Yonder

The familiar carol rings:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

A thrill of hope…yet some days hope feels like a discipline, something to hang on to for dear life as we toss, washed and worn, by the cosmic spin cycle.

Still, I think of children on Christmas Eve, hoping for the gifts that will be under the tree when they awake. They rightly hope, because they know they are loved and that their loved ones will make sure there will indeed be gifts, however so humble. Those children, they thrill with hope. Beyond the annual Christmas joy-filled celebration, their hope makes the family Christmas services hum with anticipation.

the weary world rejoices. The weary soul rejoices. Has my soul become too weary to thrill, to rejoice? How many of us slog through the burn-out day after day, attempting to drown out the noise, self-caring and self-medicating by turns, never feeling fully refreshed? When even rejoicing feels like a forced discipline, how do we rest our weary souls?

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Yonder: over there, in the distance. At least, tomorrow, after we go to sleep on Christmas Eve to awake to the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ has been born. Or, at least, New Year’s Day with a whole new year stretching before us.

We’ve had a rough go for the, oh, last couple years. For various reasons–political, professional, and personal–each of us (and yes, me me me) has had to work hard to hope, to thrill, to rejoice, to refresh, to wait for the yonder. I’m hoping we can let go of the past and move with increased joy into the yonder of 2019.

I have no idea what that might look like. I’m not one for resolutions, just for taking the next right step as firmly as I can and resetting when that step falters as steps occasionally do. However, I received some end-of-year encouragement from my daily Bible reading:

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

Psalm 149:1 (NLT)

Sing a new song now to the Creator and Sustainer who in the end will make all things new again (Colossians 1:15-17, Revelation 21:5).

Even better:

…she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25b

For now, trepidation comes more easily than laughter. And so I will keep at hope, rejoicing, singing, and laughing, intentionally injecting each day with prayer and love and moments of happiness.

Thankful Thursday – Let’s Go, 2018!

10 Thanksgivings for the First Week of 2018

  1. New Year, fresh start
  2. My sweet Guy, and celebrating his birthday
  3. Healthy, growing kids
  4. Our cute and cozy home and a clean kitchen
  5. The (mis)adventures of training a puppy alongside our menagerie
  6. Coffee with friends
  7. Meaningful work
  8. Cooking delicious plant-based meals
  9. Bedtime ritual: hot tea and a good book
  10. So much fun, growth, laughter, and connection to anticipate in 2018

And you? What are you thankful for as the New Year kicks off?

Photo by Danielle Macinnes on Unsplash

Walk the Dog

One of our family’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions has been walking the trail around the Lafayette Reservoir. Our first NorCal Christmas, friends invited us to walk it with them; that first walk led to walking it every Christmas Eve (and so many times throughout and over the years), except for one rainy Christmas Eve in the last eleven years.

Walking our bodies around the Res makes for scenic exercise; walking with a dog is even better, and this year we had the added fun of walking it with our Big Dog and our Puppy, who had achieved age+shots enough to be out on the town eight days prior. Pups took to the leash like, well, fish to water, except truly, like a dog to a walk! He still wants to bite his harness and barks at anything that moves (humans and dogs, obviously, but also birds and holiday animatronic reindeer…), but he’s getting it alongside his Big Dog sister-teacher.

Pups encountered more than his usual number of dogs/people on his first Res walk. Tail wagging, he growled ferociously cute Christmas greetings at each passerby, joyfully accepting head pats as they came. Mostly he kept trucking along at our side.

But he is a curious and stubborn baby dog and, about halfway round the Res, he became so intrigued with something the rest of us had passed that he just stopped. Calling him by name and gently tugging on the leash as Pups stumbled forward, tripping over his legs as he gazed backward, Guy said to him, “You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back.”

“You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back…” The words stopped me.

I’ve spent hours this week combing through photos, creating what will become a family album. Despite the emotional roller coaster of this past year, it has been refreshing to reminisce about the adventures and the moments overflowing with gratitude that comprised 2017.

Still, reminiscing is different than getting stuck. Pups tripped over his own feet trying to move one direction while looking another. The future keeps coming whether or not we want to face it. Looking backwards will trip us up and land us down, scratching our shins if not our noses.

2017 was not my favorite year. It held necessary, good, gut-wrenching and soul-searching work: restructuring who we are as a family in this life stage; rediscovering myself, personally and professionally, and how I live out my calling; and reevaluating relationships and social constructs that may or may not be life-giving in this season.

Thank the Lord, 2017 draws nigh to a close. 2018 holds hope for another fresh start. Each year, and each day of the year, we can make the choice to leave the past behind. To thank God for even the misadventures that led us to today. To let go of slip-ups, things done or undone, said or unsaid. To forgive and receive forgiveness, to forgive ourselves as necessary. To choose love, and joy, and hope. To live into our best version of who we are and will become.

Walking my little dog will remind me: I need to look ahead to move forward, no looking back.

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. –Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (NIV)

Word

You may have noticed the cultural trend away from resolutions – 25% of people who make resolutions break them within a week – and to choosing a guiding word instead, something like “Love” or “Focus” or “Courage.”

For those who follow Jesus, our word ought always to be “Jesus,” the name of our Beloved continually on our minds and hearts and whispers.

But there are many ways to focus on Jesus, many ways in which Jesus wants to grow us, and many, many words from which to choose.

A few years ago I chose “endurance,” as in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Except that running is not my thing, and the whole idea of endurance deflates me. Endurance sounds like agony, hard work, the opposite of joy and fun and life.

Early 2014 I attended Donald Miller‘s Storyline conference (highly recommend!). I was already using his daily planner and each day I would write “LOVE!” on that planner. Except I only used the planner when I was in the office (four days/week), and then I was out of the country for two months, and during the fall I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t resume the practice (but will – it is January, after all). So even “love” wasn’t the best guiding word for me as it didn’t inspire me as it should.

So this year, what’s the word? It’s a phrase, actually:

“Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

It comes from the movie version of the book, Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed walks out of her broken-to-bits life and into the wilderness, walking herself into the woman her mother raised her to be. I read the book when it first came out (much preferred it to the movie version) and it almost convinced me I’d like to backpack, to take on a quest of sorts. When Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl voice-over’d this sentence it jabbed me in the best way. I remembered reading it, was sad to have forgotten it, as it’s such great advice. It’s advice my mom, my everyday model of grace and beauty, might have spoken to me.

But first let’s define beauty. I actually really like this definition from Dictionary.com:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

I expected something more superficial, as so much of beauty in American culture is just that, surface-y and fake, and absolutely not what I’m going for.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

God created and creates and everything God has made is good, beautiful. Even when life gets all wonky, God works His beautiful purpose in our lives. We just don’t always see or appreciate God at work – hence my ongoing search for miracles in the mundane. (Hah! I just mistyped that “mundance” and I kinda like it – let’s do a little boogie!).

God surrounds Himself with beauty – “Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6) – and His people who share Truth are also beautiful – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

Then there’s 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” This one reminds me of our well-meaning Sunday school teacher who used it to beat up her 7th grade girls’ small group; um, excuse me, but what 7th grade girl isn’t more than a little bit concerned about outward appearance? Yes, focus on inner beauty (as I plan to), but also teach the arguably most awkward humans on the planet how to do their hair and dress to their body type and love the physical shell God gave them. Be good stewards of the inside and out of God’s gifts.

One more Scripture, Philippians 4:8 uses a synonym for beauty – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

So what might putting myself in the way of beauty look like on a day-to-day basis?

Getting up early or sleeping in. Naps are definitely beautiful!
Time with God in His Word
Smile, laugh, enjoy
Solitude and relationships in a healthy rhythm
Gym time and walks with friends and dogs
Surrounding myself with good stories and uplifting people
Meaningful work and play projects that motivate and inspire me
Concerning myself less with what others think and more with my own well-being
Creating experiences and making memories, not collecting stuff
Decluttering home and life so the beautiful stands out
And so much more!

As I’ve been pondering this phrase for a couple of weeks, it has already prompted different behavior, giving me hope that this word will stick in all the right ways. After Christmas we spent a few days with Guy’s parents in southern Oregon. High on our kids’ priority list: snow play. In two cars we drove to a nearby mountain and found easy parking. We tumbled out – dog, too – and threw a few snowballs, took a few pictures, and tossed our freezing-cold selves back in the vehicles, all in less than fifteen minutes. I started flipping through the pictures I’d taken and hardly noticed when the rest of the gang hopped back out again. A natural spectator, it would’ve been easy for me to wait in the car. Instead I decided to put myself in the way of beauty, to open the car door, step in the snow, walk up the hill, and see what God had done. Yes, it was a decision, just like staying put would have been, but this decision I made for beauty.

Look what I found:

A solitary pop of color

A solitary pop of color

Do you see the sunshine heart? God loves me!

Evidence of God’s love in a sunshine heart

"Survive Rough Times"

“Survive Rough Times”

snow redeems

 

It hasn't melted yet...

It hasn’t melted yet…

I also found my family – Guy, boys, my beautiful mom and my nephew, our dog – and together we played and laughed and enjoyed the beauty. A SoCal girl for most of my life, snow has been an occasion, not a regularity, and I really do prefer moderate temperatures. But I am glad I got out of the car to put myself in the way of beauty.

Here’s to a Beautiful New Year!