I’m Thankful For…
1. Early mornings. Watching the sunrise through wide-open windows, worship music and fresh air flooding our home, as I accomplish a few things before the kids get up. Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s exercising, maybe it’s housework or an extra-special breakfast in the oven. I feel energized and inspired when my day starts early.
2. My hard-working husband, who has shouldered the financial responsibility for our family. Through the sacrifices of living on one income, he has given me the best gift I could have asked for: the chance to stay home with my children.
3. The flexibility and time-freedom that comes with staying home. Being available to my friends and family at any time. Being able to take the day off to help sand a floor or pack up the kids at a moment’s notice and go give someone a ride. Being able to focus my attention on the people who are in my life. Having the whole day to invest in our children.
4. The financial struggles that come from living on one income, and also from long months of unemployment. We have seen some pretty dark times, and I have learned that happiness is created in the state or tone of your heart. I have learned that your experience of life is determined by the lens with which you choose to see.
5. Open windows on chilly nights. Lights low in the house, slowing down as the sun sets, fresh air while sleeping.
6. Long lazy every-other-week family days. Sometimes every week. Sometimes multiple times a week depending on what is going on. But always as often as possible. Cook-outs in the summer, game nights in the winter, way too much food, love, and laughter, squealing kids and people who love them as much as I do.
7. People who love our kids. I mean truly love them. Not just people who think they’re cute when they’re well behaved, although those people are great too. Our kids are kind, thoughtful, generous, adorable, and they are also, like most kids, loud, energetic, messy, crabby sometimes, and hyper when they’re tired. And oh the people who can deal with that…those people are home to me.
8. People who invest in our kids and love them way more than I ever could on my own. Family and friends, nursery workers and Sunday school teachers, kind people at stores, parks, and banks, so many kind strangers who have stopped to engage my children.
9. Grass to mow and weeds to pull, trees to trim and flowers to plant. Dirt to get down into, to breath, to feel between my toes and underneath my fingernails. Growing things and the life and energy they give to the world.
10. Short summers. I don’t like the heat, but I do enjoy the good three months of summer activities with the kids. I love packing a bag with snacks, lunch, and swim-suits and taking off for the day. Swimming in the river, visiting with aunts, cousins, and friends, exploring parks around the city, getting 25 cent ice cream cones, feeding ducks and fish, gardening at Gramma and Papa’s (and crashing there for naptime)…the possibilities are endless, and because the warm months are short we enjoy them more.
11. The Missouri River. There are swim spots all over the city if you look for them. Most of them are empty, and they each have their own unique beauty about them. Wild daisies growing along the bank or Russian Olive trees branching out over the water, big waves from passing boats, or a still, peaceful cove, an almost sandy beach or good skipping rocks.
12. Homemade pizza and movie nights with Ryan and the kids. The kids have so much fun making their pizzas, and we usually watch a movie to go along with a read-aloud we are doing for school. There is usually some combination of popcorn, homemade cookies or hot chocolate involved too.
13. The 20th of every month. The anniversary of our first date. We celebrate it just like we did the first time around with pizza rolls, taquitos and a movie. This is literally the only kind of junk food I love. (That and the toaster strudels my mom used to get me for my birthday.) And that’s OK because I eat modified paleo/primal 95% of the time, and life is about balance.
14. Piling on the big bed to pray with Ryan and the kids at the end of every day, no matter what. Family dinners at the table. Holding hands and praying – each one of the kids insists on their turn every time. When we have dinner with others, and they jump in and pray because they are so used to it.
15. Soft fuzzy leggings. Sandals and black boots. Braids, long shirts, and skinny jeans. My T-shirt from Dad Hollstein that says “Jesus is Lord” in several different languages. It’s way too big for me, but it sums up my childhood memories of my dad, so I have kept it for years. Old work sweatshirts from Dad Combs that say “JM Lumber” and are also way too big for me, but keep me warm outside when it snows.
16. Meeting someone and feeling an inexplicable connection with them. Feeling a deep love for the people around me, even when I don’t know them well. I’m so thankful for the variety of beautiful souls that are in this world, each one unique, and for the purposes they fulfill. I’m thankful for community and relationships of various depths, and for the truth that we are all in this together. I’m thankful for those that are loving and for those that are hard to love, because they each teach me to love better.
17. The atmosphere of community and sisterhood at women’s Bible study on Wednesday nights, led by one of the most beautiful women I know, my mom Combs. So many women to learn from, most of them older and with more experienced at life than me.
18. Writing on my little red laptop with worship music playing on Ryan’s fantastic headphones. The whole world disappears except for the music, and my thoughts transform themselves into words effortlessly.
19. A bookshelf full of books for the kids, and a basket full of new library books each week. The look on William’s face when he discovers a book he didn’t remember we had.
20. Late afternoon emergency trips to the library because Audrey has run out of books. Little voices asking, “Mama, can I get this book?” “Yes, you can have any book you want.” “Mama can I have my books?” “As soon as we get settled in the car.” Three babies with their heads buried in their books as we drive off to get Daddy from work.
21. Three babies snuggling on a giant couch under blankets made by their Aunt Michelle. We waited a long time for that couch, the coziest couch I’ve ever seen. It makes our whole house warmer and happier just by being in it.
22. Pork roast with sweet potatoes, really caramelized carrots and onions, gravy, and homemade bread. Homemade chicken and vegetable soup (with dark, rich homemade stock) served with coconut oil biscuits. Crispy sauteed asparagus. Ham and potato soup in crusty bread bowls. Homemade baked sweet potato chips and black bean hummus. Rotisserie chicken hot from the store. Roasted pumpkin bacon soup. Parmesan crusted fish. Curry chicken salad with apples, cilantro, and green onions. Pumpkin crisp. Blueberry crisp. Roasted parmesan broccoli. Maple pecan sweet potatoes. Homemade eggnog: foamy, creamy, delicious goodness that only comes round once a year.
23. My brother Jon’s homemade tortellini soup. And his cornbread pudding. Dad Comb’s breakfast pizza. And his smoked mac n’ cheese, smoked ribs, and smoked brisket. Mom Comb’s pumpkin rolls. Mom Hollstein’s homemade loaded pizza, Mexican casserole, and spaghetti pie.
24. Hot chocolate. Brownies. Fudge. Homemade chocolate cake with whipped chocolate frosting. Chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but chocolate…it just makes life better.
25. Writing. Music. Gardening. Baking. Learning. Relationships. Nature. Sleep. The things that enrich my life, and inspire and fulfill me as an individual.
26. Cozy blankets piled on the couch and all the beds – more than enough to snuggle three babies with. Bins full of little mittens, hats, scarves, coats, and boots. Closets full of little pants, sweaters, socks, and dress shirts. Bins full of art supplies, building blocks, cars and trucks, and puzzles. I’m so thankful that I’m still in this phase of life.
27. Our annual girl’s baking night, with Mom Combs, Stephanie, Nikki and I. We don’t make as many sweets as we did in years past because we’re all watching what we eat now, but that’s OK. The company, the warm bright kitchen, the holiday excitement – I love everything about it!
28. Cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar donuts, eggnog, and zombie or vampire movies in the fall with my Love.
29. The crab apple tree in my front yard that transforms into a shower of pink apple blossoms every May. Every single time Ryan and I have moved, and the move has been good for us, there has been either an apple tree or a crab apple tree in the yard. I’ve come to see apple trees as a sign of protection and blessing.
30. Cooking healthy delicious meals for my family. Especially when I cook extra for the freezer. Baking, and making enough to share with family, friends, and neighbors.
31. Deep cleaning days in the fall. I love to put on shorts and a tank top, turn the heat off, turn my music up, open all the windows, and enjoy the cleansing fall air while I work.
32. Walking outside on winter nights that are exceptionally cold and still. Icicles hang in crystal clear rows from the roof, the clothesline, the branches of the trees. Teeny tiny snowflakes fall softly like ice-cold glitter. The surface of the snow sparkling green, blue, yellow, in the moonlight. No sound, no movement – all is at peace and yet so wildly alive. God is so close I feel I could reach out and touch him.
33. Coming home on cold winter nights to a warm, dimly-lit house, an upstairs full of beds covered in way more blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals than necessary, and precious babies to tuck into them. That is the epitome of happiness.
34. Stormy evenings sitting on the back porch step, skies dark, tall trees billowing in the wind. The sense of connection and awareness is intensified by the power of the elements.
35. Going barefoot, feeling grounded and connected to the energy of the earth and the God who breathed it into existence.
36. Hot chocolate, blankets, and my pretend youtube fireplace on those first cold fall evenings. Maybe some music, maybe some writing – most likely both – and definitely a deep sense of peace.
37. Hugs. Need I say more? And people who give good ones.
38. Mom friends who bring their kids over and hang out with me, drink my tea, deal with my messy house, and enjoy my talkative, energetic kids.
39. Early morning baby snuggles in the big bed, taking “good morning” videos to send to Grandpa Mick and Grandma Tam.
40. Home: the chance to create a bubble of love, warmth, and light in a broken world. A respite, a safe-haven. Floors to sweep and dishes to wash and walls to decorate and people to invite in and hurts to heal and community to build.
41. Family: people who know you better than you know yourself, and you know them better than they know themselves. And you all know each other’s’ flaws and failures, and you love each other, not in spite of those flaws, but more because of them. And your imperfections help each other to grow. And the more you grow, the more you love. And the more you love, the more you grow. It’s like a hurricane of happiness that just keeps getting bigger and better and stronger and pulling everyone around you in.
42. Mom and Dad Combs’ house. Home. Where our children spent the first years of their lives. Peace. Belonging. Comfort. Stability. Dad’s music playing so loud you can barely hear each other talk. Late nights cooking together in the kitchen. Everyone crowded around the table, holding hands when we pray. Inside jokes and way more laughter than I knew was possible. Snuggling babies under blankets on the couch. A place you are always wanted.
43. Mom and Dad Hollstein’s house. Mountains of hugs. Siblings stuffed on a crowded couch. Everyone going out of their way to make everyone else happy. Piano music, guitar music, worship music on the stereo. Night-time walks with Laura and Landon. Lying on the trampoline under the stars talking in hushed voices about the most otherworldly of our spiritual experiences. Guitar music in the dark. So many memories stuffed into a three-week period, deep enough to last me a lifetime.
44. Sisters. The closest it is possible for hearts to be. The safest place in the whole world. Warmth, security, companionship, belonging, a oneness that transcends time and distance. Knowing someone so deeply you don’t need words.
45. My Mom Hollstein. For being my biggest encouragement. For believing in me, and for showing interest and expressing support even when I do things differently than she would. For showing me how to be humble and teaching me how to serve. For always seeing the best in others and for teaching me that healing is always always possible.
46. My Mom Combs. For challenging me, inspiring me, and facilitating rapid growth in me. For providing space for me to grow, letting me love and serve the family in my own way, and considering me her daughter. For being strong in all my areas of weakness, and modeling for me who I was supposed to become.
47. My Dad Hollstein. For strong arms, goofing off, shooting guns and riding bikes. For being consistent, sincere, strong-minded, faithful, protective, the light of my childhood. For showing me God at such a young age I can barely even remember the beginning of my own story.
48. My Dad Combs. For growing with me, spending time with me, investing in me. For calling me his daughter, talking with me over coffee, being a safe place, a good listener, letting me be a part of his projects, teaching me soooooo many life skills I did not have.
49. Michelle, my “other me,” my “person.” Annette, my twin in body and mind. Allen, my little brother who became my big brother. Laura, the girl who puts the music in my heart and the color in my world. Landon, who makes my heart smile every single day.
50. Stephanie and Nikki. I grew up with three sisters, and being so far away from them has been one of the hardest things for me. I don’t know how to be without sisters. And so I can’t properly describe the happiness I feel that God gave my husband a sister and my husband’s brother a wife, and that they are both here.
51. Tyler, Stephanie, Jon, Nikki, Amanda, and Nino. Yes, I know a couple of you got mentioned twice and that’s OK. There is no limit to the thankfulness I feel for the siblings I have gained over the years. Brothers and sisters are the true riches of life.
52. Zayden. The little boy who made me an Auntie. And the days he comes to play, whether planned or last-minute – they are always the best days.
53. Audrey. For her love of learning. For taking care of everyone around her. For that ridiculously adorable smile. For loving people. For her creativity, inventiveness, positivity, and resilience.
54. William. For hugs and snuggles. For singing me to sleep, drawing me monster pictures, and reading me stories. For fighting off all the bad guys and dragons. For being strong-willed, open-minded, and soft-hearted.
55. August. For being adorable. For those chubby cheeks and that precious half-smile he has. For growing up just a little slower than the other two so I can have a baby longer. For being serious, thoughtful, and intentional.
56. Ryan. For loving me at my best and at my worst. For balancing me, expecting so much strength out of me that I didn’t know I had, and for being my constant companion. For ordering me pizzas when I don’t feel like cooking. For those moments when the kids are misbehaving and we look at each other and hide our laughter. For playing all his favorite music videos for me over and over while insisting that I’ve never seen them before. For all the inside jokes and the fake fights and for being better at calming Audrey down than me, for dancing in the rain, for his gorgeous green-brown eyes and that thick black hair that he hates so much.
57. Sunday morning worship. There is nothing like laying it all down in the presence of God. I am thankful for the freedom I now experience, both in the atmosphere of my church and in my own freedom from fear.
58. Neighbors who aren’t afraid to come knock on my door or yell through my window. Having my neighbors’ phone numbers. Looking out for one another and sharing with each other. Feeling connected to those around me.
59. Septembers: relief from the heat, a return to routine, the urge to deep-clean and to write, shopping trips for little coats and winter clothes.
60. Octobers: Brilliant landscapes of vividly painted trees, donuts and cider, hot chocolate, blankets and hoodies.
61. Novembers: Thankfulness, delicious food and family, a cozy home on darkening evenings.
62. Decembers: Christmas cookies, trees and lights, the world at it’s most magical. Cold, dark, snowy nights when God is close and happiness is overflowing.
63. A giant Christmas tree with lights and rustic decorations that takes up half our living room and makes my heart fill up with the pure joy of Christmas magic every time I look at it.
64. Everything about the holiday season. Absolutely everything, from October on.
65. My prayer room with worship music and twinkle lights, where I can almost hear the songs of angels and it feels as if God is just on the other side of a veil.
66. Surprise visits from Stephanie. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, when my sister shows up at my door it’s the best part of my day.
67. When my brother Landon sends me his Spotify playlists, or even better, clips of music he composed. Good morning texts from my sisters. Technology, so I can feel close to my family even though half of them are far away.
68. Puppy snuggles on the couch at Stephanie’s, because I don’t have any of my own.
69. Watching Ryan be a dad, play with the kids, make forts with them, tickle them and throw them on the couch, comfort them when they’re crying, and discipline them even more gently than I do.
70. Hugs and kisses and baby snuggles and “Mommy! I wuv ooo” a million times in one day. Three carseats in the car that have to be strapped and unstrapped at every stop. Messes made as soon as I have cleaned up. ALL the toys pulled out on the floor. Having to say the same thing 12 times….and answer the same questions 20 times. Those days when my patience is thin, when I’m tired of being called every two seconds. All of it forces me to grow, to learn patience and find peace within.
71. Waking up to texts from my brothers that were sent late at night after I went to sleep. Getting woken up by phone calls from family members. Having keys to all my family member’s houses. Being part of a deep and rich community, where I might be needed at any time of day or night, and where doors and hearts are always open and people are always wanted.
72. The strengths and weaknesses of those close to me. I am thankful for their strengths; they inspire, motivate, and nourish me like oxygen to fire. But oh am I thankful for their weaknesses, for their blind spots and failures. Without them, how would I grow stronger? How would I expand my perspective? How would I deepen and strengthen my ability to truly and unconditionally love?
73. The people in my life who are encouragers, open-minded, and good listeners, who focus on my strengths, build me up and give me confidence. The people in my life who are honest about my flaws, who see what I could and should be, who keep me humble and inspire me to be better.
74. Michigan, where I was born and raised. Forested ravines, vegetation growing in every crack and crevice, the Great Lakes and lake-effect weather, snow piled higher than the roofs of houses, thunderstorms in the summer, moisture in the air and birdsong, fireflies and the song of crickets at night.
75. Montana, which has found its way into my soul. Big sky and mountains, rocky landscapes and wide open plains, fresher air than you’ll breathe anywhere, mild weather and sunny skies by day, multitudes of stars at night.
76. Homeschool. Both for my kids and myself. Learning in our own way, at our own pace, on our own time. Snuggling on the couch to read. Learning languages together. Hands-on science at the pet store. Following the interests of my kids. Stacks and stacks of library books. Nature walks and seasonal projects, cooking and baking and gardening, messy art at the table, playing piano together, math, spelling, and history – I love all of it.
77. Sitting in on Audrey’s Scrooge play rehearsals. Watching her read to her little brothers. seeing the bonds between the three of them develop. The pictures they draw me and the notes they write me and the snacks they make me. How they take care of me when I’m not feeling well, and each other more and more as the days go by.
78. Video chatting with my sisters. Cooking with Michelle in our own kitchens thousands of miles apart. Laura playing the piano and singing to me while I write. Annette showing me her adorable and mischievous cats. My bi-weekly, hour-long phone calls with my mom. Calling my dad with a question, only to forget to ask it because he is too busy talking my ear off about skunks that followed him in his mail truck and crazy birds diving at his helmet when he’s riding his bike.
79. “Coffee” with my Dad Combs at Starbucks on a chilly evening, or outside on a warm Sunday morning. (He gets coffee; I don’t.) The nights we sit in the living room and he tells me all the family stories I missed out on, over and over till it feels like I was there.
80. When my sisters come for Christmas. We decorate and make Christmas cookies, watch girly shows, do each others hair, and stay up way too late talking. The time I get to spend with my sisters feeds my soul enough to last until the next visit.
81. The chance to grow and give birth to three beautiful children. To nurse for six years straight, to be woken up every two hours for five years. To put band-aids on little cuts, dry tears, break-up fights, and be the primary source of companionship all day every day to three little souls. To discipline, guide, teach and love. There is no other experience that compares. It is the most painful, most transforming, and most beautiful thing I will ever do.
82. A husband who understands commitment. For the nights we fought, the years that were dark, but we loved each other anyway. For all the times we couldn’t “figure things out” but we stayed together anyway – until years had passed and finally the things we never figured out didn’t seem so important. For all the times we had no idea how to make it work, and we would say “the only thing I know right now is that I’m not going anywhere,” because deciding to make it work no matter what is the only way.
83. This life. The good and the bad, the joy and the pain. For the chance to live here, in this fallen, broken world, and to experience the unique blend of joy and pain, hardship and blessing, that exists here. To grow and learn to love God and love others. To influence others, to play a part in their growth, and to make this world better while I am here.
84. Jesus: for his sacrifice, for his example, and for his love.
85. The beautiful, beautiful love of my Creator, in which I have found all my answers, my identity, and my satisfaction, my peace, my joy, my reality.
“Jesus loves you, this I know…” These words sum up everything that matters, and all the rest flows out of them.