If you dare!
If you dare!
Well, we finished up the Thanksgiving holidays. Little Drummer Boy’s Fall break at school was the catalyst for some time away from home. A change of scenery is usually good for a change of perspective, too. Plus, the fresh air and clear skies of the family farmland doesn’t hurt either. I’m always amazed at how much clearer things sound when you’re surrounded by pasture and how much crisper the light is when there isn’t the competition of street lights.
Thanksgiving and my 12 days of posting was a worthwhile experience. As it always is. Looking back through some of the posts, I can easily see how valuable it is to focus my attention on blessings — to consciously look for and recognize the elements of life that bring me joy. Recognizing that joy helps me focus my attention. Through the last 12 days I’ve realized once again how important it is to take responsibility for defining my own life of joy and bringing that life into clearer focus by setting my own priorities.
I have one life. I have to make that real. In fact, I’m the only one who can make it real. And let’s face it; a life lived in pursuit of someone else’s dream is just pretending. It’s a waste.
If I am to make this one life one of meaning, it is imperative that I hear the clear ping of my own heart telling me what is important — what is required to make that life real and valuable. It is imperative that I maintain a crisp view rather than a hazy picture of what that life should be. And that takes discipline and soul-searching and some hard choices. But it’s worth it if I want to have the assurance that I spent my life living rather than waiting to live it. Hoping to live it. Thinking about living it. Imagining living it.
So, I’ve been thinking. What are the shadow areas of my life? What are the areas where I am content with the mere outlines and silhouettes of the real thing? Life goals and themes change over time. Once again, it’s time to decide. What do I want my life to be? What do I want my children to see or expect when they prepare to live their lives?
Tough questions. Ones that are not always easily answered. More challenging still, at times, are the choices required to follow through with making my answers materialize. It requires courage and resolve and a clear understanding that this life — my life — is worth it.
We can choose to exist. To simply subsist. But that isn’t enough for me. I don’t want to poorly invest the one life with which I’m blessed. So, I must define my own terms for it. And dare to reject anything that pulls me away from that true life. Anything that clouds the picture of a life lived to its fullest.
12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY TWELVE
For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.
12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY ELEVEN
A couple of years ago I did a “Thanksgiving Tree” activity with my kids as a way to begin teaching them about gratitude. It was something I used to encourage them to think about what mattered to them, from toys and movies to school activities and things they were learning. We wrote them down and hung them on a branch tree we found and decorated. When Little Drummer Boy had the idea for us to spend Thanksgiving at the farm this year, I thought it might be a good time to begin the tradition again.
I brought some art supplies on our trip — things like fancy decorative tape, funky paper clips, scraps of colored construction paper, markers and scissors. On Monday, we took our first walk down the gravel road and searched down our “tree.” It was a small dried limb that had fallen and still contained several branches. This afternoon, we finally scotched it with gravel in an old earthenware pitcher and went to work on our three-dimensional list.
The kids cut shapes, punched holes and chose tape or paperclips as hangers. It took them a few minutes to get into the groove of thinking of things they were thankful for, but they soon caught on. I wrote them down on their specially crafted “ornaments” and outfitted the branches. Baby Girl began with “orange” and moved on to the “iPad” and her “friends at school.” Bug was thankful for “the farm” and all his birthday “presents.” With a smile, LDB decided he was thankful for “Mommy,” among other things. We’ll do more tomorrow and probably each day for the rest of our stay, and I hope it will help them to think of the Thanksgiving holiday in their own terms.
It’s such a joy for me to have a small glimpse of their hearts and minds as they shared things they wanted to add to the tree today. To see them articulate things they love and are grateful to have in their lives. Enumerating our blessings may start slowly, but it usually ends with an overflow of ideas. I can’t have a bonafide Thanksgiving posting series without my own requisite list. It’s funny how once you begin articulating a blessing, more and more reveal themselves until we are convinced without a doubt that we are blessed beyond measure — the power of Thanksgiving at work.
So let the List begin…
Little Drummer Boy > Bug > Baby Girl > This year’s project load at Small Pond Graphics > afternoon naps > rainy afternoons with nothing to do > the blessing of good health > laughter > squeals and giggles rather than squabbles from the next room > 5 days off from school and work > the freedom to make that choice > the farm > and incorporating it into the lives and hearts of my kids > iPads > the amazing ability of my 3yo to learn now to use one > fresh air > pecan pie > conversations with old friends > tangible reminders > unfailing encouragers > watching Baby Girl exploring girl things > the ability to do what I love > wise advice > invested time > caregivers and teachers my children love > faithful parents > Bug’s enthusiasm > LDB’s tender heart > hearing “I love you, Mommy” randomly > baby steps > progress > the privilege of seeing another person’s heart > my home office > the confidence of my clients > the freedom to read and search and know > the ability to provide for my babies > faith through tough situations > seeing joy in simple things > gift cards > days spent forgetting about the clock > imaginations at work > good books > technology that connects us > memories > the wonder and responsibility of being a mommy > a brilliant sunset > bedtime stories > inquisitive hearts > Avengers who always defeat the bad guys > a table richly spread > the commitment to go the extra mile > warm clothing > kind words and learning to say them > understanding how wealthy I am > the opportunity to say thank you…
One lesson I’ve been reminded of each year in this now 4-year tradition is that the List is best kept daily. Not yearly. In fact, it’s best kept moment by moment, recognizing all the small things that add up to a big, wide, deep life filled with blessing. For life is invariably filled with blessing.
I found this metal plate while walking around Downtown in Starkville, MS. I was intrigued by the company job description… “Frontbuilders.” Now, that’s a positioning statement! It turns out the Mesker Bros company produced cast iron building facade components that were shipped to small towns across America in the late 1800s and early 1900s via their mail order catalog. I can promise I’ll be on the lookout for more of these on my next letters-and-numbers hunt.
12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY 10
I read this poem from the American Life in Poetry project last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I love the phrase “to claim a place in the bounty of earth.” Isn’t that what we really find ourselves about so many times? Claiming a place of bounty for our own hearts and spirits. So often we slip into thinking that bounty falls before us with no effort. That we are simply able to sit before a table amply spread and partake of bounty at no cost. But, as Mr. Levine writes, bounty more often comes through effort — through the conscious and persistent labors of grace in our lives and the staunch belief in our hearts that labor will be rewarded. And the belief that the bounty for which we labor is precious.
I’m reminded today that bounty must be cultivated as we root out the life of meaning that brings us joy. God is so incredibly generous. His provision is ample. But it is my responsibility to maintain that space for His abundance. It is my responsibility to put in the effort to cultivate my own heart, recognizing, claiming, and preserving what is important.
And, as the poem expresses, joy may be found in that labor. Our effort and struggle produces a greater measure of gratitude.
American Life in Poetry: Column 348
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
When we’re on all fours in a garden, planting or weeding, we’re as close to our ancient ancestors as we’re going to get. Here, while he works in the dirt, Richard Levine feels the sacred looking over his shoulder.
All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2010 by Richard Levine, from his most recent book of poetry, That Country’s Soul, Finishing Line Press, 2010, by permission of Richard Levine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY NINE
“Thank you Mommy for saying these things.”
I don’t think I’ve ever really thought much about hearing “thank you,” and the impact it can have — the lessons it can teach. If you’ve read much in the EyeJunkie archives, you know that my children have taught me many lessons. My 5yo, Bug, is no exception and his lessons have their own brand of sweetness because he is so very passionate about his little life and everything in it.
I can’t believe I just typed 5yo, but it’s inexplicably true. Bug turns five today. He always has a place in each year’s 12 days of Thanksgiving series because he was born just two days before the holiday. He is responsible for one of my most powerful Thanksgiving memories because I brought him home on Thanksgiving Day. Definitely gratitude worthy! And he continues to provide those opportunities.
It was Bug who said the “thank you” that stopped me this time. It was just a normal evening for me. The bedtime routine was in full swing, and I had reached the point in the process when it was Bug’s turn. Bug is a man of routine, and his involves me spreading his blankets in his special way, reading a book, rubbing his back, singing a song and various answers to questions. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I do it mindlessly.
All too often I forget, but I do try to send their minds and hearts off to sleep with some reminders of just how special they are. Truths like “you’re so smart,” or “I love you more than you know,” or “you make me smile.” For something so profound, it’s funny how I can breeze by the words just as mindlessly as the rest of routine sometimes. On this night, I kissed Bug’s cheek and off-handedly mumbled “I’m so proud of you.”
Uh uh. With Bug, you don’t get by that easy. You don’t get by with simple flattery. He lives in specifics and usually demands them. And, true to form, on this night he did. He immediately asked me why. Why was I proud of him?
Now, it’s not hard for me to answer that question. I AM proud of Bug, and there are many daily reasons why. I think what surprised me was his desire to hear all those reasons and his boldness to ask for it. It had honestly not occurred to me be more specific. So, I told him. All the little success I could think of. The ones that are small in the course of the life I know he’ll have, but big in the scope of the moments he’s aware of now. And, when I was finished, he said thank you.
“Thank you Mommy for telling me these things.”
Bug rolled over and closed his eyes for sleep, apparently content with the answers he got. And he left me, once again, completely pondering what just happened. Amazed at how much I had to learn from that simple “thank you.” And from “these things.”
Pride is a powerful thing. It fulfills our desire — our need — to be seen. To know our efforts have been noticed and commended moves us. It pushes us closer to good habits, to the confidence required to accomplish more, to that resting place in our own minds where we know we’re doing a good job. Bug’s “thank you, Mommy” reminded me again how important it is to communicate these things. In specific. In real terms and descriptions they can understand and hold easily in their own hearts.
Bug’s request for specifics and his “thank you” showed me how very valuable and needed the reminders are for his heart. For all our hearts. How our hearts awaken when we hear “I’m proud of you.” How we want to know more. How we treasure that affirmation of our efforts and our good work. In specific. How it motivates us toward bigger and better things.
Today I’m grateful for that little sleepy, heart-felt “thank you,” the privilege to hear it and the encouragement to let each of them know how uniquely special they are.
12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY EIGHT
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
~ Thornton Wilder
…When our hearts are conscious of our treasures. I want to live in that place of consciousness, where not a single treasured moment escapes the attention of my heart. I’m recognizing, as I have time and time again, that so much of our joy in life is derived from simply being aware of it. Life, I mean. And all the spectacular treasures it contains. Some days the treasures make themselves known. It may sound like the din of three over-exhuberant young ones in need of a nap, but it’s really being alive calling. Giggles, squeals, smiles, conversations — my heart’s inescapable evidence that life is running over.