backseat, clogged toilets, and a stack of work that never made it out of my bag.

The problem is, it’s easy to forget that when you’re the one sitting behind the screen. It’s easy to forget that you’re looking at highlight reels — not the mundane, not the outtakes, not the deleted scenes.

A few things that help me when I lose my ground: humor, authentic captions, sharing with a smaller audience, and celebrating those who remember not to take themselves too seriously. Also, being self-reflective enough to know when I’m better off putting the device down or closing the tab and tackling my to-do list, picking up a book, or taking the dog for a walk.

Here’s the thing:  comparison or envy are not new emotions — social media just provides a breeding ground for it.

 So when those emotions of inadequacy start to surface, when I feel irritable and annoyed with myself because someone else’s post has made me feel like I can’t measure up, I need to find a new focal point.  The solution isn’t pretending I don’t wobble — it’s remembering to take my turn doing so in the front of the room. 

Real life in my writer’s notebook.

 

Hidden Hope

 

(A version of this piece was first published on The Twelve.)

During the summer, my schedule permits me to take a walk nearly every morning, just after sunrise. I pop in headphones, tune into a podcast, and head for my favorite path. Quiet neighborhood sidewalks open into a paved trail that winds through a farmer’s field, sometimes dotted with freshly-rolled bales of hay. I make my way around a small pond (albeit a former gravel pit with condos along one side), cross a bridge over Buttermilk Creek, and then veer off to a two-track under a canopy of trees.  I rarely make it back home without a feeble attempt to capture a shot or two with my camera phone – it might be the sunlight reflecting on the water or a purple wildflower standing proudly in a drainage ditch.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the snow had melted enough to allow for a February walk along this same trail. The sun couldn’t find its way through the clouds, and the gray sky matched the barren trees, but I caught myself snapping pictures of details I hadn’t noticed before – just as the voice on my podcast spoke of how almost everything has an “underbelly,” a hidden side we avoid or don’t know as well. I noticed tree roots twisted into the creek banks, the shimmer of ice hugging the pond’s shore, and that same canopy of trees – in shades of gray instead of forest greens.

I found hope on that walk. Hope in the beauty of the gray: like God gently tapping me on the shoulder to remind me that things don’t have to be shiny and perfect to be good, that grace meets us where we’re at, that creation still cries out in the midst of a dark day. And it’s led me this week to notice more of this, to keep a list of hopeful things.

Extra chairs pulled up to a table.

The sudden, distinct memory of my Grandpa’s deep voice singing his favorite hymn.

A student with down-syndrome, who passed a basketball to a student in a wheelchair to make a basket. Bleachers full of middle schoolers filling the gym with cheers.

An eight-year old shaking the hand of a refugee, no words exchanged, just shining eyes.

A well-written 8th grade literary analysis. The thesis: there is beauty in the ugly. And ugly in the beauty.

The yellow of a sunrise on a barren, winter field.  

The friend, an atheist, who found herself in a church pew at the request of her son, and said she just may come back.

A child dancing without music.

A driver who stopped, smiled, and waved me through an intersection.

The Writer’s Almanac. A poem each day standing calming amidst a cluttered inbox of advertisements.

Bible Study in the brewery.

Friends who listen. Who need say little more than, “me too.”
On Ash Wednesday, I’m remembering that author Barbara Johnson says that we are “Easter People living in a Good Friday world.”  That even in the dormant seasons, God’s story – for redemption, restoration, for the world to be made right again – is not at a standstill. We wait and we work with hope, grateful for a God who shows up in small and big ways.

See something, say something

All photos in this post are courtesy of my mother-in-law and gifted photographer, Audrey VanderLugt

 

The world feels extra fragile to me lately. The big and the small — so many cancer diagnoses in my community, a contentious election and now inaugagration, unnerving daily news reports, an especially dark January, and my own kids constantly picking at each other.

We had an Ice Day today – with school called off – and I’m grateful that I could let the kids laze around for a few hours this morning and for an extra day to recover from a head cold that has lingered for more than a week, making the already muddled world feel a little fuzzier.

As I sipped my coffee this morning, I clicked on one of those Facebook links I might usually pass over as too fluffy, one that promised to make me cry.  I started to watch, remembering seeing this one before — but I was compelled to stick with it — a story about a father who died in a car accident just weeks after his son’s birth, with that infant son critically injured. The story followed the mother’s journey as she went back to the hospital, to the aero med crew, to the entire team of people who had saved her son’s life 10 years earlier to thank each person face-to-face. She then threw an extravagent thank you party for these people who saved her son by doing their jobs well.

One of the women in the story, a nurse, mentioned that she had never been thanked by a family member, “not after;” commenting how you usually don’t “see people.”

Just yesterday, I received the kindest text message from a substitute teacher who had been in my classroom while I was out sick, complimenting my students on their thoughtful questions about a story they read aloud with her. She wrote, “I know I don’t deal with the ‘darn dailies’ as you do, but I love the atmosphere that you have cultivated in your classroom.”

She made my night — not just with kind words — but by reminding me why I do my job in the first place, reminding me of the potential and value of each of those students who fill the desks in my classroom everyday. By reminding me that while the daily work of those long winter months can feel tedious and wearisome, it’s important. That the best stuff can look mundane and be easily missed.

These thank yous, these intentional words of gratitude, turn things around for all of us —  those who take the time to pause and notice, those who receive the words of gratitude, and the bystanders who watch it unfold.

Last week we learned of the horrific shooting in an airport in Fort Lauderdale and were cautioned that when we “see something” we need to “say something.”

But what if we did this not just when we are scared or fearful, but when we witness the goodness of humanity in front of us? When we see a student stop to help another in the hall, when we notice that mom juggling her crying toddler and her groceries in the cashier’s line, when we’re served by a waiter or waitress who continues to smile as she manuevers a busy restaurant?

We have excuses. We avoid speaking up because of fear (“but I’ll sound weird”)  or busyness (“but I didn’t notice/have a chance”).  Yet, maybe those aren’t great excuses.

Our world is fragile and healing rarely happens in sweeping movements, but in the quiet, consistency of kindness that comes from showing up, seeing people, and just saying something.

P.S. Extra shout out of gratitude to that substitute teacher — it’s a rare thing to find someone who enjoys walking into an unfamiliar middle school classroom and following someone else’s lesson plans (for not-so-great money). What a gift — and a lesson for me in doing the everyday things with great care and love.

 

 

 

Thankful: the sacred mundane

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One of my favorite parts of teaching is writing with my students. In my Hope College class this fall,  we did a series of writing experiments — assignments more focused on exploration than perfection. One of my favorites was an imitation of a piece called “Thankful” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The piece is published in Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — a ecletic memoir told through a series of Encyclopedia-style entries.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ll share portions of our experiments in gratitude here. First, a compilation from a few of my students:

Thankful

I’m thankful for sunsets, hot coffee, sugar cookie dough, and happy endings. For allergy medicine and athletic shorts.  I’m thankful for my mother’s home cooked meals, especially when they involved mashed potatoes. For hikeable mountains and swimmable lakes. I’m thankful for handwritten letters. For forgiveness. I’m thankful for mac ‘n’ cheese, washing machines, and spontaneity.  That my family loves baseball. That baseball exists in the first place. I’m thankful for starry nights. For fireworks. For sunflowers. I’m thankful for the kindness of strangers, XL t shirts, and Instagram. For laughter that makes your stomach hurt and books to get lost in. I’m thankful that at the end of each day is sleep. For people who miss me when I’m gone. I’m thankful that children mispronounce words and for warm towels just out of the dryer. For chocolate cake and dirty white Converse that never get old. I’m thankful for sarcasm. For failure. I’m thankful for grace.  

With thanks to my students: Sarah Altieri, Josie Rund, Jamie Westrate, and Taylor Dolan.

And my own gratitude list:

I’m thankful for new pens, for vulnerability, for fresh salsa. I’m thankful for the stray cat in our neighborhood who hunts the mice that would normally find their way into my house. For dark chocolate. Red wine. That my husband has decided he likes roasted brussel sprouts. I’m thankful my children will not fight in my backseat forever. I’m thankful for dreams that haven’t come true. For Lake Michigan. For flowers. For the pile of books next to my bed and podcasts.  For strangers who smile back and those little grocery belt dividers.  I’m thankful for seasons, for soap, for the window above my kitchen sink. That my son has my grandpa’s mannerisms.  I’m thankful for the kindergarten teachers who tie the shoes of kids whose fingers haven’t managed the task yet. For insects that survive bike rides in kids’ pockets, tattered photo albums, music, and mornings I can wake up with the sun rather than an alarm. I’m thankful for bedtimes stories and boys who snore softly before the end of the chapter. For those who truly know me and still choose love.

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