2015: Year in Review

Welcome, 2016! I’m ready for you. I think. But first, let’s look back.

I had no idea going into 2015 how many changes lay ahead. I got a new job, full-time, with the City of Shelton. Old skill sets, long shelved and back-burnered, revived and thrived. I got to work with a friend of mine and make the acquaintance of others. Not only that, but budget cuts forced me into a new position. God’s favor has proved amazing. My new job won’t be cut from the budget any time soon.

Because of this new job, and all the budgeting skills we’ve learned since moving to Shelton, we paid off a 14-year-old debt. We purchased a timeshare back in 2001 (which has forced us to take vacations over the years), and paid it off  few months back. The extra income from my job will also allow us to take a month-long trip around the U.S. this year, a longtime dream of my husband.

In June, after his first season of singing in the choir, Jonathon got offered the artistic directorship of Anna’s Bay Chorale. He took it! He gave up directing as a regular gig when he got out of teaching in 2005. The choir loves him, and he loves them. He lights up when he steps on the podium. God restored something we thought gone forever.

One of my oldest dreams received new life this year. I believe the seed got planted more than 20 years ago. This year, Father’s Day Sunday, it bloomed.

This year also brought out many challenges. Mainly, turning our old routines upside down. Jonathon took over the household duties, well, most of them. He took Ruby to school, shopped, cooked, budgeted and ran things from home since he telecommutes. I left for work every day, dropping Zac off at the high school on the way.

Which was the other battle:  Zac out of homeschooling, for good. He went back to school in January of 2015. He’s doing well. He’s learning to plan ahead and that homework matters. He’s even made some friends.

For me, time is my most precious commodity. I dropped kettlebells and writer’s group. My social circle and free time shrank. I struggled with feeling lonely, trying to find the new purpose in this season. I felt guilty about the lack of time I had to spend with kids, especially Ruby. I couldn’t work out as long as I wanted to and still get quality sleep. Running suffered. Writing suffered, too.

And yet, I ran another half marathon back in October. I tried a gluten-free and mostly sugar-free diet. I participated in NaNoWriMo. I got to attend a Prophetic Conference in Bellingham in July. I read through the Bible in a year again.

At the very beginning of 2015, the Lord impressed the word restoration on my heart. I thought it centered around relationships. In fact, I prayed that way. It turned out to be way more than that. He’s restoring the imago dei  in us.

So I ask you, what does 2016 hold for you? What are your dreams, long trammeled in discouragement and disappointment? What will live again in your life in the new year?

 

 

 

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Three-Day Joy

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I just finished the year-long Bible reading plan with daily psalm. Well, I didn’t *just* finish it.  I ended on Christmas Day. Without warning, poof! All done. I read it on my iPad. Suddenly, the screen said, Good job! A picture of a full cup of coffee next to an open book popped up. What?! Nooo! I still have another full week left in 2015! What now?

I know. First world Christian problems. I took a day to think about it. Then, I found a short plan lasting only 3 days. It contains random scriptures about joy. Three the first day, four the second day. I’m supposed to memorize them.

Like this one…

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

That’s a good one, actually. But this one…

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

Eh. Okay.

Nothing wrong with these scriptures. Joy is an important component of the Christian life. It helps you stay afloat when all around you is sinking. However, what I’ve learned about joy came into play today, the last day of the mini-study:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Yes! Joy and thankfulness come as a package deal. Also this:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4

Joy has a purpose and a focus. We fix our eyes on what is good, noble, true, right, etc. (Philippians 4). Through turning to Jesus, we can keep gazing at those things and not the overwhelming circumstances. The great engine of the faith, endurance, is fueled by joy. Like the old story of the boy, cheerfully mucking out a stable full of poo. “There’s a pony in here somewhere!” he pants, all smiles.

And so there is, if we keep on. We don’t have to settle for short-term joy. We can have a lifetime supply.

 

 

Christmas Core

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We had a nice Christmas. It stretched out over most of the month. We got to see Jonathon’s folks earlier in the month. We got our tree then, and decorated it. That felt like Christmas, and we did that way back at the beginning of December.

Our church Christmas program was December 19-20. That had some magical moments. Also felt like Christmas, like we ushered it in.

Hanging out with the guys at the Public Works shop, and eating meals with them – prime rib lunch cooked onsite among them – felt festive as well. You can learn a lot about a person over a meal.

We attended Christmas Eve service at our usual spot. Sang loads of carols and lit candles and wondered at the beautiful simplicity of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas Day, extended out over a couple of days, at Dad’s and my brothers and our house, felt great. We enjoyed giving. We had a bigger Christmas budget than normal and found ourselves able to bless more than we had in the past. We got Zac the new mechanical keyboard he dreamed of. We got Ruby a do-it-yourself computer she can use with the TV screen. I got Jonathon a new orbital sander, and with the balance of a gift card Zac and I contributed on, he purchased a sound mixing board. He got me a treadmill. Lest you think a treadmill a rather unromantic gift, consider that I gave up my gym membership when I returned to work full-time. I couldn’t justify the $40-plus a month when all I’d be using is the treadmill when it rained sideways, if anything. No time for kettlebell classes anymore. Sad but true.

What I found myself doing this Christmas is thinking about the people I love. How much longer will we all be together? Zac will graduate from high school next spring. My parents, still healthy, won’t live forever. How can I maximize this time and yet let expectations go?

I take back what I said about the beautiful simplicity of Jesus’ birth. It came at a rotten time for Mary and Joseph, travelling to Bethlehem for the census. The administrator in me cringes to think of the King of Kings birthed in a stable. Couldn’t God who created the universe have come up with a Hilton-style room, just for one night? And Mary just a girl, too. Though we paint a peaceful tableau of the scene, it might have taken a touch of self-control on the part of both parents not to tear their hair out. How would they raise the son of God? How could they go back and live in their community and not be the laughingstocks? “There go Joseph and Mary, with their newest addition:  the Messiah!” Cue loud guffaws and knee slaps.

Perhaps the striking beauty of Christmas is that it happened at all. God didn’t wait for circumstances to improve anywhere for anyone. The time had come, which proved inconvenient to the mortals involved, to say the least. Mary and Joseph learned to make the most of the moments given to them. Because that’s where Jesus meets us all the time, in the midst of our stuff. Messy, unexpected and humbling in most every way, Jesus came to earth. Glory!

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

 

 

 

 

First Place

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I had a conversation with a coworker earlier this week about this very subject.

“I work on Sundays,” he told me.  “This extra construction gig allows me to help pay for my kids’ college.  I have 2 in school, you know.”

He looked at me.

“It adds up.”

I nodded.

He went on.

“We’ve attended the same church for more than 2o years. I’ve missed a lot of Sundays over the last several months. My wife and kids still go, but they notice when I’m not there. A few months back, several of the men kind of ganged up on me.  They asked me where I’d been, and what’s been going on. While I appreciated their concern, they basically told me my priorities were out of whack. I didn’t like it.”

I understood. Sometimes, as Christians, our concern comes out in weird ways. We seek to help and end up hurting instead. Never a good thing.

Another friend of mine had a similar conundrum.

“We work on this project every day until the tank is finished,” he told me. “The tank assemblers live in Kentucky. Their company won’t pay to fly them back and forth more than once. They’ll keep working, even in the rain. They want to be home with their families for Christmas.”

This meant he worked one 16-day stretch with no days off, then another 9 days, then another 13 days. No Sundays at church during that time. He did catch a cold, however. Other friends have jobs where they regularly work Sundays, all the time.

I thought about Eric Liddell, the famous “flying Scotsman”, who refused to run in Sunday heats. He gave up a chance to run his best event at the Olympics because of his convictions. Shouldn’t we all do the same? Isn’t that what God demands, honor and respect on the Sabbath?

I’ve also heard of “tithing” (giving 10%) of our days to God. This means 2.4 hours, if you’re tithing off the gross 24-hour day. I suppose if you’re talking tithing off the net, always a controversial topic in fundamentalist circles, it would be something like 1.6 hours. I’m still puzzling this one out.

Years ago, a friend and I discussed this topic. Keeping the Sabbath holy seems to be the one commandment we have the easiest time breaking. We feel the least conviction about it. In fact, I can count on one hand all the sermons I’ve heard on the subject. And yet, it seems the easiest way to give God first place. We vote with our feet.

But I’m still stuck. How do we put God first? What if our current life circumstances don’t allow us to be part of a believing church body?

Attending services on a regular basis tops my list. I’ve learned, as I get older, time is our most precious commodity. We can’t get it back. Some would say reading the Bible and praying first thing every morning. Thinking of Jesus and singing worship songs throughout the day. Interceding in the Spirit all day long. Serving others before yourself. Taking care of your  family. In short, living the 10 commandments.

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot.  What does it mean to put God first? The scripture out of Matthew always comes up:  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. As a kid, I learned the KJV version:  See ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.  It even had a melody attached. Go figure.

Maybe it isn’t just one thing. It could include several things. Maybe it’s shooting prayers of gratefulness His way throughout the day. Maybe it’s an act of kindness towards someone who can never repay you. Maybe it’s not saying what you truly think, in the heat of the moment. Maybe it’s getting up early and making a special breakfast for your family. Perhaps it’s doing the right thing – what you know to be the Jesus-thing – even when you just don’t want to.

What does putting God first look like to you?

Winter Solstice

 

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Today is the shortest day of 2015. It’s clear and cold. I stepped out into the still-night a.m. and looked up at the sky. A sprinkling of stars winked at me. sassy after all the rain and even a bit of snow we got yesterday.

I ran in our neighborhood. The wet pavement glowed with the shine of stars, streetlights and neighbors festive Christmas lights. As my feet found their rhythm, I thought about darkness and light.

Today  marks the end of losing light for 2015. Tomorrow, we get an extra minute of light. One minute. Sixty seconds. Doesn’t amount to much. I liken it to putting pennies in a jar, one day at a time. It takes forever to get a pile together. But by summer time, we’ll have light until almost 10:00 p.m. Okay, we also get a boost from Daylight Savings Time in there, too.

 I’m encouraged that during this darkest time of year, Jesus shows up. You can argue that the Roman-era Christians moved the birth to winter in order to give people something to celebrate and to counteract the Winter Solstice celebrations of the Celtic peoples. I’m fine with that. Because Jesus truly does come to us when we’re at our lowest, bottomed out, completely whipped, backs flat on the mat of life.  The truth remains.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:2

I Heard the Bells

We finished up our church Christmas program today.  Musically, we kept it pretty traditional.  We found new arrangements for carols and put them into the program. My sister-in-law brought this one forth beautifully .

This is one of Jonathon’s favorite carols.  I’d never given it much attention.  In fact, I considered it kind of…fusty. Until now.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day…

Did you know who wrote this carol? Do you know its history? The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote it. His son, Charles, joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War against Henry’s wishes in March 1863. Charles wrote him a letter in which he said, “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good”.

Till ringing, singing on its way/The world revolved from night to day…

Charles, severely wounded in the Mine Run Campaign (thank you Wikipedia), convalesced at home.  An accidental fire arose soon after, killing Henry’s wife. He wrote the poem in Christmas 1863.

And in despair I bowed my head/”There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong/And mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

I can only imagine the depths of Mr. Longfellow’s despair. I’m not sure I would handle that well.  My boy, home from a war that tore the country apart and souls asunder. My life’s companion, gone on to the next life.

And yet…

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/”God is not dead, and not asleep
The Wrong shall fail/The Right prevail/With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

I thought of this as I sat on stage this morning and mulled over this song while our excellent group played and sang. I considered all the violent shootings in the news lately. Call them terrorism. Call them acts of war. Call them senseless.  I have no better, prettier words.

What I do have is hope. God sees all. He will repay. It’s his job. He’s not dead or asleep, my friends. The bells remind us that Christmas *did* come, and peace on earth is possible because of Jesus.

 

Four-Dog Night

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“Mom, wake up! There are dogs barking outside, and they won’t stop.”

Bleary eyed, I looked at my daughter. My watch said 12:30 a.m.

“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked.  I mean, dogs and barking.  Really?

Jonathon woke up almost immediately.

“Ruby, let’s go,”he said.  He herded her out of the room.

Turns out it was a small gang of dogs, barking and barking at…something. Ruby yelled at them from her window.  They just looked up at her.

“Two of them looked like twins, Mom.  They had white bodies.  One had a spot on its eye.  The other had a spot on its side.  Then a little black dog trotted up the steps and into the yard. Max (our near-pet) got in on it, too.”

Dog bow-wow at 12:00.

They didn’t leave until Jonathon took the time to put on his coat, open the door and tell them – with extreme prejudice – to go home. He said they looked at him, barked again, then left.

Sometimes, we have to do the bossing. We can’t rely on others, like the police or some animal’s rightful owner, to step up and take responsibility. Sometimes we think the task too difficult. We can’t possibly stop watching that TV show that gives us nightmares.  We want to know how it ends, man! We could never quit smoking, or overeating, or whatever it is that keeps us bound up and miserable. Wait, there’s more. We could never open our mouths and share our journey to faith with others.

Yes, you can.  In fact, God says you’re the best person for the job.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
 – 2 Peter 1:3