Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thirteen Moments for Gratitude

"There are years that ask questions and there are years that answer." - Zora Neale Hurston

This was most definitely a year that asked questions. In so many ways, 2013 was an uphill climb. Things that seemed stable got upended. I found myself in tremendous shifts in relationships and calling. If I were to look back and give this year a name, it would be "hard." I'm eager for the emotional reset button that the new year brings. 

But one of my most important lessons of this year has been to develop a practice of gratitude, even in the midst of sorrow and difficulty. There has been beauty and there has been joy in this year, too. And I’d like to share thirteen highlights from 2013 with you, presented in no particular order. 

1.    J and I celebrated our 11th anniversary this year...in the middle of Disney World on an adventure with the kiddos. We wouldn't have had it any other way. Disney is a special place for us and we love the fun, imagination, and joy it inspires. We took a whirlwind tour of each of the four parks, blissfully taking in the rides, shows, treats, and characters.

2.    At the end of the summer our kids hosted their own art show. All (rainy) summer long, the kids painted, drew, stitched. The house was covered with artwork in preparation for their show. This was pretty fun in and of itself. But the best part of the plan was that it was a benefit for a refugee neighborhood called Birchcroft that our church supports. The kids worked so hard because they had a goal in mind...to raise as much as they could for Birchcroft. On a sunny afternoon in August, many visitors came to our back yard to enjoy the art and company. And by evening, the kids had raised enough for a family to have groceries for a month. They were thrilled and J and I were so proud. 

3.    In March, we did something we almost never do...we took a spontaneous road trip. J and I had visited Savannah last winter and had fallen in love. On a Friday afternoon, I texted J and said, "let's go somewhere, anywhere." A visit to expedia.com and few hours later, we were flying down I-77, kids in tow, headed south. We had an amazing weekend in Savannah, eating delicious food, checking out gardens and park squares, visiting art shops, and looking for dolphins in the bay. 

4.    I traveled to Arizona in October for a weeklong training retreat with Holy Yoga. While there, I had an opportunity to teach yoga for the group of developmentally disabled teens and adults who worked in the dining hall at the retreat center. (Several of the other retreat participants took part, too). It was one of the most fulfilling and holy experiences of my life, knitting together so many pieces of my past and my heart. Click here for a video snapshot.

5.    In July, my longtime friend Kim and I did something crazy. We invited 20 kids (including our own) to come to a day camp with us. Kim is the founder of Natural Wonders Play Studio. Natural Wonders is a child-friendly, sensory rich play experience that utilizes natural materials to develop and expand kids’ imaginations and creativity. In a word, it is amazing. We paired Kids’ Holy Yoga with Natural Wonders and found the two to be like peanut butter and jelly--they are good alone, but even better together! Camp week was hands down the most exhausting but rewarding week of the summer.

6.    Twice this year I got to see my oldest child pursue her dream of being a real-deal ballerina. She dances at Open Door Studios (the most amazing dance school ever, IMHO) and was invited to participate in two productions: Peter and the Wolf in March and Grinch in December. She played a butterfly and a mouse, respectively. To see my somewhat shy girl simply shine on stage were a few of those moments I think of when I remember the verse where it says that Mary, mother of Jesus, treasured “these things” in her heart.

7.    What an amazing day it was when my girls decided to get baptized! I was so encouraged to watch them choose to make this public declaration of their love for Jesus! 

8.   This fall I co-led a virtual (web-based) training for Kids’ Holy Yoga with my soul-sister, Rachel. We trained 23 women to become ambassadors for Jesus through prayerful and playful movement for kids ages 2-12. In the process, we discovered more about what it means to be a child of God ourselves. It was a rich experience to travel this sacred ground with these ladies and I can’t wait for our next session in 2014. (Curious? Click here for more info).

9.    In so many ways, this year for me was about Brene Brown. Just in case you haven’t heard of her, Brene Brown is a social work professor at the University of Houston who studies shame and vulnerability. I first heard her speak on OnBeing and then watched her TED talks. I watched them again and again. And again. I picked up her most recent book, Daring Greatly, and spent much of the spring reading it and discussing it over coffee with my friend Tracey. I then read her second book, The Gifts of Imperfection. And then I re-read it and then read it again. In August I read Brene’s first book, I Thought It Was Just Me, But It Isn’t. Good stuff.
There’s too much to say in a little snapshot about how this woman’s work—and really God through her work—has impacted me this year. What I will say is that if you haven’t watched her TED talks, for the love, please stop reading my blog post and go listen to that instead. J

10.  I belong to an amazing church. I mean, really amazing. Renovatus isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we claim it--we’re a church for people under renovation. (And, really, isn’t that all of us?) 
And more than just belonging to an amazing church, I am blessed to be part of what we are pretty certain is the best small group in this church. This year brought us the opportunity to dig in deep with each other, to put the rubber to the road in terms of life in Christian community. I am so grateful to have shared many meals, tears, laughter, stories, prayers, hopes and dreams with this bunch. Love you all so much.

11.  On November 3rd, I thought my heart might burst open (in a good way). My love got up in front of the whole church and gave an incredible sermon. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve heard him preach many times before and I was with him while he went to seminary to get his Master of Divinity a decade ago. But there has been a season of many years where J didn’t preach/teach/speak at all. There are reasons and stories behind that that aren’t mine to tell, but I can tell you that I’ve missed hearing the voice of God uniquely expressed through my husband. And on that Sunday in November, I saw a long-dormant gifting in this man come to life again. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks as my soul rejoiced in God’s ability to bring a story full circle. (If you want to listen, click here and scroll down to the sermon called Crooked Paths).

12.  In September I had the sweet privilege of coordinating a 3rd annual Holy Yoga Women’s retreat. Together with four other leaders and 35 participants, we explored the idea of finding “beauty from ashes” as we dug into Isaiah 61. This was a lovely weekend full of cleansing tears, holy laughter, reunions of Holy Yoga family and deep soul healing. What a gift.

13.  Every year since 2006, we’ve spent a week in the late summer in Holden Beach, NC. We started going with one other family, and through the last eight years, we’ve added several more families along the way. One we literally picked up on the beach—they were staying a few houses down, we struck up a conversation because they had a cute baby—we’ve never let them go since and they’ve become some of our dearest friends.
We rent a row of houses, throw up a couple of sun tents, and spend a week together reading, jumping in the waves, sharing bags of snacks, digging for crabs, building sand castles, chatting the days away, enjoying beverages into the sunset. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this week and the people I get to share it with.

The thing about a practice of gratitude is that it brings you perspective. I look at the broad arc of 2013 and call it hard. But when I zero in on these specific experiences, I call it sweet. I call it full. I call it rich. So, thank you, 2013. Thank you for the ways you pruned and refined me, and for the ways you blessed me.

Happy New Year, y’all. Thanks for reading. xo

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