How to Give Thanks for Your REAL {messy * beautiful * laughable * sorrowful * honest * hopeful} LIFE

how to give thanks for your real life

I have a six-year-old friend in the first grade class where I work each morning. She is a real-life caricature of a Disney princess, minus the ball gown and polished demeanor. Her voice is little bit like Shirley Temple’s and she says everything with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.

Her head is in the clouds when she “should” be working and she’s delightfully uninhibited. She rattles off obscure facts about animals with endearing enthusiasm and explains what words mean in a way that’s remarkably perfect.

She embodies wonder. And I adore her for it.

A couple of weeks ago she remarked about the beauty of something completely mundane — I don’t remember what exactly — and I said to her, “I just love you. Your glass is always half-full.”

To which she replied {with said twinkle in her eyes and fluttering eye-lashes and ever-present smile}, “Oh Mrs. Vischer! My glass isn’t half-full. It’s ALL THE WAY FULL!” And she stretched out her arms to the sky as she said it, just to demonstrate the enormity of her everlasting joy.

I love her because I want to be like her. I want a heart that intrinsically gushes with gratitude and a mind that’s captivated by wonder and eyes that zero in on beauty. There are those who are simply hard-wired for joy and gratitude and glass-half-full-ness.

Some people get all the good personality genes and yes, I’m jealous. I desperately long for that sort of innate positivity.


nature table

The last week has been on the melancholoy side for me, which is putting it ever so politely. I realized that I’ve been stuffing grief for about five years now because real life has not allowed for such indulgences like acknowledging loss. There are sandwiches to make and children to parent and marital spats to smooth out. There are jobs to work and bills to pay and a house to set up.

In the hurry and flurry of real life, I didn’t realize just how much sorrow I had packed away like old high school trophies, telling myself I’d deal with it all later but lugging it around from place to place in the meantime.

And then something triggers the baggage. And while I’m used to triggers and they are terribly unpleasant, I know the drill.

Shove it back down. Stuff the emotions that are temporarily dislodged. Pack them away. Deal later.

This is a necessary form of denial because the demands of the everyday monopolize your physical and emotional energy.

Even for someone who’s “real” like me, I didn’t realize how stuffed full of sorrow I was until it all came unstuffed and the suitcase refused to latch. And when it did? Rage and anguish and despair came with it. All I could see was the mess of my life — the mess of the past, the mess of the present, the probable mess of the future. I couldn’t see how far we’d come. I could only see how much still feels like a disaster.

My glass was not only half-empty; it was bone dry. And it had been that way for longer than I even knew.

give thanks real life chair

I walked for hours on a broken foot that’s beginning to heal, taking breaks to sit in the sun and seek clarity and feel sorry for myself. But all I found was darkness and confusion. My thoughts found voice only in the words of King Solomon, who had everything under the sun yet declared it all meaningless.

I had forgotten to remember.

This week a dear friend and counselor reminded me: “Climb onto the life raft of rememberance.”

“The Life Raft of Rememberance.” It’s the title of a blog post I once wrote. Three and a half years ago I penned these words:

In laying bare our needs, we simultaneously remember the ones God’s already met. Practicing remembrance saves me. It’s impossible to drown in discouragement and hopelessness when we remember how He’s parted the sea time and again.

Remembrance is an exercise in trust, an invitation to hope, and a pathway to peace.

Sometimes it takes the perspective of others to untangle the truth from the lies. It takes my husband telling me over dinner and with all sincerity that we are not where we were, not by a long shot. It takes a loved one telling me that “nothing has changed” is a straight-up lie and reminding me to look around. We’re here, in this house, together and intact.

In the words of Elton John, “I’m still standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I’ve decided that “still standing” is indeed a victory.

Is it all still terribly messy? Ohmygosh, yes. But there is life and goodness in the middle of mess.

Has the sorrow vanished? Not at all. But it’s been brought into the light, promised to be acknowledged and carried by someone other than just me.

Am I free of consquence and baggage? Hardly. But they do not define me or my family.

Mess and sorrow — it’s part of my story and I’m guessing it’s part of yours too. I’d write the narrative differently but I can’t. I can only keep moving from this point forward. Instead of rewriting my own life, I can simply receive it.

And I can receive it with gratitude.

A curated life has the allure of perfection and the illusion of control. In an age where we can stage our lives and portray them as we wish in our online spaces, we allow ourselves to fool and be fooled. I’m not gonna lie, I still want to pick and choose with my real life. I want to be the snobbish gatekeeper of my own past, present, and future.

But a real life doesn’t have fancy filters and carefully crafted vignettes. A real life has the slate of redemption as its foundation and the banner of hope unfurled across its roofline, even if its rooms are still junky and a lot of stuff needs to be fixed.


Sometimes I still look at God as the Grand Editor and tell him that I have a better idea for how the story should unfold.

He graciously reminds me that my gaze doesn’t see the beginning from the end. My characters are predictable and safe. My plot-lines leave no room for rescue or transformation. I am my own hero. The end.

everything boy

As I look back, I can drown in resentment and how failure still impacts me today. Or I can climb aboard the life raft of rememberance. I can be grateful that adversity has transformed me and my people in fruitful ways, even as I still keep company with sorrow.

I can consider where we’d be, if not for grace, and that would be a terrible place indeed.

I can remember holidays gone by that were fractured and false and raise my hands to the heavens that we broke through the hell of that, hard road and all, and now we have a life that’s honest. We are anything but perfect. Truthfully, we are embarrassingly clueless and flying by the seat of our pants most of the time. And that makes us needy in a good sense, desperate for a savior in both epic and everyday ways.


This Thanksgiving, I offer thanks for an honest life.

An honest life isn’t free from sorrow or mess or baggage.

An honest life doesn’t pretend that the present doesn’t bear scars from the past, nor is it fearless about the future.

An honest life does not have tidy relationships or closure or complete healing.

But an honest life is wide open to receive and to give because it’s ripe to be made new and humble enough for transformation. An honest life knows its own crazy and is set free to walk through the doors of others’ crazy.

This Thanksgiving, I receive my own life with gladness and gratitude. All of it. I don’t say that lightly. This is THE continual struggle for me.

I invite you to do the same, even if your story is not as you might have written it.

I invite you to join all of us honest folk around this very real table where we feast and cry and laugh and spill the sweet tea and nibble around the burnt part of the rolls and eat pie until we test the threshold of our stretchy pants.

May we scoot over to finally make room for the sorrow that cannot be denied, knowing that sadness and gladness can sit around the same dinette. Sorrowful tears can mingle with joyful ones. As my friend Kimberly says, tears “water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.” 

May we begin with compassion toward our own fragile souls.

May we hunt down beauty in the midst of brokenness.

May we even have glorious moments in which we are soul mates with my six-year-old friend, where our gladness for ALL THE DELIGHT and ALL THE WONDER makes our eyes twinkle and our smiles widen and our arms stretch with great might toward the heavens.

Why? Because we dare to remember all the goodness. We dare to receive our own lives with thanksgiving instead of bitterness. We dare to hope with a capital H.

And because of Hope, we can receive this life in all of its beautiful, ridiculous, messy glory.


For Your Thanksgiving

One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. A modern classic that I need to keep reading.

Choose to be Grateful. It’ll Make You Happier. By Arthur C. Brooks at The New York Times.

The Life Raft of Remembrance {by me}

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*nature photos courtesty of Pixabay; book link is an affiliate

A Tale of Two Soldiers


I’m here today because two young soldiers, against all odds, returned home from World War II seventy years ago.

The one with the slight build barely looked old enough to man a tractor, much less a machine gun that stretched out of a plane’s backside.

But his small frame was the ideal size for that of a tail-gunner. I’m told that the “life expectancy” of tail-gunners was less than three minutes. Yet the small shooter with ruddy cheeks and blue eyes survived countless missions and two plane crashes. We have pictures of him standing beside the wreckage, arms crossed, an “all-in-a-day’s-work” expression on his face.

When he left his job as a college professor to serve on the the European front, he said goodbye to a young wife who carried fear and hope along with their unborn child. Miraculously, the young gunner returned home to hope-realized and a two-year-old son. The soldier and his lovely bride would have six more children across the years. Their second child is my mother.

The other soldier was eighteen and also newly married. He spent twenty-one days on a boat from his base in California to the war-front in the Philippines. By God’s grace he survived hell on earth in the damp jungles of the Pacific, and his wife survived days turned weeks turned sometimes months without knowing whether her young husband was dead or alive.

Underground and in the rain, the soldier read his Bible aloud to fellow comrades and I’ve no doubt they needed every word of that good news. Trapped in foxholes with disease-ridden feet, perpetually wet and starving, they dug graves in the wet jungle floor for dead Japanese soldiers and for their own fallen brothers. Day in and day out, they suffered and stared death in the face and prayed for home.

You’ve probably guessed that the Bible-reading soldier made it back too. He spent months in several hospitals, recovering from cholera and putting on weight and shaking horror from his mind.

But he finally came home.

He and his beautiful bride had three children across the years. The oldest child is my dad.

The tail-gunner and his wife are with Jesus now. I miss them terribly.

But the infantryman who fought in the Philippines is as spirited as ever.

At 91 years old, he’s one of the youngest World War II vets. There are few left now. His war bride is now 92, still beautiful and resilient even in her frailty. Even though I taught American History and am the granddaughter of two veterans, I tend to forget their sacrifice. I’m here because even though they were terrified, they chose courage. And God chose to bring them back. They left behind all that was dear to secure freedom for the rest of us. We’ll never be able to fully appreciate the remarkable lives of the “greatest generation.”

I think on these things every Veterans Day. I’ve considered the variables and what ifs and knowing that one misfire 70 years ago could have written a different story, one without me in it.

Today as I left my morning job at the school, I stopped to watch my son’s second grade class stand inside the front door and give homemade cards to the veterans passing through their two straight lines on the way to a special lunch. The teacher and I fought back tears because there’s something almost sacred about seeing the older generation reach out and touch the heads of our own children waving flags and saying “Thank you for your service.”

I considered my grandfathers and thought to myself, There are a million reasons I shouldn’t be here. But I am. There’s purpose to my life. Honestly, I was surprised by gratitude. Sometimes it’s that simple:

I’m supposed to be here.

I’ve also considered the connection between sacrifice and freedom. I realized that they’re opposites. {Because I’m a genius.} Sacrifice implies restraint and restriction and going without. Freedom implies boundlessness and peace and fullness.

Sacrifice giving birth to freedom is a completely upside-down thing.

And because I’m a Christian, this thought took me to the cross. The more I consider the overwhelming sacrifice of a perfect Savior on my behalf, the more passionate I am about the freedom He secured for me. There’s a direct correlation between our appreciation of the sacrifice that came before us and our appreciation of the freedom we now enjoy as a result.


This is the only patriotic post I’ve ever written. I’m not a military wife or a “God and country” sort of writer. The problem with studying our nation’s history is that I’m more aware than I’d like to be about some of the darker moments and motives of our past. It’s not all glory and honor and equality; this we know. But I absolutely believe that we can be honest about our history while bowing to the courage and sacrifice of noble men and women who have served valiantly and who continue to devote their lives for the protection of others, hopeful for a more secure future.

Honesty and honor are not mutually exclusive. May grace always have the final word.

We have never been a perfect nation. But it’s the everydayness of our people that has made America such a unique and storied place. We are not descendants of royalty. We are rebels and misfits and commoners. We are 18-year-olds who left behind small, southern, mill towns for lands they had never seen, fighting for the future of great-grandchildren they had never met.

Thinking about the two soldiers nearest and dearest to my heart, remembering the stories they’ve shared with me and with my kids, I’m grateful beyond words for their sacrifice and service. I’m so thankful that they dared to hope.

This Veteran’s Day, might we consider the sacrifice of those who have gone before us and cherish anew the freedom we enjoy?

And for those who are in Christ, it’s a reminder to think upon an even greater sacrifice — his sacrifice for us in order that we might fully dance in the freedom and security that is ours.


It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
{Galatians 5:1a}
Thanks for reading this updated repost from the archives.

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5 Things I Learned in October

Oct learned

When I can, I love to dish about what I’ve learned at the end of each month. The Let’s Share What We Learned posts are hosted by Emily Freeman as a “monthly community link-up to share the fascinating, ridiculous, sacred, or small.”

Mine is usually just ridiculous.

In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learned in October.


1. Good deals sometimes cost me a lot of money.

A freebie dresser from a friend = my husband’s herniated disc last fall. A $150 Pottery Barn leather recliner {via Craiglist} almost herniated it again. My economist husband is quick to remind me that these sorts of setbacks are referred to as “transaction costs.” I always receive his fancy econ terms with much joy and enthusiasm.

The latest casualty is a super heavy Broyhill cocktail table that fell out of my van and onto my foot a few weeks ago. It may have hurt worse than having a baby because I would have paid $1000 on the spot for an epidural.

I just ditched the orthopedic boot in exchange for this snazzy shoe. Who’s bringing sexy back?


Perks: I’m Frankenstein for Halloween.

Also? I may have googled “cute post-surgical shoes.” They don’t exist. {Dear Manolo Blahnik, get on this.}


2. There really is a mug that keeps your coffee hot for hours. 

My in-laws came to visit the week after we moved in to lend a helping hand. My dear father-in-law, who may have a reputation for splurging on the latest and greatest swag, gifted my husband and I with one of these — the Yeti Rambler.

Yeti Coolers Rambler Tumbler, Silver, 20 oz, one size

My coffee stays hot for HOURS. No lie. And if I want my Diet Dr. Pepper to stay ice cold, the YETI can do that too. They’re spendy so if you can’t treat yourself, put it on your Christmas list.


3. You can be lazy. And still be a genius.

Stop what you’re doing and go here. Subscribe to the Lazy Genius Collective and thank me later.

You guys, I have ALL THE LOVE for this! It’s the common sense, encouragement, and hilarity I wish was around ten years ago when I was way too angsty about stupid stuff. And who am I kidding? I can still be angsty about stupid stuff.

Kendra is the queen / lazy genius brainchild. Here’s a little snippet from her:

Like you, I’ve listened to everyone from neighbors to Dr. Oz talk about how I should live, how I should parent, and what swimsuit looks best on my body shape. (Answer: I like winter.) 

Over the years, I’ve learned that if my worth is based on how well I do everything I should, then I am 100% a terrible human being. So you know what I did? I quit trying so hard. And I started being a genius about being lazy. It’s the way to live, you guys, and I’d love for you to join me.

The LGC will be your best friend about everything from cooking and editing your life to taking your fun more seriously. Because we can all “be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.”

I’m not affiliated with the LGC in any way. But you guys know I’m a gal who’s all about writing the real and kicking perfectionism to the curb and being reasonable about our expectations.


4. Little kids classrooms are a personality lab. And personality labs are super fun for me. 

Since school started, I’ve been going to work each morning in a first-grade classroom until lunchtime. I just haven’t written about it here. My job is to be a “shadow” for a sweet young friend of mine who’s the hardest working first grader I know. She has Down Syndrome but she can read and write and ace spelling tests like a boss. Having a shadow allows her to learn in a typical first-grade classroom along with her peers.

school tower

What I didn’t expect was all the fun I’d have getting to know the other kids in the class. Already, their little personalities are showing up in big ways. I can tell you which kid is going to be a teacher and which one may end up on American Idol and which one will go to art school. They are so wonderfully and hilariously unique.

They also say things like, “Mrs. Vischer, can you help me order-betize these words?” and “You are almost 20 years older than my mom!”

I’ve been super observant all my life, paying attention to things that a lot of people overlook. {And overlooking a lot of stuff that happens to be really important information. Flashbacks to 9th grade Geometry class.} But paying attention to the ways tiny humans interact with one another and with the world around them is absolutely one of my favorite things.


5. Moving saps your will to live. {and makes you dramatic}

moving van

I wrote about our house story and the move itself in my last post so I won’t rehash it here. I had visions of moving in and painting and unpacking boxes like a ninja. But now we’re here and apparently our real life schedules don’t pause just because we moved. Neither do falling tables and injuries and jobs and kids.

Anyway, I underestimated how the ordeal of the last year and the move itself sapped what little was left of my energy and motivation. We may be living out of boxes and staring at beige walls for a while is what I’m saying. {I did buy the Nester’s Cozy Minimalist course in hopes that she will boss me into setting up house one room at a time.}


Thanks to Emily for giving me a reason to think about what I’ve learned this month and forcing a blog post even though I’m living in a sea of unpacked boxes and dirty laundry {and eating Halloween candy for breakfast.}

What did YOU learn in October?

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