For years, GratitudeCup blog followers/readers have told me I should start a podcast.
I resisted. Writing is my thing, I insisted. Not talking.
Well, sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. It was today after a Zoom-based interview with one of my long-time friends and former colleagues went awry thanks to a faulty internet connection. I had hoped to upload the video recording of our interview to my YouTube channel, sharing an important announcement about my new book, Mama Meditations.
However, the video file was sluggish. Thankfully, though, the audio file held together quite well. I decided to pursue creating a podcast hastily… without giving it a second thought, honestly, so here we are!
I am so excited to announce to all GratitudeCup readers and followers that my new devotional book and gratitude journal for moms, Mama Meditations: Volume I, will be published in January 2021.
Mama Meditations contains 60 entries, each followed by a brief prayer and Bible verse, as well as space prompting readers to reflect and journal about their own journeys through motherhood, building a gratitude habit along the way.
2020 has certainly proven a challenge for all of us in multiple ways, especially as parents. I chose to homeschool my daughter–that was new and different for us. Even though I believed it was best at the time, that doesn’t mean it was easy, and that doesn’t mean either of us liked it all the time either. I learned how to extend more grace and mercy than ever before. And you know what? I learned how to have more fun than ever before! We played outside more often, brought our basset hound/beagle indoors more often, and cuddled more often than ever before. This semester reminded me of a maxim I knew to be true but often have difficulty implementing: Time enjoyed is not time wasted.
I hope you’ll move into 2021 with me, with a copy of my new book in hand as soon as it becomes available for purchase, determined to pursue greater joy, deepen your habit of gratitude, and extend compassion and mercy to others–including your children.
May God bless you this Christmas season.
Time enjoyed is not time wasted.
Have you noticed that this year, fewer people are sharing gratitude lists on social media? Normally, our feeds are swamped this time of year, right? Everyone participates in 30-day gratitude challenges. People post photos of things they’re most thankful for. We know the hubbub will not last, but the November rush is nice.
Not this year.
Is 2020 so hard, so tough we can’t see the good anymore? Perhaps. I have never seen so many jokes, memes, parodies, and sarcastic comments about how horrible this year has been. I get it. Lots of natural disasters all over the world. A horrid pandemic that’s far from over. Parents trying to figure out how to manage work while often teaching kids at home for the first time. Kids missing friends and normal social life. BLM protests gone wild. Police officers who were once seen as noble heroes now spat upon and demonized. An election that tore us apart.
We’re just ready to fast forward to Christmas. We want a party. We want joy. Or we want stuff! Or we want to give and forget about what we’ve lost this year. Bypassing pain and discomfort is a common desire. But it doesn’t work. The pain, discomfort, and misery are still there; it’s best if we deal head on.
Whatever the reason for bypassing the practice of pausing and finding time to be thankful, I would encourage you to pause. Consider the value of practicing gratitude. If you give it a chance for a few weeks, you will notice its benefits in your life. Others will, too.
I made the decision to homeschool Maggie months ago. I know this doesn’t match the experience of most parents this year, during this odd pandemic. Most parents waited on pins and needles for schools to announce their plans, reacting to the alignment with CDC guidelines, or something like that. Not me. Maybe it’s because I am remarkably stubborn. Or maybe it’s because I have worked in higher education for 12 years and understand how the whole public education system works just enough to know that whether they say so or not, it’s going to be pandemonium, I opted to make my own plan with or without any announcements from the school system. I am so glad I did.
I wholeheartedly felt convinced God wanted me to do this. My daughter’s first grade experience left her lacking strong literacy skills even though she finished kindergarten ahead of her peers.
The good news is she’s a super smart kid; she’ll be fine. However, I knew she needed help to regain academic confidence and skill, not to mention a love for learning. This, coupled with the COVID pandemic and the weirdness it would inevitably bring to the realm of public education, weighed on me as a mom. Did I want to send her back to the classroom? Nope, although I honestly did not look forward to having her around the house while I tried to work on a daily basis either.
Do I look forward to homeschooling her? Yes and no. We’re two weeks into the school year. And I can still say… yes and no! No, I don’t look forward to trying to find time to clean the house, run errands, and manage my own business… all with my child underfoot. No, I don’t anticipate 100% sheer joy while trying to play mom and teacher to a child who already questions my decisions because she’s coming into her own very independent personality. And no, I don’t think it will be easy to practice great self-care or carve out time as a writer, much less a woman, while still distancing ourselves in the midst of a pandemic.
But the redemptive part is this: I asked God for this. When I quit working full-time over four years ago and started my business to spend more time with my daughter, I felt great sorrow. When I had worked full-time, I knew I had made a big difference in others’ lives. But I had done that at the expense of missing out on my daughter’s life. There were days when I’d come home and not had the chance to play with her while it was light outside. And I don’t mean like one day or so here and there. It was like that for months at a time–for seasons. Maybe that’s okay for some moms, for some parents. That was not okay for me. I could not live with myself that way. It wasn’t just the “mom guilt” we hear about. It was a spiritual conviction, a knowing in my soul that I was not aligned with what God would have me do.
It had nothing to do with what I wanted to do. It had everything to do with me choosing to do what was the best and right thing for my kid. As a follower of Christ, it was time to live like one.
Since then, I’d always hoped for an opportunity for redemption, to get back the years when I had not been with her. And here it was—a full year of mom and Maggie time.
Every time I find myself whining about how hard it might be, or how I’ll never get any work done during the day without coordinating my schedule with my husband’s, or how she might hate me because I will be helping her learn to write cursive, I remember this. I asked for restoration. And I am getting it.
That is something to be grateful for.
I choose one or the other. I can alternate between the two throughout the day. But I cannot do both unless I am satisfied with doing them both half a**.
It took me trying with all my might to do both 100% (and failing, and crying about it) for at least one year. Sometimes I need to prove myself wrong before giving up on an idea.
I finally succumbed, accepting reality. Once I acknowledged that I had to strike a balance and have “Mama work time” and “Mama and Maggie time,” things went more smoothly, both in our home and in my head.
When I fill my list with more than 3 items, I almost always fail and feel like a loser. I compare myself to others. I compare myself to MYSELF on better days.
My mentor gave me the assignment years ago of limiting my list to 3 or fewer items. That felt challenging at first as a former long-list maker. But lowering standards of perfection really helped me enjoy life, live in the moment, and appreciate time with my child.
You cannot dangle a carrot attractive enough in front of me to convince me to stay (in a relationship or at a job) if I am miserable, feel conflicted, or know what I am being asked to do is unethical. Huge freedom man. Huge.
One of those benefits: starting my own business in 2016. With no money set aside. On ZERO budget. And I celebrate four years as a business owner this month, thanks to God’s control of outcomes and wonderful friends, clients, colleagues, and business partners.
This is part of one of my favorite principles for living: prevention vs. damage control.
The more we plan ahead and think big picture, the less likely we are to run out of steam, react rather than respond, and find ourselves in sticky situations in life.
Before I joined a recovery program, many parts of my life could be characterized as “a mess.” My finances were falling apart and had been slowly spiraling in that direction for years. I had just ended one marriage and was in the middle of a horrible dating relationship with someone I never should have dated at all (but couldn’t see any red flags at the time). I quit a toxic job the same day I attended my first 12-Step meeting. My life was a wreck!
Learning to pause, ask for help, and take direction from others with more experience (practice prevention rather than damage control) changed my life.
And no–buying four cans of beans versus one is NOT the same as a major life crisis like going through a divorce… but I think you get what I’m saying here :).
During this crazy time, I have needed some assistance in various areas of life. Because I have maintained good relationships with people who are experts in different fields, these people have come through for me. And I’m grateful.
Burning bridges with people is just never a bad idea. Maintaining solid relationships is always a good idea. Period.
My lifestyle choices are my business. Yours are yours. Life is definitely more serene when I care less what anyone else thinks (as long as me and God are okay, everything is okay).
I have thankfully been able to maintain this perspective during this pandemic.
I know others have not. I see their posts. I read their rants. Then I snooze them on social media because while I love them, I do not want to see their posts or read their rants. I want to let them simmer first.
Judging other people and the way they handle any crisis is simply a bad idea. It won’t help anyone. And it’s going to burn bridges (see #5).
I can trust God.
God has come through for me EVERY SINGLE TIME and in every situation in my life. Through sexual assaults, through divorces, through bankruptcy. You name it. Why would I doubt God’s ability to take care of me and the people I love right now?
I do not.
In reference to #6, I do not know how to best handle the world’s problems. I do my part to take care of myself and my child, and I leave the rest in God’s hands.
I do not have to instruct others on how to care for themselves either. Because–I am not God.
The beauty of this truth is that God requires nothing of me except willingness to sit with open palms and watch Him convert ashes to beauty and darkness to light. If I just keep my eyes open and my mind open, I will see miracles around me. And I do.
Just had to throw that one in there because although I learned that years ago as a small business owner working remotely, I know some of you are just joining the Zoom scene. I’m trying to help you out.
Which life lessons are you thankful you learned–even tough lessons–years ago, long before this healthcare crisis? How have you applied lessons you learned then to the situations you’re faced with today?
My former student, Debjanee Protyasha Nandy, wrote this beautiful short essay recalling her gratitude for a moment when a person extended kindness to her. May we all treat others with the same generosity, concern, and selflessness.
Human beings are not self-sufficient. We need other people in society in order to
survive. Kindness is one of the most important virtues for humankind.
I remember one time when someone helped me out of a situation selflessly. I was a student of the third grade. I was coming home by a rickshaw after school. Suddenly, I felt dizzy and fell off the rickshaw. I was bleeding. The rickshaw puller didn’t want to waste his time helping me.
So, he left. I was completely alone lying on the road bleeding. A man from the nearby construction area came to help me. He took me to the hospital and stayed there with me. He called my mom.
Unfortunately, my mom was two hours away from me. He fed me and took me home. After a while, my mom came and thanked him. She was so mad at me. She scolded me for not being careful enough. I had five stitches. I could not go to school for a week. I was in complete bed-rest.
After a few days, I started to feel better. Although my mom was a working woman,
she took her day off to meet the person who saved her daughter’s life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have his contact information. So, we went to the construction site. We found him working there. My mother expressed her gratitude to him. We invited him for a dinner at our home.
Yet, to this day, I still have flashbacks to my accident. I am thankful for being alive. I
am thankful to him.
My former student, Sarah Humway, wrote this post as an essay for English Comp I class last fall. I loved it and asked if she’d allow me to share it with all of you. She agreed. Thank you, Sarah!
The most influential person in my life was not only someone who could pick me up from my lows, but she was also my best friend; that person is my grandmother, or Mimi. When I was around seven, my parents went through a divorce; therefore, I spent a lot of time with all of my grandparents, but My Mimi and I formed an instant bond. I could rely on her to keep my secrets as well as rely on her to always be willing to get ice cream at the drop of a hat. To this day, Mimi has been extremely influential to my personality and character, which I believe is most important gift I could receive from someone with such wisdom. Needless to say, she is my other half; we share common interests, similar physical attributes, and opinions. The list could go on and on.
As I said, my parents went through a divorce when I was seven, causing me to spend time with both my maternal and paternal grandparents. Mimi and I have always had a special bond since I was her first grandchild. So, for as long as I can remember, I have felt as though a string were tied to my heart, and the other end tied to hers. We especially enjoy going antique shopping despite the odor of mildew and mothballs that cloaked the dust-filled rooms. Typically, we just find odds and end items, but once, we found a few pieces of a dish set called “Lochs of Scotland,” and we were both captivated; the radiant blue detailing against the porcelain white enchanted our inner beings.
I can remember exactly how the shop looked; it was a split level shop on the main strip of Mountain View, Arkansas with wooden floors that made a high pitch creak every time I took a step, clutter filling every square foot of the shop, and dusty antiques littered the shelves. Now, it has become almost ritualistic to go to antique stores on a quest for the dainty dishes, yet we still aren’t tired of it. Antiquing has to be my most fond memory with Mimi because she taught me that even though things might be old, they are still perfectly functional and that I shouldn’t covet new things.
Mimi and I not only share hobbies- we also have a passion for ice cream. No matter the day, time, season, issue, or whatever may be the case, we are always down to get ice cream; we typically go to Baskin Robbins in my hometown, Jonesboro. We typically choose Baskin Robbins because they serve the creamiest true ice cream as well as the perfectly seasoned “homemade” fries in town; another factor we enjoy is that we can watch the midday traffic rush by as our entertainment. The smell of freshly cooked french fries and sandwiches is deeply embedded into my brain along with the precious memories of giggling whilst eating a frozen treat. I can remember this was always our secret “don’t tell Mom place.” For example, if she picked me up from school, we would head over and devour ice cream and french fries until we were content.
Mimi and I also share quite a few physical attributes; we are even mistaken as mother and daughter more often than grandmother and granddaughter. Mimi is my father’s mother, but she resembles my mother as well. Mimi and I both stand about 5’5” with the same stature, as in broad shoulders and a long torso. We also have medium length red hair-which she dyes- pale skin, and bright eyes, which is actually extremely uncommon with natural redheads, since both red hair and blue/green eyes are both recessive genes. Our physical similarities have also encouraged our close-knit relationship because it has provided bonding about how we hate the sun, the redhead jokes growing up, and other silly things like that. I can say with confidence my Mimi and I have a closer relationship than most people have with their spouse because we truly connect on every level.
Lastly, Mimi is the type of person to speak from her mistakes and give an honest opinion, therefore I have been motivated by every thing she has supported me on thus far in life because I value her encouraging thoughts and actions. I have learned to treat the janitor with the same amount of respect as the CEO as a result of Mimi. She has taught me how to find my own happiness and “blossom where I was planted” because she understood my struggles throughout junior high and high school. Our relationship isn’t “earth-shattering,” but she has definitely significantly impacted my life for the better by encouraging and showing me to be a headstrong and self sufficient young adult. I consider Mimi my role model, yet also my best friend, which is the best gift someone could ask for.
Overall, I have expressed my adoration for my grandmother, but she still continues to amaze me with her love and support, therefore I believe she will further impact my life and others around her as well. Mimi is a significant figure in my life because of her devout support for those around her and myself. I will always remember our memories, secret and not secret, because of the immense joy she has brought to my life. At times, I smell someone wearing her perfume (a lavender scented aroma), and I do not feel sad because I’m not with her. I feel inspired to act with compassion as I was taught. I feel it is important to treat others with mercy as if she had engraved it into my soul, yet she simply just showed me the way, and I could not be more grateful.
Today’s guest contributor is one of my English Composition I students, Ryan Clack. He’s graciously given me permission to share his first essay of the fall semester with all of you. I was inspired and touched by his essay; I’m sure you will be, too.
What Makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?
Answering the question above is neither simple nor complicated, but somewhere right in between. In order to start this “Who I Am” essay, I’ll begin with an introduction. My name is Ryan Clack. I am a 20 year-old Caucasian red-headed male from Temecula, California. I was born into this beautiful, yet harsh world on May 18, 1998, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have three other siblings. Two are my half siblings, and my parents’ names are Ron and Heather Clack. I am not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and have been that way forever, so it’s safe to say I love her very dearly. My father and I share a huge bond in the game of baseball, and he has been such an important piece to my maturity and manhood throughout the years. With that being said, baseball has been my identity my entire life; it’s where I’ve met just about all of my friends, and it has given me the blessing of an opportunity to play collegiate ball on a scholarship on this very campus.
If I were to ask my friends or peers, they would likely tell me that I’m a very outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart guy. These are some attributes about myself I cherish and am very proud of. My mama always said, “You’re the most like me,” because she is the same exact way.
Throughout this year I’ve dealt with a great bit of adversity, and that adversity is what makes the overall question a little difficult to answer. Why? I’ve had to learn many lessons since January 17, 2018, the date of my mother’s passing. I feel as if my attributes include being outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart. These have not changed due to the fact that those are practically my foundation as a person, but a lot of other things have changed. My mom passed away after a year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. The messed up part about everything is the fact that she beat breast cancer in 2016 only to find out six months later that she would be fighting another battle for her life, being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Throughout being there for the process of chemotherapy sessions, sores, and week-long streaks of her being so tired and weak she wouldn’t leave bed, I witnessed a woman who was literally dying become the most positive, loving, fierce, and fearless warrior goddess of all time. Whilst on hospice, she would write on paper because she could no longer speak.
One thing she wrote is so beautiful and powerful that it is what I live by and identify with on this day and every other day. She said, “I live every beautiful day and I can find beautiful on even the worst day.” Since the day that I watched her write this on her deathbed, my whole life changed. I learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly and endure everything with a smile on my face. I learned how to cope with such immense pain and how to overcome the depression that comes with it.
If you ask “What makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?’ today, I’d be able to give you a great answer. Adversity.
Adversity has turned me from a teenage boy to a man, and although going through it is never easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. With adversity I have learned countless lessons, great and awful, and it helps me learn through real life experiences. Those real life experiences are free, stone cold, and hard life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As of now, I couldn’t be happier with my situation, and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing opportunity for me to continue to grow, obtain a degree, and continue to work on becoming the best person that I could possibly become.
Each morning, I spend time reading, praying, and meditating. This morning I started reading the book of Joshua in the Bible. I came across a line in verse five that resonated with me.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
I underlined that portion of the verse and meditated on it briefly before gathering cookies for Maggie’s classmates, my cup of coffee, car keys, and cell phone. I whisked Maggie out the door and cranked up the heat. It’s that time of year when I feel false hope about autumn coming until about 10 a.m. By noon, I’m sweating and shedding my sweater.
After dropping Maggie off at school, I returned home to a peaceful, quiet house. We live in the woods, and the sunlight strives to shine through the grove of trees on the eastern hill. The verse I selected came back to me as I stood staring at the sun.
“I will not fail you or forsake you.”
God isn’t failing or forsaking the leaves on those trees and has provided them with exactly the right amount of moisture since spring. God doesn’t fail the trees either; the only trees that fall are those ready to die, decaying at the core. I looked at the light reflecting off the dew on our grass and spider webs in the forest. He maintains the smallest bits of creation we overlook.
Of course he is not forsaking me either.
He provides me with just the right clients at the right time. Last week, one of my favorite clients notified me that this year, funding wasn’t available to hire me. My heart sank. A few hours later, a potential client called me and said he was ready to start working together. Maybe that timing was coincidental; I prefer to view it as providential. God always knows what I need when I need it, even if it’s just to confirm that He’s going before me and planning in love.
God is not failing or forsaking me.
I worried off and on for a year about how my daughter would adjust to starting kindergarten. Each time these fears came to mind, I attempted to let go and trust God. Sometimes I felt relief. Other times I wasn’t sure God would come through for me, even though His track record is stellar. But of course He came through. She was placed in a classroom with the most caring, committed, and well-trained teacher I know. She’s thriving. I’ve seen huge leaps in her ability to write and communicate in just three weeks’ time. And almost every day when I pick her up from school, she yells with glee, “This was the best day EVER!”
God is not forsaking or failing my child.
There is no space for fear when I focus on the ways God has come through for me in the past.
There is no room for fear when I focus on how God is providing for me today either.