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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Weekend Links / Treat Yourself: On Dinner Mayhem, Motherhood, and Dragon-Slaying

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Happy weekend, my friends.

Here are a few gifts from the internet this week. Enjoy!

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A Mom’s Relationship With Dinner: It’s Complicated by Tracy Wright {for Scary Mommy}

Y’all, I died over this. Because I have this same “where did it all go wrong?” relationship with dinner and I needed someone to make me feel less alone.

Nothing is worse for your self-esteem as a home cook than a couple of kids. There is nothing quite like spending an hour-plus in the kitchen preparing a meal for your family, only to have everybody weeping at the table within minutes.

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The Spiritual Discipline of Being a Parent by Richella Parham

For so long, I’ve struggled with the concept and practice of spiritual discipline. But Richella explains it through a lens I can understand and relate to: motherhood.

I’d always wanted to be a different kind of person, the kind of person who loved and appreciated people instead of being irritated by them. I tried. I wanted to change myself, and I was constantly frustrated. No wonder: I was trying to do God’s job.

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What My 10-Year-Old Son Taught Me About Slaying Dragons by Matt Rampey

Because sometimes divine truth comes tumbling out of the mouths of children. And we’re wise to listen.

When I believe that my view of myself is more accurate than God’s, then that’s not humility at all.  It’s pride and pride is, as Will put it, a dragon that needs to be slayed.  That fight can be long and bloody and exhausting, but it is worth it.

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This week on the blog: How I Became an Accidental Optimist

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Sometimes we take part in something, week after week, year after year, and we have no idea how it’s changing us because the change is so slow.

Practice doesn’t make perfect but it does bring change. Over the years, writing has slowly begun to etch new grooves in my thought patterns, to kick the dirt over the well-worn path of pessimism and to instead forge a new path of possibility.

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And finally, one more plug for Hope*Writers {my favorite resource for writers} because I don’t want you to miss out on the awesomeness of it all.

Hope*Writers is for anyone who writes, who wants to write, or who might be curious about writing. This week they hosted the first ever Hope*Writers Summit, a FREE event with 12 video interviews with authors / writers / editors at various stages of the journey.

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One of those 12 interviews is mine. I’m not a published author or editor like the rest of these gals. But I sit down with one of my favorite authors, Emily Freeman, and have an honest conversation about where I am and where I’d like to be. interveiw We dish about everything from unfinished books proposals to “stewarding your story,” something I’ve learned to do as I’ve written my way through messy chapters of my own life. You’ll learn why I write on my blog and in a journal. You’ll also learn why my husband is my best editor, even though he’s not a writer.

Curious? CLICK HERE to learn more!

While the summit is over, if you join Hope*writers you’ll still get all of them to watch at your leisure + more.

Listen — I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to go to conferences. And while conferences are awesome, I get just as much {if not more} from Hope*writers. You can connect with other writers, share your work once a week, glean from interviews with published authors and editors, learn how to start a blog, find answers to your tech questions, and discover how to be a better writer. All from the comfort of your own pajamas.

For the price of two fast-food salads a month, I get Hope*Writers. And you can too! So join, look around, download all you can. If it’s not for you, no biggie. You can cancel anytime. {But I think you’ll end up staying.}

Convinced? Here’s the link.

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{Just click on my face to learn more / sign up.}

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I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

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

 

*Affiliate Links: If you choose to join the Hope*Writers membership site, I receive a percentage at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links are one of the ways I’m able to cover costs and provide new content, year after year. Thanks for supporting my work! {Also, I believe in Hope*writers so much, I was telling y’all about it even before I was an affiliate. Now go get started!}

How I Became an Accidental Optimist

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“You might be dangerously close to actually becoming an optimist.”

That’s what one of my friends told me recently. She’d received disheartening news about a project and we were trying to stay positive, attempting to see next steps through eyes of hope, wondering how we might repurpose what she had.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that statement. Me? Becoming an optimist?

I’m old enough to know by now that change doesn’t happen overnight, that our personalities and quirks are more entrenched than we’d like them to be. But I think my friend might be right, even if those closest to me are still skeptical.

I’m beginning to see the world through possibility-colored glasses.

I make myself sound so Disney. Don’t be fooled. I still worry and entertain fatalistic thoughts. I fuss at the people in my house and roll my eyes. But the tide within me is turning. I’m more determined than ever to look beyond how a situation appears and imagine potential in its place. Ever since my friend made that statement, I’ve wondered what’s brought about the change. Life hasn’t gotten any easier; the climb has actually felt steeper this last year as I’ve struggled with grief, exhaustion, confusion, and chronic setbacks.

Why the optimism?

Because I’ve been practicing without even knowing it. 

Way back in the dark ages of blogging, an overwhelmed homeschool mom with three young children had said goodbye to a career she loved to focus full-time on raising and teaching her children. She was grateful to no longer be spinning so many plates but she did miss the intellectual stimulation and tangible productivity her work provided. She started a blog. What began as random posts slowly became coherent-ish pieces, everyday stories through which she was learning about failure and grace and everyday gifts she’d been too busy to appreciate.

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Writing, whether in my journal or on the blog, became a way for me to process the complexities and frustrations of life. As I did, a serendipitous thing often happened: I found clarity and resolution, rest for my soul, perspective that I didn’t have when I began. It wasn’t always that tidy but the point is, writing helped me. Sometimes I shared what I’d written and it helped others feel less alone in their crazy and more hopeful about their mess.

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Sunday I talked with a friend who told me that her daughter always needed to write in a journal before she turned out the light. She struggled to fall asleep if she hadn’t poured out her thoughts and emotions first.

My youngest child has a spiral notebook. He writes about all the reasons why Nike is awesome. Pages y’all, about shoes and socks and shorts and why he loves them. Apparently Nike swag is the overflow of his eight-year-old heart. I’m not going to stop him; this too is self-expression as he professes undying love and devotion to Elite socks and the latest Lebrons.

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My younger brother, someone who hated writing during his growing-up years, recently re-launched his blog. Writing showed up as a form of therapy for him as an adult. When he writes, his honest but hopeful words meet others in their own places of doubt and depression.

We’re not all wired to write. But I do think that spilling our words is more therapeutic than many people realize, inviting us to access the deep places or even just the superficial chaos, pouring it out and feeling the exhale that results. Therapists often advise those who can’t sleep to keep a pen and journal beside the bed, writing down the anxious thoughts and to-do list tasks that keep us from rest.

In countless ways, writing can provide a guest house for the occupants that overcrowd your inner world. The occupants are still around but they’re not right there, smothering you with their heavy presence. 

And when our inner world isn’t so clouded and crowded with all the things, we can finally see with eyes of hope.

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I share my life with readers, those I know and those I don’t, because words are both my worship and my offering. As every writer eventually learns, we are first and foremost to write what we know. My life is what I know. The stories with which I am most intimately acquainted are my own. But I’m learning that we have so much more in common than not, that in telling you my story — both the epic and the everyday chapters — I speak into your story too, providing a place for you to pull up a chair around the table we all share.

 

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Words continue to help me name an unspoken thing and lead me along an unexpected route to possibility. I can’t explain it. But every time I’m crowded and clouded on the inside, I try to write through the overwhelm in order to see what comes out on the other side. Something always does. I never know how those posts will end up. Ever. It’s always a surprise and it always points toward hope, even though I’m “not an optimist.” It feels like a miracle every time.

After all these years, I’m just now fully realizing that the practice of writing has also been the practice of possibility. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it does bring change. Over the years, writing has slowly begun to etch new grooves in my thought patterns, to kick the dirt over the well-worn path of pessimism and to instead forge a new path of possibility.

Writing has been my faithful companion, a friend with layers of resourcefulness that I’m only now beginning to appreciate. She has been both a gentle guide and an exhausting coach, at times soothing me with her easy rhythms and at other times pushing me to dig deeper, to write even though it hurt, to persevere through all the self-doubt.

I trusted that she knew the way home, even if I didn’t, that she would excavate the truth and beauty I couldn’t get to without her. And somewhere along the way, my despairing self began to change, began to relentlessly hope, began to speak words of undying Possibility into my own narrative and also into the narratives of others.

I’ve become an Accidental Optimist. And I have writing to thank.

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If you’ve been around here the last week or so, you’ve heard me share about Hope*Writers, my favorite resource for writers.

This jam-packed site is full of everything from how to write a blog post or a book proposal to tech helps and writer interviews. There’s also a private Facebook group where you can connect with other writers just like you. #ihearthopewriters

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Hope*Writers is for anyone who writes, who wants to write, or who might be curious about writing. And this week, you can be part of their FREE Hope*Writers Summit, an event that gives you access to 12 video interviews with authors / writers / editors at various stages of the journey.

13177520_10154393267153974_6219948258442135292_n One of those 12 interviews is mine, a writer who’s been blogging for years, juggles writing with a paid job and a family, and hopes to write actual books one day. It’s an honor to be included in this mix of writers who I love and respect. I have gleaned so much insight and encouragement from their interviews.

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I sit down with one of my favorite authors, Emily Freeman, and we dish about everything from unfinished books proposals to “stewarding your story,” something I’ve learned to do as I’ve written my way through messy chapters of my own life. You’ll learn why I write on my blog and in a journal. You’ll also learn why my husband is my best editor, even though he’s not a writer.

Curious? CLICK HERE to learn more and join me this week for the summit. The first day was yesterday but it’s not too late to get in on the fun. Join us!

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I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

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

 

*Affiliate Links: The Hope*Writer Summit is absolutely free but if you choose to join the Hope*Writers membership site, I receive a percentage at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links are one of the ways I’m able to cover costs and provide new content, year after year. So thanks for supporting my work!