In Gratitude for Change: Whether by Choice or Necessity, Guest Post by Lynne Herr

Parker Palmer has a quote I love: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” When I read this, I think of one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Lynne Herr. Lynne learns for the sake of others–sometimes internationally–and is brave in a way that dares us all to be. Thanks Lynne for being bravely you, and for sharing your wise words here today. – Evi

***

In Ann Patchett’s sweeping novel The Dutch House, character Danny Conroy narrates a memoir of navigating a life marked by deep scars of abandonment and disappointment. Nursing the hurt caused by his mother’s abrupt leaving marked Danny’s life. Until he decided as an adult that it wouldn’t.  

So I made the decision to change. It might seem like change was impossible given my nature and my age, but I understood exactly what there was to lose…The point wasn’t whether or not I liked it, the point was that it had to be done.

One of the most remarkable elements of being human is our ability to change. Each of us can wake up one morning and decide to change most anything. While you may have gone to bed angry, unhealthy or resentful, you can choose to wake up as a different person.  You can wake up one morning and be a person who… 

  • eats vegetables.
  • looks forward to going to work.
  • leads your rowdy class in a breathing exercise to calm them down instead of yelling at them to be quiet.

In her book, Everything is Figureoutable, Marie Forley says, “in order to solve any problem or achieve any dream, we must first make a change at the level of belief, because when you change a belief you change everything.”  

You. Change. Everything.

Just like that. You can choose to let go of long-held, limiting beliefs about yourself and others. You can stop nursing hurts, even when they are justified. You can stop eating too many donuts and sit with the feelings you’ve used them to numb. Will change happen overnight?  I speak from experience when I say most likely, no. But maybe it’s time to have an honest talk with a friend or family member; to make an appointment with someone who can help you navigate letting go of hurts and habits you’ve held so long that their thorny tendrils have slithered into the crevices of your heart and taken root, squeezing out space for the good stuff. 

Like Danny Conroy, all of us need to decide what we have to lose if we are unwilling to change. What work needs to be done in our own lives, even if we don’t like it?  After Danny made the deliberate choice to change, he found, “The rage I had carried for my mother exhaled and died. There was no place for it any more.”

What fills your heart that no longer has a place?  What long-held beliefs can you let go?

Dr. Lynne Herr

Lucky. . . not Lost

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

J. R. R. Tolkien (Gandalf)

Once, I lost my daughter at a wedding dance.  One minute she was there, the next my eyes were scanning back and forth like the light on a photocopy machine trying to see a little tuft of blonde hair about three feet above the ground. I began walking with purpose, not running to cause a panic, but darting between couples and tables, dodging purses on the floor and chairs pulled out. 

My mind flitted through possibilities, most of them not helpful. 

Finally, I spotted her and took a breath that went all the way to my toes.  She was with a helpful woman who had found her crying in the corner.  With all of the tall people, she’d gotten lost in the shuffle, panicked, and retreated to the edges of the place. 

The dance hall was actually a closed rectangle with only one door, so unless someone took her out, she was most likely in the room. This fact didn’t calm me when I didn’t know where she was. 

 As I hugged her and dried her tears, she leaned in and took her own deep breath.

I am so thankful for that woman who helped. What an act of kindness and love, to help a child–and a mom–who needed it.

Being lost is an awful feeling. . . that mix of fear and being alone and not knowing. Sometimes as a teacher–especially in those first years–it’s hard not to feel alone, like you’re some toddler, crying in the corner, unable to see above the din in this strange and loud space. 

But what if we’re all feeling lost, and we’re actually the lucky ones? What if this is all really just one big dance party? That is not to say that hard stuff doesn’t happen, or that there aren’t times that are real things to worry about, but what if instead of hiding and cowering, we looked for a friendly face and asked for help? What if instead of worrying, we dared to make our way back to the dance floor? And when we can’t muster the courage ourselves, I believe that in some weird and comforting way, God is looking for us, even when we feel the most lost, even when we are way out of our comfort zone.  When we are the most lost, we will be found. 

So, we can lean into the wall knowing that we’re hemmed in, that someone is looking for us.  Soon we will be swept up again, and feel that hug of knowing that we’re found.  And who knows? We might just smile as we wipe away our tears, grab hands, find the rhythm together, and dance.

Gratitude Dare:

  • Thank someone who helped you out when you felt lost.

Weekend Bonus Post. . . To the Hope that Dares

She will not worry. She will brave this new season one day at a time.”

MHN

I have a favorite tree. In our small little town, it is practically invisible most days of the year. It doesn’t have twisty branches. It doesn’t provide sweeping shade. In many ways, it is just some random tree. But for one week each year it shows off. Zesty orange leaves fire through ombre green, eclipsing every other tree on the street. It doesn’t last long, but in that burst, this tree is anything but ordinary.

What if each and every day has its own bright splash of color–and the Nintendo challenge of living is to notice? What if leveling-up is as simple as “pulling over” to take it in and say thanks?

I woke up on the cusp of this weekend wanting to remind myself–today and next week, with a little time off coming–to notice the splashes of color, the ones so fleeting that we miss them in all the zooming around, in the shopping kick-start, in the food and the busy. What if we all took a deep breath, slowed down this year, and secretly thought our thanks in the midst of the most ordinary beauty-splash moments?

Would we tear up as Thanks-giving finds a way to give something back to us?

Cheers to trees that show off, to seasons that change, and to the hope that dares to take it all in one day at a time. . . saying thanks.

Gratitude Dare:

  • Stop and take a photo of something in your ordinary life, that for some reason looks anything but ordinary today. #gratitudeparty

Happy Socks and Brussels Sprouts

Recently I went shoe shopping, a quick stop on a way to a conference event. I couldn’t find shoes that fit for my size eleven boney-long feet, but I did buy a pair of multi-colored polka dot socks.  The brand said simply, “Happy Socks.”  Who doesn’t need a pair of those?

I paid the cashier, tucked them in my purse, and headed to a little tapas restaurant with the thirty minutes I had before the conference started. I didn’t have tons of time, but I wanted to stop as I’d heard rave reviews about this place. Everyone said the brussels sprouts were amazing.

I peeked through the large oak door smiling.  The hostess smiled back.  “I’m eating tapas alone,” I said as I shimmied up to the bar.  The bar tender smiled.  He took my order for the brussels sprouts and turned on his heel.  To feel less awkward sitting there all alone, I took out my pen and began to write.

I smiled at the cover of my notebook as I turned the navy blue cover.  I was only bold enough to buy it because it was in the three-dollar bargain bin at Staples.  The soft cover sported small gold dots and the bold words “Brilliant Ideas.” 

When my food arrived, I did the thing that you’re not supposed to do and took a picture of it to post on Instagram. But it was more than just pretty food, the lemony-garlic flavor from the brussels sprouts lived up to the hype  This was straight-up yummy.

Even with their yummy taste, the portion was large. So as I wiped the corner of my mouth and tossed my cloth napkin on the bar, I tucked a tiny to-go box in my purse–on top of my notebook and new socks–and said, “thank you!” to both the bartender and hostess. 

I almost skipped as I walked along, just in time for the speaker. What a great night this was shaping up to be.

As I entered the event, my sunny mood evaporated.  The entry table had women, all in hard core awesome professional wear with heels that seemed to go up up to their knees.  Even their ponytails looked intimidating.  I froze at the name tag table, in my casual teacher wear. I watched as each woman wrote her name in swoop cursive and dropped her business card into the large glass bowl for a drawing.

I had written in my journal at the restaurant how proud I’d been of myself, to just do something that I wanted to do, to really just go for it and be myself. In the midst of these women, the earlier thought felt childish. I felt far from home as I shuffled by the large bowl without a card to drop in.

I slipped into one of the middle seats, and read on my phone as I waited. During the session, the speaker began to focus on writing.  She asked us to get out some paper.  I smiled at the chance to take out my notebook for the second time that night.  As I reached in to my purse, I felt the wetness of the edges of the pages, and pulled my hand back quickly, hoping that the strong lemony-garlic smell wouldn’t be noticed by the women sitting close around me.  The brussels sprouts had spilled out in my purse, all over the notebook, all over my new socks.

Luckily the woman sitting beside me offered some extra paper as I quickly zipped my purse back shut.  As we began to write, I couldn’t shake my disappointment. “Why is it,” I wrote, “that when I dare to think, for just a minute, that I might have one idea for a notebook labeled ‘brilliant ideas’ that a mess always ensues? Why is it that when things just start to go right, they always turn wrong again? Why can’t the socks just be plain ole’ happy socks?”

Something about the happy socks being unhappy, broke my stress and caused me to giggle. I brought my hand up to my mouth, as those around me wrote silently of their brilliant business ideas. I am not a business woman. I will never be a high heel gal. I am a farm girl who likes notebooks and teacher pants. I am a cardigan-wearing, book-loving gal who spills brussels sprouts and sometimes makes a mess of things. My “brilliant ideas” will never be pristine or just right, but they are mine, nonetheless.

Later that night I threw away that notebook. I walked along the big city street, below the big buildings, comfy in my teacher clothes, as I munched on leftover brussels sprouts–straight out of the container oozing in my purse.

I think to be a teacher, or to succeed at anything really, we need to accept that our “brilliant idea” notebook—no matter how pretty it’s cover, how cost-effective it’s price, how slick it’s pages—will get trashed. It will never live up to our perfect hopes, but what if the patina is what adds to it’s preciousness?

Part of the teacher paycheck comes in stories, part of what we get out of this life are tales of ridiculousness, of things going so wrong–so that we can notice when they go right. May we dare to wash up our happy socks and try again tomorrow, in search of yummy brussels sprouts and new beginnings.

Grateful for the Believers, a Guest Post by Kate Bolz

Today is one of my favorite days each month, book club! Food, friends, book talk. . . this might just be my gratitude Graceland. I am so thankful for Kate. At nearly every book club, after it feels like we’ve exhausted the discussion, Kate says something wise and insightful, something that makes me better, and spurs action toward serving others. I love having people like that in my life. Today, and especially every book club day, I’m thankful for Kate Bolz. – Evi

***

Today, I am grateful for the world’s true believers.

Here’s why:

I recently decided to run for public office.

For some people running for office is a career move, for others a performance on a political stage, for others a reach for power.

For me, deciding to run for office has been a leap of faith. As a social worker with small town roots, I don’t have the connections that some politicians do.

I do have heart and belief that public service is another way to be of use to my community and to live the values of caring for our neighbors and loving one another that I learned in a church pew.

So putting my name out to the world is a leap of faith that my beliefs will be reflected back to me.

So…deep breath…and say it out loud: I believe – in Democracy, in fairness, in access to health care and in the good ol’ USA. Then ask others if they believe too. Repeat for 16 months.

It’s a hard time to jump in. Has public life ever been quite so ugly?

But the chorus of believers has been music to my ears.

People are encouraging and kind, hopeful and helpful.

People pick up my belief with me when it gets heavy.

People show their belief with contributions and greeting cards.

People proclaim fiercely their belief in policies that protect human rights and the right to make a living farming.

It’s a congregation of sorts, a choir of a kind. It’s more than just believing in me, it is also keeping lights of hope and a better world alive.

Truthfully, it’s an odd system: one that is inextricably tied to campaign contributions. It may not be the fairest system, but it does put power in the hands of true believers.

So today I am grateful for the believers, for the fierce believers who fight, for the believers who say yes, for the believers that write postcards and knock on doors, for the believers that light their candles and hold them up so others can see what’s in their hearts.

To the believers like you, reader, who believe in a better brighter world, show it in your thoughts, words and deeds, and express gratitude for the beauty that comes back to you – I say thank you.

  • Gratitude challenge: Give away your belief today by giving time or treasure or by lighting someone else’s candle with your own.

Gratitude Gal Giveaway: Diane Harpster Art Calendar!

Here’s a picture of the calendar cover. Thanks again Diane!

Diane Harpster is a Nebraska artist friend of mine. Like me, she loves color and quotes. This year’s gratitude party giveaway is a wall calendar of her art . To enter to win, comment here on the blog, Facebook, or Twitter with one-three gratitudes. You can also send them in a direct message or an e-mail.

Thank you so much Diane for sharing your gift! Check out all of Diane’s awesome watercolor/ink drawings at her website. I love this quote she shares there. I hope it gets you inspired to bring something unique and beautiful to the world today.

We are all artists with something unique and beautiful that only we can bring to the world.  The joy comes in honoring and nurturing and sharing whatever that is. Our ability to create is all gift from God our Creator.

Diane Harpster

When Trickster Gratitude Sneaks In

Martyr says: ‘Life is pain.’ Trickster says: ‘Life is interesting.’

Elizabeth gilbert, big magic: creative living beyond fear

I used to have this wine glass that was, ahem, really more the size of two wine glasses.  It sat flat on the table, no stem.  It’s side was etched in tall skinny lettering, “THIS IS MY HAPPY PLACE.”  Subtle, huh? Early in my teaching career, I would come home from school, pour myself a glass of wine in that glass, flop down on the couch, and say a prayer of thanks that I was NOT at school anymore. 

It’s funny how recently I’ve stuck a little sticker on my paper-clip holder at school that says the same thing, “This is my happy place.”

I’m not sure when my happy place started to be school too.

In my becoming a teacher (I think I will be becoming one forever), I’ve always been reading along the way. I love books about just about anything, but my favorite topic is creativity. In her book on the subject, Big Magic, Liz Gilbert identifies a shift from martyr energy to trickster energy.  The martyr sits down at the keyboard to slog out her words, dutifully, and dreadfully, HA-TING every minute of it.  The trickster, does just what her name implies, fooling herself into doing the task at hand, and maybe even into enjoying it

Instead of tight-fisting inspiration, trickster dances a bit with hands open, ready to catch it.  She still shows up dependably, still puts in her hours, but with a different outlook.  She notices what works for her.  If writing comes easy at 5 a.m., that’s when she writes.  If she can avoid evening writing sessions, she does so as a gift to herself.

But trickster energy isn’t just for writers. It’s for teachers and moms and anybody who just plain needs a break from all this martyrdom.

Sound crazy?  Here’s a classroom example . . .

Toward the end of class once, I was telling a group of students a story–as I tend to do.  This normally rowdy class of 26–that I could NEVER get to pay attention–was leaning in and listening.

I was reading Big Magic at the time, so my trickster self noticed, and the next day when I was struggling to get their attention, annoyingly waiting with my hand up yet again–I’d tried the clapping thing, the lights out thing, the choral response thing–instead, I pulled my hand down and said, “I’ve got a story to tell you guys,” and I began telling a story before they were all even listening. 

And as my mouth told the story, my mind started smiling at these students, totally tricked into listening–you could hear a pin drop–so when the tale wove back to the day’s plan, they heard it without being asked or classroom-managed into complying with their attention.  While this might not sound like a big deal, for me as a teacher at that point in my career, this was alchemy.

For the trying can wear us plain out. Teaching, mom-ing, just Tuesday-ing can be exhausting. And trickster energy just might bring us back to life.

It’s the trickster who says, “Do you want to wear the blue coat or the orange coat?” knowing full well her son doesn’t want to wear a coat.

She’s the one who decides that supper can be simple and made from things we already have!

She’s the one who knows it’s possible to do a teacher happy dance without moving a muscle, smiling at how this daunting calling can also sometimes feel light, like a puzzle piece that slides into place. . . a happy place.

Gratitude Dare

  • Eat that frog! Do the thing you’ve been putting off. . . maybe with a little trickster energy. Marge Piercy says, “the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies.” Sit back having accomplished something in a new way, and say thanks.

What’s One Thing You’re Thankful For?

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

Willie Nelson

“So kids, before I kiss you good night, tell me one thing you’re thankful for,” I say as I stand in the glow of the doorway, half in and half out.

“Family,” Charli says, smiling.

“Cheese,” Oliver says, smiling bigger.

“Both fantastic answers,” I think as I kiss her little blonde head, and as I wrestle his little giggling face back out from hiding under his covers. “Gotcha!” I say as he wipes his cheek off, smiling.

Two kisses.

Lights out.

Another day of thanks.

Gratitude Dare

  • Ask someone what they’re thankful for. . . especially kids. If you’re a teacher, pass out notecards and have students write three things and share them out loud. It’ll change the room.

It’s the Little Things

On a cork-board above my green writing table I’ve pinned a bunch of little things I love. Concert tickets, kid drawings, quotes, a tiny colorful flower doodle I made with circles. After awhile the board gets cluttery, and I need to Mari Kondo it and simplify. Through a number of purges, this paper flower torn from a notebook makes the cut and gets hung up again.

It’s a little thing I love.

When it comes to gratitude, we can’t do it wrong, but there is a way I’ve found to do it that adds to the magic. Zoom in. Don’t just write–“I’m thankful for my son.” Write–“Ollie’s freckles as he crunches up his nose telling me how proud he is of his first ever loose tooth.” Instead of–“A Nebraska Sunrise,” I write–“Orange sky fading to blue behind tree silhouettes.”

It’s a slower kind of noticing that we, frankly, don’t have time for. But in that slower gaze, a snowball starts rolling down the hill of my life. I notice the little things more often. And when the big things come, I have a sort of permission-slip to sit and soak in the room. And no, you can’t soak in everything. But what if I would have missed my five and seven-year-old dancing around singing Feliz Navidad as they decorated our glowing Christmas tree? (Yes, I’m that early-decorater person the Internet loves to hate.) It was a holy time in our home–my biggest gratitude from my week–and at the start of it I was reading on my phone. Gratitude practice reminded me to put it down. . . and look around.

To be alive is a terrible and wonderful thing. And sometimes the goodness can overwhelm me.

Parker Palmer says the deepest and greatest truths are held in paradox. So while it may be 100% true that this life is so so hard. What if it’s also 100% true that it is the most rare and holy of things? This week the Internet has been celebrating Fred Rodgers, and yet I often scoot by his most profound lyric when I hear again and again. . . “It’s such a good feeling. To know you’re alive.” It really is. It’s the little things. . . and the big ones too.

Weekend Gratitude Dares

  • Enjoy an after school/work/noon treat.
  • Clean out a cupboard.
  • Soak-up time with family and friends. . . I’ll be back here posting on Monday. Thanks for reading along.

Throw Some Love out Into the World (Guest Post by Janelle Andreini, a tribute to Cindi McNair)

I love this guest post for many reasons. 1. It’s by one of my best friends, written for her birthday, today (Happy Birthday Janelle!), 2. It’s about Cindi, one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever known (here’s her own guest post from 2016.), and 3. Like this rose photo by Curt, Cindi had a way of shining beautiful and fierce through even the bleakest storm. . . Thanks Janelle, for celebrating her spirit. – Evi

My friend Cindi died just over a year ago – on November 6, 2018.

That seems like a pretty strange way to begin a conversation about gratitude.  I realize that.  The truth is that I’m carrying around the weight of that loss a bit more heavily this week than I have in a while.  It’s a bit of a shadow looming in the corner of my vision, although it also comes with a certain humble awareness that you have to love before you can mourn. Anniversaries tend to bring this out in a person, I suppose.

Here’s the deal.  If I’m going to talk about gratitude, I can’t really think of anyone that I’d rather talk about than Cindi.  She was a gratitude champion, somehow managing, even in the last months of her life, to think about others, to put plans in place to serve others, to raise up the needs of others.

Cindi lived with multiple myeloma for over a decade, and some of us had the incredible privilege to catch a glimpse into the process by which she was able to LIVE with multiple myeloma, the ways in which she sought to relegate it to the sidelines of her life and the ways in which she actively made the choice to not be defined by an illness.

Remarkably, somehow, she was defined by gratitude.  By “Glory be to God” and by “I saw God at work this week.”  It was pretty mind boggling, really. While the rest of us lamented our work woes, our parenting woes, our “I don’t like my haircut” woes, Cindi was quietly choosing to relish her life.  She loved her husband well, she connected with her nieces as if they were her own children, she mentored the heck out of her friends.

Cindi recognized the challenges of her illness, though.  She would remind us that she didn’t expect that she’d get to “15 or 50” – her reference to a milestone anniversary and a milestone birthday.  Amazingly, though, she did.  And when Cindi turned 50, do you know what she did?  50 random acts of kindness. Notes in the mail to friends, $5 bills on the windshield wipers of strangers’ cars, coffee for the person in line behind her at the coffee shop, and more, and more, and more, until she got to 50.

Also, by the way, today is MY birthday. It would be pretty darned easy to just sit back, soak up the call from my mom and from close friends, check out the Facebook birthday shout-outs, you know…just generally focus on me.  But instead I think I’ll follow the lead of a mentor and friend and throw some love out into the world.  Gratitude in action, my friends.  It’s a beautiful day. Enjoy!

Cindi – from Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma