To New Years and New Beginnings

One year ago today was the day first day of a new beginning for me. Not because it was the first day of 2016, but because it was the day after my last day of work. I had spent the months previous wrestling through the sense of feeling called to leave, and being present to the difficulty of saying goodbye. But one year ago today, the goodbyes were done and I was in a new place.

One year ago today, I stepped from the job I knew into the wilderness of an unknown future. I wandered there for quite awhile. It was dry and difficult, but also a place where God spoke. After all, the Hebrew word for wilderness is midbar, and the root word of midbar in Hebrew means to speak. In the Scriptures and in our lives, the wilderness always seems to be a place God speaks. We hear whispers about who we are and who we are not, about how we are trusting and how we are holding too tight, and about how to let go of the trappings that have enclosed us so we can be embraced by our Creator.

The wilderness is not a place I would have chosen to go, but it is exactly the place I needed to be. 

If you are one of my regular blog readers, this is not news to you. Many of my reflections last year were about what I was hearing on this journey of sorting out who I was and where I was going. 

One year later, I look back and am in awe of all that has transpired and how it has led me to where I am. I have never felt more like the real me than I feel right now. I have a sense of my own calling, and am living out a beautiful mosaic of doing those things as my vocation. My OneWord 365 was "tov" and wow, is that a word that inhabited my life. 

As I look with anticipation and hopefulness towards a new year, I can't help but to look back on the year that has been, and be filled with gratitude for it, even the painful parts. 

There are a few people who have been particularly helpful as I have struggled my way through this new beginning. One of them is Steve Wiens. He is my friend and my pastor, and someone who has spoken into my life in powerful ways over the years I have known him. Whether through coffee conversations, sermons, blogposts, or podcasts, Steve has a way of calling out the best in those he is with. He has helped me find courage, believe in my own potential, and trust in a God who never stops redeeming my life.

Today, Steve's book, Beginnings, hits the shelves, and the timing could not be more perfect. Beginnings is about the first days of creation, and noticing how they form a pattern that repeats itself in the Scriptures and in our lives. It is a deeply redemptive book that gives you the chance to hear Steve's voice calling out the best in you, just as it has for me. 

It is a book for anyone who believes or wants to believe that...

"God wants to usher all of us into new beginnings, no matter our motives and no matter how blurry our picture of God. God isn't finished creating and recreating, and it's precisely because God is continually generative that we keep getting invited to grow and change and become, despite the fact that we keep landing ourselves in the same old garbage heap that we found ourselves in last year, and the year before that." - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 8

It is a book for anyone whose soul stirs when they hear someone say...

"Do you dare to believe there are seeds of life planted in you by God that ned to be born? What would it mean for you to give birth to them, as messy and difficult and dangerous as that may be?" - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 52

It is a book for anyone who wants to give up and needs to be reminded...

"One of the great invitations of any beginning is to follow it through its life cycle rather than demanding that it stay the same. Beginnings move from waiting, to hoping, to abundance, and then, finally, to their inevitable endings. We cannot cheat that life cycle, no matter how much we want to or how hard we try."  - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 82

It is a book for anyone who needs the hope of the words...

"When you stop running away from who you are, you will turn to find Someone calling you to return to who you are. Then you will see the names you assumed were scars, covering the innocent and beautiful name that has been yours from the beginning of time." - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 139 

It is a book to highlight, save, and reread until the binding falls apart, any time you face another new beginning in your life.

I want to give a copy of Beginnings away to you. It's the start of a new year. What kind of new beginning do you hope for as you look forward? Comment and share a word or a story. On January 8, one week from today, I will randomly choose from the commenters and mail you a book. 

If you don't win, or even if you do, you can also go buy one. This is not a sponsored post. I get no benefit whatsoever from you following that link and making a purchase. I just want to you to buy it because it's good, and you won't regret it.

Just to prove it, let me leave you with one more quote. One that I like so much that I made it into an image. Put it up on your wall, save it to your phone, dare to believe that it could be true.

#beginningsbook quote- there is God, making us new.

May your 2016 be touched by a God who makes things new.

Advent: The starts and stops of waiting

The progress has been moving through stages of starts and stops for weeks now.

Stage 1: It's time! We're going to do the house project!... Wait for weeks while the contractor goes through the back and forth of getting a permit from what is apparently a very picky city office.

Stage 2: Wow! Look at that! A whole segment of our house was just torn down in a matter of hours!... Wait for what seems like forever for the late fall rains to stop so the ground will be stable enough for digging.

Stage 3: Hooray! They are digging the foundation!... Wait for the cement workers to have an opening to build the walls... wait for the city to come inspect the stability... wait for the walls to be fortified before filling the dirt back in... Oh, and wait for the rain again. Walk out the door to a huge dirt/mud pile sitting in the driveway for the entirety of this stage.

Stage 4: Look at that! They are building walls!

The temptation now, in the progress of this stage, is to forget the stops that will come after this start. There is such obvious movement now. After all, framing is actually a pretty fast process of house building, relatively speaking. But there are sure to be more weather events out of our control, or delays because of the holidays. There are also times coming where the work being done, like running electrical lines, is important, but more hidden.

What will be tempting next, in the waiting of this stage, will be to forget the progress that will come after the delays . 

Waiting is not static. It runs through cycles of hope and despair, forward movement and frustrating stillness. We anguish that the quiet stage we are is the place we will die, never seeing the end of the wait. We get pulled onto the momentum train, wishing for the wait to end sooner than is possible.

This is the struggle of Advent. Christ has already come, and yet, Christ is still coming. We celebrate God's redemptive work in ourselves and in friends who have found new futures we wouldn't have thought possible. We learn about the systematic injustices pushing people down and wonder how we might ever start to climb out of this pit. We see a beautiful sunset and marvel at a God who takes our breath away. We see death and pain and sorrow and sickness and lament to a God who seems too inactive. Already and not yet. Our faith cycles through times of feeling either word more tangibly than the other.

That's what waiting feels like. That's what Advent feels like.

I wonder if this Christmas, we can let ourselves feel both. Experiencing the joy of celebration does not mean we are callous to the pain of oppression. Lamenting the brokenness of a  messed up world does not mean we have to forfeit the simple pleasures of playful presents and delicious food. 

What helps me bear the starts and stops waiting is not ignoring the feelings of either, but by releasing my grip on the outcome. There is so much of life that is beyond my control, weather patterns being chief among them. No matter what I do, I cannot make the end come at a certain time or in a particular way. So holding the process with tight-fisted stubbornness does me no good.

The best I can do is to be fully me, to rest where I should, to engage where I can, and to let things unfold as they will. And to pray, pray, pray to a God who is good and trustworthy.

Wherever life finds you this Advent, I hope you can do the same.

Marking Time and Seeing Emmanuel

I cried in the car yesterday. I was just barely able to keep the tears back from the kind of full-blown weeping that would have made driving dangerous. 

The day before I had loaded a favorite Christmas song on my phone. I had anticipated how much I would enjoy hearing it, but I wasn't ready for the gush of memories that would flood me as I listened. 

Christmas seems to have unique role in helping us mark the passage of time in our lives. Few other parts of the year have us doing the same things on the same days over and over again. Every December, we put up a tree, and can't help but remember all the years of trees before this one. We hang ornaments and decorations, and think about who gave them to us or who made them, or how they looked in previous displays. Memories of pain, joy, and transition seem to attach themselves to objects, songs, and even the weather. 

On that drive, as the tears came, the recollection of how much in my life has changed over the last five years came with them. I thought about the three different states in which I have lived, the job I started and resigned, the old friends I left behind, the new friends I met, and the kids I have watched grow from toddler to big kid status. 

In this marking of time, I worshiped. I became overwhelmingly cognizant of God's presence with me through all the twists and turns, joys and sorrows, of my story.

Perhaps this is part of how the concept of Emmanuel can come to life at Christmas. We can look back and see how God has in fact been with us, even in places where we couldn't see it at the time.  

Some of you might be in a season like that right now, a time when God feels absent. Perhaps hope could more easily be found in the past than on the future, through remembering how God was with you before. 

For me, I got out of that car with renewed sense of gratitude and faith. Though there still many things in this world I don't understand, and ways I wish God would act, I cannot deny God's realness when I look at my own story. 

Emmanuel. God has been with us. God is with us. God will be with us.

Emmanuel. God has been with us. God is with us. God will be with us.

P.S. If you're looking for some ideas for Advent and Christmas songs, here is a Spotify playlist I put together of some songs I really like. It includes the one that made me cry- Come and Worship by Bebo Norman.

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