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

Do Not Approach

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The girls and I emerged from the cozy, fire-warmed lobby,  braced ourselves against the chilled morning air, and took to the sidewalk that led to Mammoth Hot Spring’s historic chapel. Aware of the cow elk lounging on the lawn between the buildings along the way, I said, “Don’t worry. I won’t risk our lives on the way to church this morning.”

It was the end of September, well into the annual rut, and the local bull was busy defending his harem from challengers and his territory from vehicles and  passing pedestrians. It was just the girls that morning because the guys were taking advantage of a break in the rain to hike Bunsen Peak. Even though they were on the trail, we were probably in more danger because of my persistent delusion that the trappings of civilization—sidewalks and roads and such—offer safety from the perils of the wild.

Of all Yellowstone’s developments, Mammoth most resembles an actual town. Beyond the usual–hotel, store, gas station, and post office–there’s a medical clinic, a federal courthouse, and large homes with welcoming porches which front the main road. Appearances aside, our sidewalk was not a safe, civilized place. Its covering of elk scat announced that.

“There’s the bull, Mom,” my oldest girl pointed out.

There he was, in the middle of the lawn at the end of the sidewalk. Abandoning my plan to not risk our lives, I herded the girls off the sidewalk, across the road, and kept moving toward the chapel along the edge furthest from the elk.

“I thought you said we weren’t going to risk our lives,” my oldest daughter said as we climbed the stairs.

Chapel, Fort Yellowstone District Mammoth Hot Springs

“We didn’t,” I started. Then I remembered my delusions about sidewalks and roads and realized what I had done. “Sorry.”

An hour later, after the sermon, the benediction, and the visiting which occurs even among strangers, my littlest girl informed me she needed to find the restroom. The pastor’s wife handed me a key and directed us out the front door and around the side of the chapel. “It’s an old building,” she apologized.

I shepherded the girls out the door, intent on our destination. We were still on the stairs when the oldest–obviously more observant than her mother–said, “Mom, that ranger is talking to you.”

A  ranger, a young and uniformed, smiled and pointed toward the grass between the chapel and the trees. A bull elk was circling around the side yard, heading for the cows on the other side. The harem-defender we’d skirted around earlier, threw back his head, abandoned his station on the other side of the chapel, and began a slow run toward the challenger. We couldn’t leave the building.

My daughter’s this-cannot-wait look compelled me to explain our predicament to the ranger. He looked toward our destination and over at the bulls.

“I’ll walk you over,” he said.

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I stood  outside the bathroom door and the ranger stood nearby, his camera ready. “You don’t see them together very often,” he told me.

We watched the elk, ready for a horn-locking battle. They continued toward one another, one with caution, the other with quick, strutting steps. That confidence proved enough for the challenger, who retreated to the woods. The dominant bull reestablished his watch over his harem, and we returned to our hotel. It was over.

For awhile.

This time the challenger did not slink back into the woods without a making a stand. We didn’t see the fight. We saw the evidence—an antler, half of a matched set, sitting on a picnic table near the herd’s morning grazing site—later that day.

As the line of vehicles we were in crawled through the company of elk camped between the medical clinic and the meadow late that afternoon, we saw a bull. He sat alone, apart from the others. Not until I started snapping pictures through the open window did we notice that one of his antlers was missing, a casualty of the battle.

So he sat alone, defeated and disappointed, thwarted by his broken equipment, legs folded neatly under his tawny body and his one-antlered self situated directly under one of Yellowstone’s signs: DANGER DO NOT APPROACH ELK.

Oh, the irony.

I laughed. For a minute. And then I realized that I do a version of the same.  I’m smoother than the elk, blessed with the ability to read, so I wouldn’t actually go park under such a sign, but I put off the signals just the same: Leave me alone. 

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Or maybe don’t. The elk didn’t want to be left alone. Not really. He wanted a harem and, because I anthropomorphize wild animals, I figured he was pouting. Just like I pout sometimes when I’m disappointed. Or lonely. Or dealing with being broken.

Every year elk lose their antlers and every year they grow back again,  bigger than before. This autumn brought the elk another opportunity.

I don’t have to wait that long.

Every morning, every moment really, I get the same. God’s mercies, they’re new every morning. Like the psalmist, I can ask Him to teach me to number my days. What are days but a series of moments? And who wants to spend them parked under a DO NOT APPROACH sign?

Sharing Do  Not Approach  with the writers at the Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursdays Link-ups.

Lifelong Learning: Compelled

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When we drove away from Yellowstone earlier this month, we went only as far as we could get in an hour and stopped for a couple of days at a resort famous for its thermally fed, all-season, outdoor pool. We expected to relax with our bodies submerged in the therapeutic ninety-eight degree water as our faces braved the mix of cold air and steam which hovered over the pool and permeated the courtyard. We had not planned on the arrival of the eight ladies on a girls’ weekend. They took over the pool’s northwest corner and the fifty of us who remained drifted to the opposite end.

Even from a distance the group was loud and coarse and on the receiving end of muttered derisive comments from some of the people congregated in the packed half of the pool. The atmosphere was tense. People seemed to feel able to do nothing other than tolerate it or leave. While it was warmer than the previous evening’s thirty-five below zero air, people were not inclined to go.

When the least sober member of the group mooned her companions as she exited the pool, I knew that I had to grow up and talk to her or be willing to leave. Just days earlier I had wondered if I had ever been compelled to do anything and here I was, compelled to act. I hopped out of the pool and into the ten-degree air, padded across the heated tile and into the locker room where I told her privately, quietly, and matter-of-factly that I had a teenage son with me who really didn’t need to see her backside.

I learned a few things during the next few minutes:

  1. Although I see myself as someone who handles neither conflict or confrontation well, it seems that when it was required of me, it was possible for me to deal with it. Well.
  2. Even though I spent the short journey between the pool and locker room contemplating the likelihood that I might get punched out, if that had happened I would have survived. My family (or maybe someone from the pool full of people I was blissfully unaware had watched me head to the locker room) would have come checked on me. Whatever happened, it would have been all right.
  3. One quietly spoken sentence was all it took to change the atmosphere of the whole pool area. The stream of f-bombs dried up, the group subdued itself, and everyone else relaxed and redistributed themselves throughout the pool.
  4. While it’s not always easy, it is right for me as a mom to defend my children’s one short childhood from the thoughtless and uninformed.

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What has life been teaching you?

Linking with Emily at Chatting at the Sky.