At the risk of sounding completely ogre-like…by this time in November, is anyone else a little tired of the grateful heart campaign? I mean, how many Facebook hashtags have you seen while scrolling through today with the same theme: #31daysofthanks #attitudeofgratitude and the classic #blessed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against being thankful, but I also want us to be honest with ourselves – are we being thankful because it’s the cool thing to do in November, or because that’s truly where we want our hearts to be? And – do we need to hashtag and social medialize it? (truly asking this question)

A couple weeks ago, my sons found an old book on our shelf, one leftover from my childhood: Precious Moments, Through the Year Stories. We opened up the well-loved hardback and flipped to the “November” section. One of the poems has stuck with me. It begins:

I heard Mom say as she scrubbed today,

I’m thankful for brushes and brooms

I’m glad to clean my cozy house

That’s filled with cheerful rooms

After we finished reading, I put the kids in bed and started to write the rough draft for my blog post this month. I wanted to write about having a grateful heart and for the hidden blessings for which I struggle to be grateful, just like in the poem… for messy rooms and dirty dishes. For laundry and tired eyes. Although some days I am grateful for these, my words still felt disjointed and a little #blessed, trying tooto hard to be thematic for the month of November.

And that’s when I remembered the last stanza of the Precious Moments poem:

I heard mom say in her prayers tonight

I’m thankful for problems today

If life never got a little bit rough 

I might forget to pray

I don’t know who this person’s mom is, but I want her to be my mentor. Because if I’m honest? My attitude is what keeps me from attaining a grateful heart. Many days I’m a whining, crabby mess. I want life to be comfortable, I don’t want to clean up messes, and I definitely don’t want to be grateful for difficulty (even when my perceived difficulties have nothing on true suffering). I want to do the photo challenge and take pictures of my messy dishes, and post about how I’m blessed to wash them, but knowing me, I’ll probably try to make sure it’s only the dishes that match, from meals where we ate the recommended servings of vegetables and a non-processed-food main course (with dessert of course, because I’m not a savage)… 

Sound ridiculous? I agree.

Despite our plethora of blessings, this has been a difficult season for our family, both mentally and physically, and I’m super good at feeling sorry for myself on the days when I just can’t hold it together.

So, I got up off the couch, poured myself a big glass of buttery chardonnay and decided to try again…to list out some of the heart attitudes that I need to lift to God:

That sleep deprivation and my own unrealistic expectations are simultaneously a nasty combination and a lousy excuse for trying to keep my temper in check.

That no matter what I tell myself about the miracle of birth I still look in the mirror, step on the scale, and attempt to try on clothes that I know aren’t going to fit and worry that I’ll never “get back” to a “good weight”

That my desire to be known and loved sometimes feeds the demons’ attacks on my heart.

I’m not thankful for my sin, that’s for certain. I know that the Bible never excuses my sin. But there’s a very real spiritual battle occurring at this moment, as angels fight demons (see 2 Kings 6). 

So what does this mean in the context of giving thanks?

Well, I’m thankful for a church that confesses our sinful hearts and belief in our Savior together regularly. I’m thankful for fellow believers who hear my struggle and, instead of judging, say “me, too sister” as we bond together to fight against the pull of evil. I’m thankful for the knowledge that this world and its depression, anxiety, negative comparison, hurt, anguish and sorrow are not the end.

I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who overcame sin, death, and the devil to bring us new life so that we can Raise a Hallelujah in the presence of our enemies. 

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name make known among the nations what he has done

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. (1 Chronicles)

I love how when you take pictures in our church that the image of Jesus, arms outstretched, presides over those gathered together. 

Buy the Pie……

“My mom doesn’t make stuffing.” he said.

“Excuse me? I’m sorry I don’t think I heard you… correctly. Did you just say, your Mom doesn’t make stuffing.” she said – with a bit of fire in her tone.

“Yep. And if she ever did… she never cooked it IN the bird.” he said with much less passion than she, leaving the room clearly not seeing the importance of the topic at hand.

The ‘he’ was my young, handsome husband.

The ‘she’ was his equally young, slightly emotional, trying to transition to new married life wife – or Me.

I can’t believe we never talked about this. In all of the important things you find out about your spouse to determine if they were the ONE… my husband and I had failed to discuss this most important issue…. The Thanksgiving Meal.

Tom and I were headed into our second thanksgiving together. The first one I had hosted – In our small 1 bedroom apartment. My parents came to visit and I made dinner exactly the way it should be. Turkey with a huge side of stuffing, corn bread please.

Cooked ……IN the bird.

Thanksgiving 2016 – Some Michigan friends let us use their condo for our family gathering in MI after we moved away earlier that year. Evidence of our STUFFED bird.

(Don’t judge – I’ve eaten this ALL of my almost 50 years – and I’m alive to share. End of discussion. )

I cooked that first thanksgiving dinner the way my momma taught me. ( I actually never called my mom this but it seemed more appropriate for emphasis, said with a southern twang. Did I mention I grew up in Michigan?

The way my daddy’s momma taught her. ( Nope… didn’t call him daddy either). But my daddys momma – my grandma Hirsch – she was from Texas, her name was Katie Belle and she did indeed have a southern twang. Gosh I loved the way she called me punkin:)

The problem came the first year I didn’t host… and I found out that we weren’t eating stuffing.

I was disappointed and actually a bit offended. (seriously) I just could not understand why a family would not include this important side dish that held not only delicious taste memories in my mind but a lifetime of precious memories in my heart.

Corn bread stuffing. Filled with half a loaf of cornbread, wheat bread, hamburger… no raisins. Placed IN the body of the bird for perfect cooking. The juices from the turkey cook in to the stuffing for a moist, delicious treat . If you’ve had it once you’ll want it again. It didn’t take much convincing that my husband would adapt to my family tradition. We’ve raised our children on corn bread stuffing ( cooked IN the bird). Since they could sit up in a high chair I involved them in the bread tearing process. There isn’t a Thanksgiving to date that I don’t have a picture of them huddled around a bowl full of the delectable ingredients. They have each perfected their own tearing style – some big chunks – others tiny, meticulous pieces. I grew up tearing bread with my sister as my mom prepped the rest of the meal. It was the sign that we were all slowing down, to gather, to make tearing bread a top priority over anything else that could possibly pull our attention. Sometimes we’d have music playing, others it was just quiet conversation or no words at all. We just stood and tore bread anticipating the day that was to come.

Thanksgiving 2017 – Different Michigan friends let us use their home from our family gathering. We hauled the ingredients to make the stuffing. So worth it to see these three together tearing:)

We never lived near family so most of my holiday memories are quiet in nature . This is true for my own childhood as well as my years of raising children. Some years we would venture out to Downtown Detroit for the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. One year of my childhood my dad and a neighbor dad hauled the kids to the inner city in wet, pelting snow to view the parade while the moms stayed home and cooked. It was horrible and wonderful all at the same time.

Tom took our older 2 children several years while baby Brooke and I watched on TV from home. One of the last years we lived in Michigan we attended the parade after worshiping at a beautiful, historic church called Trinity. It was crisp, beautiful and simple. Just the 5 of us. We had torn the bread in advance – so the bird was ready to cook when we returned home

The Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade
Faithful dad that took the older 2 to the parade – it was COLD!!!

When I think back to my reaction to someones decision to not make stuffing I have often felt surprised, kind of embarrassed about my immaturity. I was really mad and I was certain that Thanksgiving was just not going to be the same. I didn’t understand it, the level of emotion… until…

Right. Now.

Stuffing to me is more then a carb filled side dish. It is a legacy. Its the picture of my grandmother Katie Belle Hirsch tearing bread with her boys Johnny and Norman in a small kitchen in Houston, TX. It is this same woman sharing the recipe with her new daughter in law and receiving the gift when that daughter in law took it and incorporated it into her new family tradition. It is my sister and I standing on chairs and and stools in small kitchens in Brighton MI, and my own children on their own chairs … side by side tearing the bread, me slicing celery and onions..melting boullion cubes in hot water. One generation passing on to another passing on to another passing on to another…. not just ingredients but values….



Enjoying the process not just the end result.

Good food.

Our Good God.


Generational Cooking – My mom, my oldest and me. One of my favorite pictures.

So when the announcement came that their would be no stuffing… I grieved. Funny but I did. Actually not so funny….so true. The traditions we make with those we love are powerful, binding and important. The passing on of the corn bread dressing recipe was intentional – at least for me. It was a link that is now 3 generations deep that I wanted to keep going.

As we walk into another Thanksgiving celebration, the bread tearing will look a little different.

Additions: Our home will be full of 6 young adults under 25. I’m so eager to watch 2 of my children pass on the stuffing tradition to 3 Norweigan students celebrating their first Thanksgiving in America and to the girlfriend of my son.

Subtractions: My parents will celebrate at their home in Texas. After a year of much travel they are feeling weary and needing rest. This makes my heart a bit heavy as I watch them move into a slower pace…. I sure do hope my mom has the energy to tear some bread.

Multiplication: My oldest will be with in laws for her first Thanksgiving as a wife. I am so grateful for the new family she is making and the beautiful souls that have impacted her husband. We have not lost a daughter but gained a son and a new crew of incredible people.

Division: Why the bread of course. This will remain the same. I’ll bake a batch of corn bread, pull out the loaf of wheat bread. And it will be torn… and the tradition will live on.

I pray as you head into your week… you hold tight to all that is truly important. That pinterest perfection doesn’t steal your joy. That overindulging on the posts of others wont steal you of the peace right in front of you. That over commitment doesn’t steal the satisfaction that comes from saying ‘ No Thank you.’ That you make time to tear the bread, or play the game, or take the walk, or go to the parade, or worship our Savior – the giver of all things good.

Now….the pie, doesn’t matter to me. I’ll pick that up from Costco for 5.99.

From the Kitchen of Katie Belle Hirsch – my gradma. Sure do wish I knew where she got it… I never asked.


My son and I sat opposite each other at the table, discussing a middle school project he had basically ignored. I spoke in measured and practical tones, making it clear that I was disappointed in his lack of attention to schoolwork.  Ted’s head sank lower and lower as he sat rigidly before me. Ted’s primary love language has always been words of affirmation, and he braces himself noticeably in the face of criticism.  As I talked on, the negative effect of my words was more and more apparent.  I suddenly stopped mid-sentence, leaned forward, and said quietly, “Ted…I am on your side.”  His head jerked up and his eyes narrowed.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” he challenged.

He may have been surprised and perhaps a bit irritated that I had abruptly played that card in our discussion but in truth he and I both knew what “I am on your side” was supposed to mean.  It reflected one of the basic concepts of the Mehl Family Mission Statement, a document that was well known to our family of five.  After all, we had spent quite a bit of time writing it in the summer of 2000.

That year was a pivotal one for us. We were a missionary family based in Moscow, and my husband was preparing to take on the role of regional director. Up to that point, one of the benefits we had enjoyed as missionaries was a close family nucleus. John’s new position would require him to travel to places where other missionaries worked in and around the former Soviet Union.  More travel time meant less time with the family, especially during the school year.  Anticipating time away from us, John determined that we develop a family mission statement—intentionally discussing our beliefs, values, and purpose, and putting them into a brief document. Together or apart, we would be bound together by this written expression of our common foundation and mission.

We had a full calendar of activities from late May to mid-August that summer.  To make our time on the road more comfortable, friends had loaned us a well-traveled blue conversion van. This vehicle became our family cocoon as we accumulated hours and miles driving around the country.

To my husband, time in the van was perfect for working on a mission statement.  To our three grade-school aged kids and to me, the task of hammering out a mission statement seemed a lot like homework during a summer break that was already busy. Our groans were often audible as he climbed into the van at the start of another day, put a fresh mug of coffee in the cup holder, and handed me a notebook so I could record our discussions.

John was either oblivious to the groans and tension, or he was simply not to be deterred. By the end of the summer, his probing questions and our grudging responses, faithfully noted by whichever parent was not driving, produced a family mission statement that we could all agree to.  

When we returned to Moscow at the end of the summer, we printed off our mission statement and attached it with magnets to our refrigerator. In our small kitchen it was easily visible whenever we sat down to a meal.  Later that year I met another woman who told me her family also had a mission statement—theirs was framed and hanging in their living room.  I assured her that ours also had a place of prominence in our home! 

The thing is, we are “process people,” and our statement was in the perfect place to be discussed, tweaked, refined and polished. The revision process continued for the next decade or so.  After the initial changes we began the practice of reading our statement together on New Year’s Day, an annual appointment to decide whether further changes to it were warranted. The most recent version, taped to our kitchen cabinet in Nebraska, is dated January, 2010, and had been approved with few alterations for two or three years prior to that date. It reads as follows: 

The Mehl Family

…Knows that God is for us, forgives us, and loves us no matter what because Jesus is our Savior.  We want to know Him and want others to know Him.  We study his Word and continue to grow in Him.

…Knows that we are a team. We are for each other. We want to know each other well. We love one another and will always love one another, no matter what. We look one another in the eye and speak words of apology, forgiveness and truth. We make and keep promises.  We encourage one another. We value a sense of humor.

…Wanders and wonders in the world God has made, so that we will know it, too.

…Understands that earth is a temporary place to live and grow and share God’s Word; heaven is our eternal home.

As we became familiar with our mission statement and repeated it to each other, we quickly latched on to the phrase, “I love you and I will always love you, no matter what.” We said these words to each other at bedtime when we hugged goodnight. We used them to accompany our good-byes and hellos when John left on a trip or returned home. We said them to reinforce “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” when apology and forgiveness were necessary.

In short order, “I love you and will always love you, no matter what,” was abbreviated to ILYAWALYNMW (yes, the second ‘I’ is omitted)—which I confidently pronounce as “Il-ya-WAH-lyn-mwah,” because that’s what it says, right?  It is a code word for unconditional love that is part of our family culture, and is used in letters, notes, texts, and signs that have hung in our homes.  A few years ago our daughter, Louisa (who displays ILYAWALYNMW in her middle school classroom), had this abbreviation made into a bracelet for me as a Christmas gift.

Both the full phrase and the abbreviation gained import in the decade between 2000 and 2010 as our children left the family nucleus to attend high school in the US.  During those same years our home base moved from Moscow to Frankfurt, and then to Hong Kong.  The bond of ILYAWALYNMW was increasingly precious, as our family, once snug in the confines of our trusty blue van, was stretched and spread to opposite sides of the globe. 

If asked, I believe each of us can point to times when ILYAWALYNMW has been put to the test in our family. Declarations of unconditional love WILL be tested. Whether doing the wrong or suffering the wrong—whether daring our family to love us despite our sin or being pressed to prove that ILYWALYNMW was more than  just words, we each have felt the strain of testing. To be sure, repeating the words “I love you and I will always love you no matter what” carries a lot of power within a family. We feel and mean those words deeply—more and more with every repetition. But we also know that actually living them through the fluctuating highs and lows of living sometimes requires power that we do not have on our own.

You may have noticed that the Mehl family mission statement begins with God, and with good reason.  Much as we like to repeat ILYAWALYNMW, unconditional love begins with God…with His promises to us and their fulfillment in Jesus. We believe that GOD is for us, forgives us, and loves us no matter what because Jesus is our Savior. 

Because Jesus is our Savior…our sins have been forgiven

Because Jesus is our Savior…we know what it means to be loved sacrificially, unconditionally

Because Jesus is our Savior…we have a right relationship with God

Because Jesus is our Savior…we are free to love sacrificially, unconditionally

Because Jesus is our Savior…we are empowered by His Holy Spirit to forgive and to live FOR others, beginning with those closest to us.

Honestly, it is not in my power to say and to live “ILYAWALYNMW” without the power that Jesus provides in His original, loving, and sacrificial act of “ILYAWALYNMW.”  He proved himself to be on my side by taking my place. He died so that I might live blameless before God, and daily enjoy the blessings of grace and reprieve. Living in that grace, it is every bit in my power to say and live ILYAWALYNMW with His spirit at work in me.

Writing a mission statement may not have been my top priority in the summer of 2000, but I’m thankful it was my husband’s and I love him for his tenacity. It gave us words that bind us and remind us that because Jesus loved us unconditionally, the power of ILYAWALYNMW is ours—given by him to us so we can share it with each other.  

A few months after my conversation with Ted, he and Louisa were having a discussion (possibly about me) and I heard him say, with only a hint of teenage sarcasm, “Louisa, don’t you know? Mom is On. Your. Side.”  Over the years, he and I have had our disagreements, but if I pause and then say, “Ted…” he will reply, “I know. I know. You are on my side.” Earlier this year, when he presented me with his customary hand-written Mother’s Day letter, I was moved to read these words: “Thank you for always being on my side.”  Grown to be a young man, he is also on my side, and I’m quite sure he knows what that’s supposed to mean.