How about a round of applause?

???????????????????????????????Last night, I had a more-trying-than-usual time lulling my baby into slumber. I nursed her. I changed her diaper. I needlessly lotioned her silky skin. I sang my entire repertoire of lullabies. I rocked her. Then I nursed her again. And changed her again. And put a different outfit on her little limbs.

And finally, after a few hours, she submitted to the beckoning sheep who begged to be counted, left her best friend (a stuffed lamb, Lambchop) in the bouncy seat for the night, and collapsed in her crib, arms spread out wide, embracing ten whole hours of uninterrupted sleep.

As I crept out of her room, my husband looked at me while browsing the Internet.

“I’m going to bed,” I stated emphatically.

I forced myself to brush my teeth, wash my face, and apply ointments and creams in places I’ve never cared about moisturizing until motherhood took its toll on my appearance. I checked my email one last time, hoping neither of my professors had sent me a single note. I hopped on FaceBook briefly and glanced at my newsfeed.

The “Just Wheat” page I’d just created days before hovered on the left side of the screen, an annoying reminder to write, write, write.

???????????????????????????????These days, all I want to do is write. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it. And literally, I can’t get enough of it. I simply don’t have time to record every rumination that runs through my brain. So, as I take 30 minutes to type this post, bright pink post-its scream out potential topics on the bulletin board in front of me. But my priorities are family and graduate school.

Well, that’s not entirely true. While my family and graduate school are my top priorities right now, I seem to be incapable of simplicity and ease. If I finish all my schoolwork two weeks ahead of time, and take great care of my baby and love my husband well, it’s still not enough.

I’ve also decided to start jogging again, partly in an attempt to lose post-partum weight and partly to provide a break for myself each day from parenting responsibilities. And when my daughter sleeps or plays happily in her bouncy seat, if I’m not doing homework or working on my fitness (just ask Maggie, she’s my witness), I’m cleaning. Endlessly. I’m a bit anal about maintaining a tidy home. I’ve evolved into a much less maniacal housekeeper since having Maggie, but I confess that seeing dirt, dust, and dishes piled in the sink drives me absolutely bonkers. And I attempt to maintain two separate blogs, which I love to write for even though they have moved down on my priority list.

???????????????????????????????I don’t just do what’s required of me. I take on more than I have to. All the time, and I always have. Why can’t I just do as my mentor recommended, and list five items on my to-do list for the day? Why do I stretch five into ten? Or why, when I don’t complete all five tasks, do I fail to recognize that my baby refused to take decent naps all day, so my time was reprioritized? And even if I’m able to cross off all five items at the end of the day, why do I plop into bed at night feeling as if it wasn’t enough?

That I am not good enough?

Ah, the real root of the problem.

Fear.

I’m afraid that I won’t be good enough. That I won’t graduate from graduate school with a 4.0 GPA. That I won’t parent my daughter in a way that’s conducive to joy, peace, health, spiritual fulfillment, and lifelong learning. That my guests will turn up their noses at the rings inside my toilet bowls. That it will take me longer than a year to lose this weight and that I will never look attractive again in my own eyes. That my husband will observe these obvious failures and revoke his love from me.

Ridiculous.

Not only are these fears irrational, for the most part, but even if they come to fruition, who cares? How important is it that I maintain a perfect GPA? If I graduate with two Bs on my transcript, I’ll still have accomplished the big-picture goal of earning my Master’s degree in English. How important is it that I manage to read daily to my daughter? Well, it’s important, but if I skip a day here and there, her brain will most likely not begin to atrophy. How important is it that my house pass the white glove test? Not at all.

What I’m afraid of—not being good enough, and not being loved—has roots that have attached themselves to the core of my being since childhood.

But I don’t have to allow my fears to dictate my actions.

My husband reminded me, as we discussed these very matters in a state of near-consciousness last night that I ought to just relax.

He is right.

I remember when I worked in a sales position, selling software and training opportunities to business owners and principal partners in a niche industry, that it felt so hard to get to work on time. My commute took 45 minutes, hauling tail while applying makeup during traffic jams, on good days. Barring any wrecks or hold-ups, I’d screech into the parking lot and lug myself into the building, gigantic mug of strong coffee in hand.

I felt as if all my co-workers should applaud. Congratulate me for choosing not to hit snooze more than once. Pat me on the back for deciding to show up at work rather than stop paying my bills and move back into my parents’ house and eat frozen dinners while listening to my parents give me advice on relationships. Offer me an attagirl for taking a shower, blow-drying my hair, and appearing decently well-kempt.

But they didn’t. Of course.

I once shared this fantasy of applause with the secretary at the office. She laughed. Then agreed with me and told me about her average morning which entailed waking her teenage son, getting his lazy butt out the door for school, starting her car in freezing temperature with no husband available to scrape off the windshield for her, and finally braving almost the same commute I battled daily.

“I should be applauding YOU!” I remarked.

When I relocated to my hometown, and returned to the realm of higher education, I shared this same fantasy with a really funny group of people who worked in an adjacent office. Recently, when I returned to campus for a “look at my adorable new baby” visit, I walked into the foyer of their office and immediately felt puzzled.

They were all clapping.

It took me a minute to realize that they were clapping for me. For showing up. On time. Clothed.

It made me laugh, but last night as I lay in bed, I wondered why we all don’t applaud ourselves. Daily. For whatever things we accomplish, no matter how minor they seem when we compare them to the books and albums published by our fellow alumni, the perfectly bleached bathrooms of our mothers-in-law, or the post-partum pictures of our incredibly thin friends.

Once a yoga instructor said something at the end of class which, I’ll admit, I scoffed at internally.

“Thank your body for what it was able to do for you today.”

Yada, yada, yada.

But maybe I will. Maybe I ought to apply those high school cheerleading skills to my own little life. Maybe I need to pat myself on the back when I submit an assignment, wrestle myself into my sports bra in order to go jogging in 45-degree weather, or successfully remove humungous boogers from my baby’s nostrils.

Maybe I ought to thank God for what I’m able to do today.

Period.

How do you know me?

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Me in 2010, about halfway into my 1,000 days of gratitude lists

About a year ago, I decided to create a second blog, Your Daily Dose of Gratitude. I’d already been writing daily gratitude lists for over 1,000 days in a row. Since this exercise had impacted me so positively, improving my outlook on life and my attitude towards others, I decided that sharing thoughts on the topic with others might do the same for them.

As I posted Henry Petty‘s guest blog posts on my gratitude blog, the past few days, I began reflecting on how I know him. We met in college, and I was immediately drawn to his chipper attitude about life. He did not have an easy life. Yet he seemed to always keep a smile on his face. He walked to work, and instead of whining about it, he just expressed gratitude when folks offered him rides.

Then I began thinking about the other guest contributors to this blog and how I came to know each of them.

Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy was one of my professors in college and now serves as a sort of writing mentor. I took a children’s literature course from her as an English elective my senior year. I didn’t expect to discover a love for a genre of literature I’d largely overlooked. But her passion for the subject matter and the warm, interactive, and exciting way she managed the classroom discussions sparked a real interest in children’s literature inside me. I began collecting children’s books, and when I became pregnant with my daughter, I already had accumulated quite an awesome collection.

My friend Linda Unger, another guest contributor, is an accomplished photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and also happens to be hilarious. I met her at a women’s conference about five years ago and found her enthusiasm for life to be contagious. She once spoke at that same conference and shared her life’s story and details about her spiritual journey. I will never forget the way she described how she came to know God; it resonated within me.

I met my friend Oona Love, another guest contributor, at a concert at Cornerstone Pub in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when she opened the show for my close friend, Cindy Woolf. Oona’s cover of a fabulous Fiona Apple song made me belly laugh non-stop for three minutes, and at that time in my life, I needed all the laughter I could get. Since then, I’ve come to know her a little better and respect her gentle, accepting way of loving others despite their differences.

My friend Erin Jennings, another guest contributor, once briefly dated a friend of my husband’s. While their dating relationship lasted only a short while, our friendship continued, and she became a very close friend and confidante. I’ve watched her as she has found the love of her life and expanded her family from three to six and do so with grace and ease.

Three of my guest contributors are brand new friends whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person. I met two of them, Toinette Thomas and Mary Agrusa, through groups for Christian bloggers on linkedin.com. I met Sarah Klesko, a fellow blogger, by following her blog and finding her posts inspirational. Thankfully, all three of these talented writers were willing to share their musings with me, too.

Guest contributor Amy Driskill went to college with me back in the day. She’s one of many people I’ve reconnected with via Facebook. Since reconnecting, we’ve learned things about each other’s lives that we certainly didn’t know in college, and it’s bonded us as friends.

Shelli White, a guest contributor, was a college student at my alma mater when I worked there as an academic coordinator for an Upward Bound program. Shelli worked as a tutor for us and used her math whiz kid skills to assist struggling high school students. Since then, her life has evolved, and she’s become a spiritually vibrant woman raising an adorable little boy.

One of my college suite mates, Zeda Paysinger-Wilkerson, served as a guest contributor once as well. Zeda and I were lab partners our freshman year of college. I vividly remember recanting our romantic tales to one another and giggling over the details. Zeda and I have remained close friends since then, even working together once at the same institution. She always reminds me that life is what you make of it.

I finally talked my former co-worker Jonathan Weigt into writing for my blog and am so glad he did. Jonathan worked with me through some pretty tough times in my life and has perhaps seen me at my worst; I’m really glad he now knows me at my best. His non-traditional take on spirituality and his sincere questioning of life’s most important questions challenge me. It also reminds me that even the most hilarious person (he’s quite funny) has a deeper side, whether it’s visible or not.

My nephew Jake (AKA Walter Pitts) agreed to write for my blog after his recent wild adventure in Eastern Europe. Jake’s on an extraordinarily fearless journey of faith. Having known him since he was just five years old, it’s been awesome to see how God has used each of his personality quirks and special gifts to serve others and make the world a better place.

I once had the honor of working with Debra Dickey-Liang. She served as the administrative assistant in my department, and she excelled at her job. She was dependable, loyal, trustworthy, and dignified. She still is, and seven years after working with her, I am delighted to consider her one of my closest friends. Despite the differences in our ages, we’ve found common ground in what matters. When she agreed to write posts for my gratitude blog, I discovered her hidden gift for writing and was thrilled to share it with the world via WordPress.

Then there’s my forever friend Mark Egan, who I first met when I was five years old. I watched him climb trees and emulated his skills. He taught me to shoot a gun for the first time (and didn’t get mad when I almost shot God-knows-what instead of the targets). He agreed to write for my blog after sending me some personal writing to proofread for him. I convinced him that he had underestimated his writing abilities so he agreed to allow me to share his piece with others. He will always be “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

As I contemplated on how I know each of these guest writers, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the other God-with-skin-on people who have walked with me through valleys, helped me climb over obstacles, and rejoiced with me as we enjoyed the view from the top.

With so much love in my life, having been surrounded by such diverse, beautiful, and invaluable people, I can’t help but believe that what Eckhart said is true:

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

 

Bucket list update

If you haven’t read my original 2012 bucket list, you might want to check it out before reading this post.

For those of you who regularly follow my blog, I thought I’d provide an update to the list so you’d all know that I’m working on it; I really am!

1)      Unfortunately, I have not been able to convince any cement mixer drivers or owners to allow me to operate the truck or even pull the lever releasing the concrete. However, I did convince James to let me pull the level on his friend’s cement mixer when they pour the foundation for the parking pad and sun room we’ll be adding on in the future. So I don’t know when, but it seems that this one’s going to happen!

2)      I’m halfway through my first semester of graduate school, and I currently have all A’s and am fully enjoying my educational endeavor.

3)      I’ve met with the Director of the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project (whom I’d like to volunteer for), and we’ve brainstormed about some fundraising ideas. I’m also planning to officially join the organization as a member this week.

4)      I have focused on building a few friendships with “elevator people,” including two people I work with, an old friend (who is truly my soul sister) who I had neglected to keep in close contact with until the past six months, and an old high school friend (AKA “Bubbles”) who I lost touch with but recently reconnected with thanks to Facebook and my new church. I don’t have much time to invest in hanging out anymore, but I’m still managing to fit friends into my schedule because it matters to me.

5)      I started the Daily Dose of Gratitude blog in February. This was something I’d contemplated before, but I thought I would never find time to post daily. However, I felt that forcing myself to daily chew on the topic of gratitude might really benefit others, and I knew it’d benefit me. And it has. I log in to WordPress every morning, coffee brewing, and hammer something out. If I’m lucky enough to have a guest writer that day, I post the guest writer’s content. In addition to giving me a little break from blogging, the guest writers have given me yet another thing to be grateful for—good people, wonderful mentors, and excellent writers who I’m blessed to call friends. The response to the blog has been encouraging, and if nothing else, it’s starting all my days out on a wonderful, positive, and thankful note.

6)      In order to take better advantage of the beauty of the great outdoors, I’ve taken my dogs on a hike almost every single day since creating my bucket list. Not only are they loving the exploration time (and chance to turn every tree into a urination station), but I’m also getting into better shape slowly but surely. I still have yet to go hiking in three brand new places, but I’ll keep working on that.

7)      I’m thankful to say that I’m still on my streak of spending plenty of time with God reading, praying, and meditating on Scripture. I’m sure my half-pot of coffee habit each morning really does have something to do with the consistency and voracity I’ve managed to maintain.

8)      No word on marrying James Wallace yet. Stay tuned for future announcements.

9)      Because I determined to keep my heart and hands open to God, and because I’ve become willing to let go of so many heavy heart-weights, I’ve never felt lighter in my life. I am completely free. No one has anything over me any longer. It feels good. I’m sleeping better. I rarely worry at all. I’ve let go of old habits that were holding onto me. I’ve found a church that feels like home. I’m living the life I always wanted.

Tonight, James and I had the pleasure of visiting with an elderly couple from our church at their home for a few hours. They loaned me some books to aid in my research for a class I’m taking, and after running the gamut of anecdotes, from hilarious stories to family histories to heartbreaking recounting of losses, the man said to us, “You know, even if I died tonight, I can say I’ve had a great life and a real fun time. And a lot of that is thanks to her.” And he pointed to his wife across the room in her recliner.

“Thumbs’ up to that,” she said.

It seems premature to say, but I feel the same way. If this was the last night I curled up under my warm blankets and fell asleep while thanking God for today’s little miracles and big triumphs, it would be more than enough.

Now that He’s given me this deep peace, every day is a bonus.

My bucket is pretty full.