all the words we say.


i was jotting down my nephew’s birthday in a blank square of my planner tonight, with little boys running through the kitchen, when i noticed today was the last day of summer.  OH NO.  i am not ready for this kind friend who has stayed long to be packing & riding off. we’ve had such a nice time, you & i, Summer!  must you go?  i mean, there was the garden & the chickens & the pool & the kids outside.  so much loveliness.

i know it’s just a day, & tomorrow will be like today, but i felt a bit of grief.
sometimes i am the girl who would like everything & everyone to stay exactly the same, please & thank you.

on the backside of that sinking feeling was this thought, dredging up a quote i had scrawled awhile back:

there shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.
~celia thaxter.

i’m not going to lie to you:  i feel like a dog chasing her tail, bringing up gratitude again.  my life keeps circling around this, & maybe it’s so that i wear a groove into my days.

gratitude is slippery isn’t it?  so much water through fingers unaware of what they hold.  gratitude is a precious commodity, & when we hold it carefully, not letting it go, we are transformed closer to who we were meant to be.  if we realized our lives depended on gratitude, maybe we’d try a little harder.  i feel like i might.

: : : :

i was putting the kids to bed tonight, after story & teeth & kisses & hugs & doors closed to a just-so crack.  when i am my best self, i play music for the kids to fall asleep to.  i love music to death, & to fall asleep to it is a warm hug at the end of a long day.

you will laugh at this:  my favorite bedtime band these days is Sleeping at Last.  i don’t only like them because they give me hope the kids will finally sleep.  they are grown-up lullabyes with smart lyrics.  tonight i played their song “Saturn” & heard these words roll through our quiet dark:

with shortness of breath i’ll explain the infinite
how rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.

as i lay there between my little boys, one down & one to go, with the window open to this last summer evening, i thought, wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we could live like it was rare & beautiful that we existed?  isn’t it a gift, just to be here at all?  i know there is so much wrong with the world, with our lives, but i think maybe if we could get a handle on this, we would walk into our days radiating & expectant.  i am here!  hello, & let’s do this!

or maybe i’m smoking something.

all i know is when i remember to say “thank you,” i am better.  which makes everyone around me better, & everything glows a bit brighter.  it’s like a super power i can wield any ol’ time & it works.  that’s the trick of it.  gratitude never doesn’t work.

we say a lot of words.  i think some of them should be “thank you.”

(p.s. — i’m going to try to be more regular in this place.  i like it here, with you.
& thanks for reading here & commenting.  so, so good to have you.)

not so grateful.

i wanted to check in here before the week screams ahead of me, this fantastic holiday week.  we’re hosting thanksgiving for 29 people in our living room this year.  eek!!  the tables are fresh, the turkey is ready for pick-up, & my cousins are bringing pie.  truly a fortunate week.  {on a side note, i’ve never been so glad to be a minimalist:  pull the couch downstairs, shove the keyboard in girl’s room, carry the reading basket to the basement, & voila!  dining hall.  badda bing, badda boom.}thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  i don’t yet have to conjure gift lists to check off again, no fudge to stir yet, no what-am-i-going-to-get-my-mother-in-law.  just dinner.  dinner – one of my favorite things – with family around & some thoughts thrown down toward gratitude.  except that this year, i’ve not really gotten around to the gratitude part.

& i can tell i am less when i forget gratitude.

the truth is, as much as i want to be grateful, i’m just not very good at it.  like how i’ve always wanted to run a (half) marathon, but i don’t actually run (i used to.  lay off.)  i forget to say “thank You” for the everyday things:  the sun warm in the window & my cozy bed with little tiny boys sleeping against my shoulder & just even waking up at all in the morning.  it takes time to note these things, & frankly, i’ve got better things to do.

right?

i also forget to say “thank You” for the big ticket items.  like praise sweet Jesus that i’m not sick when every other member of my family was throwing up this week, or that the sick we had isn’t something far worse, because it could be, you know.  plenty of people have it worse, & if i can turn my cute little nose (it actually is.  ask anyone.) away from those more affluent, more talented, more beautiful than i am, i can actually look my life gratefully in the eye.

but then, hello, there are the rotten things that i absolutely never think to say thanks for. because, obviously.  they’re awful.  losing my hair.  andy losing his job.  uprooting & finding ourselves strangers YET AGAIN in a foreign land (WI).  (kind of just kidding.)

i read ann voskamp a couple years ago, & in her NY times best-seller One Thousand Gifts she encourages a body to say thanks to God for everything.  because that’s how the apostle paul laid it down in the new testament:  “in everything, give thanks;  this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 thess 5:18).

but that’s a terrible idea.

except that it isn’t, & that’s the gig, right?  i didn’t know i could say “thanks” for puke.  that’s ridiculous.  but if i had gotten my head around a simple “thank you,” i know my brainwave would’ve changed.  instead of fear gripping my tiny heart, or frustration, i could’ve sat squarely in the peace of a quiet house with sick kiddos, reading a book to them by the white noise of the humidifier diffusing lavendar oil into the air.  which we did for awhile.  but i also slugged around a hefty slab of harumph along with a bazillion loads of laundry up & down the stairs.  this was not what i had in mind when i looked out into the week & saw a blank slate. heck, no.  a full week of stomach flu will not ever be on my agenda.  (duh.)

but that’s where we land, the challenge of thanksgiving.  God has done the whole world for me, & will keep on doing it.  that’s who He is.  & i can either keep harumphing at the things i don’t like, or i can turn my hands up & offer a “thanks”.  the sick wasn’t so bad, & the really rotten things?  it turns out they’re turning out, in their own way.  & really, i don’t know what the heck is going on down here.  i mean, when the plan changes, i could actually be grateful that i’m not powerful enough to have screwed it up.  i ought to be jazzed that my will doesn’t win.

my life:  a little like this old candleholder.  kind of screwed up but hopefully shining a light anyway.  

anyway, that’s what i’m thinking about, as the kids are playing pool behind me & making our basement into a nightclub (lights low, cheese on a plate with toothpicks.  i don’t know what they’ve been watching, but whatever.).

i just wanted you to know if you wrestle with feeling grateful this week, you’re not alone.  i get it.  & thanks.  thanks for keeping it real.

i think this thanksgiving’s gonna rock.

happy t-day my friends.
XO.
~jill.

6 things i’ve learned by 38.

tomorrow (well, technically today now) is my birthday, & i’m really looking forward to it. i’m not even exactly sure why.  we’re not doing anything particularly remarkable, taking a weekend away & or buying me a big something.  no, my birthday will be a much gentler affair.  we’ve got church in the afternoon followed by a bonfire, so the day has it’s own activity.  but honestly, the older i get, the more each day i get to be here seems pretty remarkable.  anyone?

in the morning, we’ll take the kids to the farmer’s market first thing, like we do every saturday, for raised donuts from the kind amish lady. one of leif’s new words?  “new-nuh”.  donut.  welcome to the family, little buddy.  we’re really learning now!  then i’ll pick up some carrots & cilantro from Chia, the gentle-spirited young man who sells vegetables at his parents’ stand & always gives me an extra eggplant or some ground cherries.  we’ll walk by the banjo player & the gallons of maple syrup on our way back to the car.  then we’ll wander off into the day & see what it brings.

for the most part, as is our culled tradition of recent years, between andy & I at least, we celebrate small, monetarily speaking.  this isn’t shorthand for “not at all”.  on the contrary.  my kids gleam with anticipation & wonder on birthdays (theirs or ours), & andy is a master at making me feel loved.  we like taking time to go slow & to enjoy whatever there is, whatever we find in front of us, which will certainly include much homemadeness & plenty of attention.  turns out, it’s usually better than expecting a whole heap & withering under the weight of it.  for me, anyway. I like small.  (think blog title.)  andy & I haven’t actually bought each other birthday gifts (other than a few edible treats) in years.  because what do i want?  more things?  not likely.  not anymore.  my birthday wishlist reads like this:  a nap.  a cup of decaf with cream.  time to read awhile in the quiet, that elusive foreigner in this house.  & celebrating with a sweet treat to share with my sweet little ones & the huz.  because all of us together in happy mode is a day-maker.

so, sitting in the quiet of birthday eve, with all but me asleep (can I get an “amen”?) & pandora playing a mix of rend collective & the fray, I wanted to tell you what I’ve gleaned in the last little while.  seems like much has been brewing, with all the waiting we’ve been doing.  seems like the gleaned bits ought to be shared, yes?

1.  perspective is everything.  when I was in college, I walked by the student government office every day on my way from my (usually empty) p.o. box to the cafeteria.  every day I was paying attention, I read the quote pitched up on the door frame:  “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”  (charles swindoll).  that math sure puts the odds for happiness heavily in my favor, if I choose it.  circumstances be darned, I get to adjust my vision however I want.  every dang day.

2.  rich is relative.  I have a quote on my fridge (okay, i’m one of those people.  collecting quotes.  it’s a thing.) that says, “there is a gigantic difference between having a great deal of money & being rich.”  I know (& you do, too.  look at any people magazine) plenty of people with hoards of money who aren’t happy.  & I know that money isn’t necessary (after our basic needs are met) to be happy.  I can increase my wealth in five minutes by taking a grateful look around me & tallying my goodnesses.  & they are many.  i don’t need cash to be rich.  (only to pay for parking.)
3.  there’s very little that music can’t cure.  for me, anyway.  for you it might be nature.  or people.  or solitude.  but for me (& my kids now, turns out.  apple, tree.), flip on a little rend collective or something kid-friendly from walk off the earth & we’ve got a whole new ballgame.  I just have to remember I can apply balm to my own soul & then take the initiative to do it.  kind of goes along with the attitude choosing.  we’re kind of powerful, we people.

4.  people really are the biggest deal.  a few years ago, I remember bob merritt saying the most important aspect of our lives is the people around us & the relationships we have with them.  at the time, that was not good news to me.  (I can feel you freaking out.)  I wasn’t very good at relationships.  i didn’t really like people much (not for very long or very often.  true.).  I was good at getting my kids to & from storytime.  I was good at getting my house clean. i was good at organizing the bins of toddler clothes in my basement.  I wasn’t good at digging deep into relationships.  but i’m learning.  i’ve got the most amazing people around me who load me up with grace & kindness.  i’m a slow study, but heaven help me, i’ll get there.  people are where the fullest life is (this includes Jesus for me. totally a Person.).

5.  living with less is actually living with more.  i don’t know how that math works, either, but the more i dig into this, the more it proves itself true.  we’ve given away more than 7000 things to date (more on this later, hopefully), & my life keeps expanding.  i have more room to think, more time to create, more space for all of us to play.  & the creativity & cooperation my kids glean from less!  oh, my.  that alone is worth the recommendation.  give it whirl.  I promise you won’t miss your stuff.

6.  taking care of myself is taking care of everyone else.  ahhh, this is complex!  i used to be good at self-care tactics, like showering (i’m beginning to get nervous about your impression of me. . . .what’s that you say?  way too late?  oh.), but four kids later, most days by 4pm i’m a train wreck.  it’s easier for me to wait until everything is done (what?) or I’ve met all the kids’ needs to take care of myself.  but it’s like the airplane crash analogy:  if i don’t put on my own oxygen mask, how can i help anyone else?  so i’m trying to do that more these days.  sometimes it amounts to reading a page of fiction leaning against the kitchen counter before i head into the dirty dishwater.  sometimes (like today) it’s kicking the kids outside so i can have a little quiet.  sometimes it’s a literal shower.  it’s always a bit of scripture in the morning & a word to the heavens.  but whatever it is, i’m communicating to myself that i in fact matter, too.  which somehow is easy to forget.

so there it is, my birthday montage.  i’m off to sleep now.
I’ve got a birthday to wake up to.
38 is going to rock.
& I know a slew of little kids who’ll be ready to party.

no more cruddy days

all four of them were sitting around me, cozied onto my bed in their jammies, plaid & stripey, clouds & jedi, with only a small lamp light among us.  the toddler was bathed & fed, the five-year-old scrubbed off, too.  they’d all had their bedtime snack, carrots & cashews, were ready to crawl in & call it.  lately i’m in to gathering the kids in my room before bed, before i collect hugs & kisses & send them on to their own beds to snuggle under quilts.  i like this small space between doing & dreaming, a chance to pull them in close & check on their hearts, to slow us all down (quit wrestling with your brother, for the love.) & tighten up our togetherness a little.  & to pray for them, too.

tonight as i prayed, i thanked God for the joy my kids have, turning a cruddy day into something amazing.  to me, forty degrees & rainy in april is just depressing.  it’s been a bearish winter, i’m cold, i’m still wearing long johns under my jeans,  & i obsessively check weather.com for a little hope in the prospects.

i, however, am alone in my sentiments.  at least, in this house.


earlier in the evening, while we ate our chicken dinner, the kids looked out the window at the great puddle growing in the driveway & javin suddenly decided, “we should make paper boats!”  after the dishes were cleared & the chores done, andy sat around the table with all four & a stack of colored cardstock to teach them how to fashion seaworthy vessels.


the kids spent the rest of the evening in rainboots & a puddle with sticks, pushing homemade watercraft.  they were so happy.  they made plans & re-taped their boats when the water began to win.  they were out there so long, in that chill, that i had to promise leif a bath just to get him out of the puddle & back inside;  i could see his little self shivering from where i stood in the doorway.

so, after the vessels were sailed & sunk, & the sticks discarded, after brushing tiny teeth & gathering them to me on my big, grown-up bed, i started to pray for them, grateful for who they are & how they see the world.  it is a wonder, to see a world inside a puddle.

when i got to the thankful part about their turning a cruddy day into something awesome, kieran interrupted me, looking up to meet my eye, incredulous, “this wasn’t a cruddy day!”

you’re right, little one.

it most certainly was not.

grateful dead.

we’re all reading copious amounts online about gratitude these days, for obvious reasons, & i’m glad. ha, ha. . .did you catch that?  nerd.  every other blog post i pull up, 30 days of gratitude in november (wish i’d thought of that.), & how-to’s about teaching your kids gratitude in this culture of way.too.much.  (did i say that outloud. . . sorry.)

gratitude is one mountain i’ve always said i’ll die on, both developing in my kids’ hearts & living as a core value myself.

but lately, i’m not so sure.

on any given day, i’m not rolling off hallelujahs for my huge pile of blessings.  i’m not actively looking around me to offer up a word of grace.  & why not?  i.have.so.much.

no, sir.  most days i wake up with the toddler crawling out of bed with a wet diaper i need to address ten minutes ago, who has been up three times in the night &, though now chipper, resembles no such thing at 3 a.m.  grumble, grumble, when do I get time to myself?

most days i am not thanking the good Lord for my four beautiful children running around screaming (okay, duh on that last bit.) or the unbelievable bounty that is ours.  nope.

most days i’m gritchy about the rice krispies strewn all over the floor, & gratitude has left the building.

one of the big drums to beat in our culture, particularly in our mothering (& fathering!) culture, is telling the truth.  while i value authenticity as much as the next mommy, & believeyoume i’ve got truth to tell, i’m getting a little sick of myself.

especially when i notice my ungratefulness seeping into my kids’ hearts.  monkey see, monkey do.  you may argue that they are kids, & of course they will complain about their coats because that’s what kids do.  possibly, but i don’t believe ungratefulness is a childhood right.  i think we can do better.

& i’m not necessarily leading the thankfulness light brigade here, either, if i’m honest.  maybe it’s just a posture, or a facial expression, but they can tell.  they’re freaking barometers.

let’s change that, i say.

SO.  i’m going to do my darnedest to make the most of this season of thanksgiving, of the holidays as a whole (the most wonderful time of the year, yes?  yes!!), & see if i can’t infuse a little more gratitude into my life.

& not even for the palatial end result of getting my kids to say “thank you” for their dinner.
but also to increase my own rich quality of life.
there’s a reason scripture implores us to keep saying thanks. . . this is just starting to crack open in my heart. . . .  Jesus is handing out goodness like nobody’s business while i’m looking the other way at my problems.

ahem.& do you know what honestly is one of my biggest barriers to gratitude?  i’m going to give you two guesses about what i could possibly bring up on this blog, & the first guess doesn’t count, because i am so not predictable.

yes.  going too fast.

my heart is much more apt to notice & say “thanks” when i’m pared down to a peaceful clip.  amp up the speed & gratitude flies right out the window.  try to get too much done, & i don’t notice the lovely little boy in my arms pushing my face with his grubby little hand to look him squarely in the eye so he can sign “hot” to me while we’re both staring at a candle.

go too fast & i don’t thank God for the gorgeous house i live in — four walls, hooray!  (truly, what a joke.  i live in a palace.)  HEAT, hallelujah!  health & strength & kids & husband & work-to-be-had & food to eat (tons!) & a car to drive & places to go & friends to call & parents that visit & that we want them to visit &. . . .

have you ever noticed that gratitude begets gratitude?
just one more perk to keep us rolling.

& no matter how grateful i am, i’m also noticing there’s always room for more.

so, if you’re interested, take 10 seconds & scan for your own possible grateful deadness.   & then write down 10 amazing things about your life.  or 5.  or 3.  write them here, if you want.  i’d love it.  or just think them, really loudly.

& then together, we can bring gratitude back to our families from this well inside, & begin to watch thankful hearts unfold around us.

because, truly.  we have so much to be grateful for.

happy thanksgiving, friends.
thanks for reading.  did you catch that?  there it is again. . . ha, ha!  nerd.

“a life of praise & thankfulness becomes a life filled with miracles.”  –sarah young, “jesus calling.”

buckets.

i intended to write about writing bucket lists.  i’ve always been enamored by the bucket lists, big long plans for a full & rapturous life.  but the baby is sleeping, which means i have 35 minutes at best, & i’m frying pancakes with only white flour (which i hate) because i ran out of spelt & forgot to buy more when i went to the co-op last time.  probably because i had the 4-year-old & the baby & only myself who really can’t put together a cohesive grocery list right now.  & speaking of the four-year-old, he’s asking me repeatedly when we’re going to the bike races, which are today, in an hour, & now my pancakes are burning.

which is why i can’t write about bucket lists, or how intimidating they are, or how really instead i wholeheartedly believe in making a whole heapload of time in your every day for the magic of memories & goodness to flow.  because it will.  because He promised.

but now the baby will wake up in 30 minutes & i haven’t even gotten the kids to make birthday & father’s day cards for andy, both of which large & fabulous events coincide tomorrow for my smart husband.

so instead, i’ll tell you that right now, while andy has taken over the pancake flipping for his crazy wife pecking at the computer when we’re trying to get going, & the baby will sleep for 27 more minutes, this here life is raining buckets of goodness from the Creator of all things good & holy.  i am lambasted in overwhelm sometimes, i am buried in laundry & dishes always, & if you talk to me on the phone, you will know my head is never quite on.  ever.

BUT.
this, on a necklace, sits over my sink, my meditative, hot, soapy, basin:

may you live all the days of your life.  –j. swift.

i have 22 minutes left.  i better go.

baby hugs & cat puke.

sometimes you gotta hang on to what you got.

leif reaches for me now.  when he’s sitting in front of me on the carpet playing with a slinky, & then he gets bored, he’ll arch his back & turn toward me.
“mom, get me outta this.”
when your baby, the very smallish person you own, starts expressing his desire, & that desire involves his love for you, your heart gets gigantic, & your head explodes.

which is good. sweet & lovely moments come to carry you through when you have mornings you wake to with a headache the size of wisconsin.  (today.)

or you wake up to someone throwing up (yesterday).

or to a diaper leaked all over your bed, the 3-year-old pointing out cat puke on the floor (“mommy, what’s THAT?”), & accidentally spraying the mattress with the bottle of pink water you made with food coloring for the kids to play with in the snow instead of the bottle of homemade disinfectant.  (the bottles are the same; well, they won’t be for long.)
(that was monday.)

so, when you find yourself front & center to a skull-splitting headache, or never enough sleep, or puke of any flavor, hold on to what you got.

it was given to you for a reason:  a lantern & a blessing.  you’ll need it.
say “thank You” & hold it up to your heart.