I’ve had a couple of “grumpy” days lately. By that, I mean I was grumpy.
When I tried to figure out the cause of the grumpiness, there was one thing that all the grumpy days had in common: on those days I had forgotten to write down something I was thankful for and drop it in my “Joy Jar.”
Sure, there were other factors that played into these days of grump (weather, work stress, my cat taunting me in the wee hours of the morning), but the obvious, in-my-face-reason that occurred each day when I wasn’t at my most pleasant was that I failed to look for the good in an ordinary, very unspectacular day.
Please don’t discount my belief in the “Joy Jar.” I promise, I’m not a snake oil salesman trying to peddle an unrealistic remedy or solution to making your days better. I have, however, become a firm believer in looking for the good and finding gratitude in ordinary things. I promise, this deliberate change in your thinking will help get you out of any rut, foul mood, hard time, or seemingly hopeless situation.
Taking time to stop and look for the good in the middle of the bad refocuses your mindset. It puts the negatives on “pause,” and allows you to hunt down joy—-a reminder that there is always, always something to be thankful for.
Resetting your mind will not only turn a bad day around, but it also enables you to find joy, and happiness, and wonder in the simplest of things…
And that’s where this blog will take you—to the ordinary, simple word salad of things that have occurred in the last month or so.
I have honestly sat down to write this blog five times. A couple of times I was interrupted. Another time I couldn’t find a connection to anything that was happening in my life. It seemed impossible to tie anything together that might have some sort of insight or lesson. In addition to laziness, the last excuse was the one that kept my fingers from clicking on the keyboard.
Basically, I was stuck. I was in the imaginary quicksand that used to pump fear into my veins as a youngster. I was comfortable, and everything was okay, and I just didn’t want to have to think too much.
But this complacency was more than being lazy. While grounded in the muck and mire of the usual routine, I was wallowing in the midst of the February Blues—twenty-eight days of the LONGEST short month of the year.
If you’re in public education, you totally get this truth. The cold and rainy days. The after-Christmas-let-down. The faraway dreams of warmer days and spring break.
But a funny thing happened during these winter doldrums. While I was feeling restless, and wanting a change of atmosphere, tired of the same old routine, the students at school were eagerly expecting this “sameness.” It seemed daily I was asked, “Mrs. Keith, when are you coming to our class?” When I had to miss a day for jury duty, this really added to their confusion. Afterall, I was scheduled to be in classes on Tuesdays, the government be damned.
Elementary students love routine, and for many who endure chaos at home on a daily basis, school is the one constant they can count on. When things change, they feel uncertain. They long for the stability that for many of us seems mundane and boring.
It was during those dreary, endless days of bad weather and no sunshine that these sweet little ones helped me find the light, as they made me realize I had become a part of their lives. I had been accepted and was part of their school routine. One morning at breakfast, I was even raised to the status of super-hero when I wiped up spilled orange juice and one of my little friends thrust his arms up above his head in a sign of victory and yelled, “Mrs. Keith saves the day!”
I also had settled in and began making the lessons I taught “my own.” I based them on the curriculum we use, but I branched out, adding my own special touches according to the needs of our students. And together we found joy in discovering new things about ourselves and the world around us.
During the second week of February, we celebrated the 100th Day of School, which is a HUGE deal in elementary schools everywhere. When I was elementary counselor at another school, everyone dressed up as 100-year-olds on this festive day. Since I aim to be “all-in” and participate in everything wholeheartedly, I ordered some “old lady” things from Amazon: a gray bun wig and glasses on a chain. I borrowed my mom’s wooden cane (which she only used while on a trip to Branson when they took the Senior Adults to Silver Dollar City….what in the world were they thinking??)
I also had a pink warm-up suit, and a big purse. I was all set to be a 100-year-old person on the 100th Day of School.
The afternoon before the dress-up day while I was standing at car-rider duty, I casually asked a couple of teachers if they were dressing up. Both of them seemed a little confused and stated that they would probably wear a t-shirt or something, but they weren’t going to go all out.
I turned to my principal and said, “Well, I’ve got everything ready, even though I probably don’t need to dress up. I mean, I feel like I already look like I’m a 100-year-old lady!” (just me trying to be funny)….
She had the strangest look on her face and said, “Well if you dress up like that, you’ll be the only one!”
Oh. My. Goodness. What had I been thinking? I never even asked how they dressed up for the 100th day. I simply made an assumption.
And you know what they say when you assume something…
My mouth gaped open, and in the next second my principal and I were laughing so hard that we were crying.
She said as she was gasping for air, “Part of me wishes you hadn’t asked and you had just shown up dressed like that!”
“It really would have been funny,” was my reply.
We howled with laughter the rest of our time at car duty, but then, on my way home I panicked. What was I going to do? I didn’t have a 100th Day of School t-shirt. I decided I would text a friend who makes shirts, and see if she had something she could make or I could borrow.
UGH! Why didn’t I ask?
When I arrived home, I found a pair of oversized sunglasses that had candles on them (for kids’ birthdays) and I wrote “100th day of school” on them with a Sharpie. Pathetic doesn’t begin to describe my efforts…
My principal sent me a text that night and said, “Don’t worry. We will have something for you to wear tomorrow. But part of me wishes you would have shown up dressed up. The kids would have loved it!”
The next morning at breakfast duty, my friend who makes t-shirts came up to me with a bag. But she didn’t give it to me. We talked for several minutes, then she took the bag to my principal. It was time for me to walk the first graders to class, and on my way out, my principal handed me the bag—-and inside was a 100th day of School shirt. I had no idea they had been in cahoots about the t-shirt before I almost dressed up like an old lady.
I have the best friends…
And as we celebrated the 100th day, I was dressed appropriately. It was on that day that I also discovered the excitement about all things “100.” At lunch, we all counted by tens to 100. And then by fives. That afternoon, each student was given a balloon, and we went outside and after counting to hundred again, the balloons were released. Tied to each balloon was the school’s email address so anyone who discovered a balloon could email the school and tell us the location of where they found their balloon.
One student was chanting before he let his balloon go, “C’mon balloon! Please go to Las Vegas!”
It was also on the 100th day of School that I discovered I had a mailbox in the teachers’ lounge. In my defense, I didn’t have one at the beginning of the year, and I never checked back.
Imagine the joy (and slight embarrassment) when a teacher told me she put something in my box, and I responded with, “I have a box?”
And I did. It was filled with thank you notes for things I did earlier in the year, and a couple of Christmas cards…
So in the middle of February, I discovered all kinds of joy. A t-shirt, balloons, my own mailbox.
And when I walked in the door after this day of celebration, I proudly showed off my new shirt. My husband was reading it out loud and said, “Happy 100 Lays of School…” what????
Some of the letters were in cursive, and my shirt was sort of folded over. But yes, that moment just put the cherry on top of a fun-filled day.
And on the next day, my principal told me I needed to hang around until after the buses were all gone. I immediately began reviewing events in my mind, wondering what I could have done to have to meet with the principal.
Imagine my complete shock when a group of teachers showed up with a huge basket filled with all of my favorite things for School Counselors Week. I was moved to tears. In the span of two days, I had so much joy-jar material…
And here we are. Back where we started. It seems things come in spurts. One day there are many things to be thankful for, and the next it seems that all hope is lost. I have so many friends who are struggling right now. So many BIG problems, situations, and circumstances that seem insurmountable.
The February blues kicked in when I kept hearing of people I love who were struggling. I was busy, and tired from being so busy, and I stopped being intentional about writing the joyful things down.
Last week, I dumped the slips of joy out on the table and counted them. As I looked at the calendar, the number of joys was less than the number of days. And on this ordinary day, when it seemed hard to find any good amidst the fighting and sadness overseas, the skyrocketing gas prices, the empty shelves in the grocery store, along with inflated prices. Life-changing bad news. Uncertainty. How could I come up with one thing to be thankful for, much less eleven?!?
But I made myself sit at the table and find 11 joyful things. And once I began, the joys began over-flowing.
I’ve changed the jar I use from the plastic, homemade container I made on New Years’ Day. I’m now using a cookie jar I was given by one of my favorite English teachers, Miss Spradley. It was a wedding gift. I’ve always kept it out because it reminds me of the teacher I always hoped I could be. Tough. Challenging. Funny. Disciplined. Unwaivering. Kind. Dedicated.
Miss Spradley began every class period the same way, with a thought for the day. She provided these thoughts and also encouraged students to bring in quotes or short stories that provided encouragement or motivation.
There is one thought for the day that has stuck with me after all these years. While I can’t remember the whole thing, I do recall that it was based on the idea of using popular product slogans to demonstrate God’s love for us.
Example: “God is like Coca-Cola. He’s the real thing.”
I remember the day Miss Spradley read it and ended with this, “God is like a Hallmark card—He cared enough to send the very best.”
You see, I was baptized that year, and Miss Spradley was a member of our church. The Monday after my baptism she pulled me aside and said, “You know what you did yesterday is the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life. Remember that. And remember I’m very proud of you.”
It’s only fitting that the teacher who taught me to love grammar, and diagramming sentences, and called us “gourd heads,” and threw peppermints to us when we responded correctly is a part of my daily joy. I think of her each time I add a slip of paper to the jar. I am reminded of her love for me and all of her students, but mostly I’m reminded of her love for Jesus.
On a dreary, cold and wet day, as I was driving to work, and joy seemed so far away, I listened to the four songs that played on the radio during my fifteen-minute drive. I hadn’t slept much the night before because I had a sweet friend on my mind. When I can’t sleep, I re-play my favorite songs in my mind….(fortunately hearing the actual singers and not my own voice). That night, I kept hearing a song, but I was getting the words mixed up.
But in the middle of several songs, the very song I heard the night before and couldn’t get the words right played: “Great Things.”
“Oh hero of Heaven, You conquered the grave.
You free every captive and break every chain.
Oh God, You have done great things.
We dance in Your freedom, awake and alive.
Oh Jesus, our Savior, Your name lifted high.
Oh God, You have done great things.”
This song was preceded by “Waymaker”:
Light in the darkness.
That is who You are.”
And the song, “Breathe Miracles,”
“Over every broken heart,
Hopе is rising through the dark.
Over evеry weary soul,
When “Great Things” played, I realized I had been hearing the right words. You see, what you hear, and see, becomes what you think and say. And if you listen closely, you will realize that in those simple songs and words, God is speaking directly to you.
After a restless night, I was reminded that God is a Waymaker, a promise-keeper, a miracle worker, a light in the darkness. He can breathe miracles over the weariest of souls. And He has done great things.
And how fitting that the last song I heard that morning was “The Joy of the Lord.”
“The joy of the Lord is my strength.
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
In the darkness I’ll dance,
In the shadows I’ll sing.
The joy of the Lord is my strength”
If you haven’t tried the joy-jar, I hope you will. If you don’t want to use a jar, just write those things you’re thankful for in a book or journal. Try to do this at the same time each day. It helps with being consistent, and intentional.
By seeking joy and hunting it down on days when it seems scarce, I have learned to give thanks for the simplicity in my life. Very few of my words of joy or gratitude have to do with material things. My joy is found in the lasting things. Good friends, spilled orange juice, an almost blunder, and discovering the greatness of ordinary things.
You have within you the power to help change the world. And you don’t have to do it alone, for the Joy of the Lord is your strength.
Remember, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. And it all begins with being thankful and seeking joy…