today marks one month until my birthday, which will mark one year from entering a new decade. last year, during a rambling late-evening discussion after my murder mystery birthday celebration had wound down, a friend asked me what i hoped would happen or what i would like to do in the next year. after gathering my wits and sorting through what i could share with an audience of two men, i came up with the following:
- share the gospel with someone, and
- submit some of my writing for publication.
in many ways, these have been an amazing 11 months. and in many ways, it’s been a tough old year.
i have had so much fun these past 11 months, dreaming things, planning things, trying things, creating things, being a small part of big exciting new things, seeing hope planted and watered and new life slowly unfurling its leaves. there are moments of pure joy when the light hits just right and reminds me God is big and He’s beautiful and amazing! and so, so very good.
i have felt so tired and so old this past year. i spent the first three or so months of the year battling sleeplessness and despondency, and finding myself not wanting to fight very hard, because every morning when i woke up, there was this cloud that wouldn’t budge and this feeling i couldn’t get rid of that i’d already failed and ruined the day. if i said i was constantly depressed that would be a lie, fortunately. but still, things weren’t right. it took a short sunday morning audio sermon on justification and grace to break me down (and set me crying for the next three hours, at church, on the front row, on st. valentine’s day, of all days) and eventually send me to the doctor to learn i had seasonal affective disorder and very low vitamin d.
two years ago i received some kind of tiny cypress tree in a Christmas gift exchange. it didn’t come with any identifiers or care instructions, so, having the brown thumb i do, i eventually killed it. last december i was tired of looking at a sad little crispy tree, so i bought a maidenhair fern to replace it. i like my plants to be signs and reminders of things (like isaiah’s children), so i named it hope. keeping hope alive has come to be the theme of this year for me — i have very nearly killed this needy finicky fern several times and have had to mist it every morning and trim all the brown leaves off as soon as they appear. sometimes i let things go too long and have to lop off an entire branch. such, i feel, has been the case with the past year.
with spring (and vitamins and supplements) came misty new leaves on trees, warm breezes, sunshine, longer days … and hope … and dreams that i never thought could be possibilities were taking shape in my soul. again and again i found myself standing on a cliff, toes hanging over the edge, dreading or anticipating what was going to happen next. i have long feared heights and falling from them —and much of the time, it’s because i’ve feared i’ll jump.
i have been weary this year to the point of not caring (and the Lord God gave the man low blood sugar to remind him he was not invincible). i have learned to walk past the point of fear and explain what is inside my mind or heart, as best i can. i have walked and walked and learned and forgotten and learned and forgotten and learned again how to pray. i have tried to be an escapist and have rammed my nose into reality time and again (thank God Who hems me in behind and before). i have worked and worked and worked and wondered what it’s all for before being reminded that anything done for Jesus counts for eternity.
“give up yourself,” c.s. lewis says, “and you will find your real self. lose your life and you will save it. submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorites wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. keep back nothing. nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
“take up your cross and follow Me,” Jesus says. “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will find it.”
every time i’ve had to face a fear or a frustration or have wrestled for control over something, i’ve thought i’ve learned what losing my life is, what letting go of my ambitions and favorite wishes looks like. what dying is. and every time i get to feeling worn down to a little wooden knot of a person and think, what, God, is this what You’ve called me to? He says and if it is, every day for the rest of your life, am I not enough in all of that? Who do you think I am?
i’ve learned (amid all the innumerable things i’ve learned this year) that i associate value with performance. if i’ve done well — if i’ve done what i was supposed to, when i was supposed to, and done it right — if i’ve lived up to my perception of others’ expectations for me as well as my own, then i have succeeded. then i have value.
i walked slowly down the steps of my empty office building this afternoon, past the darkened doors closed for the holiday weekend, trying to pull myself together and not cry from frustration and weariness (and lack of a proper lunch). i am a failure, i thought. i set lofty goals and never fulfill any of them. i haven’t gotten anywhere. and i complain about all of this and feel sorry for myself while widows in laos are being persecuted for their faith because Christianity is not convenient for their relatives or their culture’s traditional religion. and here i am, with a good job and a great life, complaining and feeling sorry for myself because i’m tired.
when i have low blood sugar i get depressed. when i get depressed i can spiral down, down, down without realizing it because my will to care is so low at that point that i don’t want to make an effort to look up. but, i did. i remembered, God delights in you. He said, you are altogether beautiful, My darling. He completely approves of you, and it has nothing to do with what you’ve done. it’s because of what He’s done. you can’t earn His approval — and you don’t have to. that’s just the way things are.
the poems i submitted for publication earlier this year weren’t accepted. i haven’t shared the gospel with anyone, face to face, who didn’t already know it. if i look at my year, i have fallen back, back, back down this hill i’ve been climbing. but you know what? it’s going to be okay. and it’s going to be more than okay, because God doesn’t want my picking-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps approach to “success” or my wriggling self-loathing response to “failure.”
He wants me to hold His hand and walk with Him, trusting that He’s big enough to pick up the trees across the path and dig out the boulders in the way, and that He’s patient enough to match His strides to mine and pick me up and dust me off each time i fall down, even if it’s every other step.
and that’s just the way things are.