I used to be a huge journal junkie.
Soft covers, hard covers, moleskins and tiny notebooks, baby notecards and giant sketch pads. All my unkempt feelings and exploding rants held together with firm bindings and acid-free paper. I had a collection so big you could have glued them together and made a DIY hipster coffee table.
A statement piece.
Look at all those words! Smashed together under our craft beers and giant plates of hummus! Let’s spin some hipster vinyl right now, because hey man, we’re contemplating the mystery planted beneath that giant slab of vintage glass! I wonder what is IN those pages, man.
I’ll tell you. Handwritten monologues filled with the minutia of my banal suburban life. Rants about my neighbors, what my daughter refused to eat at breakfast, the difficulty of parenthood, the loneliness of marriage, and all the bad sex we weren’t having. Small house problems and big house problems, and all my unfiltered angst in ALL CAPS.
My whole life documented with sharpie pens and rollerballs and dull pencils depending on my mood.
It was exhausting. Literally.
Maybe it was therapeutic. A place to dump everything and take it out of my brain, piece by piece, to make room for new things to take root.
Or maybe I was just farming the same land over and over, planting the bitter moments far and wide until there was an entire forest with nothing but tragedy.
Until one day, I quit.
I quit writing it down. I quit hashing it out. I quit sliding my dull pencil across those pages in the holy name of introspection.
Instead, I put the latest half-filled book into an overflowing box filled with other journals, cleared my nightstand and went to sleep.
And it felt like Freedom.
Woke up the next day, made fresh coffee, walked out the front door and slow-jogged the circle. The fresh morning air, the cool spring sun on my face, it was enough. For the first time in a while, I was feeling the world around me without thinking about it.
I’d become so self-evolved that I was just self-absorbed. Thinking about me and my sad feelings, ruminating my life and my problems over and over. For years.
Then I got into the gratitude business.
Because gratitude is one of the best ways to establish a life-giving story, instead of a life-stealing story. Gratitude protects us from slipping into despair, from tending our fears and anxieties.
Life doesn’t stop. But you get to decide where to shine the spotlight.
It’s about building your story, creating a history for the future you.
You get to write, direct, and edit your own life story. Track the moments that are beautiful in your day. Catalog the laughter and the relief, your friend’s text, your daughter’s funny story, the food on the table at dinner, the green grass beneath your feet, the warm sun on your face, fresh towels in the bathroom.
You get to decide what ends up on the big screen, and what ends up on the cutting room floor.
After a full day of broken people and difficult coworkers and true loves walking on and off your set; after all the messy scenes and beautiful scenes and straight up horror scenes, you get to decide how your story rolls out.
I started small. Just a few bullet points, no sentences allowed. No reflection. No insights. It forced me to find moments that were indisputable gifts.
- Amazing tacos for dinner
- Hiked the hill with T.
- Rocky chasing squirrels
- Clean sheets, omg
Other days were harder. Like the morning my mom passed away last February, me and my daughter in New York, catching our flight home at dawn. Tears falling in a packed plane full of strangers.
- Final breath this morning
- Fresh fallen snow for miles
- Blue skies, clear sunrise
- Free from suffering
- Uber driver, celebrating his kids
- Me and H, homebound
This has been a tough year by most counts. But I’ve got this collection of beautiful moments — ones that remind me of laughter, and beauty, and celebrations, and so much goodness in my own life that it screams victory. It’s a library full of courage for the dark days.
That’s the beauty of building your own Gratitude Story. Soon you’ll have page after page reminding you that your friends came through, that God showed up, and that even though you spent last Saturday crying on the laundry room floor, some people happen to think you are downright spectacular.
It’s right there. In writing.
Being 17 is ridiculous and stupid and brilliant and heartbreaking.
It’s wearing too-short skirts and baggy flannels over tube tops. It’s heavy eyeliner and going to Indie concerts, it’s ghosting that mean girl on snapchat, and crying for weeks because your boyfriend broke up with you anyway. It’s hating your hair and loving Netflix, twelve hours straight. It’s making a profile on Tinder and deleting it three hours later because your best friend’s brother swiped right. Creeper.
Midnight in San Francisco, and I’m sitting in my over-sized suburban SUV, parked in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Waiting.
Hannah is inside with her friends, crunching or grinding, or whatever it is they do these days, screaming loud for a band called 1975.
She’s 17, my little girl.
Doors swing open and hundreds of fans spill onto the street. Drunk people, scantily clad people, dancing people, making-out people, all kinds of young people parading into the city streets, squeezing onto sidewalks and into cars. Heading home.
Hannah and her friends, they get into my car, smelling like weed and cigarettes, and that concert sweat that glistens from all-night dancing in the pit. Eyeliner smeared and smoky, all of them laughing and story-telling so loud it hurts my menopausal bones.
This is the Best Part of Parenting.
OMG they were so a-mazing OMG that song tho I just can’t OMG! Windows down, freeway rush, blasting their smartphones with tinny-sounding replays, all of them singing at the top of their lungs.
And suddenly it feels like every other carpool run. Swim practice, dance auditions, late night sleepovers. Listening in on who they are becoming, hands on the wheel, don’t say a word.
And somehow, sitting next to me, she is 17, and 16, and 15…
She is 14, walking invisible with her super-neutral backpack into freshman year
She is 12, dancing ballet in the Nutcracker for the first time, beaming
She is 9, celebrating big with her Amazing Race Birthday party, feeling cool
She is 8, screaming out tears, body folding into herself, mom and dad splitting up
She is 6, carving pumpkins over piles of old newspaper, up to her shoulders in pulp and seeds
She is 5, stomping into Kindergarten with her bright red cowboy boots, and Minnie Mouse lunchbox
She is 3, tripping on the asphalt in her salt water taffy sandals, knocking loose her two front teeth
She is 1, scrunched up on my lap with her old-man face, and a furrowed brow, still bald at 12 months.
17 years, smashed together so fast it hurts.
Because these moments are far and few between for me now. My daughters drive themselves most places. Show up home and they’ve already eaten dinner with friends. They tell me when they’re out of shampoo. Out of gas. Out of chia seeds and almond milk, because sometimes they’re vegan.
Now, I’m the filler-upper.
Turns out, this is what parenting feels like for most of the teenage years. They push through the front door with their worries and excitements and frustrations, or a whole lot of don’t talk to me . . . Ever.
Being 17 is coming home depleted, exhausted from trying on the world, learning who they want to become. They take everything they’ve got and spend it all, in random places with unpredictable people.
So at 50, I get primed and pumped with an afternoon nap and a double espresso so I can do the midnight pickup shift. I drive them to wherever. I pay attention when they walk in the front door. I keep making street tacos for dinner, with fresh guacamole and chips so we can sit around the table together and talk about anything.
Being a parent is showing up and standing calm, ready to be their filler-upper.
So don’t give up. You’ve already survived thousands of sleepless nights, a living room full of fisher-price plastic furniture, endless hours of ER drama and broken bones, middle-school hygiene arguments, and everyone’s period on the same damn week. Keep going. This is family.
Here’s to you and me, and filling up our 17’s and our 3’s and all the love in between. To late pickups in the city, chocolate cake after midnight, and always saying yes to carpool.
If you’re anything like me, you like your coffee with heavy cream, your margaritas on the rocks, and the last six months feels like a permanent lock-in on a Tilt-A-Whirl Carnival Ride in a bad Jodie Foster film from the 70’s, and the kid next to you keeps throwing up in your hair.
Charlottesville to Barcelona to Boston to Phoenix.
TiKI torches are reclaiming their brand.
Tina Fey is eating sheet cake.
Everyone from Teen Vogue to Good Housekeeping is bleeding political commentary, and my Twitter addiction is escalating.
Here’s what I’m learning about myself:
If staying informed isn’t helping me love others, it isn’t helping.
Last week, I spent the day with my mom who will be 78 next month. She has lost her ability to read, to remember things, to sustain a conversation. She had a stroke 7 months ago, and I still can’t begin to understand the day-to-day adjustments my dad has had to make. Married over 50 years, this is love.
So, while our nation is pushing further and further into crisis, we took slow walks and talked about the weather. Repeatedly. We swept the patio, we cooked small meals and washed the dishes. We trimmed our nails and watched a pair of red dragonflies chase each other across the pond. We drove into town to share burgers and fries. We sat in the sun and complained about the heat.
The day was slow and seemingly inconsequential.
Because this is love in the mini-plains of our nation.
It is in our homes and in classrooms and in grocery stores; it’s in office break rooms and board rooms; it’s on the road letting others go first, making meals for friends who are weary, reading stories to our children so they can rest against our bodies and know they are safe.
Shock and disbelief aren’t the endgame. Mourning and repentance, anger and outrage, self-righteous indignation, these can’t sustain the hours of the day.
Isaiah 58 says it’s not about wearing sackcloth and ashes, it’s not about placing our face to the ground; it’s about rising up and working on behalf of the poor, the broken, the hungry, the oppressed. If you pray, pray before the dawn hits the sky. If you fast, fast quietly and show up ready to work.
Wherever you scroll: Twitter. CNN. Fox. NPR. SNL. Facebook. Washington Post. New York Times. Snapchat. MSNBC. Wall Street Journal. The Daily Show. TMZ. BBC. No matter.
I need to let it go. Or use it to love better. To listen to voices that aren’t mine, to pay attention to the vulnerabilities and fears and injustice across state lines. To learn how to stand up and step out, how to show up on behalf of others.
So let’s block out time this weekend to rest. To snuggle up and watch a film that makes you laugh, to lighten the pressure, to make pancakes in the morning while the sunrise brings hope. To show up on Monday, ready to love.
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice . . . to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood…”