Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Gratitude Challenge

I am grateful for what I am and have.  My thanksgiving is perpetual.
Henry David Thoreau

A while back (oh say a year  ago!) I was invited by my BFF Eileen to do the "gratitude challenge" on FaceBook.  You know, where for seven days you post things that you're grateful for.  So yes, a year has gone by and I still haven't done it.  Not because I'm not grateful.  Good Heavens, quite the opposite.  But every time I started to post something, I found myself writing paragraphs about each thing and wanting to include pictures of the many blessings in my life.  FaceBook just didn't seem like the right mode to express my gratitude.  And so I didn't do it.

After reading the writings of Thoreau with my students and realizing I was complicating everything in my life, I decided to "simplify, simplify, simplify."  That, along with a recent series of events, so life changing and powerful, has me revisiting  this gratitude challenge with a new perspective.  It started with . . .

My mom

I am so lucky to have my 87 year old mom.  She is my lifeline, my friend, my traveling buddy, my confidant, and I would be lost without her.  Recently, we had a scare that was just way too close for comfort.  Mom's heartrate dropped dangerously low, without our knowing it.  We finally learned, after taking her to a cardiologist, that her heart was only beating at 30 beats per minute.  He said she needed a pacemaker. Now.  That day.  Within three hours of her initial appointment, she was in surgery, and in the nick of time.  Her heart actually stopped beating during the surgery, but because the pacemaker was in place, they were able to get it started again.  Within 24 hours, she was home, feeling better than she had in months.   I've never said so many Our Fathers or Hail Marys in my life--before, during, and after this scare, and I've never felt the power of prayer so strongly.  My own prayers, my family's and my friends'.  In addition to the power of prayer, the power of family rallying together with love and support was unbelievable.  Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews--love so strong and healing.
My mom--less than 24 hours after heart surgery (left) and 2 months after that

Lucy Mae

The tiniest  royal baby in the Thompson family arrived one day after my birthday, and she has us all wrapped around her little, and I mean little, finger.  Lucy Mae Rischling was born to my niece Jill and her husband Todd on November 7,  six weeks before her official due date of December 16. (You can read all about this miracle HERE.)  When I found out that Jill was going to the hospital, I immediately began the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, praying for God and Mary and all the angels in our family to take care of Jill and to protect this baby.  Lucy arrived safely and weighed in at a whopping 3 pounds, 8 ounces when she was born.  Needless to say, she spent some time in the NICU in order to put on a few pounds and fill those little lungs out.  But for being 6 weeks early, she is amazing.  Oh, and November 7 happens to be my Grandma Emily's birthday.  Did I mention that Jill Emily is named after Grandma?  No coincidence there, just another Angel Kiss from above.
Lucy Mae--doing just fine almost one year later!

The BIG 6 - 0

Yeh, I had a big birthday last year.  I wasn't really thinking about turning 60, but in retrospect, I spent much of October in a bit of a gloomy fog.  As November 6th grew nearer, I started feeling a little depressed.  I really just wanted this birthday to come and go quickly with no one noticing that I had turned another year older.  However, my family and friends had other plans.  While I was in Lincoln for fall break, my family had been working behind the scenes to surprise me with a party.  I was attending the Nebraska football game with some family members, and when we returned to my brother's house,  I was greeted with balloons, a pink tiara and boa, shouts of happy birthday, and lots of hugs from everyone.  My sister made a video montage and a Cheryl trivia game to top the evening off.  I was overwhelmed beyond words, and it wasn't until late that night that the emotion caught up with me.  I was overwhelmed again on the actual day of my birthday when I received three bouquets of flowers from the absolute best friends a girl could possibly have.  And just to keep the party going, we celebrated a final time at Elway's with my Colorado family.  Thanks to my beautiful family and friends, my 60th birthday changed from a gloomy dread to a beautiful occasion that made me happy to welcome my seventh decade of life!

The Simplicity?

These huge moments of my life have made me want to shout my gratitude to the world, but they've also caused me to reflect on the big picture.  I found, running through each of these events, three recurring themes, and I realized everything in my life results from them.  And so, rather than make a long list of gratitudes,  my gratitutude list is simple.  I am, now and forever, grateful for

I don't often wear my Catholicism on my sleeve, but  I am proud and grateful to be Catholic through and through.  Without my faith, without my religion, and without my rosaries, I would not have made it through the many challenges along my 60-year journey.  I would never push my faith on anyone.  Ever.  I just know that I would be lost without my own religious beliefs and rituals.  I cling to them, and I am eternally grateful.

This big, amazing, crazy, Czech/Welsh/British, but mostly beautiful Thompson/Jambor clan.  How did I get so lucky to be born into this bundle of love??  Without my mom and dad, my sisters and brothers, my nieces and nephews (and the greats!), my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins, my life would be empty.  I am forever grateful for the love.

I have been blessed throughout my entire life with the most incredible, loving, supportive, FUN friends!  From my neighborhood playmates to my college roommates and all the friendships that have grown along the way, I am forever grateful.  My life is full of sparkles and sunshine because of my friends.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.
Ralph Waldo  Emerson

For my faith, for my family and for my friends, my thanksgiving is truly perpetual, and I am eternally

Monday, September 7, 2015

It All Begins in Kindergarten

See that chair?  Yes, it's waiting for Ethan on his first day of kindergarten.  But it could be any name on that chair--Emily, Juan, Marie, Max--doesn't matter.  Because for every child, this is where it begins.

Every five year old who enters through that schoolhouse door, full of wonder, intrigue, anticipation, and yes, even nervousness and fear, begins an educational journey completely in the hands of a teacher.  Most of us can remember our own beginning.  I certainly can--I couldn't wait to go to kindergarten, and I loved every day I spent with Mrs. Smaha and my kindergarten classmates.  Without knowing it, she provided us a safe, loving environment that began our quest for success.

Ethan began his own quest when he walked down the hallway to his classroom for the first time.  On the way, he said to his mom and dad, "I can't get this smile off me face!"  How lucky teachers are to have these little souls enter their classrooms so full of joy and so ready to devour everything presented to them.  And how lucky are these children who are welcomed with loving arms and full hearts by their teachers. This first year is crucial for setting the stage for the rest of those students' school years.  It is here, in the kindergarten classroom, where children will begin to believe in the value of education and develop a joy for learning.  Oh Ethan--I hope you never get that smile off your face!

What will it take to keep that smile burning bright?  Whether they know it or not, much of that will depend on the teachers along the way.  The relationships they build with their students.  The classrooms they create that encourage every one of their kids to be creative and successful.  The excitement they bring to their lessons.  The heart they give freely to their students as they see them as their very own children.

Here's wishing every little five year old, every elementary student, every middle schooler, every freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and college student, the gift of having those teachers with hearts as big as the ocean.   I know I did. 

Micki on her first day of kindergarten
And so did Ethan's mom!

And apparently, so has Ethan.  He wrote his brand-new teacher this note after his first week of kindergarten, complete with hearts!

Little brother Drake trying out a kindergarten chair
May those teacher hearts be there for generations and generations of children who so desperately need their influence, guidance, expertise, and love.

Thank you, Mrs. Aten,  for giving your heart to Ethan and all the beautiful children you have touched.  I hope you know the important role you are playing in their futures and the way they see themselves for the rest of their lives.