As I’ve been thinking through a summary of this year’s Thanksgiving experiment, I’ve realized that thoughts have not come as easily as they did in the 2008 rendition. Some years are just like that. Some days. Last year, my mind was hopping with post ideas. I was still high on the joy of a new Baby Girl, and one day’s post produced a whole list of other ideas for the next. This year, thanksgiving thoughts have not come as freely. The process has been a little more labored, and it’s required more discipline to fulfill my commitment of posting on twelve consecutive days.
Discipline. What an ugly word. It implies actual work, actual intention, actual effort, actual choice.
It’s so easy to think about giving thanks in terms of circumstances. And circumstances can be challenging. This year has been hard for our family. In some ways it carries a sense of loss. And loss does not readily co-exist with gratitude.
In February, my father (Paw-T) suffered a fairly severe stroke. As severe strokes go, it happened in the best way possible, and he has been recovering nicely. Still, it represented the loss of some skills, the loss of a carefree way of life, the loss of comfort, the loss of the familiar, and I suppose the loss of my last “fragments of childhood” as I wrote at the time.
This summer, for finanical reasons, Quiver decided to close down the small landscape design business he’s had for the last four years. The challenge of finding a job to use his incredible design and construction skills has been difficult in these times, and he has been so diligent and humble in the process. Still, it represented the loss of his dream (at least temporarily), the loss of his control over a very full “Daddy” schedule, and I suppose the loss of some confidence in his own decisions.
With the weight of loss, how can I find a way to be grateful?
As I’ve forced myself to look at that question in black and white as opposed to in the hazy abstract of my mind, I realize it’s shamefully easy. For, these things are true:
The loss is not as great as some have experienced this year.
Dad can walk. Dad can speak. Dad can think. My parents can spend the night with us and keep their grandchildren on a day like today. They can travel with us to the zoo. They can laugh. We can visit the farm and enjoy it’s carefree experiences. We have them.
Quiver has work. He can play despite the stress. He can give baths at night and read stories. We have a home we enjoy. Our gifts are vibrant. They are healthy and growing–laughing and singing and dancing. We are here. We are alive. We are together.
We are blessed. And to recognize blessing is perhaps the most treasured of disciplines. Yes, there’s that ugly word again. As I sum up these 12 Days, I’m not at the same uninhibited place of joy I was last year. But, I AM at a place of joy–once again at a deeper, more tested and, therefore, richer place of joy. And I find it’s very natural to say “thank you”– to God, to one another, to new friends, to old ones, even to loss. The lesson of these 12 Days:
A thankful heart is a discipline that can flourish independent of circumstances.
Welcome to the special souped up Thanksgiving issue of The Tuesday Ten Twenty-Five! It’s a quick rundown of 25 little (or big) things–silly and profound–that I’m in love with this Thanksgiving season. By all means, enjoy yourselves.
1. Little Drummer Boy–your remarkable storytelling and trips to the “hug store”
2. Squiggle Bug–your unquenched spirit and tender heart
3. Baby Girl–your infectious smile and undaunted joy
4. Quiver–your steadfast hope, your gentleness and truth
5. Hershey’s chocolate bars
6. Big piles of leaves–and watching boys jump in them
7. Attention–giving and getting it
8. Kermit, the trusty laptop–I think I love you
9. Bedtime stories
10. The chance to make something right
11. Nacho cheese Doritoes–yep, still thankful for those
13. Realizing it’s not as late as you thought it was
14. A Sonic Mocha Chip Java Cooler–saves many a frustrating moment
15. A good night’s sleep
16. Lamps and their ambient light
17. Old friends–the continuing gift of yourself after all this time
18. The Dave Matthews Band–just sayin’
20. Old issues of Dwell magazine–and by old I mean the ones from the last two months I haven’t gotten to
21. The quiet hours after 10pm
22. Clean, white, unlined paper
23. The Canon PowerShot–wowza!
24. Candy Corn–and doling it out before dinner
24. Honest conversation
25. The astounding and humbling power of words
What’s a 12 Days of Thanksgiving without a few lists? You know the ones. The “what I’m thankful for” lists. I have an expanded Tuesday Ten one I’m brainstorming for tomorrow, but I thought I’d share a few things from the Thanksgiving Tree we’re decorating this year. I’ll admit, we haven’t been quite as faithful with the everyday part of it I had planned, but that’s usually the way it works. It’s been a fun experiment that excited the boys, which made me excited, too. They don’t really understand the concept of giving thanks completely. But, they’re learning. (Aren’t we all?) And, this has been a fun way to help them. For a celebration-junkie like myself, hearing them shout “our Thanksgiving Tree” as they ran toward their breakfast poptarts was enough incentive to add the tradition to next year’s November as well. Enjoy the fruit of our thanksgiving “ornaments!”
Little Drummer Boy:
Our Thanksgiving bracelets [the little tags we put on the tree that they enjoyed wearing on their arms first]
“I got to see the lions and tigers”
The little pumpkin [the one holding the “Thanksgiving bracelets”–it’s the little things, people]
Our new curtains [there’s my good catch in training]
G-Mo, Paw-T and Aunt B
Our family of scarecrows [the ones sitting on our porch which we say goodbye to each morning]
The Thanksgiving Tree [that’s my celebration-junkie in training]
Our trucks [all 6,377 of them]
Riding in a racecar buggy at the grocery store [thank you, Kroger]
“I got to see the giraffes”
[we added things about Baby Girl we were thankful for, and she shouted them out in her own special language]
She is curious [translation: Mommy hasn’t had a heart attack (yet) while Baby Girl’s in this stage]
Baby Girl’s toys
She loves spaghetti [and we have the Spray ‘N Wash stock to prove it]
She’s almost grown up [apparently that will make her even more fun]
Her rash went away quickly [see item about emergency room]
Three gifts: LDB, Bug & Baby Girl
Good weather on our zoo trip
The work we have
Medicine [shortly after a weekend with our first two trips to the emergency room — minor problems, but traumatic (for Mommy) nonetheless]
No rain on a particularly long day out of town for a meeting
A fun zoo weekend together with G-Mo and Paw-T
Yesterday I was privileged to sleep a little later. Quiver is normally an early riser anyway, and he was kind enough to keep a handle on the boys’ excitement while I slept. In case you’re wondering, two preschool boys whispering to one another “Shhh! Mommy’s asleep” is never as quiet as they intend it to be. But, I always love the conversations I hear through our walls when I’m in that almost-awake state.
Saturday’s conversation from the bathroom involved Quiver telling Little Drummer Boy the story of MY life over shaving and teeth brushing. I’m not sure how it started, but it was a much-simplified account of places and houses and times. LDB seemed to assume that he was present in Mommy’s tummy for everything before the world he now knows. I couldn’t help but smile as Quiver quickly attempted to move the conversation along from the explanation that no, LDB was not actually in Mommy’s tummy for the whole of my life. “Where was I?” If anybody wants to take that one, please go right ahead.
I can tell that Little Drummer Boy has been trying to wrap his mind around time and places lately. The boys and I recently drove through my hometown on our way somewhere, and he was amazed that Mommy lived there as a girl. He was amazed that Mommy ever lived anywhere but our house. He was amazed that Mommy was ever anything other than what he knows me to be. Sometimes I’m amazed myself, and when confronted with those other things, it can be quite a heart-searching ride. Last week he asked me WHEN I was a girl. My first reaction was: 17 seconds ago, never, too many years gone by, and all of the above. My answer was “a while back.” That’s the best I could do at a weary 10:16pm when all the really profound questions come out of his mind and all the really dumbfounded answers come out of mine.
At their young ages, my gifts are sort of in a perpetual state of now that I sometimes envy. Last weekend’s trip to the zoo could just as easily have been this morning. Saturday can always be tomorrow morning. They are slowly growing to treasure experiences, to remember them and place them in context, to see their impact on the structure of life. I find myself growing in that same way again.
This Thanksgiving season, I’ve been looking at the signposts in my life–those moments and situations, like the crescent moon, when I realized “I don’t have the whole picture, but I know it’s there.” Putting those experiences in context, I can see how much bigger a life is that one single decision, than a series of decisions–how much bigger God is. The path from point A to B sometimes detours through points C to Z, and we are quick to call the pitstops “mistakes.” We find ourselves somewhere we never thought we’d be, and in assessing the destination, we overlook the path.
I am so thankful that God is a God who reveals Himself often most eloquently and immediately in times of wandering. I’m so thankful that He isn’t found only at the destination, but at all points in between.
The song is true. Often the times you lose your way are the times when you find out who you really are and what you’re about. When you realize you’ve overlooked something, sometimes you learn how to really see. The “wrong turns” in my life are moving me toward a more humble way of seeing the world and the people in it–a real view that can’t coexist with cliches and simplistic truisms, a view where faith MUST meet the road. It’s a blessing that’s been hard-wrestled. And I’m thankful for it.
Little Drummer Boy had his annual Thanksgiving program today complete with Pilgrim costumes, Native American headdresses, a tee pee and an alarming number of lyrics about chopping turkeys. Quiver was tied up with work, so it was just me and my favorite 4-year-old for lunch consisting of… turkey sandwiches. I must have heard “I love you, Mommy” 637 times and enjoyed it every time. I’m realizing that I say “I love you” to my gifts pretty often–with every available breath, actually. Now, I’m starting to get it back at me. Granted, sometimes it’s translated as “don’t spank me, Mommy,” but more often than not it signifies a grand old time.
All the Pilgrims and Indians today got me thinking. What’s a 12 Days of Thanksgiving without a little history? And, courtesy of the Starkville Public Library and LDB’s penchant for wanting to read the same book over and over (and over) again, I’ve learned a new little bit of history this year about the power of the pen.
A woman named Sarah Hale is credited with being the catalyst for the creation of a designated national day of Thanksgiving–the one we celebrate now on the fourth Thursday of November. We checked out a book from the library about her called Thank You Sarah, The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson. It has great illustrations and a fun account of this unusual woman.
Sarah Hale was a writer and activist long before women even had the right to vote. She was a teacher, a poet, a songwriter (does Mary Had a Little Lamb ring a bell?) and a mom. She was also the editor of an influential women’s magazine–one of the first of its kind. She used that forum to lobby for any number of issues close to her heart. One of those issues was a national day of Thanksgiving. She first lobbied for the idea by challenging states to set aside a day. She succeeded, but every state had a different day. She felt there was value in creating a common day set aside for all Americans to give thanks. So, she began writing again–both columns in her magazine and letters and more letters. All in all, she spent 38 years writing letters and articles about Thanksgiving, including letters to five different presidents.
Finally, in 1863, when the country was in the midst of the bloody Civil War, she found someone who agreed that a national day of Thanksgiving could be a positive force in the American culture. On October 3rd of that year, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the first Thanksgiving proclamation.
What can I learn from history?
1. Sarah’s pen was indeed a powerful tool. And today, the pen is easier to wield than ever before with countless opportunities for “citizen media”– vehicles like blogs, social networking sites, email correspondence, and yes, the U.S. Postal Service still runs 6 days per week.
2. Sarah didn’t give up until her message was embraced–even after 38 years. It wasn’t enough for it to be heard. She was persistent until she convinced that one person who could make a difference.
3. The results had lasting power–so much so that a century and a half later President Barack Obama will make a Thanksgiving proclamation on Thursday, November 26th.
People with conviction can have a powerful impact if they choose to use their voices. Whatever I have to say, I better make it count.
I saw the crescent moon tonight on my way home, the tiniest sliver of bright edging the shadowed sphere. It’s waxing toward ever more brightness as the days move through this month. It’s just a slice tonight shining for all it’s worth. I can see the whole, but only a tiny piece is lending it’s light. That’s all I need to know it’s there. And that the full brightness is coming.
I’ve been thinking lately about the experiences and relationships that have added their slices of light in my life over the years. Just passing phases and appointed times, fleeting moments and unexpected interruptions. The people and situations that have, for a brief moment, moved me, edging me closer to what I already knew was there. I’m finding it incredibly hard to articulate the impact. And, in some ways I’m processing the loss of their sheer brevity. Times that may have seemed wasted, but were powerfully not.
Whether a word well-spoken, a push in a new direction, an open heart, an unsolicited gift, a need met, a humble correction, a time set aside… It goes on. I’m undeniably thankful for each one–for different reasons, with different outcomes, of course. But thankful nonetheless. Shining all the light you can muster into a moment is an incredible gift. It’s a sacrifice and a risk worth taking.
I’m inspired toward generosity of spirit. In the moments. Toward shining.
For those of you who may not be privy to the secret inner world of WordPress Dude, the EyeJunkie posts don’t always come hot off the keyboard just as the thoughts spring from my brain. No, sometimes I actually schedule them ahead. [shock!] Sometimes I let them sit in my digital diary for weeks or months, adding a sentence or two here and there until they’ve adequately germinated. Sometimes they sit in the draft queue for a while waiting on me to hit the “publish” button. Sometimes they hang out in my hand-written title brainstorm list for an inordinate amount of time while I make room on the priority list. Sometimes WordPress Dude’s auto save function presses happily on while I scoot over to dictionary.com to find out the correct spelling of a word or while I answer one of the 4yo, 3yo or 1yo questions that come my way. If I’m really honest, sometimes when I say “last night” it was actually a few nights ago, or maybe a few months ago. Life’s just like that. Although the blogging medium is usually a little more transparent than some, WordPress Dude still offers a modicum of subterfuge tactics. It’s kind of like learning that President Obama wasn’t really the one writing all those tweets. Just as obvious, only with a MUCH smaller audience. For the three of my kind readers to whom it wasn’t obvious, I can only say… Pay no attention to the gal behind the curtain.
I think I may have taken this intro a little further than necessary.
I say all that to say this… This post is coming off the keyboard in real time. It’s a little odd even for me, but I needed a little self-intervention. You see, I’ve been struggling all day with coming up with some idea (any idea) for what to write about giving thanks. The fact is, I’m just about “give out,” as they say in my best Southern. It’s been a frustrating week so far with few thanksgiving fuzzies. I feel like I’m giving out in so many areas–being a wife, a mother, a cook, a home-keeper, a “creative”, a designer, a blogger, a social media strategist, a writer–and there’s not enough coming back in at the moment. Likely, I’ve stretched my creativity too thin, which happens periodically, but the bottom line is that thanksgiving is not really part of the equation right now.
I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been irritated. I’ve been tired. I’ve been a complainer and even a whiner. I’ve been ripe for ranting about something, anything. [Aside: I fed the rant habit with a little ditty I’ll post tomorrow] I had to ask Little Drummer Boy’s forgiveness today. I had to try two gas pumps before the credit card machine would work. While staring aimlessly ahead as I pumped away $35, I read “container” as “cantankerous” on the petroleum warnings. Enough said.
So, I’m going uncensored this evening in an attempt to sharply correct my attitude. And to add a shot of reality into this 12 Days of Thanksgiving thing. I just don’t feel like being grateful. I can’t find my gratitude inspiration. It’s Day 4. What can I glean about giving thanks from this predicament.
Here’s something that’s as good as any… Thanksgiving is my choice. There I said it. If thanksgiving is my choice, then being a whiner is my choice too. Ouch. It’s a painful reality. It’s not that I don’t have something to be thankful for or that there is nothing in my life to inspire my gratitude. The problem is that I’m choosing to focus my attention in the wrong direction. It’s my choice.
So, here goes. With you as my witness, I’m turning the corner, turning the page, whatever. It’s time to rethink my choice. I’m going to spend the next 15 minutes writing things I’m thankful for. And, I don’t mean a list of stuff I like. I mean things that have added blessing and value to my life just in the last few days. Ready, go.
Old friends that have unintentionally encouraged me to get real — A work acquaintance who responded to a request I thought was overlooked in such an incredibly generous, humble and transparent way — The ability to write what I think and feel in this amazing forum and have other people actually read it — The sweet voice of Bug as he sings his lullaby with me, and keeping my voice as soft as humanly possible so I could hear — Obys takeout on a busy day — Having the opportunity to speak for Dux D’Lux in online media, a great and challenging responsibility — A job that has continued to challenge me for 15 years, where I’ve continued to learn and grow creatively — Our first really crisp day — A glowing orange cable-knit v-neck sweater for $14.99 (I’m a girl, and it’s basic, folks) — The internet, what unprecedented access to ideas and opinions from everywhere all at once — The screaming from my hallway and realizing it’s the glee of truck races and giggles rather than arguments — A few days of full-time work for Quiver and the hope that it will continue — Baby Girl has not been pulling on her ear in the last few days and early evening naps have made her a happy camper — The artistic vision of Walter Anderson — Relatively smooth mornings and safe travel as I’ve handled getting all three gifts dressed and to preschool by myself this week — The anticipation of getting to have lunch with Little Drummer Boy on Friday — The fact that my gifts love going to their school — The act of forgiveness, giving and receiving it — Rat poison to stop that incessant scratching during these first cold days (sorry, had to go there because it’s distracting me) — The joy that comes from learning from others — The opportunity to give grace where it’s due and where it isn’t —
Ok. The choice is a no-brainer.
On this, the 3rd day of my 12 Days of Thanksgiving adventure, I give you the Tuesday Zoosday Twelve–hot off the presses from a great family weekend. We took our gang to the Memphis Zoo this weekend to celebrate Bug’s 3rd birthday. It’s amazing how time just extends itself when you’re out of your normal routine and environment. As we drove to fetch take-out on Sunday night after we arrived home, Quiver and I both commented that it seemed like we were away so much longer than just one night. We left on Saturday morning and came back home on Sunday evening, but it felt like much more. The whole extended family went–a gift for all on Bug’s birthday from G-Mo and Paw-T. It was a wonderful family time of getting out of our element and into a new perspective. It was much-needed fun with no distractions diluting the time with our precious gifts. Twelve weekend blessings confirmed by buzz around the Montgomery house since Sunday:
1. Great weather.
2. Little Drummer Boy had a TV in his bedroom. (read hotel room)
3. We found the panda bear before closing.
4. Thomas the Train books were a huge it.
5. Animal toys don’t have to have sounds, lights or batteries to be fun.
6. Giraffes like ukelele music.
7. Mommy has a pretty good sense of direction.
8. The best Memphis BBQ advice from locals.
9. Bug can still stop traffic with his trademark squeal.
10. It’s pretty fun for two preschool boys to sleep in the same bed.
11. One Daddy can actually push two strollers at once.
12. IHOP rocks.
I’m so thankful for the joy of new experiences–for myself and for my little ones. I’m thankful for the gift of celebration that can be enjoyed at any time and in any place. I’m thankful for my parents, who value those things enough to give them to us. And, for instilling in me the quest for that consciousness yesterday’s quote so aptly described. When it comes to the end of the day, Thanksgiving is much better lived than spoken. And try as I might with 300 words or so, I can’t seem to embody the spirit of all the eye-opening hope and wonder that a thankful heart enjoys any better than the evidences from last night’s Thanksgiving Tree additions you see up there:
I got to see giraffes. I got to see lions and tigers.
And, I got to watch.