God’s gifts

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.

 

6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.

Living Fully and Fully Living: Sorry, This is Not a How-to Guide

This past weekend was a difficult one in some ways. We were playing catch-up with laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, so the activities themselves were not the most fun. But on top of that, this weekend was one of those times when Jonathan and I just didn’t click the way we usually do and we had conversations that were painful and difficult and exhausting.

I admit that there are moments when I wonder what I would be doing right now if Jonathan and I hadn’t gotten married. If my life wasn’t so intertwined with someone else’s that my decisions are no longer my own. These are not moments of regret for the choice I made or wish I wasn’t married, they are just moments when I marvel at how a small choice here or there leads to a life-changing one like getting married and how the life-changing ones shape who you are and who you become. When I’ve considered it, I’ve always assumed that if Jonathan and I hadn’t gotten married, if he hadn’t been in the picture, I would have ended up in Africa or England or Indonesia—somewhere distant and new and full of new experiences.

But on weekends like this past one, I am reminded of why the path I am on is right. Why God has asked me to walk this one instead of the one where I walk alone under a scorching African sun. It is in the moments that Jonathan lets me see his brokenness, in the moments that he looks and fully sees the harsh reality of my own, in the moments when we together are forced to confront the brokenness of us, our marriage, our hearts, our lives, that I know I couldn’t do without him. It is this brokenness that reminds us of our need, for each other and most of all, for Christ.  I am not saying that single people cannot do great things on their own or that God’s plan for everyone is to get married. I am saying that God has chosen to shape me and mold me and lavish his grace on me through this man. And he has (wonder of wonders) chosen to shape and to mold and to lavish grace on this man through me. So as much some days I sit in my cube and wish I was somewhere far away holding orphans or writing novels or watching the ocean swallowing up the shore, I know that I could never do these things without Jonathan. Whatever God’s great plan is for me, it is intimately connected to God’s plan for Jonathan. And that is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot since my last post about what it means to live with the tension between the realities of everyday life and the dreams that crowd my mind and heart. How do I live a full life with all of the experiences I want to have and also fully live where I am right now? Jonathan suggested to me that perhaps it’s unhealthy for me to lay awake at night, craving adventures. I’ve thought this over and I have to say, I disagree. In a world oppressed by apathy, I think it’s a tremendous gift to want something so incredibly much. I think these desires are something God has placed in me. But I do understand what Jonathan is trying to tell me. That it isn’t right to focus so much on my dreams that I am miserable with the present. That when I am so intent on where I want to be, I miss where God has placed me right now. And he’s right. (Sigh.)

Striking a balance between being content with and fully present where I am and still holding onto and pursuing the dreams God has placed in my heart seems like an impossible battle some days. Some days it doesn’t even feel like something I want to do. What I want is for God to go ahead and give me the desires of my heart RIGHT NOW! But since God’s not on my timetable, I know that I still need both of those things. I confess that I am a woman of extremes and I don’t know how to do balance. But how better to learn balance than from the Center of the universe (or multiverse, whichever you prefer.) The one who impossibly manages to oversee the constant expansion project of the cosmos and at the same time notices the three hairs that fell from my head in the shower this morning.

There are two ways that I am actively pursuing this balance in my life. One is by setting achievable goals for myself here and now. Things I can work towards that will ground me in the present. That will help my day-to-day life look more like a journey with a destination than a run on the treadmill. I have set goals, small goals, for loving my co-workers. For developing relationships with our neighbors. For getting involved in our new church. For taking a step of faith and applying to grad school. Even for training to run the Disney Princess half-marathon in February.  Because taking small steps towards a goal reminds me to live life on purpose and that I can do that even when I’m not in a position to pursue my long-term goals.

The other way I am pursuing balance is by asking God to help me recognize the gifts that saturate each day.  By opening my eyes to the miracles of sunshine in the morning, the fresh air filling my lungs with each inhalation, the job that pays me enough that I never have to worry about being hungry. And also for the gifts that are unique to each day: the gift of my husband making coffee this morning, the gift of the smell of damp earth this morning after a violent storm last night, the gift of an email from my youngest sister, just wanting to share life with me.

For all of you reading this, I would love to hear about your gifts in this day. I would love to be thankful with you for the tiny ways God whispers love and purpose and approval over you.