Monday, December 31, 2012

Gratitude Journal #168

Today, I am grateful for 2012. It was a good year for us, and we're ending it far more settled and comfortable than we began it.

Today, I am grateful for snow. We got snow the day after Christmas, and it's still here, with more forecast in the next few days. The boys are over the moon, and our lawn looks amazing.

Today, I am grateful for birdseed. We have enjoyed so many birds visiting the feeder outside our front door, and I adore their little footprints in the snow.

Today, I am grateful for my mother's visit, for the time we spent together, for the laughter and conversation and love. Thanks, Mom, for coming.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas decorations, which we had so few of during last year's move. They'll be put away in the coming week, but isn't that what makes them so special? They only stay for about month every year. Of course, Jack would be happier if our Elf on the Shelf stayed around all year, but I know better.

What are you grateful for today, the last day of 2012?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Transitions: Word of the Year

The end of another year.

Lots of people--and the media--are reflecting on 2012...the good, the bad, the ugly. For those of us who engage in the Word of the Year (also known as Ali Edwards' One Little Word project), it's a time to evaluate how we did with our word for 2012.

Please refrain from grading your performance. We are not in school. There is no report coming to mom and dad in the mail. We're living, and life is messy. Some of us chose the perfect word for the year, and others chose a word that didn't fit the unpredictable events of a whole year. Hindsight is 20/20; foresight is often entirely blind.

If you chose well, celebrate and ride that high into the new year. If you chose a word that simply didn't fit your experience of 2012, don't worry about it.

Be happy you're here to choose again.

My word for 2012 was Gratitude. I chose it because it was easy and appropriate, and it suited where I was in that moment of my life. I was already full of gratitude and wanted to explore more deeply the meaning and benefits of being grateful. I tried several concrete, creative things to increase my gratitude, and most of them fell apart in the busyiness of life.

But you know what? My gratitude increased anyway. I'm happier today, more grateful for today, than I was a year ago. I feel gratitude multiple times every single day without even trying hard, without conscious thought.

No way can I put a grade to the increase or measure my progress in percentages or scores. As Jimmy Buffett says, "I don't want that much control in my life." I'm living life gratefully. And it's good.

Gratitude will move forward in 2013, but I definitely want a new word for focus. I'm feeling restless, as I often do this time of year. Last year was an exception simply because we moved in the week between Christmas and New Year. Nothing like moving house to distract you from restlessness and make you want nothing more than to settle down.

Now that things are back to my weird sort of normal, I reflexively contemplate where I have been, where I am, and where I want to be. What do I want to do next? Are things good the way they are? Do I need a change? What do I need to shake up to keep from stagnating, being bored, or--worse--being boring?

Perhaps you remember the post that started this blog over four years ago?

And that's why this year's word for me will be Intentional. So much of life's busyness puts us into autopilot mode, and that's how I've felt for the last year. We do stuff without thinking about why. Why am I surfing Pinterest for hours on end? Why am I forgetting to check my daily planner every morning? Why do I feel buried under chaos? Why am I not writing as much as I used to write? Why am I going through motions and not noticing details? Why am I not exercising like I should or eating like I should? Why do I have hobbies? Why is papercrafting not as much fun as it used to be?

I want to spend 2013 exploring what it means to be intentional in life. I'm already pretty intentional in many areas, and those areas give me great joy and happiness. As with last year's word, I have some ideas for concrete and creative activities to increase my intentional living. These will likely flop, and that's okay. As with Gratitude, Intentional doesn't have a finish line I must cross in 12 months. It can't be scored or graded.

I'm just grateful for the opportunity to explore intentional living.

What word will you explore in 2013? Please share your transition from 2012 to 2013 in the comments. You never know when something you write helps another person as the year ends and another begins.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snow Fun and Date Night

We got snow. For some of you, this might not seem like a big deal, but for us in Ohio, it's huge. Last winter, we had no snow beyond a light dusting. Kids and dog were horribly disappointed, although George and I were somewhat relieved given that our new driveway is about eight times larger than our old one and we didn't have a snowblower yet.

I bought a snowblower three months ago, so we were prepared for the three-to-four inches we got...and for the three inches we might get tonight.


From the garage...don't think anyone's going to shoot hoops today.
Sledding and snowballs are on the agenda.

"I can fly! Well, almost."

"Eat the snow. Kill the snow. I am the snow's ALPHA!"

"Let's make snow angels! Spin!"

"My angel looks more like a pinwheel."

"Who you lookin' at?"

Snowball in the Face

Contemplating revenge

George asked Jack what he was going to do with
that chunk of snow. He replied,
"I'm going to throw it at Nick!"
And he did.

All snow pictures by George.

Thanks to my mother who stayed with the boys, George and I were able to go out on a date. We ate dinner at the Pasha Grill and took pictures of each other with out iPhones and posted them to Facebook, just like the dorks we are.

We saw Lincoln after dinner, and it was wonderful.

What are you doing this holiday week?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Prayer

This prayer by John van de Laar was used in the Christmas Eve candlelight service at First United Methodist Church in Springboro as a responsive reading. I felt its truth and comfort so strongly, I wanted to share it here.

It may seem naive in a world of grief,
to choose to live in joy;
It may seem foolish in a world where solemnity is power,
to sing and dance to a different tune;
It may seem cruel, in a world of injustice
to speak of light and celebration;
But you have come, Jesus,
to bring joy into our grief, light into our darkness, singing into our mourning;
and it is an act of healing and proclamation to believe and embrace the joy you offer.
Joy to the world! The Lord has come!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Retraction and A Few Random Items...


Reader Betsy, who lives in Aurora, Colorado, told me how comforting it was to see the bins and bins of letters and cards from all over sending comfort to the town after their shooting incident. Since I had suggested that cards could become a burden to Newtown, Betsy's perspective adds another dimension to the idea of sending cards. Even if Newtown gets so many that some have to be destroyed, what a comfort to those postal workers to know that their town is so supported.

Random Items

1. Coffee is good. With enough of it, I might get the rest of my Christmas cards sent today.

2. Thunderstorms in December are weird.

3. Snow in December is nice, especially when I don't have to go anywhere.

4. Wait. I have to go to the grocery store today. Darn.

5. At school yesterday, some kid told Nick the world was going to end today. Nick replied that it most certainly would not. So the kid told Nick that when they met in Heaven, he'd tell Nick, "I told you so." Whatever, dude. Nick told me he's going to call the kid tomorrow and say, "I told you so." At moments like this, I feel like an awesome mommy just because my kid isn't the one telling people the world will end because the Mayans said so.


7. I love Christmas. The world can't end before Christmas. That's just wrong.

8. It's also wrong to run off the road, take out someone's mailbox, and keep on going, yet someone did just that to our mailbox on Tuesday. I left the house to take Jack to school, and 40 minutes later, found my mailbox in the middle of my driveway and deep, muddy tire tracks running past the post the mailbox used to be attached to. Our box is made of heavy metal, and it did some serious damage to someone's car. What really stinks is it probably was a neighbor, according to the police officer. If I ran off the road and took out anyone's mailbox--much less a neighbor's--I'd leave a note at the very least.

9. The police officer who came to fill out the incident report is the same officer who pulled me over a month or so ago and didn't give me a ticket despite the fact he had every right to do so. I maintain he was completely distracted from my traffic violation by Daisy's incredibly lady-like behavior in the front seat...she sat through the whole thing without barking or trying to get at the officer and love him to death, which is what I expected her to do. On Tuesday, the officer didn't say anything about the earlier incident, and I just hope memory of the stupid driver and her extremely well-behaved golden retriever isn't jogged by seeing the sad victim of mailbox murder and her extremely rude golden retriever that sniffed his privates.

10. And on that note, Happy Friday before Christmas! Reach out and show some love today, tomorrow, and every day after that. The world needs more love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helping Newtown

This spot from NBC news is heartwarming and has golden retrievers.

I know a lot of attention is being paid to Newtown right now (which is, probably, not a good thing), but I think the lesson of Newtown is that it's really any town, every town, your town.

For most of us, direct opportunity to help those in Newtown is limited. Sending mail, for instance, results in an avalanche of cards and letters...which must be read by screeners and security before being passed on. After some past tragedies, an avalanche of letters and cards has been destroyed for fear one person would send something hateful or contaminated, and personnel simply couldn't keep up. Operation Write Home, which screens letters to the troops, sent out an email suggesting that people not send cards and letters because it creates a burden in an already burdened place.

Monetary donations are appropriate for funeral expenses and for charities with feet-on-the-ground outreach within in the community. ABC News has a list on its website of places to donate. But be careful and stick with well-known, established charities...tragedies like this bring out quite a lot of scammers.

I think there are two more important things most of us can do to help those in Newtown.

1. Pray. Prayers are never a burden to anyone!

2. Support outreach in your own community. Preventing events like what happened last Friday is almost impossible, but strengthening your own community with your time, talents, and gifts makes sense not just in the short term but long term as well. In other words, let this tragedy change how you behave in your own community. If you're just living in your community, look for ways to connect within it. Reach out, smile, donate locally, pay attention to needs. Why not even try a random act of kindness?

As wonderful as golden retriever therapy dogs are--and they are wonderful--they leave town. The people of Newtown will be forever changed by this loss. Will we let it change us, too, in ways that forge positive connections in our own communities?

I hope so.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gratitude Journal #167

Today, I am grateful for God, our Light in dark places.

Today, I am grateful for healing, an uneven and sometimes slow process.

Today, I am grateful for children and for those who serve them with love and protection and help in times of distress. Today in particular, I am grateful for our police department, who will be present at our schools today to help the children feel safe.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas, for its celebration and giving, its joy and peace, its newborn child lying in a manger.

Today, I am grateful that my mother is coming to visit this week. I need my mom.

Today, I am grateful for preparation, for work, for time spent in service to others.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Finding Joy

Events of Friday challenge my heart as I sit to write this week's Advent devotional. The third week in Advent focuses on joy, yet every time my mind goes back to Friday's horror, tears fall. Looking for joy seems indecent and disrespectful.

The best I could do on Friday was to look for love, find some way to respond in love.

Joy? That's so much harder to find when you're crying out in grief.

In church today, after lighting a candle of remembrance for those killed in Newtown, our pastor preached a sermon that helped me find a little balance, a little light in the darkness. Not a lot, but a little.

And isn't that how healing works? A little at a time as our hearts and heads process tragedy, whether that tragedy is public or private. We get a little better, then get worse, then get better, and repeat in a process of two steps forward, one step back.

We have to trust the process of healing.

The Bible shows us story after story of people's wickedness and God's ability to turn that wickedness to good. The ultimate story to follow that pattern is Jesus' death on the cross. God turned that horror into eternal salvation for all who want it.

I am grateful for that.

If we can trust that God is with us, is with those families who lost loved ones and those families whose loved ones survived, is with all the first responders and investigators and coroners and psychologists, we can move forward--slowly, perhaps glacially, and with occasional steps backward--in hope and love and gratitude.


All plentiful evidence to the contrary, there is so much to be grateful for right now, but mostly I'm grateful for God's light that shines in all dark places. He calls us to be His light in the world, to share it in those dark places whenever we can.

On Christmas Eve, many of us will light candles in church and sing Silent Night. If  you're not in church, you might take an opportunity to light a candle privately, in gratitude for God's goodness. As we heal, let's allow that symbolic act to lift us to the joy that comes from knowing that God takes all things...a small and humble baby born lowly, or a horrible tragedy perpetrated by evil...and turns them to His great good.

Joy comes from gratitude, from knowing that we get to be a part of that great good. God invites us to be a part of it.

Light your candle.

Share its light.

You'll find joy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There Is Good

Do we cry out in despair, asking the unanswerable why?


If I feel that despair, safe at home with my children and husband, I cannot imagine how forty parents in Newtown feel tonight.

But do we stop with despair?

Can we resolve to help with thoughts, prayers, gifts, kindness? Can we reach out in community to those who are hurting, far away and close at home? Can we pay attention to the ones who are in pain, quiet and angry? Can we pay attention to each other each and every day?

In the midst of tragedy, there is Good.

There is Good in how we serve each other with love.

Great Good.

All of our hearts have broken with the families of twenty little children and their teachers, with an entire community devastated by evil.

Respond in love.

There is Good in that.

There is God in that.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gratitude Journal #166

Today, I am grateful for worship, for the warmth of church, the joy and love of sanctuary.

Today, I am grateful for useful people, such as roadside assistance mechanics and police officers.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas tree farms, where you can chop down trees that are too big for your house.

Today, I am grateful for boys who still believe and Santas who get it just right.

Today, I am grateful for boxes and boxes of tree decorations and a family who wants to help trim the monstrosity.

I cut at least 8" off the top so it would fit. No room
for the angel this year!

Jack was thrilled to stand on a step stool for the first time.

See how big that thing is?

The air is thin up here...

You're never too old to trim a tree!

Today, I am grateful for a tree that isn't exactly a designer tree. It's a little crooked; the ornaments are a random collection of beautiful works of art, mass-produced baubles, one-of-a-kind kid creations, and totally tacky; the star is a piece of yellow construction paper with gold glitter and a pink pipe-cleaner loop on top; the ornaments are bunched up at Jack height on one side of the tree.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

What are you grateful for today?

Note: Tree-trimming photos courtesy of George and his D90.

Weekly Giggle

At Big Tree Plantation (a Christmas tree farm we visit every year), the kids and I retrieved the car and drove around to pick George up. He stuck out his thumb like a hitchhiker, and I stopped to let him in the car.

Me: I don't normally pick up hitchhikers but you're kinda cute. Get in.

George: Awww, thanks! You're cute, too.

Nick: Would you stop talking like that?

George: What? Do you think you just fell out of the sky? That's how you got to be in the world.

Nick: Just stop.

Later that same day, George and I got flirty again while decorating the tree.

Nick: Would you wait to do that sort of thing until I'm in bed?

George: Oh, we do, Nick. We DO.

Nick: Arrrrrgh!

Teenagers are so easy to tease it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but less messy and much funnier.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where's the Love?

This is my second Advent post of 2012, for this coming Sunday of Love.

Jesus Christ is all about the love, and he calls his disciples and followers to be all about the love, too. At the Last Supper, he announced a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." That's a pretty high bar, seeing as Jesus loves perfectly and unconditionally, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Sometimes, though, we Christians forget to love.

In fairness, all people of all faiths or no faith at all can forget to love, but I think it's particularly hypocritical of us Christians to lose sight of love and to speak or act in hate, contempt, judgment, self-righteousness. The Bible tells us over and over and over and over and over to love God and love our neighbor, love the little children, love the homeless, love sinners, tax collectors, thieves, oppressors, the unlovable.

Love is hard, so we cheat to make it easier. We save our love only for those who are like us, who deserve it, who earn it, who make us happy, who are cute or rich or entertaining. Everyone else we exclude from the circle of our love. It's just too hard, takes too much effort.

"Love one another as I have loved you."

Love one another as God loves you, as God loves all of us, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Because we have different names for God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it's sometimes easy to forget that they are one and the same, three aspects of one Being. The Son is God made flesh, to dwell among us, Emmanuel, a self-limiting of the infinite Divine.

God's incarnation means that He truly understands our suffering, understands what sacrifice is, what humility is, what it means to be born, grow, live, love, and die.

He did it.


Why under heaven would an infinite God limit Himself to a tiny baby, born at tax time, in a stable?

To show us where the love is.

Where's the love?

Pretty much everywhere.  God is love. He's not a miser, nor does He want us to hold back, hoard, or be miserly with Him. And that means we are not alone...not ever alone. God is with us every time we love someone, whether they love us back or not. God is there in every smile, every handshake, every hug, every wave. He's there in every donation to charity, every healing act, every seemingly random kind deed, every gift given.

But He is also there in the dark stables of our lives, the cold corners where we feel unloved and unlovable, when there isn't space for us in the inn. The shepherds--the lowest of the low--knelt down and felt that love beside the manger. And they rejoiced, went forth, and shared it with others.

Love God and love your neighbor.

"Love one another as I have loved you."

Let's do it.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Gratitude Journal #165

Today, I am grateful for yesterday's rain.

Today, I am grateful for the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Hope, and a wonderful worship service.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas movies. We watched The Santa Clause last night. Cute!

Today, I am grateful for clean laundry.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Have you ever lost hope?

I have. For a time in my life, I lost hope. Life felt like a big black hole--a black hole in empty space--of pain. I lived, floating alone, in the event horizon of that black hole, being torn apart, atom by atom, as light disappeared into nothingness around me.

At least, that's how I imagined it in the depths of despair in my black hole in space.

When I look back now on that time, it feels like that event horizon happened to someone else. Was that really Susan? This Susan, sitting here typing words of hope for Advent? This Susan who occasionally finds herself giggling for no good reason other than inexplicable joy?

Well, yes. That Susan was this Susan.

The past tense is important.


How did I find hope? I wish I could tell you. Oh how I wish I had the words to reach other hearts floating in their own black holes to pull them out! But I know what that event horizon is like, and it's so hard to hear anything over the noise of its chaos. That's why the quiet of death seems so appealing to severely depressed people.

Hope came back for me, though. The weirdness of mental illness faded slowly for me over a period of several years until one day, I had a strange and beautiful conversation with another woman who had experienced her own event horizon of depression.

We both had felt, during the long process of recovery, a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting the depression to return and suck us in again. But we had, in some mysterious way, moved beyond that negative anticipation to a more positive one, one in which we simply expected every day to hold something good, something light, something wonderful.

We got our hope back. And it was good.

But how it happened? Neither of us had a clue. It's a mystery.

But new hope is like a fragile new plant. It doesn't pay to examine its roots too closely. If you keep pulling up the plant to check the roots, you'll kill the plant. You have to trust the roots.

You have to trust the roots.

Hope isn't about knowing or understanding, logic or reason. Hope is about trust...trusting that whatever happens, you'll be okay. You're covered. You're going to get through it. Trust takes time to develop. It builds over years of experience. I was in a horrible, rootless place and got out of it by letting my roots grow into good soil and trusting them. My personal journey of growth would have been impossible without hope and faith in God, faith that He was the one who had me covered, that He could take all that was ugly and painful and turn it to good, that He would get me through it, that He had gotten me through by using others around me to show me the way.

It took time, but I trusted Him and the roots grew and the plant bore fruit. That Susan became this Susan.

Because she found Hope.

Christmas is the season of hope. Wherever you are in your personal journey, I hope that you will trust your Hope. It doesn't take much to start those roots growing, but it can take time for the plant to bear fruit. Whether your hope is the size of a mustard seed or the size of a mountain, cling to it. It leads to good things!

The Apostle Paul teaches us about the fruits of the spirit. The first three fruits Paul lists in Galatians are love, joy, and peace, in that order. After the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday of Hope, come Love, Joy, and Peace. Through December, I'll write about each. It's my hope that you will find comfort, inspiration, encouragement from these posts. It is my hope that you will, indeed, have a Merry Christmas.