17 Thanks for Thanksgiving 2017

I usually blog on Wednesdays, but I had a roller coaster of a week. On Monday I got some amazingly good, exciting, hard-to-believe, shout from the rooftops news. I was singing around my house and walking on air.

On Tuesday I had a meeting about something that had been in the works for months, and it unexpectedly fell through. I'd had my own misgivings, but losing this opportunity caused me to feel some loss of future financial security, as well as frustration with myself for not seeing the problems sooner, and not acting on the misgivings I did have. That evening we hosted out of town relatives, I picked up my brother at the airport at midnight, spent the night roiled inside my own head about my future and what I'd done wrong, all the while not forgetting the immense, unexpected joy of Monday.

Wednesday morning we packed up and made the drive to Ben's parents' house in Kansas City, Mo., for a wonderful, just-what-I-needed big family Thanksgiving. I slept, ran outside, continued occasionally to berate myself in my head and alternately be scared about a more uncertain future, and then I ate a huge Thanksgiving meal full of brisket (a KC Thanksgiving special, amazing), cheesy corn, and all the things I love about being here for Thanksgiving. I then did my customary afternoon of sinking deep into my in-laws' living room couch for a few hours, texted with a few faraway-but-close-in-spirit friends, and connected with the God who has never, ever, ever left me - even when the intense highs and devastating lows hit right after one another.

In that spirit, as I sit here surrounded by family who loves me and accepts me just as I am, I am feeling grateful for a God who knows and loves me even more than I can even comprehend. So I want to give thanks. Here, in no particular order, are 17 Thanks for Thanksgiving 2017. And maybe a few more. Maybe we'll make it a running list. And we'll have some fun. I'll try to avoid the cliches.


17. Bruce Springsteen, his song "Badlands"  and his book Born to Run

I heard The Boss in concert at the Super Bowl in 2009, and I wrote my high school graduation essay using lyrics from "Born to Run," so it's safe to say I'm a fan. As a writer, and someone who always feels a bit out of step with 'normal' society, I always feel an intrinsic connection to artists and musicians. I've been reading Bruce's book, and in the roller coaster of my week I remembered how broke he was while writing and recording one of the best albums in rock history, Born to Run. He lived for a time in the hallway of a surfboard factory, never owned a car much less a home as he tried to become a musician. As a creative person trying to make a living in an unconventional way, the highs are high and the lows are low. In the past couple of days, as I internalize everything that's been happening in my own creative and vocational journey, I've been listening to "Badlands" on repeat. Here are some of the lyrics that have been speaking to my heart: 

Talk about a dream,
Try to make it real
You wake up in the night,
With a fear so real,
You spend your life waiting,
For a moment that just don't come,
Well, don't waste your time waiting,

Well, I believe in the love that you gave me,
I believe in the faith that can save me,
I believe in the hope and I pray,
That someday it may raise me
Above these badlands

16. The most perfect Thanksgiving weather, soft grass, and a sidewalk in Kansas - my adopted family, the Denkers and Reagans, and the way Ben's family has always loved and accepted me in a way that makes me feel so comfortable and loved

It was 60 today and brilliantly sunny as we shared Thanksgiving together at Ben's aunt's house in Kansas. The kids jumped outside and we sat around a fire pit, watching cousins laugh and play together, warming my body and my heart. Earlier in the day, overwhelmed by pulsating music, a spin bike whose seat kept sticking at the wrong height, and all the emotion and lack of sleep from the past few days, I sprinted out of a spin class Ben and I had signed up for as a pre-Thanksgiving workout. 

I was panting, breathing heavy, and I just needed to run. Thankfully there was a sidewalk path stretching across an open prairie just next to the health club. I hadn't intended on running, but I slipped my phone into my pocket, blasted "Badlands," and I just kept going. The clear air filled my lungs and God was in the sky and in the sun and I knew that I was connected to something more than just my pitiable, miserable-at-the-moment self. There was a bigger world outside of bills and stress and anxiety and possibility and rejection. Eventually I walked off the path and onto the grass and lay on my back and looked at the sky. Its brilliance was bright, hopeful and forgiving. 

15. McDonalds Double Cheeseburger

I used to eat from McDonalds Dollar Menu fairly regularly, especially when I worked as a sportswriter in Florida. I know all the truths about processed food and how awful it is for you, and so I hadn't been there in probably six years until Wednesday night. 

I grew up at a time when McDonalds was totally normal. 39-cent cones on Sundays were a typical treat. But as I've gotten older, and I've lived in pretty affluent neighborhoods, all of a sudden I've found myself embracing some sort of elitist notions without meaning to. You don't intend on this but it creeps in, with all the good intentions of health and good schools and being responsible and being a good parent and everything.

But when you slept 2 hours the night before, racked by panic about finances and the future, and you've been driving for 7 hours, and your kids are hungry and you're in northern Missouri, and really you're hungry, too ... you eat McDonalds and you're grateful it's there. We actually packed a lunch for the road of bread ends and PB&J, but that value menu double cheeseburger for dinner was strangely comforting. You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

14. The way Ben looks at me sometimes, wordlessly, and without words I know I am loved beyond the deepest depths. The way he looks at me with tenderness and ferocity all at once, without guile, without deception, with only pure love, love that would work and die and fight and endure.

13. When Josh comes to me at random times during the day, longing to be held, and leans his head against my shoulder and we reconnect - as if he needs this reminder and security that I am here. I remember doing this with him in California when I'd pick him up from his daycare provider's house at the end of the day. He'd lean in as if yes, we are together again and all is right in the world. Then he's off to races.

12. When Jake - my old soul - begins to grasp pieces of what's happening in the broader world, and asks questions, and cares. When he prays for me with the faith and sincerity of a child who knows and trusts he is loved. When we remember our church in California together, and he makes me giggle so we don't get too sad about the ones we miss there.

11. Being a Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda, Calif. I'm not there any longer, because Ben and I were called back to Minneapolis for his job opportunity, and for a chance to put down roots close to my parents and close(r) to Ben's parents. I didn't anticipate leaving Messiah so quickly, but God had other plans for our family. When I think about Messiah, what I remember most are the Spirit-filled people who touched my life - and who will always be in our hearts. Between Jake's preschool and my job, he and I were deeply intertwined every day with the church and preschool. I am thankful today for all I learned. For a pastoral partnership with Pastor Bob Mooney and a friendship that I know he and I will always be glad to share. For so many friends, staff members, and church members who taught me how it feels to just live into the Spirit - and to feel that Holy Spirit carrying us at so many points during our time in California. Being a pastor at Messiah shaped my ability not only to be a pastor, but to be a public prophet, a mom and a wife, and a messenger for Jesus in 2017.

10. The quiet way my dad is always there for me when I need him. My dad came over alone this week to help with the boys on Monday while I had a big meeting (my mom was teaching). When he walked in, nonchalant as always, wearing workout clothes, I was reminded of all the times he'd walked into my life - nonchalant - to carry me from one transition to another. I remembered when he drove to my apartment in Kansas in 2007, to drive with me all the way to Naples, Fla., where I'd begin my first post-college sportswriting job. I never imagined he wouldn't do it. My dad doesn't really like to talk about feelings too much, and it's hard for him to know what to do when my brother and I are upset. But he's always there, as dads can be in a unique way, to bring us from Point A to Point B. Now that we're back in Minnesota, I'm reminded of his steadfastness, and I'm so grateful.

9. Being an adult daughter to an incredible mom. My mom and I have always been maybe overly close. When I left for college, we had a hard time figuring out how to transition from a slightly helicopter-parent-ish relationship to an adult relationship. I was hard on her. We were so similar in so many ways, and yet different in key ways, and we didn't always know how to communicate. She processed everything out loud, and I turned away, internal, locked inside myself, and frustrated by her seeming ability to have everything figured out immediately, while I was more ambivalent about life, and human potential.

A mom myself now, I stopped seeing my mom as this idealized version of the perfect person, while at the same time we worked on cutting each other a little more slack, and bending to each other's unique communication styles. I love our walks around Lake Harriet and through our new neighborhood. I love the joyful way my boys greet her when she comes over. I love the way she picks out new library books for them every time they come to her house. I love that I know she isn't perfect, and I also know I don't have to be perfect anymore either. We just love each other.

8. The pride and closeness I feel to my brother Kevin, and knowing he feels the same way. I was over the moon to hear my parents were having a baby when I was 5, and 26 years later, I feel pretty much the same way. Now my brother is a middle school principal living on the South Side of Chicago. We don't get to see each other much, and even phone calls are tough. But we'd do anything for each other. The loyalty - and the love - runs deep. 

7. Old friends. Being back in Minnesota, I've connected to friends I've had for 20+ years. It's powerful to be closer for these key moments of our adult lives. One of my friends just had a baby this week. I got her text and picture of her new baby the morning after I'd slept 2 hours, racked by anxiety over my lost opportunity on Tuesday. For a few moments, though, as I stared at her new baby - the anxiety and worry I felt over my own life melted away, as I was enveloped with joy for my friend and this new life that had just come into her world. There is no joy like pure joy for friends, void of envy, bitterness or fear.

6. New friends. I have met a few women in my new city who are moms of friends to Jake and Josh. I love that we can connect through our kids, and because we live close to each other, we can sometimes see each other more than I can see my friends I've known for years. I'm thankful that we're never too old to make new friends, and I'm thankful for the memories I've already shared with my Minneapolis/Edina mom friends. You bring joy to my everyday!

5. My growing creative community. Sometimes in the church, which tends to attract traditional, conservative personality types, it can be hard to make connections as a creative, free-spirited type person. Here in Minneapolis, where Lutheran churches skew pretty traditional, I sometimes wonder - where might I fit? But then I realize, as I did this week, that I am surrounded by this awesome, growing creative community. It reminds me of the cloud of witnesses the writer of Hebrews exults in Chapter 12. I've been so blessed by my friends who work in the arts: my (almost) lifelong friend Lyz, who is an artist and balancing adjunct professor jobs with art shows and grants; my friends in academia, my fellow Christian writer friends, the activists, prophets and preachers I've met through Red Letter Christians, my fellow Lutheran creatives. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. That being a Pastor doesn't look the same for everyone. That God doesn't want me to stay inside a box that someone else created for me. That the unpredictability, alternate prestige and financial hardship, fanfare and hatred that goes with being a (somewhat) public person is worth it - because God is calling me to this very position, and I am never alone in it.

4. My freelance writing and speaking. Part of our family's goal when leaving Messiah was that I'd rekindle my freelance writing career. As I look back at the past few months, and all the freelance opportunities in speaking and writing that have come my way, I have to be astounded at what God has made possible. I have written several magazine articles. I was published in the Washington Post. I appeared on national Canadian (CBC) News. I am working for a publisher writing Sunday School curriculum. I have multiple book proposals at various stages. God has opened so many doors in what has for me always been a calling. I even get to be the keynote speaker at an upcoming women's retreat. And I taught workshops for preachers in October. When I fret about not being in a traditional pastoral call, I remember that this was exactly the opportunity I was seeking - and God is making it happen, even if it is unpredictable and hard at times - I think I am right where God wants me to be.

3. Preschool and Pre-K drop offs and pick ups. My mom schedule right now is rough. Jake is in Pre-K Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Josh is in preschool from 9-12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This means I have roughly from 10:15-12:45 twice a week to work totally uninterrupted. Not a whole lot of time - and the days I pick up Josh at 12, rush home for lunch, and rush out to get Jake by 1 are hectic to say the least. But as I drive up our leafy street, and when I see my boys' faces light up when they see me, I know that for me right now - it is worth it. This time together, and the time they get together building their brother relationship - it's so incredibly worth it.

2. Lifetime Fitness. We have a gym membership again. Ben and I sometimes get to work out together on weeknights or weekends while Jake and Josh play in their (awesome) child center/children's gym. I can clear my head and think of blog ideas while walking the track, as it's too cold to walk or run outside right now. I worked at Lifetime from age 14-20 (home from college in the summer). It has always been a comforting place for me. Sometimes, the gym is my church - where I go to reconnect with God in the focus of physical activity.

1. Indoor Tennis. This isn't #1 in importance. But it's pretty darn fun. And as a parent of two little boys, trying to create a new freelance speaking and writing career from scratch, who just moved across the country six months ago ... if you have time for pure fun ... you take it and you're thankful for it. Ben and I LOVE playing tennis together. Since he tore his ACL five years ago, it's our new basketball (we met playing pick-up basketball). Now that it's too cold to play outside, we've found ways to twice play indoor tennis in the past two weeks. If you go at "off peak" times, it's $18 for an hour. We made that possible by asking my parents for free babysitting, and making dinner at home all week. We even made sack lunches and stopped at Lifetime in Des Moines to play tennis together halfway to Missouri. It's SO fun. Fun is important. Don't forget to have fun.


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