The Top Five Lessons from 2015

It is January, the month named after the Roman god Janus—that god with two faces, so depicted because he looks both to the future and the past. They called him the god of beginnings and transitions.

But as sit and look out into the meadow this morning, watching what I believe to be a rough legged hawk prey patiently from the top of a naked pear tree, I feel the presence of the One True God fall over me. I see the wisdom of looking back to look forward, and I know this is why our good God calls us “to remember” so many times in scripture.

I remember this morning. As I look back on 2015, it seems a year of transition, a year of change. This is the first lesson I carry with me into the newest year: Life is about change.

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It seems that old country song was right, life is about changin’. 2015 is the year our eldest left home for his first year of college. We’ve floundered in this almost-empty nest. Jeff started a new job, charting a different course for our life together. I lost my job at The High Calling, which has gone on to become something entirely different than it was when I cut my editorial teeth there. We said goodbye to the pastors who have shepherded our church for the past six years, and are preparing to welcome a new spiritual leader. We buried some dear ones, and pondered what it might mean to meet up with them again in glory. These outward changes sometimes appear good, sometimes appear bad but one thing they all have in common? They all require an inward shift.

That brings me to the second lesson from 2015: If I am not changing, I am not growing.

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To resist change is to resist growth. Wouldn’t I rather stay in my comfort zone? Dull the pain of the transition by sinking into monotony? Yet, scripture tells us that the Christian life is never static. It is a state of always growing, a journey toward maturity in Christ. We are to grow up to become more like Jesus every day, says the letter to the Ephesians, up into the measure of the fullness of Christ. This past year, the world has struggled with race relations, terrorism, and letting love overcome fear. The problems of the world can seem so big that it can feel like my small life cannot make a difference. But when I let love lead and try not to run from the hard places, change can bring good things.

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Lesson three is this: Faith comes first. By this, I don’t mean we must put our spiritual lives first, though this is certainly true, but that sometimes we must confess belief in a truth before it is visibly apparent. Believing in a promise despite a lack of tangible proof will stretch faith in new and unimagined ways. Walking through the darkness of depression with my husband has been one of the greatest challenges in our marriage and our faith. But we continue to hold on to God and to each other. By the grace of God the light moments are spreading over us the same way the sunshine spreads over the meadow in the morning.

This year I’ve also learned how intricately My faith life and my physical being are yoked together. For much of this year I have been unable to run due to continued struggles with plantar fasciitis. During weeks of resting my physical self, I have felt my sense of wonder begin to wither. A lack of physical activity, for me, seems to have the peculiar effect of making me feel far away from God. Gradually, I’ve learned that it’s a precarious formula of caring for this temple of my body and making sure I am out-of-doors some every day. Running combines these two and being unable to run requires me to be much more deliberate in meeting these two spiritual practices.

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The fifth and final lesson I’m carrying into 2016 with me is a renewal of the awareness of The importance of my alone time with God. I’ve been working more hours at the hospital lately, which affects my freedom to plan more adventurous playdates with God. I’m still learning how to steward my time better in this new season. Writing, reading, and ministry have necessarily taken a back seat to other professional demands. This is a big shift for me. Even when I can’t leave the house for a playdate, I am learning once again to relish simply sitting with God. Such freedom in that simplicity.

So here are my top five lessons from 2015:

  1. Life is about change
  2.  If I’m not changing, I’m not growing
  3. Faith comes first during the dark seasons
  4.  God cares about my body and how I care for it
  5. Time alone with God must be a priority

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January may be named for the Roman god Janus—a name that comes from the Latin ianua, which means “door”. Mythology has him the keeper of doors, gates, bridges, and passages.

But this is the kind of door my God keeps—one made from parted waters, one that passes safely through tongues of flame, one that parts the heavens in a windstorm. These impossible, seemingly impassible doors; these narrow gates that the world whispers about, this is not the way, it is too hard—these are the kinds of doors my God keeps. He opens them wide and still, I squeeze through as if only a tiny crack.

But this Doorkeeper? He not only holds the door aloft, he reaches for my hand and pulls me through. Happy New Year, Beloveds. Praying many open doors for you in 2016.

31 Days of the Almost Empty: Growing Season

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Last night we had our first frost, awakened this morning to a diaphanous gossamer on every blade of grass. I forgot to cover what’s left of my garden, the few fledgling peppers waiting to mature. At first sun, Bonnie and I waded through the crispy grass to assess the damage. The kale is beautiful; cold crop that it is. I picked some to sauté with my eggs this morning. Add in a little fresh pepper and onion, and this is my favorite fall breakfast. But the peppers did look a little peaky. The jalapeños are definitely heartier than the bell peppers, but I think both crops will be fine. There is a freeze warning tonight, so I must decide—do I want to extend my growing season just a wee bit?

By now you’ve probably figured out that I have trouble with transitions. I went through a time when I tried to psychoanalyze this—revisited my childhood and all that. These days I find this approach incredibly boring. Knowing the why doesn’t necessarily make a bridge across my neuroses. I’ve labeled myself: Adult Child of Alcoholic, abandonment issues, fear of intimacy … None of these names are very kind.

These days, I see my character traits with more loving eyes. Things, people, moments—they mean a lot to me. This is nothing to be ashamed of.

Tonight, I will drape a light sheet over my garden. I’m not ready for the growing season to end. The weatherman tells me we will have a warm spell next week. This frosty weekend will hurry along the turning of the leaves.

But I hope it doesn’t take my peppers.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Only a couple days left to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway!

Almost Empty

Jesus the Party Animal

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her actions. (Matt. 11:18-19)
They thought Jesus was a party animal,” she said, after reading the scripture. “And John was a prude.”
My pastor painted a word picture of a modern day party animal pastor—one who drove a sports car, had “long flowing hair”, and pierced ears. And she said, you have to understandthis is how the religious leaders of his day saw Jesus.
And then she described John as the stodgy old pastor up the way who was a bit consumed by the following of rules. Well, he was a Nazirite, right? No wine could touch his lips and no razor used on his head.
She was speaking in extremes, of course, to make a point, but her illustration sparked my imagination. I drew a picture of the “party animal Jesus” in the margin of my bulletin. Complete with flowing hair and convertible. Jeffrey peeked over my Bible at my artwork and he added an illustrated version of Fingerface in the backseat– glamourized with lipstick and hair that whipped around in the breeze.
The poor will always be with you, he once said. And he shattered their delicate sensibilities. (Matt. 26:10-13). He changed the way the law was perceived (he did not come to abolish it, he said, but to fulfill it.—Matt. 5:17)
He changed everything.
I can’t help but to think that he must have been a lot fun to be around. I bet he laughed a lot.
I thought about this party animal Jesus as I added earrings to my convertible-driving savior. His coming ushered in the new covenant, yes. And even John did not understand. Are you the one? He sent his disciples to ask Jesus while he waited in Herod’s prison.
The stodgy old pastor is made a bit nervous by the sweeping changes that Jesus ushered in. But he accepted them. Even gave his life.
And Jesus? He loved John. So much so, that when he learned of his cousin’s death he withdrew to a solitary place. I imagine no shortage of tears were shed during that time of grieving, shortened as it was by the needs of the people. (Matt. 14:13)
I think about these two men and their love for one another. A love demonstrated by action, sacrifice. And I wonder at the example they have given us. And I wonder why, in the face of change, we have such difficulty following it. 
Linking up with  Michelle today:
And Jen and the sisters:

Promise

Clear blue calls and so I go–head outside to run into the sky for the first time since the snows came.

Legs protest at first long reach…my muscles have grown short and bunchy over the past months, well honed to the squat round stride of the elliptical I’ve been training on during the dark days of winter; but clumsy on this cinder-strewn sidewalk. Despite this, spirit lifts and heart soars at the first steps under sun-illumine. I am a newborn fawn–all leggy and gawky–tremulous at the discovery of this power inside of me.

I struggle for rhythm and am lost under the canopy over head. It’s so easy to lope in–leave life behind, forget all the “nos” and griefs and broken dreams.

Knees begin to ache at the unfamiliar pounding and sinuses grow thick with shaken down mucus. My nose runs and lungs sting from cold air.

But still there is this: joy. I gasp at the raw elation I feel at the caress of this truant sun.

But maybe it’s just these lungs have grown soft, lost the feel of the wild air.

Just breathe through, I tell myself.

I run by the water reservoir and watch two men drop fishing lines into ice-crusted water. They sit motionless and wait. A gaggle of geese fall into familiar formation overhead and I feel the joy of soaring…soaring into God’s blue sky.

It takes two miles to warm up, as always, and I am groping for that familiar easing up. Body hums but remains sluggish and I wonder at this life–this continual cycle of death and rebirth and constant need to shift and recondition.

To the hill now and finally, I am breaking free of the listless winter. Nimble, it’s up we go and I know I will regret this on the morrow.

A flock of Cedar Waxwings startle from a branchy cherry tree and I gawk at their rakish black masks and tawny silkiness. They don’t go far, circle back around and land again, eager to pluck the dried fruit from this otherwise naked tree.

Oh, the wonder.

Where have you been? I ask Beauty. I have missed you so.

And though my body screams I push it hard and rejoice at the freedom in my limbs until I am running down the familiar street to home. As I round the final turn, I glance up at my neighbor’s pear tree and see the silver beginnings of leaves starting to bud on her reaching branches.

The promise that a new season is coming. The promise that spring will soon be here.

And I smile.

Everything Old is New Again…

I have had brain freeze in the posting department lately, my bloggy friends! Partly because I am staying up too late watching the Olympics with hubs. But mostly because my dear Baby has been out of commission for almost a week now!!!

My computer station is at the end of our couch, which also happens to be prime rough housing territory for two very rambunctious boys. My Baby has been knocked off the arm of the couch one too many times, and we are now waiting for express delivery of a new power pack cord for her. Of course, her battery died before I realized she wasn’t getting any juice. So now I have to be content with commandeering the laptop of the two culprits who wounded my precious Baby.

It just doesn’t feel right.

So I’ve had trouble getting in the mood to write.

It’s feels like I’m being unfaithful!

But before I take the two criminals out for an exciting day of school shopping (which starts in a little over two weeks!! Eek!!), I just wanted to let you all know I’m still out here in bloggy land!

The weather has been just scrumptious here in WV; cool nights and crisp days are feeding my longing for fall. This perfectly lovely weather always fills me with expectation…a feeling that something wonderful is going to happen soon.

This is one of the things I love about God’s creation: the ever faithful procession of the seasons. They just keep changing, don’t they? The Lord knows how I love surprises as well as tradition…He has amazingly rolled both of these into the changing seasons. They always change, but the change is so faithful. Do you know what I mean? Am I making sense at all? Even though I’ve experienced fall 39 times in my life, it feels new every single year.

How does God do that?

Imagine all the times you have watched the sun rise in your life. Does it ever cease to give you pleasure? Does your appreciation for this great miracle ever wane? Such beauty that our hands cannot create. Such beauty that our hands cannot hold.

Perhaps therein lays the mystery.

That which we cannot touch, perhaps, will always be new and mysterious. Just like the Creator Himself.

Well, I’m off to enjoy a day of preparation, though I’m sorely tempted to play hooky and head to the park. Maybe we’ll schedule a little bit of that into our shopping plans too.

Blessings, Dear Ones!