Here we are, a week and a half into 2019. New years always inspire writers – maybe we need a fresh start given to us, or maybe we are motivated by the turning of the page. Nevertheless, here I am, reflecting a little bit.
One of my favorite writers to follow, Emily P. Freeman, shared a post reflecting on her year that was broken down into two sections: What worked for me in 2018 and what didn’t work for me in 2018. I loved this and thought I’d try it myself.
What Didn’t Work for Me in 2018:
This fall on my church retreat we were led through a meditation on the story of “Blind Bartimaeus.” This is a commonly used passage for the kind of Scripture meditation we were practicing, but I always find something new in it each time. It humbles me when I begin to think Scripture is old news or I have read it all enough; sometimes we just need a new approach, a new lens, fresh eyes. So as I let the words soak over me, this phrase stuck out:
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Mark 10:48-50
“Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” The ESV uses the phrase, “Take heart.” The Passion paraphrase says, “Have courage! Jesus is calling for you!”
I have spent some time thinking about why that particular phrase stood out this time as I read that passage. God’s call, the invitations He extends to us, are never something to be afraid of, mad about, or to drag our feet in response. It is always for our best. It always involves JOY, even when it involves major change or challenge.
I stumbled upon this fun word this week while reading an article from a friend: rumination. It stuck out to me, the way words do sometimes. To ruminate; it sounded like such a process. In its most basic form, ruminating means to think deeply about something. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think that is maybe one of my gifts that I offer to the world. So where does it go bad?
“Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions,” according to the Nolan-Hoeksema’s Response Styles Theory.
Yikes. That sounds all too familiar for me. How often am I focused simply on the symptoms rather than the root issue? I am tempted, in relation to anxiety specifically, to just remove the situations or circumstances or people that maybe cause some anxiety. But instead, God invites me into something better: He reminds me that the goal is not to just to treat the symptoms, but the sickness itself. For anxiety, it is not about removing any possible thing from our lives that could cause anxiety, but to fight anxiety itself.
I asked 28 to surprise me, challenge me, and scare me and I spent many days of the past year asking myself why the heck did you do that? This past year absolutely scared me. I had days of feeling loneliness in such a deep and scary way. I also experienced the deep and beautiful feeling of community and family and the way we can love each other into wholeness. 28 definitely also challenged me and surprised me. I grew in ways I could not have foreseen, and have been pleasantly and not-so pleasantly surprised by the events of the year.
So to 28, I say “BOY BYEEE!” But really I will look back at you with gratitude for all the hard lessons and big growth. I will not look back for long because I am walking forward into new days, one day at a time — one step at a time. Walking forward with confidence in who God is, leaning fully on His consistent character, His overwhelming grace, and His perfect peace.
So 29, I promise to let you be exactly what you are supposed to be. As the last year of my twenties, it will be tempting to make you what I think you are supposed to be; to make things happen quickly, to figure things out, to get all my young adult ducks in a row. But I am going to take you one.dang.day at a time, letting life continue to surprise me, and maybe in that offering freedom to people coming behind me.
One of my favorite book quotes is this one from Tsh Oxenreider in her book At Home In the World. During their month visiting China, she wrote herself this reminder:
“You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”
Hard doesn’t mean wrong. I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this phrase to myself in the past year.
We tend to glorify the easy; if something comes naturally we assume it is right. So then with that logic, if something is hard, it must be wrong. I disagree with this on a theological level. It’s sort of like the “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” pseudo-verse that I still can’t locate anywhere in the Bible. And, from my semi-short life experience, I have already seen numerous ways that He has, in fact, given me more than I could handle. It’s just that He actually holds those things for us, and walks with us in them, and with that we actually can handle them. We just can’t handle them alone. He tells us that life will be hard – in this world you WILL have troubles! So we do ourselves and everyone around us a disservice if we think He won’t let us walk through hard things. Then when those hard things come it just makes us bitter towards Him instead of what it is intended for, which is to invite us to trust Him more.
When you look back on your life, are the things that have shaped you, most impacted you, changed you for the better, were those the things that were easy? When I look back it’s the challenges, the frustrations, the hard relational moments, the stepping into the unknown that changed my life and made me who I am.
A few weeks ago I was on a mini road trip back from a wedding, and my friend asked, “what’s your favorite place and why?” What seems like a normal question actually launched me into some real processing of my past year. As we talked through places that have meant a lot to us, I realized how many memories I have that are defined by spaces. Specific spaces where I spent important moments in my life. I told them about the bench on a mountain in Canada where I sat with a high school friend for hours, and the Nile river in Uganda, where I symbolically (and actually) conquered a lot of fears. I thought about the fire pit in my parent’s backyard where many important conversations have taken place and how I always enjoy finding myself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I told them how much I love bridges because they are a picture of connection.
This year, my first year as a resident director, taught me a lot of things. And I’m finally getting around to processing them (welcome to the next few weeks of the blog). The first thing is this very idea, the power of spaces. My job deals with very tangible, specific spaces. I oversee people’s living spaces for a whole school year. Their health — physical, mental, relational, spiritual — in many ways is dependent on the health of these spaces.
What I am learning: in a world filled with constant change, to choose to stay can be a brave choice. While we celebrate new things, we need to recognize what it takes to stay. Moving to a new city, staying where we are; starting a new job, staying where we are; ending a relationship or choosing to fight for it — it is all brave.
We glorify change, and obviously those big life decisions are incredibly courageous and important. I have made them in those seasons and have learned and grown in exponential ways. But right now I am learning how much courage it actually takes to stay when that is what we are asked or invited to do.
I woke up one morning and it suddenly felt like spring in my heart and soul. If you’ve been reading along this year, you’ll know it has felt like a hard, deep winter. The reality is that spring does always come, which is such a sweet promise. There is also the reality that after every winter new and different flowers may grow and bloom, and some that were there last spring may not be there this year.
And yet. The wildflower garden of life is full of beauty. Filled to the brim with the loveliest of people and experiences. As I wade through it slowly, palms stretched open, running my fingers through each petal, each branch, I experience the beauty through every sense. The sun hits it in that way that makes everything shine and as the wind blows through it shimmers and looks like the branches are doing the wave. I breathe in the scent and breathe out contentment. It is there that Jesus meets me, in my Mary Magdalene moment, where He reminds me that He is in fact so alive and He is the Creator and Author of all this beauty. And in the wildflower garden of life, space sometimes has to be made so new things can grow. And maybe this season one flower looks best paired with another type, different than what bloomed fragrant last year. There is so much grace and peace in the midst of the wildflowers.
So yes, last week I told you that while New Years resolutions are so good and so helpful, we don’t need a new year in order to make them. What if we sat down in the middle of September and asked ourselves, what needs some tweaking? But here we are, at the “beginning” of our year and so we do, out of habit mostly, ask ourselves what we could change or quit or improve.
I had a conversation with a friend before the holidays that sparked some inspiration for me in this area. We talked about framing our lives and needs and goals in the context of “more or less.” My students had a speaker this fall talk to them similarly about the idea of “adding and subtracting.” I’m practicing asking myself each morning, What do I need more/less of today?
This is good for several reasons. One, when we start goal setting we typically are just saying “more!!” We want to do more, see more, talk more, invest more, on and on and on. The only way we usually say “less” is if we want to quit something entirely, which, let’s be real, is rarely successful. Less cigarettes! Less alcohol! Less Netflix! And then we inevitably binge on any of these things.
Just as there is a no for every yes, there is a less for every more. You don’t want one without the other. It is similar to how we as Christians often approach Lent. We remove something, but we are supposed to fill that “gap” with a more dedicated seeking of relationship with Christ. If all we are concerned with is “less chocolate,” we are wasting our time.
I am in a season of transition. Fall, if you will. Leaves are detaching from the branches and I am feeling a little bare. So many things have changed in my life, some are really beautiful changes, and some are incredibly hard. We think fall is beautiful because the change is slow and dramatic, but then all of a sudden the first snowfall comes and all the leaves are on the ground and the trees are left exposed. Winter comes far too quickly. There is so much change. I don’t like it. Every year I write about how hard fall is, yet I never learn to be ready for it. In these seasons I am hungry for truth and guidance; I am almost desperate for it.
Through this I am learning that Scripture is exactly what we need and rarely what we want. Really. One morning I woke up with a craving for Scripture. I thought, “I’ll read this and it will tell me what I want to hear. It will confirm what I already know (that I am right and everyone else is wrong).” Guess what? It did not do that. It taught me that it should be my glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11) and that those who love purity of heart and gracious speech will have the King as their friend (Proverbs 22:11). Scripture told me that I don’t get to sulk in my anger, that I don’t get to gossip and try and make myself feel better. Scripture called me to a higher standard.