Saturday, January 9, 2016

41

It's my birthday tomorrow. My forty-first birthday. To get in the birthday-blogging mood, I was re-reading my previous birthday posts:  39 and 40  (such original titles, I know...).  Each pretty traumatic in it's own way. In comparison, this promises to be somewhat of a dull post, since I'm perfectly ok with turning forty-one.

Truth be told, it's been another crazy year. Seems as though every year holds it's own brand of crazy, I'm coming to discover. Unlike most of my years to date, however, this one has been characterized more by peace and joy and gratitude and grace - a refreshing change, to say the least.

But mostly peace. Not because it's been a particularly peaceful year - lots of unexpected and unwelcome things have happened, intermingled with much that was wonderful and very welcome. Rather, I think it's because I've been learning to be a more peace-filled person; and to take that peace with me into whatever storm may arise.

The statements above sound a little misleading - as if this peace has been achieved through any effort on my part. That couldn't be any farther from the truth. In fact, the only reason I've been able to (sometimes) practice peace in stressful situations is because God has been revealing to me more and more of who He is:

That peace is a Person - One who is with me always. That His love never, ever fails. That His kindness and goodness toward me are completely consistent and dependable. That His joy really is my strength. That He has endless patience with me. That He delights in me.

I wouldn't call it a perfectly peaceful year, however. It's so easy to forget that God is for me, not against me. It's so easy to make a mistake, then another, spiraling down into that dreaded place of discouragement and doubt. It's so easy to forget who I am, whose I am. And that makes all the difference in how I respond to challenges and difficulties.

I saw the term "imperfect progress" for the first time this past year. I guess that's how I'd best define my journey - not a steady, predictable ascent, but more of a meandering, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of awkward-yet-joyous dance. And you know what? I'll take it!

All things considered, forty has been my best year yet; and I have every confidence that forty-one will be even better. Not because I've got everything figured out, but because I'm learning to trust the One who does.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Inevitable New Year's Post - 2016 Edition

It's December 27th as I sit down to write this. All the anticipation leading up to Christmas, delightful as it's been, has come and gone. The gifts have been purchased, wrapped and opened (and some already broken or lost). The turkey dinner has been planned, prepared and consumed, reduced to a few meager leftovers. The decorations have already taken on a bit of a forlorn look, and will soon be packed away. It's time to start looking ahead.

I've always loved the idea of new beginnings - I think that's how we're wired. New days, weeks, months, years hold much appeal; so many opportunities to wipe the (grimy, filthy, disappointment-stained, failure-covered) slate clean and start fresh.

I gave up making New Year's resolutions long ago - it was just too discouraging, falling short year after year after year...But I can't resist the lure of the mother of new beginnings. In more recent years, I've been drawn to the notion of a word - a single word to help focus the fresh start to come.

I'm the first to admit that I have a terrible memory - but if it serves me correctly (no guarantee), my word for 2014 was "thanks" and my 2015 word was "overcomer" (which apparently is not technically a word). As crazy as those two years were, the words were useful in defining my focus (when I could remember them :) ). 

And now...the moment you've all been waiting for...drum roll, please...

My word for 2016 is..."ALL". 

I played around with a few different ideas as I considered my focus for the year - like "trust", "faith" and "surrender". But none of those were broad enough to encompass everything I wanted to include. What's more all-encompassing than "all"? :D

So here's what I mean. As I thought about what I want my life to look like, I realized (not for the first time) that there are many areas that I haven't surrendered - places where I just want to do my own thing - with no heavenly interference, thank-you-very-much. I used to think that to surrender my life to God meant giving up a lot of things, keeping my feet on the "straight and narrow", and being a missionary in Africa. 

I was afraid to surrender completely. So I just didn't. 

The thing is, the more I get to know who God really is, the less scary the idea of surrender becomes. He doesn't want to steal my joy, He wants to BE my joy! Instead of a tyrannical, hostile take-over, God invites me gently into His best, into His peace that passes understanding, into His love that knows no limits. 

This is a lot harder to explain than I thought...it makes so much sense in my head :) Here are the two verses that inspired my word:


Trust in the Lord with all your heart 
and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways submit to him
in a,
    and he will make your paths straight. 
Proverbs 3:5-6

and...

And whatever you do, 
whether in word or deed, 
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:17


This year, more than anything else, I want to practice mindfulness. I want to be aware of my thoughts, of how I spend my time and money, of how I relate to others, of how I live. So many of us, none more than I, tend to just let life happen to us - and try to hang on for the ride! 

This year, I want to consciously, deliberately, submit myself to my God. I want to respond to His loving invitation with intentional, joyful discipline - to do all of life with Him, to be empowered by His spirit and filled with His joy. To embark upon an unknown adventure tale; a small but significant character in His grand and glorious story! 

Happy New Year, dear friends! May you know and experience God's presence and peace and power in new and exciting ways as you journey along your own particular paths this year! 

What's your word (or verse, or resolution or whatever...) for 2016?


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

All I Want for Christmas

The countdown is on...three more sleeps! My eleven year old is so excited he can hardly stand it, my seven year old keeps counting and rearranging the presents under the tree; they remind me so much of my younger self. 

Oh, how I loved Christmas as a child! When I remember Christmases past, they're all warm and fuzzy and glowing, like how the tree lights look when I take off my glasses :) We were all together - happy, excited, joyous, delighted; gifts galore, fantastic food... 

All this in spite of the fact that I was a first class snoop - I always hunted diligently and secretly until I unearthed every intended surprise, every year. (I think I've mentioned here before how much I love surprises. Star Wars spoilers? Yes, please!)

And the music! Christmas and music go hand-in-hand in my memory - Mom listening to Christmas music in September (and maybe earlier!); trekking from home to home, singing in the cold; choir cantatas; solos in church; candlelight carols on Christmas Eve...

The songs of Christmas, committed to memory at a very early age, always held great meaning for me. They were more than just tradition, more than just warm fuzzies - they were meaningful to me because I believed them. The baby in the manger was more than just a story - it was truth, it was life, it was hope! He was truth, life, hope!

Somewhere along the line, my feelings about Christmas began to change. Part of it was the inevitable shift that comes when we become parents - when we're no longer the recipients but the makers of Christmas. Part of it was years of draining financial difficulties, when we were engulfed by guilt for not being able to get the kids everything on their lists. Reality has a way of rubbing some of the glow off of life, doesn't it? 

Over the past two or three Christmases, things shifted even more for me. I immersed myself in Advent, in the waiting, in the tension between the now and the not yet. Much like Lent, it became a time of examining my heart, of repentance, of preparation, anticipation and joy deferred. The meaning of Christmas for me deepened, broadened, matured somehow. 

One thing that remained constant in the midst of all the inward change was the music of Christmas. The familiar rush of joy that resulted in singing the comforting old carols remained, even intensified. 

But this year? This year feels different. And not in a good way - at least it doesn't yet appear to be good. In keeping with the conventions of Advent, we haven't been singing the traditional carols in church yet this season. And that's been perfectly ok with me. I kept anticipating that when we did finally get to belt them out that there would be much joy and satisfaction and delight in the singing.

Funny story (but not funny ha-ha)...a group of us went caroling last night. It was indeed delightful to see the joy on the faces of the elderly folks for whom we sang. The sense of camaraderie and shared purpose and voices joined together in worship was wonderful. Navigating our way to each home (and getting lost more than once!) was just plain hilarious. 

But the carols themselves?  Those long-familiar lyrics and melodies that have never failed to lift my spirits and infuse my soul with hope and peace and joy? Empty. Hollow. Like resounding gongs or clanging cymbals. 

And it broke my heart. 

I have yet to dig to the root of this strange anomaly. I'm a little afraid - I'm not sure what I'll find. But I will believe the truth, regardless of how I feel. And the truth is, that little baby in a manger remains the my hope, my peace, my joy. Emmanuel - God with us. God with me.

Merry Christmas, dear Friends. May you embark upon your own unique journey to the manger, and may you find your own hope and peace and joy there.