Gallery of Gratitude—Week #4

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who taught you to be curious A teacher, pastor, aunt or uncle, an author, a coach. This can be anyone who encouraged you to ask questions and explore. Who showed you how to learn, ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who taught you to be curious

A teacher, pastor, aunt or uncle, an author, a coach. This can be anyone who encouraged you to ask questions and explore. Who showed you how to learn, or directed you to a new source for information. Write a Facebook or blog post or send them a letter and thank them for opening your mind to something new.

I thought this would be a great topic, but to be honest, I’ve struggled with picking someone. I know people can help inspire you to reach for new ideas or encourage you to explore, but I think the fundamental spark of curiosity often comes from within. (I’m curious about whether you agree with me or not. I’d love to hear different viewpoints on that, actually!)

I could write about my pastor Nathan (or his dad, who pastored the church when I started going there). They didn’t want me to take their word for it but to research and study anything I had questions about. I could write about an architecture professor in college, Rod Underwood, who taught us how to explore and create and go in new directions. (I do mention him in my book, but you’ll have to wait until May to read that! Just FYI, he’s the one who thought I should consider majoring in graphic design. He might’ve been onto something.) I could talk about my dad, who helped me learn to see and notice the world around me. Or my design professors, who loved my sketchbooks filled with research and drawings. Or my grandfather, who knew so many things about so many things. He was a radiologist, and a WWII surgeon and major in the Army. He was runner-up to the olympic cross-country team. As an adult, he traveled all around the world. He also loved new technology—before there really was such a thing. He bought one of the earliest IBM PCs, complete with software (in versions 1.0!). I used to spend hours typing on that dark screen—with its plain, pixelated alphabets—filling the screen with Xs and Ox and dots and dashes to make a picture. Why? Simply because I could. And because there was really nothing else I needed to do. (Those were the days…)

And then there was my mom. She read anything she could get her hands on. She took classes in photography and ceramics (and she even tried painting). She studied radiologic technology and then nursing. She volunteered with CASA. She spent a week every summer volunteering at a natural history museum, where they… well, I don’t know exactly what they did. Cleaned old crinoids? Catalogued stuff? I think they mainly laughed and wandered through local antique shops, where she bought me a really awesome gift once. Dad was always considered the creative one, but Mom was really good at helping me with my projects. I used to do a lot of design work for apartment communities, and the writer and I would always develop a theme—horse racing, or Italian villas, or whatever—for the brochure and other items. We always had to name the floor plans according to the themes. I’d call Mom, and an hour later she’d call back with long lists of ideas. I don’t know if Mom is really the one who taught me to be curious, but she certainly facilitated it. I took a correspondence course (back in the olden days before you could do it online) because I was interested in the etymology of words (today my kids call it learning “stems”). She ordered me a silkscreen frame and linoleum blocks to carve. I had books to explore—”regular” ones as well as references like the Physician’s Desk Reference and a whole set of encyclopedias. She bought me calligraphy books and music and lots and lots of organizing and office supplies. She even came up with the idea for me to attend my first writing workshop—and, well, we all know where that led :-).

As I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing how fortunate I have been to have a life filled with people who had a wide variety of interests and who believed in embracing new experiences. I’ve always loved to explore, and to be honest, I don’t know if that was there first and these people reinforced that trait in me, or if I developed that trait because I was exposed to so many things first. Chicken? Egg? It doesn’t really matter. But it reminds me again how important other people have been to my development. Which is the whole reason I started this series, so I suppose today’s post—although it followed a curvy, slow path with no clear sense of direction—actually accomplished all I set out to do. In a weird, random, convoluted sort of way. Which is pretty much how I do anything. Because of the interesting people in my life who also followed unconventional paths. See? It all comes back around.

Thanks for following me down this winding trail today. Now it’s your turn—who pushed you to try something new? Made you curious? Showed you how to explore? Inspired you to learn? Tell me your stories. I’d love to hear them.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #3

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Several years ago, the first time I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, I met this woman from Michigan. Irene invited me to lunch with some people from her writers group. The ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Several years ago, the first time I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, I met this woman from Michigan. Irene invited me to lunch with some people from her writers group. The next year, I met a redhead from Indiana, Sarah, who also hit it off with that group of writers from Michigan. Before long, Joe, Terri, Irene, Sarah, and I were hanging out with Kelsey and Dan and a whole lot of other people. We kept having to pull up extra chairs because we didn’t fit around the table anymore. Someone dubbed it the Cool Kids table. And our writers group was born.We’ve added a few others along the way—Julie, Lisa, Jane, Jama—who are present when they can be. We have fun together. But what I love is this: every single person takes their writing seriously.

 

They work it in around kids and jobs and all of life’s busyness. It’s not a hobby, it’s a passion. I’ve watched their determination—Sarah’s and Joe’s, in particular—to press on, no matter how busy they are with regular life. To keep getting better. To finish one project and start another and never give up hope. To learn more, and try new things, and do whatever they have to do in order to make this happen. To be published. To be able to keep writing.

I’ve never been great at follow-through—I have lots of ideas but not enough hours or energy to make it all happen. But the determination of my friends is impressive. Without them, I doubt I would have attempted to write a book, and if I had, it wouldn’t be nearly as good. We all write something different—fiction and non, mysteries, historical fiction, horror, poetry, inspirational, YA and middle grade. We all have different backgrounds. We’re a wide range of ages. And yet, somehow, the bond was deep and instant and only gets stronger.

Cool Kids retouched

 

On paper, and maybe in person too, we appear to be an unlikely group. But this group brings something into my life that I don’t get anywhere else. This past weekend, we had our third annual retreat. We write. And talk. Mostly about writing. We read each other’s work, help each other past problems. We brainstorm ideas, suggest marketing techniques, discuss our experiences so far with agents and publishers. And we laugh. And have spirited discussions. And ongoing jokes. And deep connections. And like every other year, we found ourselves still up at midnight, sitting around the fire—still talking about writing. We gathered around to hear Irene’s poetry. We ate a lot of food. We laughed. We advised and counseled and taught and propped each other up. And had a glass or two of champagne to celebrate our successes.

These are not the kinds of friendships you can make happen. This is the kind that comes naturally, instantly, without any effort at all. I’m so grateful that God gave me such a great group of friends, people who have become some of my biggest cheerleaders. People whose love for what they do has inspired me to keep going, to keep writing. To do whatever I can do to make this publishing thing happen for me—but also for them.

Tell me—who has inspired you? Send them a note or post a short tribute to them on Facebook or your blog. When we share our stories, we get to know each other better, and I want to know about you.

P.S. If you have a group you’d like to spend a weekend with, someplace comfortable, I highly recommend the Patchwork Quilt Inn in Middlebury, IN. We’ve gone there every year. The owners are fabulous—as is the food. It would be a great getaway for a couple, but it’s the perfect setup for something like this.

P.P.S. I have no idea why that photo is upside down. I wasn’t trying to be cute. My computer is doing it and I can’t figure out why or how to fix it. So I guess you’ll have to look at things upside down in order to see right side up. Hmm… maybe I should write a book about that.

 

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #2

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. WEEK 2 CHALLENGE: A PERSON YOU’VE LAUGHED WITH Your best friend. Your spouse or life partner. A co-worker, a roommate from college. Your child. Anyone you think of when you think ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

WEEK 2 CHALLENGE: A PERSON YOU’VE LAUGHED WITH
Your best friend. Your spouse or life partner. A co-worker, a roommate from college. Your child. Anyone you think of when you think of fun. Write them a note telling them how glad you are for the fun they’ve brought into your life.

flamingo carI’m not all that much fun. I like to have deep, serious conversations. I may like to stretch the rules ever so slightly, but I try not to break them. I don’t “do” spontaneity. I don’t want people to make fun of me so I avoid acting silly in public.

But at least I know enough to surround myself with fun people. My friend Peggy is one of the most fun of all of my friends. Of all people anywhere, to be exact.

Several weeks ago, I helped Peggy plan a ladies meeting for the women at church. We decided that the holidays are hard on us as moms. There’s so much to do, so many responsibilities and stresses that fall to the women in any household. So we had this brilliant idea that we would have a pampering session. We came up with a craft idea to help everyone focus on prayers and gratitude. Scheduled a masseuse to come give shoulder massages. Planned a menu and decided to fix all the food ourselves so people could just show up without having to prepare something first. And handed out invitations, by hand, to all the women at church.

Great idea, right? The night before the meeting, we met at Peggy’s house to prepare the craft and bake some of the muffins. We rushed over to the church and dragged the tables around, arranging and rearranging the banquet hall to best accomplish our plans. We set up foot baths, set aside an area for massages, covered the tables with cloths and pretty decorations. We rushed back and forth, trying not to get in each other’s ways. We made a long shopping list of items we still needed, knowing we’d have to run to Walmart at 10:00 that night because we were completely out of time.

At one point in the middle of this frantic preparation, one of us commented, “I sure am glad we’re doing this because I sure needed to relax.” And then we fell over laughing. I mean that literally. Peggy was rolling on the floor. We were wondering how we looked at that moment on the security camera Shirley could be monitoring. Which made us laugh harder. And cry a little bit. And maybe have to run to the bathroom, too.

The thing is, we were sincere. We genuinely wanted to pamper the women in our church. Each and every one of them deserved a little treat. And we were completely willing to do the work to make it happen. But the irony of our frazzled, frantic state, combined with the late hour and long to-do list, made us slap-happy. And we laughed. And laughed some more. In that moment, we were simply worn out—but thankful. For friendship. For the fact that we can have fun, whatever we’re doing. For the God who created laughter, and joy, and taught us the value of connecting with people.

So today, I give thanks for Peggy. For the way she completely supports me in everything I do. For the way we can go deep, have deep spiritual discussions one minute and laugh until we’re crying the next. For making friendship so fun. And for all the fun friends I have in my life.

(In case you’re wondering, the photo is of me with Peggy and some other fun friends in a borrowed flamingo car. For Peggy’s birthday one year, we surprised her by picking her up in this. It also inspired our “Lola” adventure, which you can read about when my book comes out.)

When you think of laughter, of having fun, who comes to mind? Please share your stories in the comments.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #1 Challenge

When you walk through a gallery or museum and examine the paintings on the walls, you’ll see a huge variety of brush strokes. Some are bold and thick and viscous, shiny streaks of color smeared onto the canvas. Some strokes are soft, virtually indistinguishable, carefully blended to leave no trace of the brush that made ...

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When you walk through a gallery or museum and examine the paintings on the walls, you’ll see a huge variety of brush strokes. Some are bold and thick and viscous, shiny streaks of color smeared onto the canvas. Some strokes are soft, virtually indistinguishable, carefully blended to leave no trace of the brush that made it. Each artist has a different touch, a unique style, and a specific result. Some are better than others. Some are more fitting for a particular style. Some are polished, others are rough. But there’s no denying that, without them, the piece of art just wouldn’t be the same. Van Gogh’s Starry Night wouldn’t be the same if the colors were soft and smoothly blended, and Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa wouldn’t look right with swirly, multi-colored strokes of paint.

van gogh mona lisa

Just as each painting is made unique by the mark of its artist, we, too, have been shaped by the people in our lives. People who have laughed with us, helped us, cried with us, taught us, enriched us, and made us feel special.

As I walk this path towards having my book published, I’ve noticed that the people who have shared these moments with me—the ones who have lifted me up when I was discouraged, edited my words and shaped my manuscript, pushed me to be better and better and reveal my true self—are such a gift to me. I know I wouldn’t be here, and my book wouldn’t be nearly as good, without the people behind the scenes—the artists holding the brush.

So once a week for the first part of this year, I’m going to paint brief “portraits” of some of the people who have made a difference in my life. (Some recent, some going way back.) I’ll share a single paragraph or short story to honor that person.

But I hope it won’t stop there. Most people never get to know how important they’ve been to you. So will you join me in this challenge? Each Tuesday morning, when your week is still young and you’ve made it through Monday but are not yet face-to-face with Friday’s deadlines, you’ll get an email from me (if you subscribe to my blog). Think of the person who best fits the category and take a few minutes to write a quick note, find an address, and drop the envelope in the mail. (Or send an email, or post a Facebook post, or whatever works for you.)

It’s a small act, but a transformational one. With each note, you’ll send a little bit of light, a little dab of color. You’ll strengthen your connection to people who have mattered to you. And in the process, you get to remember—and give thanks for—the people who helped you become the masterpiece (or work-in-progress) that you are. Gratitude is the very best form of prayer. If you don’t have time to write the notes, it’s OK. But take a minute or two to give thanks to God for this person. Say a little prayer for them right now.

So will you join me? 15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015.

Gallery of Gratitude headers-1

There are so many people I could mention here, but I’ll just pick one: GOYITA YOUNG. She’s got spunk. Passion. Determination. She serves God with all of her heart. She studies, she digs deep. She prays with fervor and she has fun doing it. As long as I’ve followed God, I’ve learned by observing other people. So I watch her—especially when I wonder, how can I remain passionate about serving God? When I wonder if anyone can maintain this kind of intensity long-term. When I question whether everyone burns out sometimes. And what I see is a woman who wears an attitude of expectation. She comes to church eager to soak it in, alert and open. When people gather at the altar, she moves right to the center and prays for them. She serves. She worships. She doesn’t hesitate to stand up and tell us about the ways she sees God answering prayer, the ways she knows He is real. She goes wherever God is, and she doesn’t hold back. I admire that so much, and I’m so thankful that God put me in a place where I see this weekly. Daily. In her and in so many others.

Who have you learned from? I’d love to know. You don’t need to give full (or even real) names if you don’t want to. But I hope you’ll share some of your stories and relationships in the comments below. It will help us learn a little bit about each other, brighten someone’s day—and, in the process, remind us to make an extra effort to be “that person” for someone else.

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