Fresh Starts

This is not the post I meant to write.

The post I meant to write is one I’ve been chewing on for weeks.  That one’s about patience, about the bite of patience, the burden of patience, and the blessing of patience.(Alliteration is so fun!)  Very serious and contemplative and deep stuff.

Keep your eyes open for that one – it’s gonna be AWESOME.

This one, on the other hand, is one I’m just dashing off because…because of THIS:

new journal
I thought I’d go with this cool Celtic design, being 22% Irish and all…

Yes, you’re right! It’s a new journal!

Not everyone is a journaler (I don’t know if that’s a word!), but I have been since I was a freshman in college.  I would journal faithfully, every day, logging events and emotions and story ideas and frustrations and spiritual insights…I LOVED my journals, and eagerly anticipated reaching the end of one so I could crack open a brand new one.  My “hope” chest is crammed full of volume after volume after volume…

And then came marriage. And children. And financial worries and woes. And stress. And packing. And moving. And again. And self-care (of which journaling is most certainly a part) went out the window for years…

But just over two years ago, right when my personal story was getting super dramatic and the growing crisis was reaching a boiling-over-point, I picked up my pen and a half-used journal and started there.

In the last 2 years, as I’ve made a habit of penning my thoughts and feelings and insights and questions (no, not daily- still married, still parenting, still sorting out finances and dealing with stress…fortunately NOT moving, at least not anytime soon!), I’ve found a sense of stability and release and have re-claimed the ability to look at what I’ve written and receive insight on how to manage it.  Once it’s on paper, everything is so much less threatening.

And a new journal – ohmygoodnessitsafreshstartanewchapterawholenewworld!

Congratulations if you could read that the first time.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

fresh journal page
Just look at that pretty blank page!

Something about a blank journal page is so promising and hopeful and exciting!  As much as I loved writing in the last one, I couldn’t help but quiver in anticipation as I saw that last page getting closer and closer, knowing that, when I close the back cover of that volume, it’s all history! Sure, I can go back and read and ponder (and I do frequently), but that new volume gets all my creative juices flowing and reminds me that I can write my life however I want to.  The last chapter has ended, the new has begun.

It’s a lot like New Year.

And it also reminds me of our Heavenly Father – the grandest Writer and Architect and Composer ever.  I am a master of mucking things up (explaining the crisis I found myself in 2 years ago), but He?  He is the Author of fresh starts, new chapters, blank pages.  That He can walk into a life and re-boot it, wipe away all the mistakes and the wrong turns and the poor decisions and say, “Here’s a new book – try again!” is, by far, a tender mercy beyond compare.

In 1993, I wrote a sonnet.  Yes, a sonnet.  One of those Shakespearean language nightmares.  It was never accepted for publication, but perhaps that was meant to be because now I get to share it. Looking at that new journal, that fresh start, that steppingstone towards greater things, brought it to my memory, and it’s so perfect for this moment:

WRITER

With pen in hand, I’m poised to make a mark

Upon a brand new page, so clean and white.

The words reflect my thoughts: confused and dark

And jumbled; nothing that I scrawl sounds right.

I dash and scribble, frantically erase

Mistakes that mar the beauty of my piece;

I sweat and toil and gasp for words of grace

And elegance – the struggle does not cease!

The piles of crumpled paper on the floor

Are proof that untried words may have no part;

But patience soon prevails…my eyes, strained sore,

Behold the finished work of priceless art.

The Writer of my life, with no less care

Inscribes in me a text of radiance rare.

God can, and will, rewrite your life. It is His joy to “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

 

New Every Morning

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, right about the time that hippie-style “Jesus Folk” music was becoming a staple in *gulp* dare I say it? – stodgy – mainline, evangelical churches.  Hymnals were being replaced by songsheets and the occasional overhead projection; organs, pianos, and, in our case, brass bands were being supplemented (not replaced) by guitars; and defined song selections gave way to pick-your-favorite sing-a-longs (this was, you realize, years before “seeker-sensitive” and super-tech-savvy productions happened; we still hadn’t become production-oriented).

At the time, it was all very hip and wonderful.  Now, though, as a solidly middle-aged person who has run the church gamut multiple times, I tend to gravitate toward the grander hymns of the faith and have to admit, nothing stirs my soul like a well-played organ (especially if that organ is playing Kingsfold or something else by Ralph Vaughn Williams).  Nonetheless, there are some of those “pick-your-favorite” sing-a-long songs that, on occasion, really stir my soul.  Here’s one of them:

Today was just such a day.  Started yesterday, actually.  Maybe it’s the “late-winter-bucket-of-suck” time of year, maybe it’s the grad school schedule I’m pulling on top of full-time-plus work, maybe it’s the 20 pounds I’ve packed on since September, maybe it’s all of those things.  Whatever it is, I’m tired.  So, so very tired. Waiting for this particular season (meteorological, professional, spiritual, personal…again, whatever…) to pass and for spring to bloom in my heart and mind and soul and, for Pete’s sake, in my yard!  Right before I went to sleep, as I was getting in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year chapters (5 on a good day, 15 on a catch-up day; that was last night), this is what popped up on my phone:

is40

Timely, right?  Nonetheless, I cried myself to sleep, praying, “Hasten the day, Father…please, hasten the day.”

Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll remember that, on occasion, I’ve been known to treat Facebook posts like fortune cookies.  Sometimes, it’s amusing; other times, it’s absolutely uncanny.  This morning has been uncanny.  First, while I was slapping on my pretty-for-the-public face:

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Just like a 19th-century preacher to slap me in the face.  They were good at that, you know. (Smith Wigglesworth smacked a corpse – well, kind of threw it against a wall – it got up and went home.  True story.)  But let’s not leave it to revivalists; here’s what came from, for cryin’ out loud, Toby Mac:

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My season of waiting.  Waiting for spring – new life, new purpose, new vision, new hope – to burst through the cold, unyielding, frozen ground of winter.  But winter is when all that life gathers energy to explode at just the right time.  And while I wait, I must remember that the Lord Himself is renewing my strength…not to run forward, but to wait.  The mounting up, and the running, and the walking all come after the waiting.

When I was in the 4th and 5th grades, I attended a little Christian school where we had chapel every morning.  One of the “pick-your-favorite sing-a-long” songs we sang frequently was a musical setting of Isaiah 40:31.  The emphasis wasn’t on mounting up, or running, or walking.  Look at the lyric structure and notice how it begins and ends:

They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength:

They shall mount up with wings as eagles,

They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.

The emphasis is on not the forward or upward or explosive motion, it’s on the waiting.  In waiting on God is our strength renewed.  And in remembering this, I feel my strength and resolve and joy being renewed.  It’s like Proverbs 15:23 says so beautifully: “A man hath joy by the answers of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”

God’s word to me today  – word spoken in due season – is truly good, and His mercies, so tender and compassionate and tailor-made for me, are new every morning!  Great is His faithfulness!

 

Shiny!

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Today is the day, the first day of 2017 CE.  Common Era.  I love how they tried to eliminate the whole BC-Before Christ and AD – Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord), but really, what makes the Common Era, common?  The division is still delineated by none other than the history changing presence of Jesus Christ on the earth. The world can try to erase His existence and ongoing influence…they can try all they want…

Moving on, today is the first of January in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.  And I absolutely welcome it.  I’m not just wishing happy new year in a trite, habitual manner; no, I absolutely welcome 2017, red carpet rolled out and eyes bright with anticipation at what this year will bring.

Some people might say, “Yeah, I’m glad it’s here, too; couldn’t wait to say sayonara to 2016!”  That’s really not my case. I am thrilled with the prospects of 2017 because of what the Lord brought to me during 2016. My heart is so filled with gratitude and thrilled to watch His hand at work in my life and in the lives of others – it was a truly fantastic year!

What was so fantastic? Well…

…My spiritual life – my understanding of God as my Heavenly Father and my ongoing relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – has become stronger. After years of wandering in a spiritual netherland, not really knowing what I believed or why or if I did at all, 2015 and then 2016 became an ongoing adventure in hearing God’s voice and learning to obey.  I’ve experienced obedience as the way to my truest freedom and, although I’ve a long way to go in the trust department, I’ve learned far more readily trust my Father, even when I don’t understand what’s happening at the moment.

…My professional life has been growing in leaps and bounds. Again, starting in 2015, I experienced what can only be described as a miraculous, midlife career change, transitioning from social work to music education.  There have been some major challenges along the way – re-entering grad school and, after only one year, a sudden, very unexpected transfer from primary to secondary music – but each of these challenges is forcing me to more fully rely on God (F.R.O.G.) day by day and is helping shape me into someone that looks a bit more like His Son.

…My personal life: when I see where God has brought me over the last two years (yes, one more time, going back to 2015) in my family relationships and friendships, I stand utterly amazed.  There were times when I didn’t think our marriage would survive…we celebrated 19 years in August! We bought our first (and last, I think) house together two months ago! I can look at my husband today and truly confess that I love him more than any other human on this planet…and that’s only because God has so beautifully healed my once utterly broken heart and psyche.  And in so doing, He has surrounded me with a web of precious brothers and sisters in Christ that pray with me, laugh with me, and mourn with me.  And as they have borne my stretcher, dropping me into the direct presence of that Great Physician, I have found myself able to bear some of their burdens, as well.

2016 was a year of beauty, healing, and growth. Regardless of the difficulties along the way, I can only say, “Thank you, Father, for a great year…that and better will do!”

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2017!

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness…in 2016 and Beyond

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”  (Genesis 8:22).

desktop-earth-and-sun-hd-wallpaper

We’ve done it. Yet again, we’ve made one more trip around the sun. Millions of people are, as I type this, celebrating with friends and family in a variety of ways; some are at clubs with food and wine, others are in private homes with board and card games, and some are even at the odd church that may still hold a Watch Night Service, praying in the New Year. Outside my window someone has just set off fireworks. Some folks are glad to see 2016 fade into history, hoping for a better trip this time around; others look back and say, “Not bad…not bad at all.” Balls will drop, Auld Lang Syne will be sung and kisses will be exchanged; people will drive home either very carefully or carelessly, depending on the amount of alcohol they have drunk, and hopefully, tomorrow morning, there will be few or no reports of injuries as a result of too much revelry. Regardless of anything that happens tonight, tomorrow will go on, much as today has and much as yesterday did, as the days, weeks, months, years did before them…

But for us, a new calendar is exciting. Unlike my cat, who is so very present in the now (Now I want petted, Now I want food, Now I want your side of the bed) and, to my knowledge, has no recognition of the passage of time or of the differentiation between years, people have, for all recorded history, marked time.  Before calendars, we watched the weather patterns and ordered our lives around the changing of seasons, each solstice and equinox celebrated with great joy and festivities.  Different developments of marking time are still present; religious communities follow a yearly pattern, as do societies, and the celebration of the New Year is, at least in the western world, one of the most significant.  Somehow, the turning of the metaphorical page from one year to the next gives us hope of forgetting what has been painful, and whets our appetite for better things to come.  Reflecting on the last 12 months inspires many of us to make grand resolutions for self-improvement and, even those grand intentions have gone completely flat by January 31, the very act of making them indicates their importance to us as a people.

Does God mark the New Year?  God, as I understand Him, stands outside of time, being omnipresent, present in our past, present, and future simultaneously, able to behold the end from the beginning and all points in between.  Fortunately for you, I am not going to try to explain that particular phenomenon; some things are best left a mystery.  I do know that God understands time, and recognizes its importance to us.  I was reading the story of Noah earlier this week, and God’s promise in Genesis 8:22 jumped out at me: no matter how crazy things get, the world will keep turning.  The sun will set, the sun will rise, there will be evening. and morning, and another day…

I’ve been amazed at how many people have posted on social media how they just can’t wait for 2016 to be over: multiple celebrity deaths, a chaotic and difficult U.S. presidential race, catastrophe and calamity, poor decision, poor outcomes, yada yada yada…but the world will keep turning.  Nothing about changing a digit on the year designation is going to alter the normal procession of life.  Babies will be born, people will die, nations will rise and fall…but day and night will not cease.  Until God deigns it so, the world will not end, and I take great comfort in that.

For me, 2016 was fantastic – maybe tomorrow I’ll reflect on all of the wonderful things God did in my life. When I wake up in the morning, God will not have mysteriously disappeared, taking all His blessings with Him. No, I will wake up as I always do, still safely tucked under my Father’s wings and hearing Him sing over me.  Because as long as the earth is, and as long as I have breath, He will remain faithful.

I can’t think of a better way to bid farewell to 2016 and welcome 2017 than by singing the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Thomas Chisholm, William Runyan):

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee.

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou has been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Summer and winter and seedtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth; thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow; blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.