Taking the Best of One Year Into the Next {Plus an Announcement}

Winter SkyGravel crunched under the tires as I made my way through early morning’s darkness down the lane, away from my home in the country toward a hospital in the city. Des Moines has six general hospitals and I could picture and plot a route to every one of them. Every one except the one where my mom was having surgery that morning.

The road to Mercy was lost to me.

I checked Google Maps on our computer and while I still couldn’t envision where I was headed, I could see it on the map and pick between the three routes presented. I chose the fastest, one conveniently devoid of interstate. Years of small town streets and county highways have left me a little nervy in the face of freeway traffic.

Halfway between home and the hospital I realized my memory of the route was fuzzy so I opened the map app on my phone. It pulled up an unfamiliar way, one which put me right on the interstate. I reached into the glovebox and pulled out the Garmin, clicked the button for community resources, navigated to hospitals, and then pushed the button for Mercy.

It gave me a different route yet.

I followed the Garmin’s voice into the city, where she situated me in an empty parking lot on the back side of the state capitol building. I thought the Garmin needed to find herself, so I drove out of the parking lot so she could recompute and we could try again.

I ended up in the same place.

The Garmin was no longer in my circle of trust, but because I wasn’t sure what else to do, I decided to try one more time. I ended up in the same place.

Again.

City Sunrise

I parked and considered my options. Distracted momentarily by the sun rising in the direction of home, I stepped out of my vehicle to take a picture and I turned around to look at the capitol. And when I got back in, I noticed a sign across the road: Mercy Urgent Care.

The problem wasn’t the Garmin. It was me. I’d picked the wrong destination.

I needed to make a course correction. I still couldn’t picture Mercy or the roads that led there, so I followed the Garmin from where I was to where I needed to be. I had to take the interstate during heavy commuter traffic. And because I managed to make a wrong turn, I ended up in the tangle of one way downtown streets before I made it to the hospital. But I arrived in time to see my mom before surgery.

And at the end of a long day, I got into my vehicle and chose my own road home.

/ / / / /

For some of us, these unclaimed days between Christmas and the new year are days of picking new destinations and plotting paths to get there. Some years, in the rush to get from where I am to where I want to be, I’ve made navigational errors. I’ve set a course for where I thought I was going only to find myself in the equivalent of a dark, empty parking lot across from a tiny clinic when I needed to be at a sprawling hospital.

I’ve been guilty of trying to create a whole new way of living when I needed just a course correction, a tweak to the path I was already on.

Here’s one practice that helps me figure out the difference: Take a pause to look back over the last year. Ponder the path with an eye for what’s already happening, for what’s working and what’s not. Then press on, holding on to the things that work and looking for ways to correct what’s not.

What  Worked in 2016
  1. Sometimes, after thought and prayer, saying “yes” even when I knew it would be hard.
  2. Setting and sticking to a writing day. 
  3. A (mostly) low glycemic way of eating. More energy for me and fewer migraines for my husband.
  4. Asking for help.
What Didn’t Work {And Their Tweaks}:
  1. Saying “yes” just because something needed to be done. It’s habit I slide into easily and it never ends well. The first people to suffer are the ones I have the most responsibility to.  Once the course is set it takes time and effort to find the way out the tangle and onto the right roads. {The tweaks: Admitting I’m in over my head. Asking for help. Deselecting.}
  2. Social Media. It’s a great way to keep in touch. And I like to keep in touch. But it slices off time, a limited commodity, in such tiny slivers I barely notice in the moment. But the slivers add up. And there’s some research that indicates our brains filter out what comes in through the ears in favor of what it can get through the eyes. That means that my brain focuses the pretty images scrolling past on Instagram (my social media fix of choice) over the human beings standing in my presence. Again, the ones I have the most responsibility to suffer first. {The tweaks: Turning off notifications. Establishing times to check social media. Putting the phone down to look my people in the eye.}

Some of what works now won’t work forever and, with tweaks, some of what isn’t working may morph into something does. I’m thankful for these days that allow me to  pause, ponder the path, and press on.

City Sunrise

What would you like to take into the next year? What would you like to tweak?

The Announcement

Because I would someday like to publish a book, I need to make a few changes to my website. If all goes well technologically, the next post (or maybe the one after that) you receive from me should come from a newly launched website. It will have a new name and a slightly different look, but it’s still me. Same content. Same focus. If all does not go well technologically, I’ll let you know.

Happy New Year to you.

Signature

Look at the Pretty Lights

Look at the Pretty Lights
(source)

Our headlights cut through the blinding darkness of the December night, illuminating the country highway as my littlest girl and I made our way home from church.

“Look at the pret-ty lights, Mom-my,” she called from her car seat in the back of the van. “Do you see the pret-ty lights? I like the pret-ty lights. Do you like the pret-ty lights?”

Like them? Yes.

See them? No.

At least, not like she did.

She, days shy of her fourth birthday, saw twinkly lights on the horizon and deemed them worthy of attention, of affection, of conversation. I, days past my thirty-ninth, noticed them and kept plowing into the night. I knew they were there. But she didn’t ask if I knew they were there. She asked if I saw them.

Acknowledging a thing’s existence is not the same as comprehending its presence.

So, no. I hadn’t seen the pretty lights. I’d glanced right past the glow they cast on the bleak winter landscape, overlooked that someone was celebrating, taken for granted that we have something to celebrate.

Seeing the lights required eyes concerned with more than pavement and progress on the season’s looming list—things to do and stuff to buy, clutter to clean and places to go. And those eyes were not mine.

They were hers.

Hers were the eyes of a child, eyes that came along for the ride while I did, while I bought, while I cleaned, while I drove. Hers saw beauty along the side of the road rather than racing ahead to the details of the destination. Hers attended to the small celebration in the now rather than fixating on the work of the later.

These days leading up to Christmas, these days of Advent, are not about pretty lights along the side of the road any more than they are about doing, buying, cleaning, and going.

They’re about watching. About waiting. About seeing Christmas for what it is.

And Christmas is a remembrance of what has been. That the long-awaited Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, left heaven to come to Earth. That he dwelt among men. And that he overcame the grave. It’s a celebration of what will be. That he’s coming again. And it’s an expression of what is. That once again, we are waiting.

Jesus called us to have the faith of a child. Children see the world clearly now, not dimly through a haze of details which cloud the mind as much as the eye.

Look at the Pretty LightsSo, look at the pretty lights. Do you see them? And look at the Light of the World. Do you see him?

Sharing stories at at Kelly’s Small Wonder and  Lyli’s Through Provoking Thursday.

Bridges Between

IMG_0828One fall, when I attended the University of Iowa, I went a few weeks between visits home. When my parents drove me to school, the fields were full  and green. When they brought me home, the fields stood empty. Even the combines and trucks had gone home.

Growing up in rural Iowa, I’d never experienced fall without seeing harvest, that gradual dismantling of the familiar, fertile landscape one field at a time. It was unsettling. I’d seen empty fields before, with the stubbly shave they wore between fall and spring each year. The problem wasn’t how they looked. It was that, while I was insulated in the city, fall had stolen in without me noticing. I’d missed it, and now I felt out of sync, like something was wrong in the world.

Twenty-five years later I can look back and recognize harvest for what it was, a long event that was part of my transition from one season to another, one that carried me from the verdant warmth of the growing season to the stark beauty of winter. According to merriam-webster.com, one definition of bridge is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” Another is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

Harvest. It’s more than the gathering in of carefully cultivated bounty. It’s a bridge, a steady, unfolding process that I fail to notice until I miss it, one that spans the chasm between heat of summer and the chill of winter.

The measured pace of the seasons is a hidden bridge which carries me gently from where I am to where I need to be. It extends some space to prepare, not just to enter the coming season but to let go of the best parts of the one  fading away.

Bridge

Life offers other hidden bridges, simple, vital, nearly unnoticed parts of our days.  These are structures that carry our path, that support us along our road, that make the impassable way possible, that provide connection and transition. Stopping to look closely enough to actually see  helps me to understand these three for what they are. Gifts. Helpers. Graces.

Fatigue: That I want to do just one more thing before bed prevents me from either getting up when I should or being at my best for the people around me. That I get tired insures that I lay down for the rest I need. Fatigue furnishes a daily opportunity for fresh starts and new mercies.

Hunger: Because my body needs fuel, I get to pause, body and soul, not for only bread but also for breath. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  Hunger bestows three chances to pause between where I’ve been and where I’m headed next. Three opportunities  to gain perspective before launching into the next item on the list. Three occasions for thanksgiving.

Slow Fades: Under the influence of the hardest part of any season, I think that when I’m done with the season, I am done with the season. As in, I think I could switch from one hundred degree days to fifty degree days. I can’t. It takes time to shift between the long, hot days and the short, cool ones. My body isn’t ready and neither is my mind. The seasons’ slow fade offers transition time, a space not just for hello, but for goodbye.

BridgeAnd you? Are there hidden bridges carrying your path along right now, supporting you, making a way for connection or transition?

 

Linking at Kelly’s Small Wonder
and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

On Clearing and Cultivating

FullSizeRenderEight years ago, two months after we landed in a new place, spring unfolded like the twelve days of Christmas, each morning bestowing blossoms of a new color.

Crocus peeked over the winter’s covering of melting snow. Creeping phlox draped over the rock wall and tidy circles of hosta poked through the mat of the previous autumn’s fallen leaves. A small band of hyacinth and tulips held their blooms aloft near the cluster of tiny grape hyacinth massed at the base of a tree, a tree that revealed itself to be a redbud. Daffodils danced betwixt them all and even at the edge of the woods that is our backyard.

We’d received a gift, a garden–a mature garden–along with the house, one that someone else had labored to plan and maintain. Even though I don’t have the gardening gene that many members of my family carry, I recognized it as a gift because long ago Martha Steward told me so. Fifteen years, she’d told her TV audience, is how long it takes for a garden to mature, to get to that place the gardener had envisioned at planting time.

I love the idea of a garden. I planted an herb garden outside our first apartment. I’ve planted flowers at every home where we’ve lived. Once, I even planted a vegetable garden. But never have we stayed in one place long enough for our gardens to grow up.

The weeds sprang up that first spring with the same vigor as the flowers so, gardening gene or no, I went out to pull them. One side of the garden, the side across from the living room window, had few intruders, making it easy to work my way along the long stretch of green. But as I got further away from the window, the weeds grew thick and the hosta’s tidy circles gave way to a tangled jungle.

While I may love the idea of a garden, the years have proven that I don’t like the practice of gardening– the watering and weeding, the deadheading, the continual care. And while the gardens in my mind come straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, Victoria, and Midwest Living,  the actual work of my hands resemble those not at all. My herb garden lacked the magnificence of the ones in the magazines. My flower beds look neither vibrant nor lush. And my vegetable garden? Great with child when I planted and comforting an inconsolable infant during harvest, I’ve not taken that road again.

When a friend admitted she had “romantic notions” about gardening, she gave me words to understand the rough break between the lush gardens in my head and the ones that languished in my yard.

I waded further into the garden, past my romantic notions, pulling up plants of suspect etiology until I reached the farthest and most neglected end. There, in the shelter of the unfurling hosta, mass plantings of delicate, low-growing bluebell and lily of the valley broke the wall of green. Here were jewels I hadn’t set out to discover and without the practice, the work, of gardening, I’d never have cleared away the weeds that obscured them from view. I’d never have known they were there at all.

Spring in a new place, whether that place is a locale or a perspective, is like that, revealing what’s buried beneath winter’s snow, under the soil, behind the weeds. It challenges the romantic notions which stand in the way of tending, of progress, of discovery. It invites us out, beckons us to clear away the weeds and cultivate the land, wherever–or whatever–that land might be.

FullSizeRenderAnd you? Might you find little gems tucked within an untended wall of green in your life? 

Rest Along the Way

Switchback

We sprinted up the switchbacked trail, pausing occasionally to measure how far we’d come, to rest our already used-up legs, to fill our lungs with as much oxygen as the mountain air would give. In previous years, I would have decided that it wasn’t worth it. Not the rush. Not the climb. Not even the destination. But over a lifetime, I’d come to embrace hiking, to believe that forest trails led to worthwhile places, to want to finish what we’d started. So we pressed on, putting one foot in front of the other, making painfully slow progress toward the solitude of one of Yellowstone’s backcountry thermal areas.

We’d tried this trail eighteen years before, on our first trip to the mountains together, just a couple of years into our marriage. We’d left our little red Plymouth Sundance in the pullout and approached the trail. Well, we walked to where the trail was supposed to be, just beyond the sign nestled in the pines, but no inviting packed-dirt path beckoned us deeper into the woods. The only indication that we were near the trail was a slender opening through the trees and a line of footprints in the snow.

That was May. After eight years away from Yellowstone, I’d forgotten about winter’s lingering ways. We’d set off into the snow in jeans and tennis shoes. One hundred yards later, soaked from the knees down, we turned back.

Now we were trying the trail to Monument Geyser Basin again. In September. On a dry trail. In hiking boots.

The intervening years had taught us some things.

The trail was short. Just a mile. Still, the steady string of switchbacks which climbed over 500 feet in that short distance earned it a classification of strenuous.

Under clear skies and over an open trail, this could have been a pleasant, though thigh-burning, hike but we’d chosen to squeeze it in between an already finished long trek and an appointment for a tour at the Old Faithful Inn.

In other words, we had to be quick. We had to hurry. Hurry and strenuous make a bad match. Hurry and hiking are poor companions. We knew this, but in our desire to get to Monument, we ignored it. So we raced up the trail, intent only on getting there in time to get back down again in time to make our appointment.

The trail ended at an opening in the trees, a doorway into a barren landscape of haunting shapes and the familiar scent of sulfur suspended in the air.

I perused the ghostly scene with its grey silhouettes and its gurgles and felt a strange disappointment settle over me. After all of that effort, I was expecting something different, something more. Something more spectacular. Something more worth the climb.

We’d pushed to get to this place. We’d rushed. We’d risked.  And here I stood, dissatisfied.

I knew the problem wasn’t the geyser basin. It was me. In my rush I’d burst through the opening in the trees as a consumer expecting to be entertained rather than as a visitor willing to be surprised by creation’s hospitality.

With the hour of our impending meeting with the Old Faithful Inn bellman driving us on, we didn’t linger long.

On our descent, we noticed another opening in the trees, one we’d missed on our way up. Even in our hurry, we turned toward it rather than following the trail to the car. Stepping through the trees we found ourselves above a wide meadow. A bison herd, brown dots scattered among the tattered grasses of fall, grazed near the Gibbon River. Standing above the river and the road which followed its course, we let our rush, our race with time slip away and I found rest for my disquieted mind and a reminder for my soul that it is possible–and good–to be still.

Monument was our destination. It drew us up the mountain, reminded me again that we miss out when we hurry, and then it offered the gracious hospitality of rest along the road, even though I showed up as an ill-mannered guest. That was its gift. Someday I’d like to return to Monument with a less entitled eye, to see it for what it is, a quiet marvel that God declared to be good. But for now, I’m grateful for the time on the trail, for what I learned, and the rest along the way.

SwitchbackAnd you? What unexpected discoveries have you made when you’ve paused along the way?

 

Sharing at Small Wonder.