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There Is More: On Gratitude

I’ve been keeping gratitude lists for around three months now. Ann Voskamp shared undeniable evidence in her book, One Thousand Gifts, that joy comes from gratitude, evidence I just could not argue against. I don’t know why I wanted to argue, why I didn’t want to believe there was a key to joy; maybe I thought it was too easy, and feared that meant I was responsible for my own bitterness. Well, that fear was real. I did have to own up to my cynical heart, and it didn’t feel good at all. Even as I began to write gratitude lists, I was still battling with struggles and sadnesses, and my circumstances didn’t get better.

I kept writing. I kept listing the things I saw, things that were good around me, even if it was something like “donuts,” or “paint marks on my skin,” or “warm hugs from a friend.” And I started seeing that giving attention to the good things does not mean ignoring the bad things– it means celebrating that there’s more in life than the bad things.

Ann described it as winning back some ground. When we see and name and give our attention to the good things, we are telling the bad things that they don’t reign; we are keeping the hard things from taking more room than they require or deserve. There is more to life. There is pain and hardship, yes, and there is more. When I started using the lists as a way to see the good, instead of a way to fix what was wrong, my heart began to change. And when I started being grateful to the Lord for those things, instead of simply being grateful inside myself, I started seeing that it was His love surrounding me.

Everything, everything, is a gift. And in times like this, when I am reminded just how messed up and broken I am, it hits me that I don’t deserve anything. That absolutely everything is grace. Everything is given to me by my Father, for my good; given because He loves me. Sometimes I still write the lists out of habit because the hard things seem more prevalent than the good. But my love for my Father grows every day, as He continues to love and I learn to love back by saying “thank you” for each gift I can find. There is always more. There is always grace.

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  -John the Baptist, in John 3:27

Every November, I do some kind of gratitude/positivity project for Thanksgiving. Because gratitude lists are a daily habit for me now, this year’s project is a collage of the gifts I recorded in my journal, written on strips of paper with colorful markers. There are numerous layers to this collage, and it was made solely during the month of November.

Immeasurable grace, all around me, hardly captured. I can never stop being grateful.DSC02569

Thanksgiving Projects

Completion & Celebration {Walking in Joy, Week 5}


I got to chat with my dear friend, Carlie, at church on her birthday. She is such a meaningful, kind, strong person and I love her deeply. Also, don’t you enjoy my church’s carpeting?


I’m working on a speech for class, and it’s been one of the hardest to articulate; the deepest ones always are, maybe. But my teacher has been willing to help me as much as I needed her to, even staying after class to look over my rough outline with me and recommending a book for me.


IT’S OVER. IT’S DONE. The gigantic assignment I’ve been working on for a month that includes four giant parts is finally turned in, and I am actually pretty happy with the way it turned out. I stayed up late to finish it, then proceeded to feel like Frodo after the ring was destroyed.


Getting home on a Wednesday knowing my weekend had already begun was not only refreshing, but necessary. I needed a few calm days. I started the long weekend by simply sitting, petting my sweet cat and hiding from the cold.


I spent Thanksgiving watching the parade and The Emperor’s New Groove, snacking, and enjoying my family. I haven’t been able to do things like that in a while, and it was pretty nice.


Being free for a few extra days allowed me to get some things done I’ve been putting off forever, things like washing my sheets and cleaning my goldfish’s bowl. Clean and good-smelling things make life a little less crazy-seeming, somehow.


So. Cold. It is so cold, guys. I had to bundle up in so many layers and drink multiple cups of tea to feel like I could get any homework done. That’s a valid excuse for being a little slow, right? I was cold? Sigh. Also, check out them cow socks.

Sunday (again!)DSC08590

An extra day this week, to round up Walking in Joy. And I was indeed gleeful today, because we decorated for Christmas! We don’t have a tree yet, but the little trinkets we’ve had for years and years always lift my spirits. I am so excited for Christmas! [By the way, my Christmas playlist is now an actual YouTube playlist you can enjoy with me!]

Thank you for taking the first few steps of this journey with me! I pray we continue to walk in joy every day, even the hard days.

Thanksgiving Projects

Community & Conversations {Walking in Joy, Week 4}


My mom has “Tessa needs tea” senses; she knows when I am fed up with my homework (or my procrastination toward my homework…) and always enters my room to ask me if I want a cup. This honey vanilla chamomile was very needed. Also, just to brag about my mom, she’s been buying juice for me, too. The liquids in our fridge make me smile.


I’m not a fan of the cold, but there’s something about frost that lifts my spirits. On my drive to school, the pine trees looked like they belonged in my favorite Christmas movies, and I sighed as I passed them. I love the 1979 Jack Frost movie, I think because I relate to the adoration Alisa has for “him.”


I was able to make a few cards for people who have been encouraging me. I’d been meaning to write some of them for a long time, and finally forced myself to break out the glue stick and magazines and love these people! They have already loved me right back. I have such a great community.


I told myself I wouldn’t do “symbolic” pictures, but it’s my curse; yesterday my brother asked me what the mountain scene I drew on our whiteboard meant, and grunted at the way I’ve conditioned him when I said it wasn’t symbolic. Anyway– I took a big step in life. I’m in the process of removing oppressive things and replacing them with hope. And I’m more excited about it every day.


This picture is awkwardly and obviously staged, sorry! I somehow forgot to take a photo at the wonderful Thanksgiving lunch our school’s cafeteria put on. They made everything from scratch and even served students who aren’t on the meal plan. I ate it with dear friends, and we laughed pretty hard at things I can’t really remember. I just remember them and the joy they bring me daily.


I had a dentist appointment, and while I waited for the dentist to come look at my teeth, I got to talk to the hygienist. We ended up on the subject of my dreams, which seems kind of funny, but it was a meaningful conversation to me. A woman I’d just met was curious about where my dreams would take me, and hinted that she wondered why I’d chase them if I wasn’t looking for a career. I was glad to plant the idea that maybe dreams don’t need repayment, they just need to be lived.


This is a nice picture of the research I intended to do. But my brain was in such a fog and I was so tired, I just did what I could and played Mario Kart with my brother. Sigh.

Thanksgiving Projects

Cold & Warmed {Walking in Joy, Week 3}


Confession: I’m kind of the Grinch until the day after Thanksgiving (although Brandon Heath understands me so I’m pretty okay with it); Christmas is a feeling I savor, so I feel like I’m cheapening it if I start celebrating early. But. . . these holly-like bushes outside Wal-Mart were so cheerful, stark beauty in contrast of the trash-laden parking lot. For every person that tears us down, there will always be another who builds us up. Go to them, and give them your attention.


We got our 2013-14 yearbooks this week! I’m a homeschool kid who never got a “real” yearbook so I was pumped for this– and I wasn’t in it. I mean, I was in a few photos throughout it, but in the pages of the student body, I am no where to be found. I was kind of upset until I found out another friend was left out of it, too, and we found other errors that we were able to laugh pretty hard about. I’m still glad to have a yearbook. This photo was taken from a chair in the library where I looked through it.

Tuesdayour feet

My beautiful friends and I all ended up wearing boots, so after class Amy snapped this photo. Amy, Ashleigh, and Meigan are all so vital in my life, brighten every day, and make me feel comfortable and acceptable as myself. Love you girls so stinking much!


It’s been a bit stormy in Oregon this week. The wind was insane on Wednesday but it was still sunny and beautiful. I loved driving under trees and getting showered by their leaves, but I was saddened to see such bare trees the next day. When I got home from school, there were leaves all over the yard. This photo was taken quite a distance from our trees!


It’s also been freezing. Literally; there were icicles. After a long day at school and a wet, dark, scary drive home, I wanted nothing more but to wrap myself in layers, finish my homework, drink lots of tea, and go to bed as quickly as possible. I did exactly that.


My small group meets every Friday morning. This week we worshipped, prayed over our school, and wrote encouraging notes to people. I always feel weird about feeling encouraged when I hear about other people having a hard time, but I think it’s because I was built for community, and my soul leaps when I see it. If you’re feeling discouraged and down, take heart; a lot of us are. And we can remind each other of who God truly is.


I feel like this photo is creepy because I took it on someone else’s front stoop. Oh, well. I was on someone’s front stoop because a few ladies from my church and community got together for an autumn tea party. We had good food and exceptional laughter. It was the bright spot in a day that went wrong in pretty much every other way.

Thanksgiving Projects

Friends & Growth {Walking in Joy, Week 2}


My passion– okay, I have a lot of passions. But one of my passions is loving small children. That’s why I’m on the volunteer rotation for my church’s infant nursery; it’s rather selfish, actually. This Sunday I got to enjoy many little ones. There was pushing and time outs and tears– and I still had a complete blast.


I’m a sophomore in college, and this semester I’m in a speech class. At first I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it because I’m a writer, not a speaker, but my teacher and her expertise have helped me in a lot of ways. I gave a speech on Monday about the purity movement, and it was so shockingly well-received.


I’m meeting with a counselor friend now. Her name is Anne, and she gets me. Talking with her once a week helps me a lot. This picture was taken in my church’s lobby as I read a book because I was a bit early. The office carpet is super fun, and I hadn’t noticed it until I got my camera out for this photo.


Homework. Lots of it. But, I got it all done in time! And I got to be part of a wonderful study group, where I laughed and tried to stifle laughter because we were in the library. My friends make everything better. Good friends, and friends I’m getting to know. I love them all a lot.


I did a lot this day, but right when I saw this little orb in the stump outside where my dear friend was dog/house-sitting, it had to be my photo. I so enjoyed laughing with her as we drove down the street, and I met the sweet dog she’s taking care of. Although the dog’s owners were my youth pastors in middle school and I’m 99% sure they owned her back then, too.


My best friend wasn’t able to celebrate my birthday with me, but she more than made up for it by visiting me at school. She brought pudding, she gave me art supplies in a Spiderman 3 gift bag (complete with toilet paper instead of tissue paper; that’s innovation), we talked about everything, we laughed, we cried from laughter, we took photos, we loved. It was wonderful.


Homework again, but this homework was special because I got to take the StrengthQuest test and discover that my top strengths are Developing, Empathy, Connectedness, Adaptability, and Ideation. I’m excited to learn more about these, what they do in my life, and how I can use them better.

Thanksgiving Projects

Walking in Joy {Week 1}

I love doing something creative and encouraging every November, with Thanksgiving as an excuse to make the theme joy and gratitude. This year, I’m in a weird place. I’m in a place of waiting, wondering, learning, and figuring life out. It’s weird. But a small part of me likes it and sees freedom in it. I’ve been saying, to myself and to the Lord, that I’m looking for the next stepping stone. That, plus my bizarre love for pictures of my feet, have spurred this year’s Thanksgiving project: Walking in Joy.

This is going to be a month-long photo project. Each day, I’ll take a photo that includes my feet and represents something meaningful I did that day. It will remind me that there is purpose and joy even in the places of waiting, and that I truly am going somewhere. Maybe I’ll even find that stepping stone.

November began on a Saturday, so here is the first week, composed of one entire day (haha):DSC08502This photo was taken after meeting my aunt and uncle for pizza, right outside the restaurant. My aunt had talked about how exhilarating it’s been for her to start practicing piano again, how she’s been teaching herself, how she’s playing things she couldn’t play before– and she made me realize that maybe I could do the same thing. Maybe I’ll dig out my ten-year-old piano books and learn again. The leaves kind of speak to me of freedom and potential.

Thanksgiving Projects

Holidays, Progress, & Grace (Week 5)

taken November 24, 2013November 24– fudge from friends, prayer with Holly, the Bible, and mercy.

My dear friend, Blair, is headed to Japan on a missionary journey soon, so she had a bake sale at our church to raise funds for the trip. Her peanut butter fudge– holy moly it was good! My lovely friend, Zelia, was helping at the bake sale, and I loved getting to hug both of them. And I know I’ve had phone calls as a positive thing almost every single week, but I have great friends and we have wonderful phone calls! Prayer partner time with Holly was a nice excuse to just slow down and pray intentionally; I think that’s another good reason to have a prayer partner! Slow down, pray, just talk to Him. And I guess the last two pictures need a little bit of explanation, but I might have another post about it eventually, so I’ll try be brief: I messed up. And it filled me with shame. I felt so much remorse, begged for forgiveness. When I opened my Bible. . .  He didn’t mention it at all. He didn’t even allude to it. He simply said that He had given me HIS righteousness, that He was going to teach me how to guard my mind, that there was power in His death and resurrection, that I could move forward. If you don’t know what grace looks like, THAT is what grace looks like! I was astounded! Yes, I will definitely have to write about this later.

taken November 25, 2013November 25– salted sidewalks, compliments, fuzzy gloves, and Colossians 1:11-14.

Dear whoever salted the campus sidewalks: way to be thorough! Haha! It didn’t make me slip, but it did make me chuckle. The awkward second picture represents a compliment I received. I’m sure the person who gave it didn’t even mean for it to be as meaningful as it was to me, but it was exactly what I needed to hear, what I had secretly been hoping to hear. Thank you! And to anyone who thinks their compliments won’t mean much and therefore settles for silence: speak freely! You don’t know how needed your words are. Don’t be selfish by keeping silent. My gloves (from Grandma Edie!) were a positive thing because it was SO stinking cold in my first classroom! Me and my professor were complaining about it before class, yay bonding? And the verse says, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This verse was a confirmation of the mercy I was given the previous day, and I was all over it.

taken November 26, 2013November 26– a clean fish bowl, old reading notes, Super Mario Bros. 3 with my brother, and cake.

Firstly, look at my fish’s face, haha! He made that just for you; he was so thrilled about his bowl finally being clean that he posed for a photo. I’m pretty glad I decided to clean that nasty thing, too. I was working on a piece for this drawing challenge (I got behind, oh no!), and I wanted to put a quote from Les Miserables in it, so I looked though the notes I’d taken when I read it back in May. It reminded me just how magnificent a story it is, and how many words and examples to learn from I found in it. I settled on this quote, by the way: “Woe, alas, to the one who shall have loved bodies, forms, appearances only. Death will take everything from him. Try to love souls, you shall find them again.” (p. 934). Marius said that, in one of the many moments that made him my favorite character. You HAVE to read the book, or you are missing out! Anyway, we still have the old Nintendo Entertainment System and some super fun (albeit challenging) games for it, and me and my brother, Ty, have been playing together after I get home from school lately. And cake. . . because cake.

taken November 27, 2013November 27– hot cocoa in chapel, progress on a group project, input from my writing teacher, and the greatest phone call in history.

Half of my classes were canceled on this day, so arriving at chapel to find that they were serving hot chocolate simply added to the relaxed start of that morning (the actual chapel service was excellent, too!). In one of the classes that wasn’t cancelled, my group finally got a lot of work done on our project about ministry. Shout out to the couple of us who stayed late to polish it! My writing teacher helped me develop my next essay topic, and she began by showing me that I didn’t really care about my original topic. Haha! The one I settled on is much better. Your writing has to be passionate to stir passion in others! And lastly, me and an incredibly dear friend had a late-night phone call. It started with catching up on life, but it ended on such a deeply more glorious note. We shared things that we’re normally afraid to share– and they were the same! I’m still so blown away. Maybe I’ll talk about it later, but right now I have two things to say about it: 1) You are never, ever alone in your struggles! And 2) Are we doing a disservice to ourselves and each other when we keep secrets? What if sharing it brings freedom to someone else? I will be praying about a post dedicated to this topic; I think it’s important.

taken November 28, 2013November 28– pumpkin waffles, a table for family, chocolate pie, and brushing my teeth.

A few years ago my mom began making pumpkin waffles for breakfast on Thanksgiving; I loved them so much that it’s becoming a tradition. They are delicious, I don’t even put syrup on them! You can make them with this recipe if you would like. This year my dad’s bachelor friend, whom we usually have over on Thanksgiving, couldn’t make it to our house. It was sad, but it was also a VERY positive thing because my dad sat at the table with us. He and his friend usually sit at tv trays with their food, but this year we were a laughing family at the table, and I loved it. And again, food, but I’m not apologizing; it was Thanksgiving. This chocolate pie was so, so good. And brushing my teeth was a heavenly experience. Not only had I eaten sad amounts of food, but the night before I was too tired after my phone call to brush my teeth. The feeling of clean teeth after Thanksgiving– wonderful. I had a good holiday and I hope you did, too!

taken November 29, 2013November 29– the voice of a friend, Brandon Heath’s Christmas album, hard work on homework, and an idea.

I have a friend’s voice on disk. He spoke at my church once, and I forgot how we ended up owning the recording of his message, but we did. He switched churches a few years ago. I like having his message on a cd; listening to it on this day, I enjoyed discovering that I have a much better understanding of his philosophical topics than I did when he first shared them. I hope you’re doing well, Brandon! Speaking of Brandons, Brandon HEATH recently released his Christmas album, and I listened to it for the first time the day after Thanksgiving. It’s pretty good! His originals are the best part. Sadly, I spent almost all day studying for a test and starting from scratch on an outline, but it was nice to know I was freeing up the next two days for no homework at all. And lastly, I had an idea. I don’t know a lot of the details yet or if it’s even a good idea, but my thoughts keep going back to it and I can’t help being excited about the possibilities. You might be hearing about it someday, but until then you could totally pray about it for me if you wanted to!

taken November 30, 2013November 30– decorating for Christmas, compiling a playlist, Rudolph lights, and a classic Christmas movie.

We usually decorate on the 1st, but since the 30th was a Saturday this worked better for us. I am totally getting into the Christmas spirit already! The decoration pictured is one of my favorites we’ve had since I can remember; it’s a tiny tree with drawers below it that have ornaments for each day of advent! I’ve always loved it. I also worked on my Christmas playlist, which I hope to share with you soon! My dad got into the decorating, too, and put up the lights outside the house. He never does it this early, I’m slightly THRILLED! He also replaced one bulb on our light-up reindeer to make Rudolph; he’s a keeper. And finally: Jingle All The Way. I used to get really bored with this movie, but I completely appreciate it now! SO many hilarious lines! “That was really a bomb?! This is a sick world we’re living in, with sick people!”, “You’re my number 1 customer!”, “I’m not a pervert!”– I could go on forever. This marks the first Christmas movie I’ve watched this year; many more to come.

Thank you for following me on my journey to positivity! It’s amazing that focusing on the simple things that were good about my day gave me a completely different image. When I actually processed the good things, I realized just how important they were. I hope you were encouraged by it in some way, and that together we can take life with JOY, day by day!