Finding the Unlikely Path to Gratitude

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I’m an Accidental Optimist.

Thankfulness and positivity are just not the natural ways of me. I’ve alway been a glass-half-empty girl who faked that I’m not unless I was around those safest and closest. Bless their hearts, they have long borne my frequent lament, my incessant pining, my uncanny ability to see all that I was missing instead of all that I had.

My journey from empty to full began about nine years ago when I began writing on the internet. Turning the everyday stories of my messy, post-career life as a mother of three littles began to reorient my perspective. I’d begin a post with some sort of frustration or less than ideal situation, and lo, by the time I was finished, lemonade had replaced the lemons. Gratitude had replaced complaint. Grace had replaced failure.

It was the most serendipitous thing of my life. My own words would show up, one at a time, and take me somewhere else, even though I still lived in the same life. That’s still the way it happens. I never know exactly where they’ll lead; I simply follow the letters like bread crumbs toward a destination.

Usually that destination is a hopeful one, but not always. Like the Psalm that ends in honest declaration instead of victory and refreshment,

Darkness is my closest friend. 

Even then, our souls can find consolation as striving and pretending come to a halt, giving way to the strange peace of acceptance.

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Through writing, I discovered that that even our messiest of days are tinged with possibility. Redemption awaits. We only need to find the smallest of pathways and choose to keep walking.

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The gateway to a life of gratitude looks different for each of us — nature, reflection, rest, stepping away from it all for a moment or a day, prayer and meditation, a needful anti-depressant, reading Scripture, helping someone else, counseling, books.

I’m not talking about escapism or running away; I’m talking about reorientation. We find a way to see the same situation with different eyes.

We do this in both everyday and epic ways. I’ll share a story for both.

For years now, my vehicle has felt like a second home. With three kids in three different schools, with sports and youth group and all the things, I became downright bitter about the constant running around. Sadly, my martyrdom wasn’t a silent one.

And then I began doing the math, realizing that my days in the minivan with these kids were numbered.

Picking my daughter up from cheerleading practice every day felt like an inconvenience and an interruption until I began to see it as an opportunity for connection. Sometimes that connection looked like listening and biting my tongue as she vented her anger. Sometimes the connection looked like swinging by Sonic on the way home and laughing together as we listened to the Popcast. Sometimes it looked like arguing and steely silence. But always, it was an opportunity to water the soil of relationship.

And then there are the “epic” reorientations.

This usually requires divine intervention because it means life has so completely gone off the rails, all we can feel and see is that last line of Psalm 88: Darkness is my closest friend.

In 2011, I had just finished reading Ann Voskamp’s modern classic, One Thousand Gifts. It was providential to say the least, though I had no way of knowing it at the time.

Life did go off the rails.

And through the most unexplainable yet clearly divine power, I dropped to my knees, face to floor and gave thanks. I remember exactly where I was in my house. I remember the time of day.

I had never done that before and I haven’t done it since. But the message of that book had prepared my soul for the uninvited story I was just beginning to live.

Though I didn’t stay in that posture of gratitude moment by moment and day by day, I believe that experience shot a sacred arrow into an unseen battle. I knew my circumstances weren’t a cruel cosmic joke. This was all out war. And the battle was for my family. I resolved that day to fight for what was mine and for what was God’s.

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It’s the strangest, most counterintuitive thing to say but it’s true: the grief and the fight began with thankfulness.

Whether it’s something as inconsequential as a disappointing grade or something as devastating as family fracture, redemption begins when we dare to look Devastation in the face and call it Possibility.

Ann Voskamp says this,

That which we refuse to thank Christ for — we refuse to believe Christ can redeem.

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It’s the season of thanks but that doesn’t mean it’s all holiday drinks from Starbucks and happy Thanksgiving anticipation. I’ve learned that giving thanks isn’t a list or conjured up sentimentalism or an obligatory thing we do around the family table.

The deepest gratitude often looks like surrender.

It looks like humility as I relinquish my rights and expectations to receive what life is instead of what I want life to be. 

It looks like a discipline that doesn’t get easier but comes to me more quickly over time.

It looks like fighting the emotion of resentment with the counter emotion of thankfulness. 

It looks like choosing to see the good that’s there instead of the good that’s missing. 

It looks like receiving the everyday and epic moments with a heart of faith and trust in the One who lived and died and lived again — teaching us that every death actually holds the potential for new life. 

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Resources and Inspiration

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are :: This modern classic is one to return to over and over again.

Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love :: The real life story of Katherine and Jay Wolf. Their lives point others to choose hope and gratitude, no matter the circumstances. I love following them on Instagram too!

The Lazy Genius Practices Thankfulness {short podcast} :: “It feels right to give thanks in November, but it also feels forced and annoying sometimes. Let’s get back to the basics of gratitude and actually enjoy a season of giving thanks. No daily journals necessary.” Yes and Amen.

How to Give Thanks for Your REAL {messy * beautiful * laughable * sorrowful * honest * hopeful} LIFE :: a November post by yours truly : )

Follow me on Instagram for 30 days of thanks!

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My friend Kimberly invited me to join her in this endeavor. It’s something she’s done the last few years and she said it’s helped to prepare her heart for Advent. I need that. My hope is to inspire all of us to give thanks for the ordinary gifts of our real lives. 

“30 Days of Actual Gratitude” :: Because we should never take ourselves too seriously. : ) You guys, Knox and Jamie from the Popcast are doing #30daysofactualgratude on Twitter. It’s the best.

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Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

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Two weeks ago, I slipped away for 48 hours to the beautiful North Carolina mountains to speak for a women’s retreat. The theme for our time together was “Receiving Your Own Life: How Your Story Can Shine with the Beauty of Redemption.”

It’s the theme of my own life. And as I learned after two days with about 30 new friends, it’s not an unfamiliar theme. Live any length of time and you will find yourself with a story you probably would have written differently, even if it’s just an unwanted chapter or two.

Pinterest tells you to receive a curated life.

Experts tell you to receive only your best life.

American culture tells you to receive a prosperous life.

And I gulp it all down. I do. I want a life that’s lovely and charming, one in which I never feel any real lack or desperation. I want a life filled with beauty, adventure, abundance and peace.

These deep-seated longings are not wrong; they’ve been inside us all along, caged in our hearts and passed down throughout the ages. Man woke to life in a perfect garden, a place of unimaginable beauty, abundance, fellowship, and perfection. A place where work was delight instead of drudgery. A place where relationships were free from pain and complication. A place where shame and anxiety were not even words.

We’re all trying to get back to that place, aren’t we?

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On my way home from a literal mountaintop, I drove through the worst rain I’ve ever experienced. And then, forty-five minutes from home, I was warned of tornado sightings and took shelter at my sister’s house.

Two days after I returned, a hectic morning resulted in a driveway accident that left two cars {one of them purchased only weeks before} dented and damaged. Just a couple of months prior, I backed my own vehicle into a mailbox. We still need to replace the entire back door. So now all of our vehicles need repair. It’s frustratingly symbolic.

We are not in Eden anymore.

On the mountain, I told the women to expect these sorts of “enemies.” We’d spent some time talking about truths we have to remember if we’re going to “receive our own lives” and reflect redemption on a daily basis.

We have to remember who the real enemy is.

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Sometimes I re-watch The Hunger Games movies when they’re on TV. Just last night I tuned in at the part of Catching Fire when Katniss has her arrow pointed at Finnick, one of the other tributes in the Game. He says to her, “Katniss, remember who the real enemy is.”

{Spoiler alert.}

Once Katniss remembers the real enemy {the Capitol}, she redirects her arrow away from Finnick, her supposed enemy and rival tribute, and instead shoots into the forcefield of the Game itself.

In doing so, she shatters a false world and everything the real enemy had so carefully crafted to distract and deceive everyone.

And so it is with us. There are actual enemies at work: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I know, I know. That sounds fine and normal if we’re talking about a movie or a dystopian book series. But when we’re applying these concepts to our real lives? Well, it sounds like crazy talk. Surely we are too rational for this.

Even if we acknowledge the broken world as an enemy —

Even if we acknowledge our own flesh or ego as an enemy —

We often fail to acknowledge that there is real darkness waging war against real light. And so, like Katniss in the Game, we instinctively choose counterfeit enemies instead of the real ones. In the heat of our emotion and in the trenches of our mess, we simply forget.

Functional amnesia causes us to disregard the unseen enemy and to aim our arrow at the lesser foe right in front of us.

Our spouses

Our kids

Their decisions

Our co-workers

Our jobs

Church and its leaders

Elected officials

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If we can direct our anger, our energy, and our words toward a counterfeit enemy, the real enemy can prowl around unnoticed, growing all the more powerful as we become all the more blind. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have antagonistic people, legitimate conflict, and tangible forces working against us. We do. But consider the real enemy before you waste all your energy going to battle against a puppet or a distraction.

My enemy can look like a million different things, depending on the day:

It looks like 3 dented cars in my driveway.

It looks like someone I’m angry with.

It looks like the cancer that’s making my friend sick.

It looks like certain circumstances that will never change.

It looks like a nation viciously divided.

It looks like abuses of power and heartbreaking victimization.

It looks like poverty.

It looks like wealth.

It looks like the internet.

It looks like rejection of truth and beauty and peace.

I don’t know what enemies you face today. But my prayer in writing this post is that you may have the pause, the grace, and the wisdom to discern how to approach your own enemies.

My husband and I are no strangers to conflict, but several years ago we began reminding ourselves of this truth: We are on the same team. In a way, it’s just another way of saying, “Remember who the real enemy is.”

It doesn’t always solve the problem, but it does remind us to stand beside one another in solidarity against the actual enemy of our marriage, instead of facing off against one another as counterfeit enemies.

Real life is full of enough threats to our security, our peace, and our perspective. Let’s not make our own team members part of the opposing side.

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I was reminded a few days ago that God doesn’t tell us to wait for the enemies to be vanquished before we receive our own lives with trust and gratitude.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. {Psalm 23:5}

I’d honestly never noticed this before. This is a Psalm about being led by still waters and having a Shepherd who quiets our souls. It’s a song about goodness and love and being anointed with oil and having a cup that overflows.

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All while enemies are still present.

As we remember who the real enemy is, may we also remember who the real Savior is. {Hint: It’s not us.} Jesus is both a warrior and a shepherd, a king and a servant.

He deals powerfully with our real enemies even as He cares for our wounded and weary souls.

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For further reading, Psalm 23

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I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real.

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How to Wear Courage in Your Right-Now Life {a personal post + a wearable reminder}

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No matter the art — be it painting, dancing, mothering, writing, counseling, teaching, or design — we grieve when we can’t seem to find our voice, our place, or our offerings. Joy and discouragement live too close in our hearts and we can’t reconcile our desire with our constant disappointment.

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing Podcast, Episode 5: Offer Your Work With Hope 

I began this post (for at least the third time) after I anger-folded the laundry. My sock-matching companion was the kind voice of Emily Freeman on her podcast, The Next Right Thing. As she offered a prayer at the end, I stood over the mismatched socks and cried as my anger dissolved into its true self — grief.

My last post here was July 3rd. I’ve been writing on the internet for about 9 years and this is by far the longest lapse I’ve ever had between one published post and another.

The truth is probably what you’d expect. My plate is full. Like most of you, I’m busy juggling good gifts like a home, a marriage, children, dinner, relationships, community, a steady job, some freelance work.

A lovely art print of Ecclesiastes 3:1 sits above my desk, a daily reminder to receive the gifts and callings of each season.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. 

I feel like I’m in a better place than ever about receiving this season of my life with acceptance and gratitude. Until I’m not.

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Where is my best life?

A couple of weeks ago I talked with my friend and fellow writer, Kimberly.

She spoke of how hard it is to feel like you’re constantly living out of your weakness and lack instead of your strengths and gifts. In response, I offered rambling words of hope and encouragement in the face of heartbreaking disappointment she’d recently experienced. I talked about how living out of our weaknesses keeps us dependent on Jesus, how it keeps us in a posture of humility and grace. Saying these things to my hurting friend — it sounded simple and right.

Little did I know that a few days later, I’d be yelling through tears {at my blindsided and bewildered husband who just was trying to leave for work} that I want to live out of my strengths and gifts, that I’m tired of operating from a place of weakness, from a place of cluelessness, from a place of frustration and anxiety.

The truth and perspective I shared with Kimberly had up and vanished.

Whether it’s mothering or running a home or work I don’t know how to do or balls I keep dropping, the voice in my head has been crystal clear:

You, my dear, are not living your best life.

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Kimberly and I spoke of our shared disappointment, how the writing life that we envisioned isn’t eagerly extending an invitation to us. Her circumstances are different than mine but the outcome is the same — we long to make a certain kind of art and offer it in a certain kind of way, but limitations seem to have the last word. It’s a silly lament compared with the real tragedies of hurricanes and family fracture and cancer.

But desire is a stubborn thing. It will not stay quiet just because the limitations tell it shush or because the problems could be so much worse.

To be sure, there are gifts in the disappointment of closed doors. Like the very best girlfriends who show up with ice-cream after a bad breakup, Grace and Acceptance have shown up on the doorstep of my angsty heart as I’ve sought to live faithfully, albeit messily, in the tension between my hoped-for work and my right-now life. God has handed me unexpected joy and satisfaction in my present callings, even the ones that don’t come naturally to me.

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Still, sometimes you find yourself folding t-shirts on an everyday Monday and you begin to cry.

Even when you have a beautiful life, even when you’re grateful for all the gifts, the sadness that arises from longing is still there, lurking just beneath the surface.

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the courage to wait

I call it “receiving your own life.”

Almost everything I’ve written over the last 9 years passes through this filter. Receiving your own life is about living in the tension between your actual life and your hoped-for life. Sometimes the backdrop of this tension is a marriage that’s a disaster, a kid who’s gone off to the far country, mental illness, or financial ruin. Sometimes it’s sickness, unemployment, addiction, or an unrelenting discontent.

I’ve lived against more than one of those backdrops, so I know from experience that learning to receive your own life with trust and gratitude is a fight. We use words like “contentment” and “letting go” and “acceptance,” all of which convey a gentle, graceful surrender.

But that’s not what it’s felt like to me.

I’ve been trying to land on a fitting word that helps me die to my own agenda and receive the life that’s right in front of me.

It’s courage.

But not courage in the sense of heroics or bravery or bootstrapping. The real architecture of courage is actually quite different.

The Latin root is “heart.”

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Living courageously means that we live vulnerably and honestly. It means we live with a confidence that’s grounded in the truth of things, even when we’re afraid, even when the truth of things is not what we wish for.

I recently did a word study of courage from the Bible. Of everything I studied, this verse still floors me:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! 

Psalm 31:24 

Do you see that? It takes courage —

to wait. 

To wait for what the Lord is going to show us and do for us and do with us.

God did not say, let your heart be patient, all you who wait for the Lord!  He said to let your heart take courage.

There is a strength, a fight, a trust required to wait for the fulfillment of desired things.

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when you miss your real life because you fear you’re missing out

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Like I said, I’ve walked some legitimately painful roads in my 40-something years, so writing about the difficult intersection of waiting and art and desire sounds dramatic and ridiculous. Still, we cannot always rationalize our way out of grief. We can find perspective. We can live from a place of hope. We can trust in a timing that’s filtered through God’s love. But we grieve what we grieve and I’m tired of letting my inner critic bully me about this.

Courage helps me wait.

And as I wait, I learn that the waiting room is not merely an interlude or pit stop; it is its own worthy destination. The waiting room is a place where I’m stripped of ambition and given the opportunity to commune with God in my disappointment and doubt. It’s a place where I can stop and breathe and receive this dazzling life of mine, imperfections and all. Waiting rooms have a way of helping us see what really matters, even as we wish that certain circumstances were different.

Though Twitter is a terrible way to start your day, I happened to be awake at an ungodly hour one morning last week and came across this quote from author, Shawn Smucker:

In my limited experience, letting go of the things I wanted the most has allowed me to see the real and wonderful life in front of me.

Story of my life.

I’ve had a number of turning points across the last twenty-something years, moments when I let go of personal ambition like a child lets go of a helium-filled balloon. First the panic and the pang. Then the acceptance and eventual peace.

It’s terrifying to let go, even when we know it’s the right thing to do.

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We can only speak of courage in the face of fear. And isn’t fear our greatest foe when we’re fighting to receive our right-now lives? We fear that an opportunity will pass us by. We fear that we’ll misspend our lives. We fear that we’ll regret not giving more to our families or we fear that we’ll regret not pursuing vocational opportunities. We fear that God won’t answer our prayers in the way we want him to — or even that He will answer our prayers in the way we want him to.

We fear that we’re getting it all wrong.

Everyone else is supposedly out there living their best life and what are we doing? We’re crying on laundry day and wiping our noses with dryer sheets.

Cue the courage.

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what the professionals aren’t telling you

There are so. many. “experts.” They bombard us with “good” information every day, persuasive messages rooted in helpfulness. But I can’t help but wonder if the sheer volume of it all is dulling our discernment.

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Has self-help gotten too cozy with Jesus?

A curated life — aka a life that mostly lines up with our unique strengths, gifts, desires, skill sets, etc. — well, I’m just going to say it: That is not necessarily the way of Jesus, even if it seems to be the way of Christian Self-help (which we sometimes confuse with Jesus.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t problem-solve or climb out of pits. I’m not saying we haplessly pitch our tents in the land of misery and call ourselves more righteous because of it. And I’m definitely not saying our unique gifts don’t matter.

I am saying that every death, big or small, is a two-fold opportunity:

To reject pride and self-sufficiency and the idolatry of our own agenda. 

To receive God and grace and unexpected gifts.

The thing about Jesus is that He always tells the truth, even if it’s not the cozy truth we want to hear. Sometimes his words sound like crazy talk. He says that you gain your life by losing it, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The Jesus Way is upside-down and inside-out and even those of us who follow Him — well, we forget because the Jesus way gets mixed up with ambition and comfort and success and your best life.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I drink the Kool-Aid too.

This is already my longest post ever, but I’m going to go deep and dramatic for one last moment. Stay with me?

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A courageous life may not look like your best life.

Do you think that when Jesus was dying a humiliating public death, the people in the crowd were thinking, “How successful he is! What a legacy. We should find out his best practices.” Of course not. They pitied him, they hated him, they called him a liar and a fool and a fraud. “What a wasted life,” they must have thought.

Though they stripped Him of his clothes, they could not strip Him of courage. Jesus-courage isn’t rooted in bravery or self-actualization or crafting a perfect life. Jesus-courage is rooted in vulnerability and humility and sacrificial love and a future glory that is not of this world.

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My words may not be as inspiring as the messages from your favorite experts, but I can’t write about real courage without bringing Jesus into it. Because He knows what it’s like to live in the ultimate tension between the now and the not yet. He lived and died in that tension. He wept in that tension. He was forsaken in that tension.

And this means He is a kindred companion to those of us who also live in the tension, who die to our hoped-for agenda on a daily basis, who lose our lives to give it away as we fold the clothes and braise the pot roast and wipe the tears and help with math homework and grade the papers.

He’s with us when we set aside our fancy degrees and personal giftedness to do something less visible but more significant.

After all, He came to earth fully man and fully God. He had the “skill-set” to call down the angels, to display his true power, to climb down off the cross. But He humbled himself and remained a servant. For us. And for the joy set before him.

This is the same Jesus who is with us today. He understands. And because He was and is the perfect incarnation of all the things we lack, He offers us courage as we wait because He offers us Himself.

He is our courage.

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FOR YOU! : )

Still here? I know. Could this post be any longer?

Yes it can.

Because I made something for you.

I know what you’re thinking. “Marian, you just said you have no time. When did you make stuff?” And the answer is, many months ago and with help from a creative soul sister. The timing wasn’t right to offer it but now it is. Yay!

A year and a half ago, one of my dearest friends gave me this courage necklace for my birthday.

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I didn’t know how much I would need that word but Jesus must have known because I have worn courage (literally, on this gold cord) almost every day since.

This necklace doesn’t have magical powers, nor will it slay actual beasts or fold your laundry. It simply serves as a visual reminder that you need courage every day and all you have to do is ask for it.

  • Courage to receive your beautiful, messy, right-now life just as it is, even as you wait with hope.
  • Courage when Fear is a bully and calling all the shots. 
  • Courage to say yes, even though you don’t know what you’re doing. Courage to say no, even though the opportunity may not come again.

Courage is ultimately a person who gives us strength to wait, to trust, and to hope in better things than what we can even imagine.

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UPDATE: The necklaces have all been spoken for. Thank you so much for your kind and supportive responses! I may offer additional pieces down the road so if you enjoy wearing meaningful beauty like I do, make sure you’re subscribed to marianvischer.com and you’ll be the first to know. I’ll also keep you in the loop on Instagram @marianvischer, so you can follow me there too!

Here are the details:

I have 32 of these.

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I’m offering them for $15 each and that includes shipping. These necklaces are a sweet, creative labor of love. Each hand-cut, hand-stamped, “hand-hewn” (yep, we actually cut and filed these babies) comes with a gold cord that gives you about a 16-inch drop. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and it’s still just as lovely. The cord makes it light and casual and simple to wear with anything. And it’s super easy to layer with other necklaces.

You could also put it on a different color cord.

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Or a short leather choker tied in a bow in the back. So many possibilities!

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I am too lazy to be high-tech about this so here’s what we’ll do:

  • If you’d like a courage necklace for yourself or as a gift, simply leave your Paypal address (the email you use for Paypal) in the comments section.
  • MAKE SURE your current shipping address is updated with Paypal so I send it to the right place.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can send it in an email to marianvischer@gmail.com. Use “necklace” in the subject line.
  • I’ll invoice the first 32 people who reply with a Paypal address.

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I hope this will be as meaningful a piece for you as it has been for me! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

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Thanks for sticking with me. Now that I’m settling into a fall rhythm, I hope to occupy this space a bit more regularly.

In the meantime, if this post resonated with you, you may also enjoy these posts and resources:

Posts

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life {a series}

How to Waste Your Life and Call It Beautiful 

How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

Books

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

Creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were made to do, it’s about knowing the one great God you were made to glory — in a million little ways.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown — I love her transformative work on courage!

8 Favorite Resources to Make Your Hoped-for Work a Possibility in Your Right-Now Life — some of my favorite, encouraging, balanced, grace-filled resources on this topic

New here?

I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox.

And I have a free gift for subscribers. : )

school made simple freebie header

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!