The Gratitude Project: Week 4

Last night I surprised myself and got excited about Thanksgiving.

Like, really excited.

We didn’t do anything special or even different this year, but all of a sudden I found myself looking forward to cooking with my Mom and kids, playing board games, and hanging out. We ate, we drank, we told fart jokes.  We drug the Christmas tree up from the basement and watched a cheesy holiday movie.

It was so good.

The truth is nothing happened this year that hasn’t happened in years past. This Thanksgiving just happened to fall during a happy time in our lives. Lee and I have been married for 20 Thanksgivings. Some years we’ve seen two meals in one day, requiring a mad dash from relative’s house to relative’s house. Some years we had to ditch plans because of sick kids or car trouble. Some years we ate well, some years we didn’t. Some Thanksgivings found us sharing a meal at a friend’s home, sometimes friends and family found their way to our table. This year it was just us, and I’m grateful for it.

What I’ve learned about gratitude since I’ve started this little project is that you don’t have to feel all the good stuff to know that it’s good stuff. Even though we went through some Hard Times I still made great memories with my kids, I still loved the moments of my life, and the turkey always tasted amazing.

You can experience gratitude even while walking through Hard Times.

So if you felt sad this Thanksgiving that’s okay. If you’re dealing with some anger don’t fight it (but be nice). Maybe you’re dealing with heavy loss and can’t feel much of anything. It’s okay. Feel your feelings no matter how cliche that little line is. You’ll be making memories regardless of how you feel.

Take our family’s Thanksgiving last year, for instance. Our family was still uncertain about everything from job situations, to friend situations. Our lives felt very up-in-the-air. I was still mourning my things being packed away in storage, and Lee was still trying to figure out the job situation.

My brother Erik had been living out of my parent’s house for about 7 months. His meds still were not right. He had transitioned from being a fairly docile, easy to to be with guy to an unpredictable time bomb. My mom and I were still dealing with a lingering cough leftover from a flu that had gone through our family, and we had both just gotten over a nasty UTI. The thought of cooking left us exhausted. We thought going to Natural Bridge State Park for our Thanksgiving meal would be an easy solution. Who doesn’t love a buffet?

We couldn’t make reservations, so we decided that after lunch would probably be a slower time. I felt a little worried when we had a hard time finding parking spaces. I felt very worried when I saw the number of people hanging out. I felt a little relief when I saw the platters of meat, cheese, and veggies for snacking while you waited for a table to become available.

The kids were mildly grumbly about the wait, though two had brought a book along. My parents are generally content to do whatever. I had food and strangers to converse with, two of my favorite things in life, so I had no issues.

Erik, though, was a different story.

Crowds have never been his thing and last year, when he was still riding the ‘find the right medication train’, was no exception. Anything could set him off crying, or yelling, or talking about violent things he believed happened to him. Fortunately he has a pretty serious speech impediment so strangers can generally only recognize every few words. Unfortunately, ‘knife’, ‘murder’, and ‘gun’ are all fairly easy for him to pronounce.

Because I’m the low-key one in the family, best equipped to deal with his brand of weird, Erik was my companion for the afternoon.

Actually, I think it’s because I don’t embarrass easily.

Erik experienced a novel’s worth of emotions in a 3 hour period. I think the only thing that got me through was knowing there was a massive pile of banana pudding waiting for me at the end.

Erik and I walked laps together, the whole while he recited middle school memories, flashes of CNN headline news, and made up events. It went like this:

Erik: When I was in middle school kids took my lunch money.

Kara: How about a happy memory?

E: Yeah. The police shoot people who are bad.

K: Just tell people Happy Thanksgiving, please. People are here to have fun.

E: Okay. Happy Thanksgiving! (in angry Archie Bunker voice)

K: (eye roll) I’m going to eat all the banana pudding when we get up there.

E: Yeah. Me too. (Short pause while he gathers his thoughts) If there’s  a knife up there, though, you should take it. My mom said I’m not allowed to touch knives.

K: Maybe we should go outside…

Seriously. That’s how it went.

The first few laps people would try and talk to us, but after the third or fourth pass people knew to just keep their heads down and not make eye contact with the two nutters mumbling about being beaten up and banana pudding. My kids were simultaneously flustered and furious with their uncle. They were also hungry. Unlike me, however, the veggie and cheese trays did not satisfy their hungry tummies.

I’m not sure how long the wait was, but we finally made it to our table.

The first thing we do when we’re eating out with Erik is try and block him in. Unfortunately we were at a table in the center of the room, so not only was there no trapping him, but we were at center stage. To make matters trickier there was also a piano in the room. Musical instruments are like a magnet for Erik and he lacks impulse control and does not conform to social norms. We knew if he started playing we were done-for. He starts playing and people are like, “Oh, that nice gentleman who seems a little different is playing the piano. Let’s clap and really get him going so that his family is forced to deal with not just him but us, too.”

Maybe that’s not quite how it goes. If you see him playing piano out somewhere you can clap. I won’t be mad.

At any rate, we spent most of the meal bribing him to stay away from the piano, getting our youngest to not run laps around the dining area, and praying that only one drink would spill. When I was finally able to go up for desert all of the other cotton-headed-ninny-muggins celebrating Thanksgiving at the buffet had taken all of the banana pudding. Only the meringue was left. Who does that?

I confess that I thought, “This is my Thanksgiving?”

You know what, though? Looking back on last year makes me smile, even laugh. Mom and Dad didn’t even remember how weird it was. I look back and think, “That was a good Thanksgiving.” This year is different. This year Erik is much more settled, thanks to the miracle of medication and behavior therapists. My kids are happy and have friends, and we have a new community to lean on. Life is good this year, just like life was good last year. There were just different things going on in our lives.

Next year there will be other different things going on.

My point is we’ll be making memories regardless of what’s happening. Holidays just come, they don’t care what’s going on in our lives. Some of the memories of Thanksgivings past may make us smile, some may make us cry. The point of memories is just to remember and savor whatever stuff is swirling around in your life.   It’s not about making the day perfect or special. You know, you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.

That’s an actual quote from the The Facts of Life theme song. I never knew how true and how poignant that song was until this moment. 

At any rate, I hope like heck you had a great Thanksgiving, that no one fought with turkey legs about politics or family history, and that you were able to breathe in deeply and know you were with people who love you.

Accidental Mentor

Sometimes I feel bad when I hear parents complaining about their teenagers, like I should join in. I have nothing to complain about, though.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult to parent kids in their teenage years. It is, and it isn’t. It’s complicated. The tension between keeping them close versus  pushing them forward is real. I want to protect them but I also want them to experience life. As a homeschoolerI have to be much more intentional in encouraging them to be in the world, always with the prayer that they not be of the world.

The public library could easily be the only place we go, but that’s not doing them any favors.

I want my kids to be in situations  that will push them, force them to know themselves, and maybe even make them uncomfortable. Lee and I have worked very hard at having the kind of relationship with the kids that allows them to share the hard stuff, and most of the time they do. I find it easy to talk with my teens. I share my heart, they share theirs. I have never believed that they have to think the way I think or believe what I believe. I hope they follow Jesus, but it is not a requirement. I encourage them to explore deep truths for themselves, praying for them to find friends who are godly, and mentors who have admirable character traits.

The fact is I love spending time with my teenagers.

Still haven't mastered the art of the selfie.
Still haven’t mastered the art of the selfie.

A few years ago, when my children were emerging teens, I realized that I was not so much parenting my kids as mentoring them. I have our years in youth ministry to thank for that.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, when we fell into youth ministry, I did not like the company of teenagers, especially when they were in a large group. It brought back junior high feelings of inadequacy. I felt I never had the right clothes or shoes, or fit in anywhere. I had flashbacks of walking into the school cafeteria for lunch and looking for a seat. Ugh. I can’t even go there.

Those youth group kids, though, they broke down those memories and dove straight into my heart. I fell in love with their over-honest ways, their answer-seeking questions, and the effort they put into growing up. Those youth group kids drove me completely crazy while winning my friendship. I figured out that they didn’t want me to be cool, or to impress them. They liked me just like I was; a young mom who was a little lonely, and really uncertain, but also eager to learn about the ways of Christ.

So we learned about him, and his ways, together.

Sometimes things were easy and I didn’t mind when youth stopped by wanting a peanut butter jelly sandwich, or just to hang out while I did the mom thing. They might even play with the kids or help me run errands. Other times kids from youth group would stop by and it would feel inconvenient to me, like one more irritation in my already irritating day. I wasn’t so great at saying no, though. Plus, life is always a little easier with company.

I’m so glad I allowed room for the interruptions. There is not one time I regret having a kid come into my home. In fact, I learned to find relief in the young people who became my friends. There were a handful of young women, in particular, who came to me the world to me. These young people became like family during a period of time when my life was not easy, and I’ll always been grateful to them.

That’s how I became an accidental mentor.

I didn’t know it at the time but these young people were teaching me how to mentor my own kids. Somewhere between 10 and 12 you transition from parenting to mentoring. You cannot force an adult-sized child to brush their teeth, shower, do their homework, get their chores done, or go to sleep – nor do I believe you should. I have high expectations for them, though, and the natural consequences of not doing the things they are required to do are the best teachers at this age. Real consequences are far more effective than any punishment I could come up with. (A huge shout out to Dr. Kevin Leman for all of his awesome books on parenting. (affiliate link) I love his Have a New Teenager by Friday, if you’re looking for some help.)

I love coaching my people in their teenage years.

It’s so exciting watching from the sidelines as they develop their own life skills, deepen their sense of self, and form relationships that will hopefully last a long time. This can be the hard part, though. It can be tempting to jump in and rescue them from themselves or bad choices or both. This is where prayer and faith come in for me – and hopefully for them, too. This is also where mentoring skills come in handy. Because I’ve helped other young people walk through decision-making I feel like it’s easier for me to act as observer in my own children’s lives as they get older. I’m learning how to ask questions rather than make demands, and how to wait on them to figure out what’s best rather than force them to do what I think is right.

Mentoring means accepting that the life your child lives will look different than the one you imagined. Mentoring means making room for your child to be their own person. Making mistakes is how I figured out some of the best stuff about myself and I want to leave room in their lives for them to do the same thing. Mentoring means not groaning when they say, “I think I might not go to college” or “I really want to major in music theater” or “I’m moving to England as soon as I turn 18”. No eye rolling, no laughing, or pointing out how out of the realm of possibility any of those things are.

Mentoring means supporting in success and failure.

I had to learn to face my fears of my kids failing. I remembered when some of the kids in youth group had huge blunders. While those moments were painful for them those experiences were also a huge catalyst for growth. That’s important to remember.

I’ve learned to get comfortable with phrases  like, “You know what’s best for your life” or “You have good judgement, I trust you”.  Young people know when you don’t feel they are capable of something. If I find myself wanting to step in for my kids, help them with a task, I have to remind myself of the message I’m sending when I do that. That’s not to say I don’t step in occasionally; I do. There are times it’s been necessary because I want them to feel supported not abandoned.

Mentoring means helping your kid find their dreams, no matter what those dreams are.

Part of the job as mentor is to help your child hone in on their skills and passions. Not many people know what they want to do with the rest of their life when they turn 18. I have to remind my kids of that all the time, and I think this is a major advantage in homeschooling. They don’t have to know their college plans by their freshman year of high school. We are able to explore their interests in a variety of ways, meet other adults who do things that are unlike anything my husband and I do, and experiment with jobs in a low key manner.  I don’t think college is essential, and I certainly don’t think it has to be completed in four years between the ages of 18 and 21.

It is not easy, choosing this way. It would be much easier if I forced them into my way, made them learn from my mistakes. Our relationship would suffer, though, and that is a thought that I cannot stand. Years ago I chose relationship with my children over success in school. I told them their grades would never be as important as our relationship, and I meant it. What’s cool is that neither suffered; they each succeed in their own way in school and we still have a great relationship. We have rocky times, too, encounter stuff that we have to work through, but our foundation is solid.

Never sacrifice your relationship with your child on the altar of success.

It is not worth it. Who cares if they’re ahead in three subjects if they don’t know where they stand with you?



Next week I’ll talk about how to connect with your teenagers, as well as some of the unexpected joys that come with having teenage children.

Be brave, misfits and embrace the adolescents in your life. 





The Sun Will Come Out…

A couple of months ago I fell for the hype that the media is stirring up. I found myself unable to sleep with the worry of who would be our next president. I was doing research, i.e. falling into the rabbit hole that is the internet, which only deepened my uncertainty.

One day, or maybe slowly over a few days, I quit caring so much. I think it started with looking into immigrating to Ireland. Don’t judge, it’s where my people are from. From there I got hooked on Ireland travel vlogs and videos explaining the different accents. Those videos inspired me to start planning a family to trip to the Emerald Isle in 2019, which led me to the realization that the world is going to keep spinning regardless of what joker is voted in as president.

Ireland, for your viewing pleasure:


Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Crash Test Mike Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Gustav Bergman Flickr via Compfight cc


Don’t you feel better already?

I use Tapestry of Grace in our homeschool, a unit study curriculum focusing on history and encompassing classical studies. I can’t say enough awesome things about this curriculum, my favorite being the perspective that ultimately the events of history will unfold as they will bringing God’s perfect plan into action. No matter how bad things look, historically speaking, the will of God is being worked. His plan uses difficult circumstances to deepen our faith, spur us into action, and grow the Church.

So I calmed the heck down about it all and applied my favorite quote that can be applied to everything:

If you can’t make it better, 

you can laugh at it  ~ Erma Bombeck

I know people are passionate about all that’s going on right now. Some of that passion is not misplaced. Some of it,though, is hoopla brought on by too much time on the internet or television or talk radio. If you think about it, though, there is so much to laugh at this election cycle.

Here’s some other things that you can do to help get through the next 48 hours:

  • Read this from PBS News  or this from one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple. These are both survival guides that add some much needed levity.
  • Watch some Bad Lip Reading videos. If at least one of those doesn’t have you crying and/or peeing your pants something inside you is broken. I’m not kidding. Go to the doctor if you don’t find these funny.
  • If you find yourself getting so mad that you are unfriending people on social media…it’s probably time to take a break from social media. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind at this point, and it’s doubtful that anyone is going to change your mind. Hitting share in an attempt to shock others into sharing your opinion isn’t going to further any healthy discussion.
  • Take a moment to get out in the world and talk to people. Don’t talk about the election for Pete’s sake, just talk to them. Say hello to strangers, ask the person checking you out at the grocery how they are, chat with the person behind you at the coffee shop.
  • Sit at a park and watch kids play, taking special notice of how they work stuff out. I believe we’ve still retained the ability to do the same thing as adults.
  • As a Christian it’s important that I know who’s Lord of my Life. My friend David Wu preached a great sermon reminding me that loving your neighbor, even one with conflicting political views, is a simple task when Jesus reigns in every area of my life.
  • Remember that tomorrow will come, and that the day after the election we will have to look one another in the face. We’re not all going to be happy, and some of us may feel scared, and most of us will be tender. Let’s remember that and practice kindness in the coming weeks.
  • Put this song on repeat.


Ultimately, the sun will come out tomorrow. Yes, that’s a Little Orphan Annie quote, because I’m an optimist. Knowing that the sun WILL come out no matter who will be taking office reminds me of who is in charge. That is more awesome than anything else happening in our world at this time.

Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scott1346 Flickr via Compfight cc


Be kind to one another, misfits. Sometimes that’s the bravest act of all.






Gratitude Project~Week 1

I’ve always found comfort in drugstores like Walgreens. The aisles are tidy, sales are fun, and you can get in and get out relatively quickly. Last fall and winter, though, I found myself frequenting our local Walgreens.

A lot.

Like, two and three times a day sometimes.

The familiarity was comforting, but even more it was that the people there knew my name. They knew my kids. Especially Ken, one of the men that works there, knew who we were. There were a couple of others, too. Ken, though, treated me like a friend. He would do things like tease us about how many times we came in, ask me how I was and then listen for the answer,  laugh with the kids, or congratulate me when I got out alone.

I know, it says something about my life that when I got time to myself I went to Walgreens.

But there you have it. That was the best I could do. Sometimes I would buy a magazine and candy bar and go sit in the car and thumb through the pages while I enjoyed my chocolate.

Other times I just sat in the car and cried. I knew I was depressed but I wasn’t really sure what to do. All of my feelings were numb. I couldn’t feel happy or sad or even mad. I just felt kind of like a blob of nothing. I watched everything go on around me, and it would register that I should be feeling something. It was like a watching a movie but feeling none of the emotions that the director and producer and actors had worked so hard to achieve.

Sometimes you just have to be in Hard Times, there’s nothing to be done for it.

I started seeing a counselor in January and as I slowly came out of the depression I woke up to a lot of stuff that I’d been sleep walking through.

Some of that stuff was people – and Ken was one of those people.

I realized that it wasn’t Walgreens that gave me comfort; it was Ken. Ken provided relief from depression for a little bit because he knew me and he liked me and he gave me hope.

Hope is so good.

I knew that gratitude was the inoculation I needed. I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts a few years ago and loved her words on gratitude. I knew what Paul said about persevering, about being thankful in all circumstances. I have scripture about being grateful on sticky notes all over the house.

There’s a difference between knowing something in your brain, though, and knowing something in your heart.

With the help of my awesome counselor I learned that thinking negatively contributes to depression. Looking back over the years it became clear that I’d accidentally allowed my thoughts to focus on the bad things that had happened in my life rather than the good. In particular, I ruminated on lost and failed relationships.

The cure seemed to be to focus on positive, life giving relationships, to be grateful for the enjoyable relationships.

I’ve told you that after our family moved to Lexington a couple of years ago I just felt spent. In the beginning I put in a lot of effort into finding a homeschool and church community that would give my family the support that they needed. Looking back I can see that we needed rest more than anything, and that I was just spinning my wheels. That’s where Ken from Walgreens came in.

I needed people and Ken and the crew up there were my people for that time. 

In fact, they kind of still are my people.

I still love Walgreens, and always will, but I don’t go up there every day. For the last few weeks, whenever I entered the doors, I felt the urge to tell Ken thank you. I had already started the Gratitude Project by writing notes to people who have been important in my life in all kinds of ways. It just felt important to let  Ken to know that he made a big difference during a pretty crappy time in my life.

Every time I started to say something, though, I choked. I felt embarrassed or worried that others would overhear me. Then a couple of weeks ago when I wrote a post on forgiveness  some of the shame I had felt about being depressed disappeared and I felt courage blossoming in my chest.

My kids were milling about looking for sale items. I walked up to the counter where Ken was waiting with a smile.

“Hey, I just wanted you to know that last winter I went through a really lousy time. I was really depressed, and you were always so nice to me. I think it’s why I came in here all the time. I just wanted to tell you thank you, that it really means a lot to me that you were so kind,” I told him. It was not awkward at all.

“Wel, thank you for saying so,” he said, as reached across the counter to take my hand, and he said some other things that I don’t quite remember.

Then I told him I was going to start crying and had to go – we both laughed and wiped our eyes a little.

That was not a life changing moment for either us, I’m sure, but I do know it made me think a little more about small actions. I hope it reminded Ken of how important he is in the world.  A simple thank you can carry a lot of weight.

Acknowledging good someone has done in your life, for your life, helps us to remember that who we are, and how we treat others, is far more important than what we do.


I’ve noticed since starting the Gratitude Project I’m more careful with my words, I notice the efforts that others are making, and I’m much more gentle with myself. It would seem that being grateful magnifies the good in the world, something we are sorely in need of.  I’ve also noticed that I feel happier, lighter, like the world might actually be an okay place to reside in. That can’t be bad.

I’m sure we all have failed relationships that we grieve, or maybe even wish we could have skipped over. Difficult relationships should be overshadowed by the special, caring relationships God sends our way. We can do that by choosing to remember the good ones. What relationships do you find yourself especially thankful for? I’d love to hear…and I’m sure they would, too. Join me in the Gratitude Project? If you send a handwritten note or thank some one in person I’d love to hear about it. You can share here or on Instagram – just use tag me @karakshepherd.  🙂

Be brave, misfits!


Look what came in the mail today! For reals!!

A thank you card from….