Why I am thankful: a look back to 1986

Pixie grazing

Thanksgiving 1986

Snow flurries drifted down.

I woke up alone in a four-bedroom house. It had never been a home. I had only lived there 13 months.

The house was going to be sold and the proceeds divided however the divorce court decreed my parents should split them.

I peered in the fridge for some breakfast. A plastic gallon container had only enough milk to cover the bottom. I poured it over some stale raisin bran flakes.

I crunched the mostly dry cereal.

I put on jeans, a sweater, a hat, mittens and my coat, a wool Russian military jacket I found in
a used clothing store in Minneapolis.

I had nowhere to go. I walked the streets of the subdivision. The houses had packs of cars parked in front of them. Inside bodies moved across the yellow lights shining out. Blue TVs flashed and every so often I could hear the murmur of crowds from inside the houses. Families filled the homes.

I had no family like that. I had no home like that.

I walked on.

I walked past the gas station, closed on the holiday. It had a vending machine for bait. “How Minnesotan,” I thought.

The grey sky drooped over me. I walked along the frozen lake. Snow twisted and untwisted in swirls from the wind gusts.

“I will always be alone,” I thought.

 

Thanksgiving week 2016

The light spread long warmth over the field. I grabbed my camera, a combined surprise gift from friends on my 40th birthday.

“I’m going out to get some pictures,” I told my family.

I sat in the pasture and the pony came close to me to graze the still-green grass. It had been a warm fall.

Out of all the acreage, she chose to be close to me.

She had been starving when she was rescued. The horses in the herd with her had died. But she survived. The people at Longmeadow brought her back to health. Then we adopted her, skittish and shy though she was.

Over the past five years with us, her friendly, confident self bloomed.

I sat with her and listened to her eat. The sun set.

I came inside, inside my home with my husband and son.

My son helped me pick the best photos and edit them.

 

I am thankful for my home.

I am thankful for my memories of no home because now I know what I have.

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for my memories of being alone because now I know what I have.

I am thankful that ponies can forgive and learn to love.

I am thankful that people can forgive and learn to love.

I am thankful for today.

I am thankful for today.

 

Wherever you are, may you know the presence of God and feel the peace that transcends understanding. I wish you a Thanksgiving full of enough to eat and a heart full of hope!

Pixie grazing

Pixie grazing

Pixie grazing

Pixie grazing

Pixing grazing

Pixie grazing

Last quarter: the quarter that counts

My son Derek #73 goes for a tackle. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
My son, Derek, #73, goes for a tackle. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

I’m an ignorant football mom. Supportive but ignorant. Although it’s the second year of my son playing football, I have barely more knowledge than I did at the beginning of his football career.

A friend who understands football asked me what my son plays. “He has a new role this season,” I answered.

“A new role? Don’t you mean position?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s right. New position,” I said. “I don’t remember what it’s called, but he’s on the line.”

“On the line” means something, although I don’t know what. They all seem to line up on both sides, except for the quarterback. Maybe they’re all “on the line” except for him?

On the line. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
On the line. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

I learned there are people who hold exclamation point-type markers attached with a chain to show the distance the team needs to move the ball. They might be called the chain gang?

Realizing the distance was marked made the game much easier for me to follow.

Staying strong in the last quarter. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.
Staying strong in the last quarter. Photo courtesy of Erin McGruder.

Even with my self-confessed obliviousness, I know the last quarter is the most important quarter. Teams can make comebacks and last-minute turnarounds.

The game is won in the last quarter.

When this year started, you had dreams, inklings, whispers, desires, questions and hopes. Find them again. Follow them again. Feed them again.

This is the last quarter of 2014. This is the one that counts.

Blessing

Lord, bless us with bravery and trust when we hear your calling.
Bless us with patience and trust when we don’t.

 

Tell me your thoughts!

How will you revive a dream you’ve let slip?

How to thrive after a midlife crisis

With my brother and sister and a birthday cake

With my brother and sister and a birthday cakeToday’s my birthday! I thank God for the gift of my life.

I don’t always recognize what a gift it is. Ten years ago, I asked, “What am I doing with my life?”

I was hungry to learn. I read self-improvement books from the library, one after the other. I don’t remember which author offered this idea, but it stuck with me:

A plant doesn’t grow by positive thoughts. It has to receive light and water while planted in good soil.

This thought made me realize that it wasn’t enough to change my attitude. I needed to change my environment. I applied—multiple times—and found a job at the University of Missouri. It has been my place to thrive professionally for the past ten years.

These are the five things that helped me over my mid-life crisis.

Lead yourself and learn

Become the leader of your own life; have a vision. Where do you want to be? It’s up to you to guide your life where you want it to go.

I wrote down a description of what I wanted to be—a PR specialist—and that is close to what I do today.

I furthered my education and got my master’s degree. My degree helped me professionally and personally. I made friends in grad school I treasure to this day.

Decide on your destination, and lead yourself there.

Keep your eye on where you want to be, not on what is stopping you

I explored my vision and kept my eye on it.

My years of riding lessons make for great life lessons. When you’re riding horses over jumps, you can’t look at the jump. You look where you want to go. If you look down at the jump, you won’t get over it. I can hear the yell of my riding instructor, “Why are you looking at the ground? Is that where you want to be? Eyes up! Look where you are going!”

Keep your eye on your destination. If you keep your eye on the obstacle, you will feel overcome by its size.

There is no obstacle you can’t find a way around. Keep your eyes up!

Feel everything

Change involves discomfort. It hurts to grow and let go of old attachments or familiar ways of living. There is no escape from our feelings if we want to come out the other side.

I believe God reaches us most easily when we are at our lowest and most broken. That’s when we realize how much we need God and others. As social creatures, we can never be independent. We have to live in love and in community. The past ten years tested me. I lost a high school friend and my brother to suicide, and my mother to lung cancer.

I let grief change me; I gave myself over to mourning. The feelings were a wall of cold water crashing on me. My skin felt numb and raw at the same time. My eyes hurt from too much crying; my lids were made of sandpaper. I could go from angry to melancholy to blank to hysterical laughter all in the same five minutes.

As I grieved, I prayed to God with an intensity that I wished would never end. I felt an answer in a new-found closeness to the holy presence. Christ healed my heart.

I believe you are never alone in your suffering. Peace will come. Hard times will change you for the good if you let them. Keep breathing.

Go for it

Go for what you want!

It might not turn out. I’ve had some failures! With failure, you have a story to tell. Failure is easier than regret.

I took a risk to try writing publicly in 2013 on this blog, now I’m a published author. Thank you, my beloved readers, for being a part of this adventure!

Nurture a heart of gratitude

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

I give thanks for turning 45 today!

People complain about aging. I tell you, to be alive at any age is a blessing. When I think of my beloved ones who haven’t reached the age I am today, I know growing older is a blessing. We might gain an ache or two along with our wisdom, but life is precious, joyful and holy.

Have you noticed how older people appreciate the moments? There is such happiness in seeing the beauty of small things: a child’s smile, the way an iridescent blue fly drinks from a horse water trough, snuggling with your spouse in the morning before you have to get up, watching snow fall, playing string with a cat, the sound of waves on the beach.

May God bless me to be an old woman. I’m going to make a great one—puttering around to make hot tea with a small dog underfoot! I might stick my finger in my 80th birthday cake and help myself to the icing before it’s served…

Tell the truth…to yourself

The practice of compassionate honesty with yourself and God will give you peace and wholeness. Like confession in the Catholic faith, or taking an inventory in the fourth step of 12-step groups, the act of looking at yourself with a kind and neutral eye will free you.

Think of something important that happened to you. When you tell a story about it, do you leave out the complications and dead ends, the hurt feelings and the confusion, and focus only on the success? Do you portray yourself as friendly, knowledgeable, calm and in charge?

Clean version, messy version

Tim, Gen and JennySaturday I had the good fortune to go to dinner at the Claysville Store with some people I hold dear, Tim Carson, Jenny McGee and her husband Dave, my husband and my son. Over fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, coleslaw and the best applesauce I’ve had in a long time, we traded stories about life before we knew one another. Did I mention the biscuits—and the chocolate banana cream pie?

Before I started in on how my husband and I met, my son asked, “What version are you going to tell, the cleaned-up one or the messy one?”

I laughed and said he would just have to wait and see.

When we tell our own stories, it’s easy to embellish who we were. We can make ourselves smarter, cleaner and stronger in the retelling. The cleaned-up version often makes us feel better. Why wouldn’t we slant our own stories in our favor?

Accept yourself, accept grace

Telling the truth about yourself and your experiences strengthens your well-being. How can God reach me if I’m caught up in myself?

Only in letting go of the good and the bad can I make space for grace, instead of grandiosity.

Honesty brings us closer.

You made a mistake? Accept yourself as human.

You had feelings of jealousy, anger, pettiness, lust, shame or fear that you wish you could deny? Accept yourself. Give your burden to God.

The truth is many times in my life I’ve seemed like a mess, a hairball looking for a drain to clog. The drain I clogged was the flow of love and positivity.

Through honesty to myself, to my journal and to God, I’m able to embrace all the parts of myself: the mess, the conflicting feelings and the memories.

I don’t always tell the messy stories. I have to choose my audience. But I tell the messy stories to the people I love.

So far, they haven’t rejected me. They might even love me more for it.

Blessing

Lord, give us courage to be real with you.
Give us strength to admit our weakness.

The real stories might be painful;
you can heal us.

The real stories might be messy;
you can clean us.

You make in us a new life.
Let’s rejoice and live it!

 

Tell me your thoughts!

What story do you have in your life that has two or more versions? (If you appreciate messy stories, keep an eye out on this blog for news about my upcoming poetry book, Turn. It’s in the final stages of editing and design right now!)

What I’m learning about facing my dog’s death

Portrait of Mercy

Portrait of MercyA stray on the edge of starvation, she slept with her body pressed against the chain link door of the kennel. Dogs barked, children yipped at the sight of the dogs barking and the parents followed the children, their heavy sighs seen but not heard from being drowned out. Such a tumultuous place and the spotted white dog slept.

I stopped at the door. “Look at this one,” I called to my family. “She looks nice.”

It was the beginning. We didn’t know it. Beginnings can be so subtle that they are as quiet as a sleeping dog in a kennel of 80 others barking on a Saturday morning.

We took her home

My seven-year-old son named her. “We should call her Mercy,” he said. “Because that is what we’re showing her.”

Her name quickly changed to Merfect. Companionable, she is loyal, friendly and tender, always happy to meet new friends.

“Mercy is the best thing we’ve got going,” we say.

She is such a good dog she even went to church

mercy-with-boysWe needed a dog to promote our annual pet blessing event last fall. With her calm patient manner, Mercy was the merfect choice. She walked up the aisle with a wag. We gathered beneath the cross for the children’s moment at the front of church.

A dozen small children gathered around her. A toddler kept touching her eye while another tugged her ear. A boy fascinated with her wagging stub tail tried to hold it. She accepted all the clumsy pats as the show of affection they were.

For ten years, Mercy has greeted us. A docile dog of little demands and much affection, she is as easy as sitting outside on a sunny spring day. Her mouth is so soft that she once caught a sparrow. When we told her “drop!” she opened her mouth and the bird flew out unharmed.

This week, her doctor told me that she has cancer. I hung up the phone and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I reached out to friends. In grace, prayer and community, I felt God’s holy hand of comfort. I know I will be sad, but I will not be alone. I will not avoid my grieving. It is proof of love, proof of life.

Grief honors the beloved

This might be her last spring. I don’t know if she’ll live to see the pet blessing in the fall. This is the end. We know it. I hope it will be a quiet ending, quiet as a sleeping dog surrounded by the ones who care about her.

I will treasure her as long as she is with us. I will love her after she passes from this life. I will remember her as Merfect, the stray who made a home in my heart, the dog who made my home more welcoming.

Blessing

Mercy with Chase the catLord, thank you for the blessing
of animals in their feathers and fur,
bright eyes and open faces.

Let us care for the wanderers,
the neglected, the abused by cruel hands.
Make our hands kind,
make us the good stewards
you ask us to be.

Above all, let us love as dogs love,

As if each reunion is the best,
as if each homecoming matters.

Tell me your thoughts!

Have you had a beginning or ending recently? Do you have a story of an animal who welcomes you home? How has grace touched your life this week?

Changing my story, one memoir at a time

potentialI’m not the person I used to be. Thank God!

I finished the first draft of the memoir this week. After thousands of words and hundreds of hours revisiting the past, I ended my trip to the old days.

It was uncomfortable going back into devastation. It would be tempting to slant the story and describe my character with a positive history. But healing requires honesty.

It’s important to tell your real story. Shame is a heavy burden to carry. When we tell someone the worst of ourselves, we open up our lives. I was once in a prayer group when a woman confessed that she wasn’t the mother she wanted to be. She regretted her harshness. Did we attack her and feel superior? Not at all. We could all relate with ways we had failed as well. Her confession released an honest conversation for the group.

What it feels like

I feel light with my story out. Lighter than when I started writing. Lighter than when I lived it.

On describing the past, I had to pick which scenes to describe. Would I bring up the awful things, or stick to the more palatable? How to narrow down years into pages?

Writing the memoir was like a spring cleaning for the mind. I aired out the shadowy memories, like opening a door shut long ago on a stale room.

Next steps

I am old-school and still like paper; I went to the copy shop to print off the first copy. As the clerk ran off my 225 pages, he asked me about the title, “Broken hand to pray with.”

I explained it was a story about my youth and how I broke my hand. He said he broke his hand on a car window that his soon-to-be ex-wife had bought with his credit card. After she had been sleeping with his best friend. Can you relate? Perhaps not in detail but in heartbreak!

That is the power of telling the truth about the worst of us; we all know the shame of stumbling. By giving it to God, we can start clean. As long as we hide our weakness, we separate ourselves from one another and stop the Spirit from working through us.

The memoir looks substantial printed out. Now that the draft is done, I will let it rest—like letting bread rise—as recommended by Stephen King in On Writing. Then I will punch it down and form it into a readable book through the magic of editing.

I’m so thankful for all of you supporting my writing process. Your backing goes a long way to give me confidence in my writing being public! What worth is a writer without a reader?

Blessing

Lord, bless us with the strength to tell our truth
to each other. Lift the shadow of shame from our shoulders.
Forgive us for failing and help us
let go of wintery memories.
May the warmth of your love melt our frozen blocks so
your goodness can flow through us.

Some days we don’t have to win. We just have to finish.
Lord, let us endure.
We can look back and tell our story.

We can walk forward with honest steps.

Tell me your thoughts!

Is there a story in your past that would be healing to tell? What trusted friend would be willing to listen?

A wish for Christmas ponies everywhere

Pixie in the lightThe small flaxen chestnut pony had only known life for a little more than a year. There had never been enough to eat. She was part of a neglected herd.

She was forgotten, or ignored, or impossible to feed due to hard times.

When Longmeadow Rescue Ranch rescued her, she was sick and starving. She weighed half what she should, light as a fairy, a skeleton of herself. They named her Pixie.

The horses that had been with her died.

Death spared her. The vet gave her more medicine. The staff and volunteers nursed her to health. They believed in her. She gained weight and got healthy. In about six months’ time, she was ready for adoption.

It was a cool day in December when we drove to the farm. We had four ponies to see as potential companions. She was the first we saw. Young, I thought. Skittish.

We looked at the others. The second and third weren’t suitable. The fourth was trained and grown. I thought he would be the best choice.

I asked my family, “Which one do you think?”

They both smiled in agreement. My son said, “We like the first one.”

I sighed and asked if we could see the first one again. I walked in the stall.

The young pony stood in the corner, shy and hesitant. I bent down. She took a step toward me and nuzzled my hair.

“Aww,” said my husband. Although I couldn’t see his heart, I could tell it was melted like butter on the stove.

I had my doubts. This pony was only a long yearling and seemed flighty. I would have some training work in front of me. On the plus side, I could tell she was intelligent and curious.

Then he said the clincher, “This is the face I want to feed every morning.”

That sealed it. The final consideration in getting any animal for us was always picking the one we wanted to see every day. We want our animals to be a source of joy.

Pixie in the snowThe week of Christmas 2011, my generous friend with a horse trailer agreed to drive the 120 miles to pick her up. She even brought one of her ponies so our newly adopted Pixie pony would have company and feel more comfortable on the long trip.

Once home on our land, our Christmas girl Pixie has blossomed. She’s grown calm, confident and sociable. She knows our routine and flourishes in it. Far from a wraith, she stays in good condition, fuzzy and fun.

She nickers every time she sees us. She follows me along the fence line even if I am just out to adjust our horse Miko’s blanket, and it’s nowhere near mealtime. She knows I can’t resist giving her a treat! I always duck in the barn to get her a little something.

Her fuzzy lips stroke my palm as she takes the carrots. Even after two years, I feel giddy to have my own pony.

She is an everyday delight.

My Christmas wish

May all the little girls who wish for ponies get them, and may all the little ponies get the care they need.

May the hungry be found and fed.

May the cold be brought in, and the forgotten remembered.

May the grieving be embraced.

May the oppressed be lifted up from the mire to a life of clean air, clean water and justice.

May the lonely be given as much laughter as they can hold until the light of joy burns away their shadows.

The night is cold. Crystalline stars shine. Somewhere a young woman is outside, overlooked and turned away. Her newborn baby is wrapped in cloths.

Let us be the ones to welcome God inside.

frosty-mardi-gras-morning