In honor of the stayers, the root-planters, the long-haul neighbors: You don’t need to move across the world to love big

I was maybe a year into nursing school when I decided I was moving to Africa. Oh don’t worry, it was exactly as dramatic as it sounds. After putting my life on hold while my dad met and succumbed to cancer, I was bloated with a fire for changing the world. I immersed myself in the blogs of starry-eyed millennials shirking cultural norms and embracing a life of extreme sacrifice in order to make some kind of noticeable impact on this world. I could relate. I had watched someone dear to me slowly wither and fade…the brevity of life was fresh on my mind, and I was equally swept up in a culture that promised accolades for grand gestures of proclaimed faith. I wanted to do something important with the short time I had on this earth, and without even realizing it at the time, I think I wanted to do something that would make me feel loved and valued. Lack of education, useful skills, or even defined purpose aside, moving to Africa seemed like an appropriate option.

I will never forget what my older sister said to me in the midst of that season: “Ab, there is great poverty in Africa, for sure. But there is poverty everywhere. It might be a different kind of poverty, but you’ll find it here too.” Initially, her words were like a cup of cold water thrown in the face of my zealous fervor. But as I mulled over what she said, I realized she was right. Somehow I had forgotten my roots.


“Are you Lindy Heath’s daughter?” I froze, immediately distracted from my task of pulling dollar bills out of my wallet. “Uh, yeah! Did you know him?” She immediately teared up, handing me the bouquet of flowers I had just purchased. “He was a regular here, always buying flowers for your mom or his coworkers. He never failed to ask me—by name—how I was doing. I miss seeing his smile around here.” It had been 8+ years since my dad had died.

The same week as my encounter with the florist, my younger sister had a similar experience. A coworker found out Cara’s maiden name was Heath and immediately asked her if she was Lindy’s daughter. This woman then told my sister that our dad had taught her eighth grade science class. She said, “Your dad was the only person who came to visit me in the hospital after I was in a serious car accident with my family. It was so many years ago now, but I will always remember that.”

My dad lived in the same town—the same house, even—for more than fifty years of his life. In that time, he took more than 10,000 trips to and from the local middle school where he worked. He memorized the names of thousands of students, and wrote hundreds of letters to coworkers. He invested in countless lives, impacting the world without ever leaving his corner of the globe. He stayed, his life a testimony of what Shannan Martin calls the “love song for the long haul.”


“Choosing to stay, at times, can be unhealthy or even impossible. Other times, it is obedient surrender, and we just have to stick it out until the good stuff begins.” —Shannan Martin, The Ministry of Ordinary Places

I had underestimated the power of staying. I think I will always have a restless bone in my body, a lust for adventure and change when life proves to be less than glamorous. I am still easily tempted by the lure of grand gestures of service and devotion. On many days, moving across the world feels easier than facing difficult coworkers or washing dishes at the local homeless shelter. A life of staying may not be sexy, but it can be powerful. This world needs more stayers, people who will put down roots and love their neighbors and community for years on end. People who will show up with a pot of soup after that grumpy neighbor has surgery. People like my friend June, who has faithfully swept the floors and cleaned out the fridge at the family shelter every Wednesday for years. People like my dad, who served quietly and gave generously for several decades of his life in my hometown. To my knowledge, there are no plaques that bear his name, no books written about his life. But his name is still on the lips and in the hearts of people who encountered him, even a decade after his death. His was a quiet love that tended to the wounds and longings of thousands. A love song for the long haul. 

Maybe you will find yourself traveling the world someday. Maybe you will have books written about you or find your name enshrined on a plaque or two. But maybe not. Maybe your life will simply be one of staying, of showing up for your neighbors and your family without acknowledgment or fanfare. Maybe the most difficult journey you will take is the one next door. If so, sing your love song loud. This world needs more stayers, and take it from me…you don’t need to move across the world to love big. 

So if you are like me, occasionally looking for an escape route or hoping for a more glamorous calling, maybe you will find this prayer helpful. I know I’ll be right here, trying to grow my roots while praying:

“Oh, Lord, remind us that what we really want is more of you. You show us what it means to remain where you have placed us with great purpose—in the rumble of the city, down a winding lane, in the cookie-cutter ‘burbs where pain might show up in less obvious ways, but is breathing hot down our necks all the same. Show us the real way of worship, and grant us the guts to belong to each other when it’s hardest. Teach us to walk in place, memorizing the lay of this unimpressive land and calling it good. Help us to hang on for the encore, where your best work often waits. Prone to wander, Lord, we feel it…You are here, tuning our hearts to endurance, teaching us a love song for the long haul. Help us to endure when we feel dog-tired. Have your way.” —Shannan Martin, The Ministry of Ordinary Places

Dear Body, Let’s Make Peace

Without fail, it seems like every January ushers in a fresh obsession with the latest fad diets, a more accentuated cultural pressure for women to take up less space in the world, and an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with the extra cellulite deposited over the course of holiday merriment with loved ones. Maybe I am just more aware of it because of what I am reading and who I am surrounding myself with (check out Hillary McBride’s book Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image), but it seems like every ad that meets my eyes these days has to do with weight loss or some other form of body “improvement.”

My relationship with my body is a complex one. She and I have been on quite a journey together, one that I suspect will continue until the day I cease to exist within her. I am just as vulnerable to the screaming messages of culture as the next woman, but I also find myself surrounded by women who are constantly teaching me to search for truth, to embrace my flaws and learn from them, and to stand up with confidence and invest in loving people rather than striving to impress the masses.

I write about mountains to be conquered, but today I want to stand up and say that my body is not one of those. And neither is yours. 

I wrote the following letter over a year ago. It feels vulnerable to share these words with you here, but I have also found that sometimes the most important and valuable words I can offer you are the ones I am afraid to say. Because chances are, if I’m afraid to say them, maybe someone else is too…and maybe by grabbing the mic first, I will give someone else the courage to say what she needs to say. So here I am, saying what feels vulnerable and scary but also honest and real.


Dear Body,

I think I have forgotten, ignored you.

I have treated you as Intruder, as a problem to be solved rather than Giver of Life, a strong solution to a world of problems.

I remember so clearly the day I thought you were wrong. I was a little girl, sitting in a bath with a friend, when she pointed out that my belly was bigger than hers. She probably did not cast judgment in that statement, but I felt in that moment like you were wrong. I was different, and this body of mine was abnormal. 

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I remember overhearing a man from church say that his wife “could certainly keep up her figure better,” but then excuse this apparently vile flaw by saying, “but she has so many other good qualities, like how she serves others.” So if my body cannot be desirable to a man, I have to make up for that with service?

My period came, and I was embarrassed. I did not feel like I could tell my mom what I needed, how my body was changing and rebelling, so I hid the blood. I couldn’t ask for feminine products. I couldn’t ask for anything I needed. 

I remember when I started forcing my body to fit the mold others made for it. The calorie counting, feeling so proud when I could restrict myself until my stomach ached with hunger. My mind would scream, “I will beat you into submission, Body!” and I would eat salad and sugar free popsicles. I was 13 years old.

Then I discovered a new form of tortuous delight…running. For the first time, I was watching the cellulite disappear and others began to comment on the rightness of my body. “Wow! You look good! You are so skinny!” So apparently it was true…I WAS wrong before. I was broken, and now I was skinny and right. My feet would obsessively pound the pavement. Thanksgiving dinner? Had to run five miles first. Weekend trip with a girlfriend? Six miles. I felt strong, in control. Beating my body to be what I and others desired made me feel so powerful. “Maybe now they will approve of you, Body” I thought.

I stopped starving myself. The pounds crept back on. Slowly, because I was still running. But then even that went away. A knife cut into my body and removed a diseased organ, but then I couldn’t run. Until I just didn’t. I started compensating. Maybe remembering the words of that man about his wife, I started finding ways to make myself invaluable to other people by serving and helping and doing whatever they wanted me to do. The ultimate pleaser. I kept exercising because they said I should, but I hated every minute of it.

There were the youth group conversations, the group discussions where the boys told us they imagined us naked when we wore wrong things and that was shameful. Yikes, so now my body was dangerous too. Cover it up! Then there were the private conversations, men who told me my shirt was too low-cut (my developing breasts were wrong too) or that my body odor was abhorrent (great, even my sweat is disgusting!).

I always noticed the girls who had boys chasing after them. “What do I have to do to my body to earn the desire of a guy?” I would think. After all, we do treat that as the pinnacle of womanhood…being desired by a man. 

Body, I have pretended you did not exist. I have misused you, spoken poorly about you, and sought to disown you. All the while, you have carried me, holding moments of joy and sorrow that no one else has known. You have held hands and hugged dear ones and walked miles and scooped up crying babes.

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YOU are strong. You have sat at the bedside of the dying and wiped away your father’s tears as he passed into the next life.

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You have carried the burdens of others and stored away secrets for friends.

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You have held the stress and tension my mind did not know how to process. YOU are not wrong, you are actually ME.

You are powerful and full of dreams and desires that can change lives and pathways and worlds. You are beautiful, the embodiment of ME: Comforter, friend, joy-bearer, life-speaker, team-builder. Your legs can climb mountains, your arms hoist giggling children up into the air. The cellulite you have tried so desperately at times to purge bears the energy required to be a creator of life. YOU are Woman. Beautiful, strong, ENOUGH.

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Hello, Body. I embrace you as you are, no longer despise you or your needs. You are MINE. Not someone else’s to control or mold into a caricature, but MINE. There are desires and needs to be uncovered in you and cradled so gently, not ignored or begrudgingly met in order to be pushed away.

And Woman…Yes, you who sit next to me and beside me and on the other side of this screen…Let’s make peace with our bodies, ok? Let’s celebrate all they are and all they have carried. Let’s discover what they need and crave, and gently tend to those desires. Let’s enter what you might even find to be uncharted waters, a space where we can declare to the world, “I am not wrong, I am everything right and good and powerful! I. Am. Woman.” Let’s do this together, okay?  For ourselves, for the women who came before us and the girls who will come after us. Let’s make a new way. 

Tenderly,

Abigail…ALL of me.

 

Entering 2019: Two Reminders For The Discouraged

I woke up this morning and struggled to get out of bed. Usually, I welcome the New Year with gusto. I savor the fresh start and look forward to turning over a new page in my blank calendar. I am one of those weirdos who finds great pleasure in selecting a “word for the year” and setting goals to accomplish over the next 12 months. But this year, for some reason, I am dreading the blank calendar page. 

2019 feels more daunting than welcoming.

The goals that loom before me, some I want to accomplish and some I need to check off, feel as massive as Everest.

I am overwhelmed, and when I am overwhelmed I would rather pull the covers over my head and delay the start of this day, month, and year by even just five minutes. 

Can anyone relate?

Questions and doubts swirl in my head.

  • What if I fail?
  • What if there are not enough resources to accomplish x, y, or z?
  • What if I disappoint so-and-so?
  • What if I arrive at December 2019 in the same exact mental/physical/financial place?
  • Or even worse, what if I lose more than I gain over the next 12 months?

When I give in to the insecurities and questions, I find myself paralyzed by doubt. And I lay in bed for far longer than I should.

As I finally threw the covers off and pulled myself out of bed this morning, I was taken back to my middle school days. There were many mornings of my junior high life that found me sitting next to my dad in the car and describing in great angst my dread of the day before me. His words? Every single time, without fail: “Just show up, Ab. Showing up is half the battle.” 

Just show up. One foot in front of the other. Eventually, those footsteps will take me up that mountain.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. These words, words I have taped to the back of my bedroom door, seem a fitting way to enter this New Year that I haven’t been even remotely eager to face. Maybe you will find these words a comfort as well:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

For those of you who, like me, are dreading 2019 more than cheering it into existence, I offer us two gentle reminders:

1. Just show up. As my dad always said, showing up is half the   battle.

2. “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” 

I may not jump out of bed tomorrow with eagerness, but I will throw off the covers and plant my feet on the ground. I will show up, and I will try to remember that there is beauty to be found in the suspense of incompleteness. There is beauty to be mined from the mountain that looms before me. Without knowing what mountain stands before you, I would guess that you will find beauty on your journey as well. So let’s commit to finding it, shall we? Even if we have to dig down deep. 

We don’t actually believe in community…but we need it

I don’t really remember, but I assume I was an utter wreck.

My dad had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I had dropped out of a college degree program I loved only a month after starting so I could be at home with my family. I remember feeling lost, like no one around me could possibly understand what I was experiencing. I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I’m sure I leaned quite a bit under that weight no matter where I was or what I was doing.

She and I, we would go to the gym under the pretense of “working out,” but then we would sit in the hot tub and talk for hours on end. She loved me well, even when I was at my worst. She knew I really just needed her to be WITH me, to sit beside me and try to understand that massive burden I was carrying on my back.

We don’t really want community. Sure, we say we do. We want the weekly dinners and laughter. We don’t want the brokenness or mess, though. Because true community means sitting through tears and agony and CHOOSING to carry that weight too. True community means financial and emotional risk. True community means no guarantees, other than that your heart will hurt at some point. True community is often inconvenient and always revealing of your deepest self. We don’t really want that kind of community. 

At the risk of sounding “political,” I honestly believe this is at the root of why we erect walls. This is why we are oftentimes more comfortable dropping money in the collection plate than we are sitting down beside that stranger on the street asking for money. This is why we plug in our earbuds on the plane instead of engaging the person sitting next to us. This is why we drive into our garages at the end of the day and close our doors to the world outside. We say we want community, but we don’t. We need it though.

At the heart of Advent is this deep, guttural cry of longing for a Savior who would love us enough to risk the mess of being WITH us. This God-man, Jesus, will always capture my heart and attention because of this mysterious, beautiful manifestation of divine love: Incarnation…the Word made flesh. 

Jesus put on a skin-suit heavy with the burden and brokenness of humanity.
He allowed himself to be inconvenienced by the unimportant.
He touched those who posed great risk to his health.
He cradled the annoying and called them precious.
He defended the weak, those who had no capability of repaying him.
He chose as his companions the dirty, unpopular, convicted, irreligious, obnoxious, despised.

He not only believed in true community, he embodied it. The messy kind, the kind that demands a life. And I believe he invites us into the same.

He invites us to be inconvenienced by the unimportant.
He invites us to touch those who pose great risk to our health.
He invites us to bring the annoying closer and mine their preciousness.
He invites us to advocate for the weak and those who will never be able to repay us.
He invites us to choose our companions among the dirty, unpopular, convicted, irreligious, obnoxious, and despised.

He invites us into true community, because he knows that ultimately, it is we who need to be saved and transformed. I am the one who needs to be rescued…Rescued from misplaced priorities. Saved from my own selfishness and pride. Liberated from fear of the unknown and misunderstood. I desperately need a Savior, and he resides with and inside those I so often avoid. 

We don’t want true community, but oh do we so desperately need it. Thankfully, we have a Savior who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood…a Savior who longs to be with us even at our worst, and invites us to do the same for each other. 

Photo credit Lauren Koleff

Exciting announcement…and a fun gift!

It’s Friday, it’s Friday! As we head into the weekend, I have an exciting announcement and giveaway! This coming Monday, I will be sending out my very first #MiningThisMountain newsletter. This will be a fun way for my blog readers to receive exclusive content in their inbox once a month. AND…anyone who signs up to receive the newsletter before this Sunday will also receive a beautiful digital print from the amazing Ahni Art. Printed and framed, this would make a perfect Christmas gift…or a wonderful addition to your own wall 😉

To sign up for the newsletter and become eligible to receive this gift, visit the link below and fill out the form. Happy Friday, friends!

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A New Kind of “Evangelism”: Being and Becoming a Safe Place

We had only just met when I moved across the country. He was a little bundle of squishy, squealing preciousness. I spent one week with him, breathing in that new baby smell and trying to memorize all his perfect little features. And then I moved. I have visited him a few times since then, but periodic face-to-face interactions and monthly phone calls are not really sufficient to build trust with a toddler. Last week, I scooped him up and squealed his name, and he hit me in the face. Blood relations don’t carry much meaning with little ones, apparently 😉 It was very clear to me who his “safe people” are. You know, those people he will run to when he gets hurt or tired or hungry. Those people he will melt into and cuddle.

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I have “safe people” too: People I will cry with, complain to, or turn to for advice. People I will “melt” into…a safe haven where I can just breathe deep and be wholly myself. Some of these people are family by blood, but some are people who have earned my trust and affection over time. I would imagine that you know who your “safe people” are too.

Ultimately, we all need that safe haven, don’t we? I believe that is what the Divine longs to be for us. Deuteronomy 32 paints this beautiful image of God being like a mother eagle caring for her young: “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” I have watched this beautiful dance unfold between so many parents and their children…this dance of trust. Think about the countless hours a mama spends feeding, rocking, and cooing at her babe. Thousands and thousands of moments that add up to this pivotal bond of attachment and trust.

In my work context, I see the effects of a void overtaking the place of this “safe person”: Anger, resentment, indiscriminate affection and sexual promiscuity, inappropriate attention seeking behaviors, violence and resistance to others’ attempts at connection… So much brokenness. We are hardwired to need a “safe person,” and to develop that bond over countless hours of connection and trust-building. We are hardwired to crave a safe haven, and our human relationships are so often the very best way we understand how the Divine relates to us. It goes without saying, then, that there are a lot of people wandering this planet with a broken understanding of the Divine’s nurturing tenderness. People who have been broken and discarded by other human beings. People who have had weak bonds of trust shattered again and again until they have given up even trying to forge relationships at all. So how do we help someone understand the nurturing tenderness of the Divine toward humanity? How do we invite others into the nest of this Mother Eagle tending her young?

I have thought a lot about this, and I think the answer is that we become the safe place. The only way to help an abandoned child learn the attachment dance is to go back to the beginning…to recreate those thousands of moments of connection, of faithfully meeting tangible physical needs. I wonder if it’s not the same with mirroring the love of the Divine to humanity. We become the safe place…we learn how to nurture and defend others. We develop practices of face-to-face connection with those we are called to care for and love. We earn the trust of others through hours of time spent being WITH them and meeting physical needs. We listen well. When we encompass this kind of nurturing tenderness, I believe we point those around us to a deeper reality. We become the hands and feet of Jesus….and the sheltering wings of the Divine. Humanity is desperate for this nurturing tenderness, to be cradled and protected from the darkness all around us.

I had a hand painted wooden sign hanging over the door frame in my Indiana house. It proclaimed these words: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). My prayer was that the little white house would become a refuge and haven for all who would enter beneath that door frame. I no longer own that little house, but I have come to believe that people can be a refuge and haven too.

May we be and become the safe spaces where the weary and burdened find rest and renewal…a taste of the Divine. 

Guest Post: #MyYearOfGratitude

Today holds the last guest post in this gratitude series, and you do not want to miss it! I have the privilege of introducing you to my incredible friend, Kathy. Kathy and I met when I was a student in her high school creative writing class. What a semester that was! I still consider Kathy to be one of the most influential people in my life, and I think you will see why. She exudes strength, humor, and joy in the face of immense challenges. When you are with her, she has this way of making you feel like the most important person to walk the earth. She has made me laugh when I didn’t think I could laugh again, infused hope into my life when my tank was empty, and given me some of the most thoughtful gifts that have left me feeling seen and loved. Kathy’s words feel like the perfect way to end this series. I hope you soak them up and share them with others.


“Beauty is possible in the storms, in spite of the storms, sometimes even because of the storms.”

On January 1, 2018, I posted the first of what will be 365 #MyYearOfGratitude tweets, taking me through every month, every week, and every day of 2018. The discipline of proclaiming daily gratitude has been at times simple and at other times daunting. I have both resented the obligation and found solace in it. I have fought to keep the tweets real, for myself rather than for my followers, yet I’ve been touched deeply when my tweets were both personal and also meaningful to others. Fitting that bit of gratitude into 280 characters was additionally challenging. Still, I knew It was what I needed to do after a physically, emotionally, and spiritually difficult 2017.

Some of my tweets highlight my life as a blind person working with a guide dog.

  • Yesterday, I walked out of four buildings with Nacho guiding me and no sighted assistance. You who do this daily, don’t overlook the gift of independence. Knowing you can find a door means you can walk through it to anywhere and do anything.
  • Big lab, big job, big brain, big head, big muscles, big paws… Still tiptoes like a big ninny when traversing rain-soaked parking lots!

Others include sweet encounters with children in the classes of new elementary school teachers whom I mentor.

  • A kindergartner said, “Nacho is loving on you.” Definition of loving on someone: The Choice to display love through deliberate actions meant to let others know they matter. Decide to love on someone today. It is so needed.
  • To the child who confidently sings the alphabet song three notes ahead of your peers, you will learn to harmonize one day and will enjoy it, but even then, don’t stop being your own bold self! I hear you.

Some of my favorite tweets feature moments of mindfulness and contemplation.

  • In the chill of crisp autumn air, I hear distant church bells ring. For these moments when I am still enough in body and spirit to notice, I am grateful.
  • I just witnessed wind chimes chiming not because of wind but because of rain. Beauty is possible in the storms, in spite of the storms, sometimes even because of the storms.

Not every tweet is joyful. I believe I have grown the most when capturing pain.

  • Ugg, sometimes it’s hard. Can we be honest about that? Sometimes it’s hard to be OK or stay OK. That’s when we lean against those blessed pillars in our lives, until we can stand tall again and be a pillar ourselves.
  • I lift him from the car. His brittle fur, depleted muscles, and seemingly hollow bones weigh as little as a much smaller dog. He struggles at first then stills. I hold him, remembering. Aging is taking him…but not yet. There is still time to love him.

In every tweet, I have discovered more about myself, my world, and My God. And because of that, I am grateful yet again.

  • My best speeches, lessons, and heart-to-heart conversations include at least several moments when I have almost out-of-body experiences, listening to myself be wiser and better than I actually am. Praise God for such unexpected perspective.
  • When the week ends and there is nothing left in my reserves, I hope…and I believe…that somewhere in the chaos, I did some good for someone.

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Kathy Nimmer is the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year and finalist for National Teacher of the Year. She teaches writing at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, mentors new teachers throughout her district, and is a frequent motivational speaker. Kathy is blind from a rare degenerative retinal disease. Faith in God has been her light in the darkness. You can follow her at: twitter.com/Kathy_nimmer.
And, I (Abigail) will add, Kathy is my friend 🙂

Guest post: God Moments

Today’s guest post is brought to you by one of my favorite people in the world…my little brother! Josiah has been my buddy for as long as I can remember. He has the most tender, compassionate heart…Kind of amazing considering what he has walked through. I asked Jo to write for us because I am always so blessed by his perspective. I love his suggestion to us today to be seeking out “God moments.” What’s your God moment today?


“Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep climbing toward the top of
the mountain. But keep your eyes up along the journey and look for the immense beauty that surrounds you.” 

So I’ll be honest: I have never written a blog post of any kind nor am I slightly
qualified to write a post for the blog of the most gifted writer I know. Yikes. Here
goes nothing.

Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday. Most importantly, it means that my
favorite holiday, Christmas, is about a month away. Secondary to that, it is a season
where I intentionally consider the blessings in my life. When I was thinking about
what to write, it struck me that too often we wait for holidays, anniversaries,
birthdays, or other major events to focus on and express gratitude in our lives. How
different would our world look if we all tried to live our daily lives marked by
gratitude?

Maybe this is a rudimentary concept that you have heard before and have mastered
already. Teach me? My wife and I recently moved into her parents’ home after living
with my mom for six months. We are in a season of limbo while we wait on some
direction and don’t want to commit to a lease when we aren’t sure where we’ll end
up. We had a ‘boundaries’ talk with Anna’s parents and the two of her younger
siblings that still live at home. When asked what she needed from us, my 13-year old
sister-in-law said she wanted me to smile more. Seriously? At the time we all
laughed the request off, but her words have stuck with me ever since. I have so
much to be thankful for, so why is it so easy to get distracted by the ‘meh moments’
in life?

I don’t want to discount the fact that the holidays, and life in general, can be difficult for a lot of people. The world around us so often seems to be falling apart. Having a grateful attitude for the roof over our head or the family at home won’t make hardships disappear or depression vanish. Finding glory in the mundane is not the medicine for the plagues of violence, sickness, and poverty that have infected the lives of so many people. However, I think if we can pursue a heart of daily gratitude, then maybe (and that’s a BIG maybe), we can be part of the solution.

One of the greatest benefits of finding moments of gratitude in life’s routine is being able to identify what I like to call “God moments.” For me, my most frequent God moments are occurrences in nature: a breathtaking sunset, a pair of deer gallivanting through a cornfield, or a magnificent thunderstorm all leave me awestruck at God’s majesty. Like I said, these God moments don’t alleviate depression, end gun violence, stop natural disasters, or squash any of the countless issues that permeate today’s society or our personal lives. These God moments, however, provide me with something so powerful: hope. A hope that one day there will be a world without all of the pain and the suffering. Hope that we can work toward that world today by being kind to one another and looking out for our neighbors.

So yes, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep climbing toward the top of
the mountain. But keep your eyes up along the journey and look for the immense
beauty that surrounds you.


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Because I’m his sister, I can post any picture of us that I want to 😉 Circa 2012. Josiah is married to Anna, dog dad to Bear, and little brother of the Heath clan. He is best known for winning ALL the games in the Heath household, always being up for family time or a movie with his sister, carrying most of the “smart” Heath genes, and having a beautiful heart for people. I’M thankful I get to claim him as my brother 🙂

I Think I’m Dying Here But Let’s Keep Going…And Other Forms of Gratitude

We had been climbing for at least two hours. And I don’t mean just leisurely walking uphill…this was the kind of “hike” that leaves you huffing and puffing and counting steps. Our directions told us we should almost be at the top, but there was not even a hint of blue sky anywhere around. My legs screamed and my lungs groaned.

“Should we stop for lunch?” My friend asked. Really, the question we were all wanting to ask was, “Will this ever freaking end?”

“No,” I said. “We should be there soon, right? Let’s just keep going and have lunch at the top.”

My friends slowed down to eat huckleberries along the dirt path. I pressed on, determined to bring a swift end to this torture. Not fifteen minutes down the path, though, I heard the crunching leaves that indicated some other insane person had also decided this would be an enjoyable weekend pastime. I saw two women approach…surely those goofy grins were masking their exhaustion and sheer fatigue. 

“How much further?” I asked. Just around this bend. Please say it is just around this bend. 

“Um, what time did you start?”

Not the response I was hoping for. Inward groan.

“About three hours ago, I think.”

“Probably about another two hours then. It’s really worth it!”

I thanked them, even as my inner groan turned into inner weeping. Two more hours?! I was already thinking about rhabdomyolysis, a diagnosis I had learned about in nursing school. What more would it take for my muscles to just explode?

We had a decision to make.


Have you ever reached the end of yourself? Found yourself asking if you could survive, wake up another day? There have been few times in my life when I have seriously asked those questions. One was on a mountain a couple months ago. (Truly. Call me a pansy or whatever will make you feel better about yourself, but it. was. real. Ha!).

One was the day I found out my dad was dying. 

There are so many details about that day that will remain forever etched in my brain. It’s almost like everything slowed to a crawl, just so I could watch a terrible tsunami swallow me whole.

That day, standing in my dorm room listening to my mom recount over the phone the details of a scourge eating my dad’s pancreas, I knew I had a choice.

That day, standing on the side of that mountain with two even more excruciating hours of climbing ahead of me, I knew I had a choice.

One step forward? Or do I sit down and end it all?

Sometimes gratitude looks like putting one foot on the ground in front of you and thanking God you are still standing. Sometimes, gratitude sounds less like a nicety and more like a plea for strength, grace, or whatever it is that will get you through another day.

Sometimes gratitude is a groan, a guttural cry that acknowledges you are still here, still alive and breathing oxygen on this tired planet.

Today, a week before the national holiday that will no doubt be consumed with food and family and “thankful” exercises we only practice once a year, I want you to know something: If all you can muster this year is a groan, a plea, a cry for help…that is enough. Choosing to put one foot on the ground in front of you? I think there is a special kind of gratitude in that courageous decision. A gratitude that says, “I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And one day I will remember to celebrate even this one step.”

We did reach the top of that mountain.

(I couldn’t walk for four days).

My dad did succumb to that silent killer.

(And I still miss him every day).

I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And today I celebrate the groans and single steps and I-guess-let’s-keep-goings that brought me to today.

Keep breathing, my friend. To do so is a fierce resistance, the deepest and truest form of gratitude.

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Guest Post: Choosing Gratitude

Our guest writer this week is a dear friend who has walked through an incredible amount of pain and brokenness (both mine and hers) with me. Our stories intersected nearly 15 years ago…I was a naive teenager, she the young mom to twin baby boys. Her husband was deployed at the time, so I would go over to her house most days after school and spend several hours with her and the babies. I always say that Susan taught me how to have fun. When I met her, Susan’s life was not easy. And yet, she knew even then how to find joy and silliness amidst the pain and difficulty. Today, I get to share my friend’s words with you! You will be so blessed by her raw, real perspective. She has practiced the “sacrifice of praise” through incredible challenges and seemingly insurmountable mountains, a vitally important lesson I am still learning from her.


“Gratitude like this is fought for….you have to cry out – lament – rage.  You join the psalmist saying “how long, O Lord” and then end your prayer in praise.”

I remember it like it was yesterday. Walking in our neighborhood at Fort Carson and needing to make a choice. I could either decide that God was exactly who I said I believed He was and admit that He was in control of my life despite the devastation I felt or I could throw away a lifetime of faith and say that there was no god – and life would just happen in a series of random events.

My husband was being deployed. Again. His contract was being extended so they could send him back to Iraq, just weeks after the birth of our daughter. The birth that had been wrought with complications, leaving me with a heart condition that made it difficult to stand, let alone care for my 2.5 year old twins and my newborn. If ever there was a time for God to step in, this was it.

My study of the Bible told me that God was in control and that He was sovereign over all. The God who parted the Red Sea, raised Lazarus from the dead and was preparing a place for me in heaven could in fact change my circumstances. But He didn’t.

As a person with chronic depression, this was only the first of many times that I had to acknowledge that believing in and worshiping the God of the bible meant that I could not look to my life as a barometer of God’s love and provision. My viewpoint was simply too limited. In a static moment in time, I couldn’t see all the ways He was moving on my behalf. I couldn’t anticipate the lessons I would learn. I couldn’t imagine the mercies He would show. Belief is faith. As an extension, gratitude is also faith.

Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” was an anchor for my soul during those months of his deployment. She sings, “We’ll give thanks to You with gratitude, for lessons learned in how to trust in You. That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream, in abundance or in need and if You never grant us peace….but, Jesus, would You please….

Her song captured my heart then and continues to move in me today. We are challenged to live a life of gratitude even if we never experience peace in this world. When my depression crushes my soul and I cannot face the day, I can respond in gratitude. When my needs for love and compassion go unmet, I can respond in gratitude. When my plans are stripped away and my future is uncertain, I can respond in gratitude.

Gratitude like this cannot be modeled after the kid who says “thank you” when given a cookie. Gratitude like this is fought for….you have to cry out – lament – rage.  You join the psalmist saying “how long, O Lord” and then end your prayer in praise. You join the martyrs saying, “My God can save me, but even if He does not…”. You join generations of Christians who put their hope beyond what they could see. Gratitude like this can only come when we experience the presence of God deeper than the perceived reality surrounding us.

I wish I could say I was there…but I’m not. Instead, I trust in the mercy of my Father who watches over me as I throw my fits and give into despair and then experience His healing hands, time and time again, as He reminds me that He is who He says He is – no matter how I feel. And for that, I am eternally grateful.


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What can I tell you about Susan? I could tell you that she is a super smart engineer/professor who will be graduating with her PhD in something crazy-over-my-head in just a couple months. I could tell you that she is wife to David and mom to three (almost) teenagers. I could tell you that she loves to travel and do fun, spontaneous things. OR I could tell you that she is the most faithful friend, she loves giving gifts, she is the BEST roadtrip buddy, and she mightttt have some interesting stories about dog ownership.