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

All Because of a Little Fire

After the Burn by Courtney Celley/USFWS                                                                                                                                                               Source

The springtime landscape in rural Iowa wears a mosaic of ever-deepening swaths of green broken by plots of freshly turned fields and charred black ditches. Growing up, I saw the burns and wondered why people, including my farmer-grandparents, endured the stress of trying to contain a fire they’d set themselves.

They serve all manner of useful purposes, these controlled, or prescribed, burns. They break down dead plant material and return nutrients to the soil. They help with reseeding. They even control ticks.

My dad explained it to me when I was young, but it wasn’t until my family and I took up residence in the country that I began to understand. A long strip of grass lines our driveway. It bears the marks of once being a flower garden–a rosebush lost in the jungle of tall grass, a peony, clumps of black-eyed Susans, and a sea of towering, sunset hued lilies.

After we moved here nine Februarys ago, the melting snow revealed a tangled mass of the previous year’s grass. So we burned. We burned that year and the year after and the year after that, and while it wasn’t beautiful, it was uniform and green and sprinkled with blossoms.

And then we got bees.

They live just beyond the strip of dilapidated garden. When their first spring rolled around so did the mat of long dead grass, but we didn’t feel comfortable burning. For three years, a little fresh greenery but few flowers emerged through the snarl of brown grass. It was ugly and depressing.

So last spring we burned.

Bees orient themselves to the sun, leaving the hive only after sunrise and returning by sunset, so we waited for the sun to disappear, soaked the hive, and struck a match. The grass, cured by days of withering sun and drying wind, carried the fire from one end of the garden to the other while my son hovered over it with a hose.

We discovered, as the flames opened up space where the dead grass had been, interesting bits in the ashes: singed but living lilies, the charred remains of a  poison ivy vine, a couple of pop cans left behind during some day of outdoor work.  Our cats, always after a meal, crouched as closely as they could to the flames, watchful and ready to pounce on any unfortunate–and to my way of thinking, unwelcome–field mice displaced by the heat.

The fire consumed the remains of the grass, the trash, and the vine. It exposed the pop cans and the mice. What it didn’t do was destroy the lilies. And of everything we saw when the flames cleared, only they belonged in the garden.

The fire burned right over them.

It’s the same with us. Fire consumes and exposes the decaying remains, the trash, the weeds, the litter, and the vermin that clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds and sap our strength. It eradicates the things we don’t want and makes space for the things we do.

Not that that kind of heat is easy. The fire burned hot enough to keep us at a distance. Only after it passed by could we get close enough to examine what it left behind.

Spikes of green poked through the charred soil within days, the first hints of what became uniform waves of grass with a few black-eyed Susans around the edges. The lilies, singed but unharmed, stretched toward the sun and presided over the driveway. All because of a little fire.

campfire

And you? Might the heat you’re experiencing be opening up space for something important by burning away the things that don’t belong?

 

 

Sharing this week with the writers at Small Wonders, Thought Provoking Thursday, and  Weekend Whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

Because

Because the things of earth end, because beginnings arrive disguised as endings, because this week brings both to our family in the form of college–a repost.

Natural Bridge Trail Yellowstone National Park

Natural Bridge Trail
Yellowstone National Park

Every summer the cicadas sing their song. Every summer it starts too soon. And every summer it makes me sad.

It made sense when I was young. The cicada’s song signaled school’s imminent return. I enjoyed school, so maybe it didn’t make sense, but as a child, it was the best I could come up with. I dreaded the inevitability of its lonely refrain vibrating through summer’s evening air. My parents held a different opinion. They called it beautiful.

Age has allowed me to agree. I can hear a loveliness in the cicada’s song because I know now it was never what I was walking toward that made me sad; it what I was walking away from. School was good but was home was better. More time at school meant less time with my mom and dad and brother, less time in books, less time with my grandparents, less time to be free.

Sometimes I hear the cicadas singing over my children’s lives and feel the same hollow sadness I did in childhood. I heard it as the newborn became a baby and the baby grew into a toddler who wandered out into the living room one day as a child, soft baby fat having disappeared in the night. I heard it when they stepped onto the school bus, the soccer field, and the stage. I hear it now as I watch my seventeen-year-old-hardly-a-boy-anymore do his seventeen-year-old stuff.

When he was three a thunderstorm brought down a tree branch in our front yard. The next morning, he put on his tool-belt, climbed into the branches and went to work with his plastic axe. When he was nine our neighbor’s treetop landed in our yard and he was there immediately, checking it out and absorbing the talk about what would happen next. At seventeen he helps provide the wood our family needs to be warm through the winter. His plastic axe is gone, replaced by tools with sharp edges and motors.

He’s building a trebuchet this summer, perhaps the last in a series of many. This is a big one, with a metal frame, and this is his second summer on it. I want desperately for him to have time to play in his way, but he’s growing up and time a luxury. He doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t think he hears the song.

The cicadas aren’t at fault. They are message bearers only. The thing is, I’m not ready for him to go. The time is so close and their song is so loud and sometimes I don’t want to hear it. The cicada’s song has its own rhythm, relenting occasionally and silencing itself long enough for his father and I to enjoy the boy he is even as it reveals the man he is becoming.

I know it’s not what he’s walking toward that makes me sad. It’s what he’s walking away from. Perhaps with a little more silence I can make peace with their song.

And you? Are you facing an ending or a beginning today?foreverythingthereisaseason

Sharing Because at Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursday.

Cicada Song

Natural Bridge Trail Yellowstone National Park

Natural Bridge Trail
Yellowstone National Park

Every summer the cicadas sing their song. Every summer it starts too soon. Every summer it makes me sad.

It made sense when I was young. The cicada’s song signaled school’s imminent return. I enjoyed school, so maybe it didn’t make sense, but as a child, it was the best I could come up with. I dreaded the inevitability of its lonely refrain vibrating through summer’s evening air. My parents held a different opinion. They called it beautiful.

Age has allowed me to agree. I can hear a loveliness in the cicada’s song because I know now it was never what I was walking toward that made me sad; it what I was walking away from. School was good but was home was better. More time at school meant less time with my mom and dad and brother, less time in books, less time with my grandparents, less time to be free.

Sometimes I hear the cicadas singing over my children’s lives and feel the same hollow sadness I did in childhood. I heard it as the newborn became a baby and the baby grew into a toddler who wandered out into the living room one day as a child, soft baby fat having disappeared in the night. I heard it when they stepped onto the school bus, the soccer field, and the stage. I hear it now as I watch my seventeen-year-old-hardly-a-boy-anymore do his seventeen-year-old stuff.

When he was three a thunderstorm brought down a tree branch in our front yard. The next morning, he put on his tool-belt, climbed into the branches and went to work with his plastic axe. When he was nine our neighbor’s treetop landed in our yard and he was there immediately, checking it out and absorbing the talk about what would happen next. At seventeen he helps provide the wood our family needs to be warm through the winter. His plastic axe is gone, replaced by tools with sharp edges and motors.

He’s building a trebuchet this summer, perhaps the last in a series of many. This is a big one, with a metal frame, and this is his second summer on it. I want desperately for him to have time to play in his way, but he’s growing up and time a luxury. He doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t think he hears the song.

The cicadas aren’t at fault. They are message bearers only. The thing is, I’m not ready for him to go. The time is so close and their song is so loud and sometimes I don’t want to hear it. The cicada’s song has its own rhythm, relenting occasionally and silencing itself long enough for his father and I to enjoy the boy he is even as it reveals the man he is becoming.

I know it’s not what he’s walking toward that makes me sad. It’s what he’s walking away from. Perhaps with a little more silence I can make peace with their song.

Hope In the Midst of Heartache

One of the greatest heartaches in the Christian life is the slowness of our change. ~ John Piper

Progress comes slowly. Just as my father marked his by landmarks in our lane, I need some way to know where I am in relation to where I have been.  Peter’s second letter offers those landmarks.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 5 – 8

Thank you, Peter. Though its pace breaks the heart, there is progress. This gives me hope.

summer 2012 080

What gives you hope?