Thursday, December 3, 2015

Joy and Thanksgiving

I have loads of pictures snapped from last week's Thanksgiving just waiting to find their place in a post, but in all honesty, I've been coming up dry every time I sit to write.  I think this has a lot to do with all the other writing I've been doing this semester, projects and deadlines that have been consuming a large space in my life especially this last month.  Yesterday, I turned in five 2-inch binders filled to the brim with artifacts and reflections that have documented the last six years of my life as a tenure track faculty member at UNI.  This is my tenure year, a big milestone I have worked so hard on and have been preparing these materials since this summer.  It's been a long, tedious, and mind-numbing process to sift through hundreds of documents, but rewarding to pull it all together in one place and finally delete emails that have been sitting in my inbox for six years.

And later this week, I give a final presentation in a class that has been stretching me in ways I wasn't quite prepared for this semester.  At the same time I've been working on tenure, I've also been working through a research project and writing weekly article critiques in my Inquiry I class.  The workload has been extensive and downright brutal at times, but has taught me just what I'm capable of.  I've got a 55-page paper that is just one step in a direction towards a dissertation, and I now feel more confident to keep plugging through this doctorate and finish with a hood over my head.  

As Thanksgiving came and went this past week, I was well aware that I have much to be thankful for.  But at the same time, it seemed I was dwelling in all the wrong places.  Instead of focusing on what I was getting accomplished, I was caught up in all the things that weren't getting done.  Instead of seeing the good in my present, I was quick to point out things that weren't meeting my expectations.  I was negative, quick to get upset with the kids, and mopey.  Sunday, especially, was supposed to be a sweet and simple day to decorate our tree, and all I was seeing was imperfect ornament placements and dead batteries.  I let my bad attitude take precedent over the joy in watching Cruz wanting to help.  Definitely not the picture I had in my mind for how I wanted the experience to go and I had no one to blame but myself.  

Thankfully so, today is only the third of December, and I have plenty of time to turn this train around.  Tuesday night, I was invited to join a group of amazing women for an Advent dinner at Orchard Hill Church.  For a few hours on this regular Tuesday night, we had the chance to put the Christmas lists aside, take some deep breaths, eat wonderful food and sing carols, and set our compasses in the right direction as we head into this advent season.  What a perfect concept.

The night focused on Jesus as an embodiment of joy and a giver of grace.  In the Bible, Jesus is described as a bridegroom who waits for his bride, and he delights in us for all we are, imperfections and sin and all.  This undeserving picture of his love is grace, and it exists all around us, in the everyday blessings and pictures of love we only need to open our eyes and hearts to receive.  And the more we are able to recognize these pictures of grace that exist every day, the more gratitude we will feel.  And, the more gratitude we recognized, the more joy we will experience in return.  It sounds so easy, because we have a God who takes great pleasure in filling our world with pictures of his grace.  But as simple as it sounds, I so often need a reminder of this, especially as we head into this holiday season.  It's so very easy to get caught up in a materialized, commercialized picture of Christmas, and completely miss the grace that came to us that night in a manger.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

This month, I am choosing to fill this feed with short, simple, but important snippets of grace, gratitude, and joy I want to recognize and remember about this holiday season.  It's a homework assignment that will bring me joy and also allow me room to focus on my present and enjoy this much needed break with my little elves.  And, room to read something other than qualitative research.  I've got a stack of books just waiting to inspire me and I will be on a quest to find time to curl up in front of the fire and get lost in a good book.  

Happy Advent.  Praying for grace, gratitude, and joy to fill your hearts and homes this month.  

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