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Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: The Problem of Good Things

Today’s Thankful Thursdays guest post comes from my friend, Meredith. Meredith is one of the people who most motivates me to keep on writing, who makes me believe that we’re doing something worthwhile here. I’ve had Meredith share here before about her experiences with purity culture, sex, and marriage and I’ve been able to guest post for her as well. It’s always an honor for me to share her words. As someone who also struggles with depression and anxiety myself, I loved this beautiful piece that looks with both honesty and hope about the power of gratitude and joy, even when it does not come easily. 

Flickr Creative Commons: John Lodder

Flickr Creative Commons: John Lodder

The Problem of Good Things

The spring caught me off guard again with its explosions of pink and boughs hung low with purple blossoms. I never remember the way sidewalks can smell like walking through a bath and body works (with the exception of those flowering trees that smell like dead fish, those are the worst).

In a new house, you never quite know what potential flora hibernates in your lawn until the spring comes. The scrappy lawn of our rental house surprised me with lilac bushes in front, a few burnt out tulips struggling through weeds at the side of the house, and even some grape hyacinths like the ones next to the raspberry bushes at my childhood home.

Best of all, a patch of violets grew in our backyard, a wild and wonderful spray of purple flowers large enough to lie in. I imagined a quintessentially hipster moment where I would retire to the violet patch wearing a linen dress with my hair wrapped in a braid around my head. Drew could bring me lemonade with a sprig of lavender and a striped paper straw bobbing in the ice.

The violets reminded me of carefree days when yard boundaries weren’t prohibitive, and I came home with grass stains on the knees of jeans and the circle marks of dandelion stems speckling my shirt. Violets made wonderful flower crowns and handfuls could easily form bouquets to hand to mothers or neighbor ladies.

But busyness set in, and every day I’d walk past the violets with a growing sense of anxiety. I feared the lawn mowers of the landscapers, the heat of the sun, and anything else that would take away the violet patch. I stopped enjoying the flowers and started fretting for them. The lilacs in the front bloomed for only a day or two, then stood with bare branches with only a few leftover buds hinting at their former glory.

I developed a sense of cynicism toward the Magnolia and the dogwood trees; I wondered at the worth of planting such things of beauty in your lawn to flower for a week out of the year or less.

Flickr Creative Commons: Kikasz

Flickr Creative Commons: Kikasz

Each day when I came home, I checked the patch of violets, daring them to last another day. No sooner would a bloom appear than I’d be predicting its death, cursing the way good things slipped through my fingers and dropped their blossoms before I had a chance to enjoy them.

I frame many good things in my life this way; I immediately wonder when and how they will disappear. I do this with the love in my marriage, my parents health, and even the small blessings of the day to day.

Living with depression, sometimes there are days of amazing clarity where I feel awake and able. But soon enough, the sun sets, and the spell is broken. With enough of these days of jubilee under my belt, I rarely enjoy them anymore. Their goodness taunts me, and reminds me to fret for a tomorrow when the weight of the world will come back.

Opening myself to joy is risky like placing a big target sign on my back, hit me with your best shot; I’m happy, I’m relaxed, I’m confident, the flowers are blooming. I imagine a set of universal scales that must balance out eventually. If the universe heaps a job promotion and remission for mom’s cancer on the good side, I’m sure the article I submitted will not be published and there will be little chance of my improv show going well.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown calls this superstitious way of thinking “foreboding joy.” Its the sense that joy is rigged, that something’s gotta give. But shutting out the good based on its predicted transience means not enjoying the wild patch of violets, means leaving the walls of our rental bare, and missing connections with people who pass through my life for an instant.

I don’t want to live this way.

So how do I respond, when joy comes for a minute, for a week, not even long enough to take a picture?

Brene Brown says this, “…the shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us.”

I am on a mission to bless the temporary, to baptize the instant with significance. I want to seek the Lord where he may be found and dance in the yard while the violets still bloom. I want to plant gardens of risk though I am an exile in this place and to seek out the Joshua Trees, waiting expectantly for their time to blossom.

Flickr Creative Commons: Christopher Michel

Flickr Creative Commons: Christopher Michel

And even when the blossoms fall into carpets of petals, I long to wait with open hands for the beauty of the other seasons, stark cardinals on snowy backgrounds and trees catching fire in the autumn.

Perhaps the transience of the violets makes them even more beautiful. I thought I had learned long ago that I cannot subsist only on a diet of sweet things, but today I am learning again to take on a posture of gratefulness instead of trying to hold the flowers too tightly, crushing them in my clenched fists.

Dith Bazolli small for web-33-2Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer  living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday. You can find her online at Veryrevealing.com or follow her on Twitter @MeredithBazzoli

Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer  living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday.

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Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Gratitude in a Nutshell

I first connected with Kelsey through my infamous Relevant article last summer, but it wasn’t until I wrote this post about friendship and social anxiety that we really got to talking. We have SO MUCH in common, both personality-wise and in terms of our experiences with the church and with faith. Although we’ve never met in person, I count Kelsey among my real-life friends because she is a true kindred spirit. She is also a terrific writer and you should read more of her posts over at her blog.  This post was, frankly, humbling for me. I hope you let it impact your heart, too.

Gratitude in a Nutshell

The intensity of the California heat felt jarring to our Washingtonian weather sensibilities and sunburned noses as we stood in line at California Adventure. There were Mickey ears and Disney shirts as far as the eye could see and horror-movie-quality screams kept floating through the air from the direction of Tower of Terror. But I wouldn’t have been able to scream if I’d wanted.

My throat was feeling restricted, as if a man had wrapped a giant, strong hand around my neck and was beginning to squeeze. Choking, suffocating. The clock was ticking, and every second counted. If we didn’t act quickly I could go into anaphylactic shock; if we didn’t act quickly … I could die.

My soon-to-be husband knelt by the bench I was sitting on as if he was proposing, but instead of a ring he was wielding an Epi-Pen. He called 911 and we waited anxiously knowing that if the epinephrine wore off before the medics arrived that the reaction would return in full force.

But soon the medics were running through the park. Soon I was lying in a bed at the ER, where I stayed until midnight.

I hadn’t noticed it until it was too late, but a woman next to me in line had opened a jar of peanut butter because her little kids wanted a snack. I hadn’t seen it, so I hadn’t had time to get away.

This is what life with anaphylaxis can look like. Everything is going along, business as usual, and the next moment someone’s jabbing you with an Epi-Pen and the medics are taking you on an exclusive ride, minus all the Disney characters, in the direction of the nearest hospital.

Even though I have an officially recognized disability, it’s invisible. So I look perfectly normal. But my life is defined by something people can’t automatically spot the first time they meet me the way they’d notice a wheelchair or a seeing-eye dog. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less present.

Like other disabilities, mine impacts, restricts, and defines every day of my life from choosing a new purse based solely on its Epi-Pen carrying potential to avoiding visits to most movie theaters and coffee shops because of the peanut-y treats that are served; from insuring my phone’s battery never gets too low so I always have the ability to call the medics should I need them to the very awkward introductions that go along with making a new acquaintance: “Hello. My name is Kelsey and if you eat peanuts next to me you could kill me. If I ever go into anaphylactic shock, if you could please use my Epi-Pen and call 911 immediately I’d really appreciate it. It’s so nice to meet you.”

After developing anaphylaxis after graduating from high school, there’s been a lot of grief, frustration, anger, and loss that have been a part of coming to terms of what living with a life-threatening invisible disability means. And for me gratitude — not some overly-perky silver lining kind of thing but the acknowledgement that there are still things to be thankful for — is what more than anything helps to pull me out of bouts of depression and enables me to enjoy my life even though it’s not what I planned.

I used to think of gratitude as a “but.” For example, “I live with a life-threatening disability … but I have a family who loves me so it’s okay!”  But I’m learning that, at least for me, gratitude isn’t a “but.” It’s really more of an “and.” Gratitude doesn’t negate problems or make things magically all better. Instead, it helps keep things in perspective: I live with a life-threatening disability and I have a very supportive family.

I hate having to ask for help with things like grocery shopping. And when peanuts are in season I can’t set foot in several of the stores in town. It makes me feel so much less independent and less like an adult. However, I’m also grateful for my husband and mom who are both willing to help out as much as needed when I can’t take care of something myself. I feel frustrated that I’m less independent and I’m also thankful I have support.

I can feel depressed or even angry that I have to deal with this, while also feeling grateful that I live in an age when there are life-saving inventions like Epi-Pens. I’m thankful for my doctor who helps me brainstorm about how to do things like go on vacation as safely as possible.

I feel so isolated from the world at large sometimes. And I’m also thankful for blogging because it gives me a community. I can interact with people all over the world; I can make friends and share life without ever having to worry about what someone next to us might be eating. For me, this is huge.

It can be challenging for me to make new face-to-face friends. And I’m also so very thankful for the ones I have. I’m thankful for the friends who have learned how to use my Epi-Pen so they’ll be prepared for an emergency. I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to be flexible about where we hang out or de-peanut their houses so that I can visit. I’m thankful for a friend of mine who is about to get married and ensured that not a single thing on the menu has peanuts because she wanted me to be able to come. It’s harder for me to meet people because so many things center around food and I’m also blessed with some extremely supportive people in my life.

I feel upset with my grandpa who uninvited me from family Thanksgivings and Christmases at his house because he likes to feed the squirrels peanuts. He keeps a very large bag of peanuts next to the dining room table, and was afraid the squirrels wouldn’t enjoy something else so I was uninvited. And I’m also thankful for my in-laws. They made their house completely peanut-free so that I can stop by anytime I want without having to call first to see if they’ve had anything with peanuts that day. I’m thankful that they’ve made sure every holiday dish is Kelsey-safe. I’m hurt by how my grandpa has handled my anaphylaxis and I’m grateful for my in-laws.

I feel grief and loss over my career dreams. During an interview my first questions would be, “Where do people eat? Is it possible for me to completely avoid where they eat? Does anyone ever bring peanut butter cookies to work? What about candy? PB and Js?” The hubby and I realized that a usual 9 am to 5 pm gig wasn’t safe for me. And there’s still grief associated with that loss. And I’m also so thankful that my husband’s top priority is keeping me safe, so he’s fine with us being a one-income family or me working from home even though that means we’ll have to be more frugal.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, and heartbroken; it’s hard to be grateful. But choosing to see the people and things in my life that make my life fuller, more beautiful, safer, and happier helps me to live. Gratitude isn’t a magic formula that makes everything perfect or happy or easy, but being grateful helps me to focus on the good and to keep a more balanced view of my own life. Gratitude doesn’t negate the negative but it helps me to not lose sight of the fact that there are some positive ands in there, too. Life is hard sometimes and it’s also beautiful.

***

Hey Guys – It’s Lily here again. I just wanted to take a second to say that after reading this I was convicted to be more mindful about the foods I choose to eat in large public places. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and the number of children with serious food allergies has doubled in the past decade. While I can’t possibly anticipate allergies in every person I come into contact with, there are a few things (such as peanuts and tree nuts) that are pretty easily avoided when in public that might make a big difference for someone else. One of my roommates from college suffered from debilitating chronic migraines that were often triggered by scents. It took some diligence, and I still forgot sometimes, but choosing to forgo the scented lotion or to paint my nails outside were barely noticeable sacrifices compared with the benefit to my roommate. Just something for all of us to consider as we seek to love the world around us well.

Kelsey bioAuthor Bio: Kelsey Munger is native Washingtonian who overuses hyphens, and is still undecided on her stance regarding the Oxford comma. When she’s not blogging, she enjoys reading about food, faith, feminism, and thanatology (but not necessarily in that order). Also loves fiction, a nice hot cup of tea, and marathoning too much TV with her nerdy husband. You can find her at KelseyMunger.com or on Twitter @KelseyLMunger.

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Gratefulness – The Journey

It’s that time for Thankful Thursdays again! I created this guest series partly as a way to help new writers gain experience as well as a way to appreciate the diversity of my readers and to learn from their different perspectives. Today’s post comes from Jackie, a young aspiring writer in NYC. I really appreciated this post for showing that we can be thankful not only for things we have and gifts we’ve been given, but also for the blessing of our own ability to change and to grow.

Gratefulness: The Journey

I was incredibly honored to be considered for a guest post on someone else’s blog. “Thankful Thursdays” is a concept I am excited to be a part of and I was very anxious to share my point of view. My first interaction with Lily was through another post about a similar idea so I was excited to share my thoughts with her and with the followers on her blog.

As I do with any good news I receive I told my girlfriend. She is usually the person I celebrate victories with so I informed her of the good news and arrogantly stated how suited I would be for this guest post because I practice being grateful so often.

“Let’s not get crazy, I think you’re about 50% of the way,” my girlfriend stated honestly. I was annoyed by her response. How could she put in a pinhole in my excitement about blogging and working with other bloggers? I immediately went on the defense.

Going on the defense made me reflect on the role that gratitude and joy had in my life. Was I doing enough? Was I really digging deeper into the experiences and gestures around me and truly appreciating what I have been given? I found myself incredibly lost in thought.

I have always found direction in writing about what I know. Writing provides structure for my thought process. I started writing about my current transition into financial and personal independence. I am taking over the rent and utility bills for my parents’ apartment while they make their transition into their first time as home owners. Independence is a lot of new territory for me to explore and I quickly realized that I may not be practicing being grateful as much as I thought I was.

While I am far from blind to the big blessings in my journey towards independence, I find myself realizing just how grateful I am for small things –from something as simple as a home cooked meal from my mother to something large like the luxury of not paying rent for a few more months. Reflecting on my personal growth into adulthood has opened my eyes to see that being thankful isn’t just about counting your blessings. I find that being grateful and appreciating the growth inside of me has become part of my journey.

The saying, “You never know what you have til it’s gone” has been truly appropriate for me. The slow losses of luxuries I’ve always known have opened my eyes to how precious they actually are and I see both the practice and concept of embracing life’s blessings as a part of the journey.

There is always room for improvement. There is always something that you might be missing. Counting your blessings might seem obvious, but feeling them deeply could take a lifetime with each life experience giving you more perspective. Maybe it’s my desire for perfection or to be a better version of myself each day, but this journey is what counts for me.

Image Credit: weheartit.com

Image Credit: weheartit.com

About the Author:

My aspirations of becoming a writer seem to be never ending. I’m 26 trying to navigate my way through life using my blog as the outlet to tell my story and feed this dream that won’t seem to go away despite reality. Follow my journey at https://talesfromtheanxietyridden.wordpress.com/.

Sacred Spaces: A Very Revealing Guest Post

One of the cool things about blogging is connecting with other people who “speak your language.” For me these are often people from different parts of the world who I would never have known existed if it wasn’t for blogging. Some of the people I feel most connected to are people I’ve never met in person. But a few of my good blogging friends are actually people I knew in the past as acquaintances and only truly connected with them years later through writing.

Sometimes these relationships make me feel a sense of loss over the missed opportunity to spend time with that person when we were in the same place, but they also makes me thankful that it’s not too late to know them now.  Meredith is on of those people for me. Meredith and I went to Wheaton College together. We had a few classes together. We were even on the newspaper staff together for a while. But we never really got to know each other. Fast forward four years to Meredith starting her blog Very Revealing. As soon as I started reading her blog all I could think was, “Why were we not best friends in college? I adore her!”

Over the past year or so we’ve gotten to know one another better and have been able to encourage one another with our respective writing goals. Meredith wrote a great piece for my Sex and the Church series in the fall and today I have the great honor of sharing a guest post about unexpected sacred spaces over at her blog.

If you know me, it probably won’t surprise you to know that I wrote about the most sacred place I know of- Disneyworld. Here’s a little excerpt for you:

“I’m not a runner. Actually, I’m not anything even remotely athletic. In fact, I don’t think I’d done any exercise whatspever for about a year when my best friend (also not a runner) asked me if I wanted to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon with her. None of that stopped me from immediately saying yes.”

Read the rest of this post here and check out some of Meredith’s work while you are there! I promise you won’t be disappointed!

PS – I will be skipping my usual Friday Book Chat this week since this post falls on a Friday. But I will be back with a new book-related post next week!

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Finding the Joy (Losing the Judgement)

It’s that time for Thankful Thursday again! Are you excited? Because I’m excited! I connected with Rox Nicholl through the wonderful world of blogging and I think she’s just a lovely soul. I really enjoyed this post, especially the connection she draws between more joy and less judgment. This post reminded me that being thankful for one small thing can be powerful in itself. What one small thing are you thankful for today?

It was going to be brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you. Sparkly, witty, thought-provoking and funny, and all wrapped up with a glittery bow that would leave a smile on your face. Brilliant. And by “it”, I am referring to this particular guest post. I had been thinking about it for two weeks, without the opportunity to put a thought down (Little Person was on holiday, so there simply was no space to do anything except look after her and make sure the house didn’t explode). Thankfulness. Find the joy, lose the judgement. It was going to be brilliant.

And then I fell ill. My throat turned into some red, raw monster of slime. Food turned to glass as soon as I tried to swallow. For a week, it was all I could do to fetch Little Person from school and hide under a blanket on the sofa while I watched her play. Thankfulness? What thankfulness? Joy? What joy?

But here’s the thing. I have been learning about thankfulness – specifically how true thankfulness comes from a place of joy. And joy cannot occupy the same space as judgement. I hadn’t been aiming to find joy, I had been aiming to lose the judgement. Specifically, I’d been trying to learn to stop myself from saying all sorts of nasty things about the people driving the cars I share the roads with on a regular basis. So instead of “look at that idiot driving so dangerously”, I was trying “that driver seems to be in a rush. I hope that he isn’t late for his meeting.” After a little effort, I began to notice people that were driving well, and I noticed I was a more relaxed driver too.

So I decided on a wider application. Finding the joy in the every day. Daffodils bobbing on the wind. Little Person’s smile when I picked her up from school. The Dude taking care of the entire bedtime routine, even though he had been at work the whole day. A freezer full of food that could just be slapped in the oven at a moment’s notice (got to love fish fingers and chips). A friend who dropped by with a portion of (homemade!) soup to soothe my throat and then skedaddled off so I could rest. Maybe not a thousand things to be grateful for, but sometimes, real appreciation for two or three small things means so much more.

So even though I wasn’t overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness as the germs were doing battle for my body (status report: the body has fought back and is currently launching an offensive that should see us to victory), I was more thankful than I had ever had reason to think I would be. So often, when I am ill and I am laid low, guilt follows on the heels of pain. I haven’t done the laundry. I’m not cooking good enough food. I’m leaving The Dude to do all the work, and abandoning Little Person in front of the television. Bad mother. Bad wife. Bad person. (Am I the only one to do this to myself, as though it’s not enough to feel bad physically, I have to feel bad mentally too?) But not this time. This time, it was alright for me to not do these things. I could just rest and trust The Dude to take care of it. Not brilliant, but good enough.

It’s so easy to think of thankfulness as this big, bright gem of a thing, something grand to aspire to. It’s so easy to think that we have to be thankful for everything, and find big profound lessons to be grateful for within every life experience. But maybe gratitude is just an attitude that says, I’m going to notice the smallest tiniest thing that can give me joy, and be thankful for that.

Maybe it’s the joy that makes it brilliant, after all.

About the Author:

I blog about the lessons I find in the every day – being a wife to The Dude, mother to Little Person, a stranger in a strange land (I’m a South African living in North East England, which is the bit you never hear about), pretending to own a cat. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, or doing crochet. Or avoiding the laundry pile. My current Secret Project is a novel that addresses the question of what happens when faith and fear collide. You can find me at www.roxnicholl.wordpress.com or follow me @roxnicholl (Twitter/Instagram)