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Archive for twelve days

Day Twelve: Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving Day

I’ve really enjoyed my 12-day writing adventure this year, and as usual I feel richer for having done it. It’s been good to press myself to acknowledge and articulate some of the blessings we are experiencing, even while we are still in the process of accepting our grief and the changes it has brought. It’s been important for me to recognize some of the shifts in perspective God has provided for my heart that have enabled me to keep moving forward during this last year — one of the most difficult of my life.

As we’ve had the opportunity this week just to be, my time and thoughts have been free to wander through our blessings. It’s helped me notice a few things. And be thankful. Here’s what I’ve seen.

We are enjoying moments when our spirits are free. Free from the weight of some of the circumstances of the past years.

We are laughing. From deep within our hearts.

We are talking and laughing and remembering moments with Mike. And that process feels good.

We are creating and building and chasing and finding. All the things that help me know we are regenerating our lives.

We are fretting and fussing and arguing and tired and confused and selfish and angry and juggling and frustrated. At times. Because we are normal. Normal people. Normal siblings. Normal kids. A normal mom. This grieving and changing hasn’t kept us from just being regular people.

We are wandering. Through pastures and hay yards and elementary school and working single motherhood. And mostly enjoying the effort of finding our way. Because we are growing.

We are whole. In spite of our loss. Of a husband. A friend. A father. A companion. We are still complete.

We have traditions. They are changing and adjusting as our lives have changed. Like all traditions do. And should.

We are hopeful. Because we can’t not be. As we embrace every step of learning and every step of changing and every step of growing brought by three little ones and a mother trying to keep up, we can’t help but see the possibility of life. Undiminished by the loss of a life.

We make plans. About next week and next summer and next year. We continue to move and work and learn and play each day. And we look forward to what’s next. Because it reminds us life is rich. And deep. And wide. And beautiful. Something I wasn’t sure we could believe again.

We live. And so we are thankful. For the two can not be separated in our hearts.

I keep coming back to this every year, it seems. At the end of every 12-day journey. At the end of every day. That God is indeed good. So good. And His mercy in our days and in our hearts endures.

It endures. Forever.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Day Eleven: The Thanksgiving Tree

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Several years ago, we started a Thanksgiving tradition at our house — a Thanksgiving Tree. It was a quirky little idea designed to help us all cultivate gratitude during the season. The kids went in search of an interesting branch at the farm, and we braced it with a bunch of rocks in a pot on our dining table. Every day at dinner time during the week or so prior to Thanksgiving, we each shared one thing we were grateful for. The kids were young and couldn’t write, so I recorded their little moments of gratitude on cut pieces of colored paper and hung them on the “tree.” During that year, they were thankful for things like the color red and chicken nuggets and various Disney movies. And Mommy and Daddy. We didn’t end up doing our Thanksgiving Tree tradition last year in all the craziness, but this year I was determined we would start it again.

We did. On our first farm walk earlier this week, the kids and I went in search of a suitable branch. We found “it” down at the curve of the road. It was actually two nearly bare gray branches we held up together and determined they could work when paired together. Drummer Boy led the charge to gather rocks from the gravel road in our buckets and used them to scotch the branches together in a green crock pitcher. It’s been sitting at the end of our table leaving ample room for serving dishes but also reminding us of the holiday.

So, we’ve been naming blessings. And writing them down. And hanging them on a tree. This year, I created a printable Thanksgiving hang tag that I shared in some of my Small Pond Graphics communications. Baby Girl and Bug got into the fun of cutting them out and punching holes in them. Sometimes at breakfast and sometimes at dinner this week, we’ve each chosen our hangable and our crayon. The kids are old enough now to write their own thankful words with a little spelling help. I’m proud of them for thinking carefully about what to write, and their smiles at choosing the best hanging spot make me smile too.

As with most young traditions, I’m not sure the kids really “get” the tradition part. But, as I’ve seen with other crazy Mom ideas, I imagine that as we continue to repeat each year they will come to be the ones reminding me how it should be done. I guess that’s how traditions work. That makes me smile. I want this act to be part of who we are. This act of giving thanks. Of counting blessings. It’s so easy to indulge them, to give them everything I possibly can. But, I want them to understand the importance of gratitude, of nurturing a grateful heart, of knowing that blessings come in all kinds of packages. I hope you enjoy a glimpse at some of our blessings. May you and yours enjoy counting a few of your own.

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Day Ten: Mud Puddles

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Well, we’ve had nearly two days of rainy weather here at the farm. So far it’s rained out our annual Busy Bee Bonfire, celebrating Bug’s and my birthdays. It’s dampened (literally) our outdoor fun, but we’ve still managed to get in a few walks.

In the midst of drizzling rain this morning, my mom drove into town for some errands and returned with four new pairs of rubber boots — two pink and two red. Suddenly, the rainy day got a little bit brighter.

Something about the prospect of wearing bright colors on our feet in defiance of the cloudy day lifted our excitement level to a new high. I imagine it also had something to do with the ability to wade through mud and puddles unencumbered by the need to keep our feet dry.

So, this afternoon, we scrambled to don our new footwear, tuck in our britches, layer up the sweatshirts and splash some puddles. We walked the full length of our private road in both directions without dodging any muddy places. In fact, we steered our steps toward quite a few ruts just to test their depth.

I love how something so mundane can shift the wind of a discontented attitude. The prospect of a new and fun way of braving the weather together changed the wind and cloudiness from gloomy to celebration. All it took was one little thing to be excited about. One little thing to choose to enjoy. The boots didn’t magically make the sun come out. But, to hear the sounds of our own laughter and joy, it was clear the clouds were banished from our thoughts.

Today was a good reminder for me that the forecast of our lives isn’t dependent on stormy circumstances. It is dependent on our ability to allow ourselves to be open to joy and contentment in spite of the difficulties.

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Day Nine: Conversations with Baby Girl

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Yesterday as we were enjoying some time inside the farm house between cold walks, Baby Girl and I were hanging out on my bed. At the farm she has always shared a room with me, and it’s become a special thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes those down times are ripe for conversations — the ones that help me see her heart.

Baby Girl turned five in August. She was barely four when her father died, and of course sometimes our conversations about that situation are heart-breaking. She has always been the most expressive about Mike’s death which means that I am more likely to field those difficult questions and comments with her. Little girls have special relationships with their fathers. I do. And, so often I find myself looking for ways to help her deal with that loss while trying to shore up her memories.

I wrote last week about how much of a blessing time has been for me in giving me enough distance and processing of the situation with Mike to now begin to talk about him more freely and with more joy. I’ve seen how much that has helped Baby Girl in particular.

Because she is so young, sometimes I see her searching. Like she is trying to make her memories of her father more solid and real. That’s a process we are all going through. Everyone else just has more time — more memories — to pull from. So, she asks me questions. In surprising moments of contentment and safety, she asks. Times like yesterday afternoon.

We were hanging out on my bed in the farm house. She laid down on the side of the bed beside the wall next to where I sleep and asked of that was where Daddy slept. She began to explain to me how Daddy had used this bed to change her diapers and how he had picked her up from her bed when she woke up during the early morning hours and taken her to the farm house living room.

She’s told me this before. She repeats it for me occasionally. And asks, “is that right?” And I tell her “yes.” Every time she smiles to know that Daddy took care of her and changed her diaper and helped her when she needed to go back to sleep. Yesterday I told her that this was one of Daddy’s favorite things to do. I explained what I had all but forgotten myself. That Mike had often gotten up at the farm to play with her in the mornings — when toddlers always seem to wake. He did it to let me sleep. And to be with Baby Girl.

To write about it is still painful. I’m not quite at the stage where it is pure joy to remember the kindnesses Mike showed me, the kindness of his character, and the love he had for his children. I’m not sure I’ll ever count those memories as pure joy. They may always be twinged with the reality of his death and his choice to die. But, it is important for me to remember them again. And it’s important for Baby Girl to remember them. For me to be able to tell her “yes, that’s right.” To freely elaborate and give her more of the account of her father. To nurture those memories she treasures. What we all treasure. I’ve realized how important it is for me to help her hold them dear.

I’m learning how precious those moments of sharing are for our family. And for my own process of moving forward. I’m learning that it’s ok to show my children my tears and to give them permission to show their own. I’m learning that it is healthy and good for us to ask questions together and answer them together. I’m learning that joy does indeed come in the morning of our grief as we are slowly waking to those moments of truth and remembrance.

Day Eight: The Gift of Attention

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Doing nothing accomplishes a lot sometimes. I love these kinds of days — days when we have no plans. Days when we feel that freedom to do what we want. We actually always have that freedom, but with the push and pull of work and school and schedules and to do lists, we don’t always feel the freedom. Today we did.

This is the reason I like to bring us here. To feel that freedom. To choose that freedom. To enjoy each other just for the simple fact we belong together. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Our “nothing” day included walking on gravel roads, finding colorful leaves, painting art projects, climbing on hay bales, laughing at movies and napping — all together. They all talk at once. They all run at once. They all laugh at once. My name is shouted a hundred times, and my attention is pulled in a thousand directions in response. But, it’s funny how there’s never a time when I’m more focused. Days like these make me “conscious of my treasures,” as Thornton Wilder said.

I’m not writing much today, mainly just a simple thought that’s been festering in my mind through our wandering… In these days I can see how our own grateful hearts keep us focused on things that matter. And I can see how the gift of attention is one of the greatest I can give — to myself and to my children.

Day Seven: Morning

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This morning we woke up at the farm. We arrived at Busy Bee last night and settled in for a week of Thanksgiving holiday. The children are always beyond excited when we arrive and eager to get reacquainted with the farm house. In the mayhem, it was nearly 11 o’clock when we climbed in bed.

I like the morning here. It’s quiet. Morning at the farm seems more quiet than when we wake up at home, but I’m not sure it actually is. It helps that we are almost always here to relax. So, perhaps it’s my thinking that’s quieter. We don’t have a central heating unit in our farm house, so wintertime means simple gas heaters in our rooms. It’s a quiet heat without the on-and-off hum of air blowing. I think we wake up more slowly here because it’s quiet. The light slowly filters in with the rising sun. It coaxes us back to consciousness without the buzz of alarms. We are urged awake by the promise of a day filled going just where our whims tell us to follow.

We all need those times, whether in a farm house or other parts unknown. Times apart from our routine and schedule and daily surroundings to regroup.

I feel like I’ve been in a year of regrouping. When I think about last Thanksgiving spent here at the farm, I remember so much numbness. It had been two months since Mike died and I was still dumbfounded by the changes. I was numb to most of the people around me except for this hyper sensitivity to my children and their well-being.

Joining my extended family for Thanksgiving lunch today, I noticed a change in myself — or maybe a return to myself. I was able to visit and talk and interact, to take an interest in people around me. A year ago, I couldn’t do it. It just seemed completely overwhelming, like I was watching everything from a distant corner of the room even though I was sitting right there. Today I was there.

This morning was quiet. Quieter than a year ago. And even in the twilight of my sleep, I was more awake.

Day Six: On Writing

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

This week I talked to a dear friend I hadn’t visited with in a while. It was just a random encounter using Facebook chat — not ideal, but one of those conversations I think must have been some kind of divine appointment. She told me she was glad I was writing again, saying the 12 days series was giving her a glimpse of how I’m doing. And she made one of those observations I love her for…

“Writing seems to be one of the best processing tools for you.”

Yep, I could probably write a whole essay on those friends who seem to know me through and through regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve talked, but that’s for another time. I’ve been struggling with writing this year, as evidenced by the lack of posting here. Fewer posts mean there are even fewer personal journal entries.

I love to write. It helps me know my own soul. I know this about myself. But, I’ve had trouble finding the motivation this year. I even considered letting go of EyeJunkie altogether. But I couldn’t. Somehow this writing space feels like it’s tethered to my heart. Right now, even after almost no essays this year, I still feel like discontinuing this blog would be like cutting part of myself out of my life.

Before I decided to write this Thanksgiving series again, I had not posted an essay since May. In my last one, I wrote about having taken a break — right before I took ANOTHER long break. At the time, I had been looking for a way to write beyond my experiences with my husband’s death, a way to write from life and joy rather than death. I thought I was ready, and then promptly lost the will to do it. It’s funny how a favored activity can be such a double-edged sword sometimes.

I remember measuring my documentation of the grieving process as if it had surely become tiresome to everyone and simultaneously feeling compelled to give an account of coming through this process to the other side. That double-edged sword. I loved being open about what had happened and how I was dealing with it. I also wanted to suck back all the words as soon as they were out there. I was torn between writing for Mike’s sake, for the world’s sake and for my own sanity. Sometimes I felt this odd need and obligation to simply let my world know we were moving forward. Moving in some way. So that the experiences of grief and confusion weren’t left just hanging there.

This week’s conversation with my friend made me trace back through all those reasonings and obligations. To think and remember and question. And learn from myself about why this act of written processing matters. To question why I’m NOT writing. My answer brought me back to one more encouragement…

“Give yourself some grace and write for the good of your heart.”

There it is. For the good of my heart. Not out of some strange sense of obligation. Or some arbitrary schedule. Or some need to finish what’s been started. For the good of my heart. I lost that somehow. I lost sight that this process is part of helping my heart move forward. Thinking through it and writing through it may be a slow, slow journey, but joy and healing and change come through each step.

Grieving and letting go and moving and changing. It all takes work. Hard work. And courage. The courage to look at difficult things. Confusing things. Unknowable things. It takes work to make sense of what can be understood and let go of what can’t. It takes courage to figure out the difference. It takes work to figure out myself in this new situation. It requires courage to take it all in as part of myself.

I want to be that hard-working and courageous person. I want to show my children that person. I want to see it all the way through — no matter how challenging the view — so that my children know it can be done. So that when they ask the next round of questions, I can say I don’t know. But, let’s look it squarely in the eye — together.

I’m so thankful for these reminders and for one more shift in perspective. I’m thankful for discerning friends and technology that can bring them into my living room. I’m thankful for the seed of courage waiting to be nurtured again. I’m thankful for the grace to accept Mike’s death as part of the fabric of my life — not the defining thread. I’m thankful for the step by step process that is bringing us forward.

Day Five: Bug

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

November 21 is always an easy day in my 12-day Thanksgiving series. On November 21, 2006 one of the most exuberant, passionate and creative souls entered my life. My Bug was born.

Bug, Little Drummer Boy and Baby Girl have shown amazing resilience this past year. Every day I’m amazed by them and how much they pull me forward. Every day I learn from their courage in facing this new world. In taking this new world as their own. I’ve written before that Bug does and feels nothing halfway. He speaks and sings and dances and learns and expresses with such detail and excitement, fully invested in each move — so driven to do it right and do it all the way. Such a powerful lesson for my own heart. Every day I realize more just how much I have to learn from this young man.

Happy Birthday, Bug.

Day Four: Oxen

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean. But much gain comes from the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4

Some days you can’t see the ox for the straw covering the barn. Today I missed Thanksgiving lunch with my kindergartener and first grader. I had it in my calendar for this morning. I had already purchased my ticket. I’d scheduled meetings around it. I was ready to go.

Only this morning I woke up very early before the sun was up. I couldn’t go back to sleep because I was listing in my mind the things I needed to do before our Thanksgiving holiday begins on Friday evening. Birthday presents for Bug, Book Fair purchases for Little Drummer Boy, several emails scheduled to send for a client, a website concept design, packing clothes, finding books for school, a Reading Fair project, meetings, that letter I wanted to write. So many things to do. In my early morning thinking, I made a plan for how to mark some things off the list this morning.

It was a great plan taking advantage of the dead zone that Walmart becomes at the beginning of the work day. It included an unexpected peek at Little Drummer Boy while picking up his book requests. I was able to get some emails schedules and web pages set up. But, around 1:30 I glanced carefully at my calendar and saw the two blocks marked for Thanksgiving lunch. At 9:50 and 10:40 this morning.

Fail. And there is no fail to the spirit like a mommy fail on Thanksgiving, no less.

So, the afternoon has included a few tears for me. And a much needed shift in perspective. So many times I think I get so caught up in being the best mommy, in doing the best work, that I stress myself out of experiencing the true joy of mothering or creating. I get so caught up in doing that I lose sight of being, of experiencing, of giving attention to the basics. And I forfeit the full value those core treasures bring. I forget that the errands and projects and creating ideas or special days all serve to SERVE my treasures. They aren’t the treasure. So, I can accept the untidiness of a schedule perpetually half-fulfilled. As long as I can focus on the strength those treasures bring to every single day. And, when the duties and activities cease to contribute to that strength, I can give myself permission to let them go.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean. Thank God he’s given me such a mess.

Day Three: When We Need It Most

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This short speech delivered in 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery is one of the most remembered orations in American history. I imagine every person reading this can quote at least a portion of the speech. The words have endured as a profoundly succinct and moving account of our country’s ideals. But, the words were also delivered as a comfort.

The wounds were fresh. Thousands gathered at the dedication to honor their sons and fathers and husbands who were buried just a few months earlier. Over 50,000 men died in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The battle was one of the largest and bloodiest of the Civil War. The community of Gettysburg was, no doubt, in devastation even four months later.

Facing the forever-changed outlook of that community, the President stood and asked the people to live. To live out the core of what they believed, of what was right. Beyond their devastation and the impact of such loss.

It’s interesting to me that some six weeks earlier, Abraham Lincoln had given another speech. It is less recognized, but we celebrate its impact every year — on Thanksgiving Day. On October 3, 1863 Lincoln delivered the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving, establishing the national holiday…

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…

They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…”

~ Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863

Somewhere centered between some of the bloodiest and conflicting times in our history and the need to commemorate the loss resulting from those conflicts, Lincoln was compelled to proclaim a day of thanksgiving. In the midst of sorrow and struggle and conflict, whether inward or outward, Lincoln seemed to see the value of shifting our gaze upward. The value of offering thanks. The value of doing it together. The value of laying bare a grateful heart, taking inventory of the bounty that remains. When we need it most.

As my children and I continue to walk through the stages of our own grief, I’m continually reminded of what a comfort thanksgiving can be. On days when loss or sorrow or hopelessness seem to take hold, the impact of recognizing just one blessing can be so powerful. But, gratitude has just as much of an impact on the normal days that are becoming more and more consistent for us. On days when I look at my children flourishing and vibrant with life, thanksgiving helps me hold those moments closer and extend the hope and joy to the next moment. Thanksgiving helps us string the moments together. Thanksgiving helps me know we are moving on. It helps me acknowledge that we are alive. And growing. And we can say with confidence that we a blessed. We have lost. But, we are blessed. There is no greater shift in perspective than that.

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