A New Year

When I was little I thought that if I could stay awake until midnight on December 31, I would see something miraculous: the coming of a new year. I assumed there would be some spectacular natural light show as an old year ended and a new one was ushered in. Of course if I could have managed to stay awake that late I would have seen nothing unusual. The night goes on like business as usual. 

And truly there is nothing inherently significant about this night other than it causes us to have to remember to write a new date on our checks (on those rare  occasions I write one). In many cultures this is not even their new year. 

Still, it may be helpful to acknowledge the former year--the blessings and the trials, the joys and the sorrows. Personally, I am glad to have the pain of this past year behind me. Yet I cannot have life without pain. Those are the moments that shape us. Even in the midst of tough years in looking back I see that God was still present. His hand still guided me through it safely. 

A new year brings hope. Changes will occur most likely. And maybe there will be more hardships ahead. Actually, this is quite likely. But there is also the hope of making better choices, of learning from mistakes, and of knowing that pain is a reminder of the joy awaiting in Heaven. 

So goodbye 2014. Goodbye to the pain and the joys, the tears and the laughter. You won't be forgotten, but you don't need to hold me down, either. And hello 2015 with your possibilities and potentials. May God make a path through the year ahead that is clearly marked, and may my feet quickly return to it if they stumble off course.  


The Second Day of Christmas

In Canada (as well as the United Kingdom and other palces in their commonwealth), today is Boxing Day. It's traditionally a day when people put food and other things in a church box for the poor--extending the giving of Christmas. It is more contemporarily a day when people box up their leftovers and take them to a friend's house to share a meal together. However it gets celebrated, the focus in on others. Thatt's the Christmas spiritl.

In the church it is the Feast of Stephen. As in the day when Good King Wenceslas looked out. The carol tells of the king aiding a poor man. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. Paul/Saul was there giving approval to his stoning because of his faith in Jesus. Stiill today many people die because of their faith. I don't pray for them enough. I also don't pray often enough for my faith to be that strong.

I decided that I want to try and make one of my goals to be doing something creative each day. Even for 12 minutes. I find it too easy--especially on evenings when I'm at my apartment without my children--to sit and watch some television or be online and suddenly find that the whole evening has passed by. And I may have gone out and gotten some exercise before that, but otherwise I don't feel built up to have accomplished nothing. 

So I'm going to make this happen. I started to type "try and make this happen" but as Yoda has instilled in me, "Do or do not. There is no try." It may not happen every night. I recognize there may be some extenuating circumstances. But as much as it can happen, it will. 

Yesterday I got out a canvas and my paints for the first time since I moved here. I also stopped downtown on my way to my sisters house last night to look for interesting photographs to take. I haven't written as much since I moved. And my guitar hasn't been unpacked yet even though I've been in the apartment for almost four months now. I've toyed with learning to knit for a long time. And I've always enjoyed just drawing, but I haven't opened my sketch book in a while either. So I have many options for creative outlets.

What's the connection between my creative goals and the second day of Christmas you ask? Good question. I didn't have a connection at first. Both were on my mind was all. But as I have been writing and my creative juices flowing (there it is--my creative outlet for today!), I remembered the greatest commandment: To love God with all  my heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love my neighbor as myself. 

I can't be loving my neighbor well if I'm nont loving God, first of all, but also if I'm not loving myself. And loving myself means taking care of myself: eating well (I'm hit or miss there--I make healthy meals, but I also snack too much), exercise (I'm doing better at fitting that in--I even did 5 1/4 miles on the eliptical machine this week; I haven't gone that far outside of bicycling since high school), and doing something good formyself like something creative. 

Now, hopefully, this creative outlet tonight will help me fall asleep. I was in bed over an hour and a half ago because I'm feeling a bit under the weather, but was finding my brain and body wouldn't cooperate with the need for sleep. Hopefully now I can.


The Loneliness of Christmss

Last night the boys and I went to the Christmas Eve service at church. The pastor reminded us of the signs that told of that first Christmas. It wasn't a star in the sky or angels singing. The sign that the angels tell the shepherds to look for was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes (no surprise there--even our children were swaddled when born) laying in a manger. There's the real sign--and a surprising one. The Son of God in an animal's feeder. 

I grew up on a farm. Feed troughs tended to be noisy, dirty places, surrounded by manure and buzzing flies. They are no place for a baby. Especially a baby who is God incarnate. He should be born in a palace like the royalty He is; or at least a temple where the religious gather. But God was born in a barn. How many times did your parents ask you when growing up and you left the door open or some similar faux pas, "Where you born in a barn?" It's not a compliment. But such was the birth of Jesus.

That was the sign to look for: the manger. It is a sign of hope. A palatial birth would have meant God came for those in power. A temple birth would have meant God came for the righteous. But a manger means He came for everyone. Princes and shepherds, the righteous and the heathen, the Jew and the foreigner. God put on flesh to be like us all--and so all could come kneel before His infant bed.

* * * * * * * * * * * 

This morning I found myself sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree lights crying a little. The boys had just left for Wisconsin with their mom. I was alone on Christmas Day. I knew it was coming. I had already done a holiday alone, so I thought I could handle it. Butt after they left some of the emotions hit. I'm good about being in solitude; apparently being alone is still a struggle for me.

But that manger birth is also a hope-filled reminder that I'm not alone. God came to earth. Emmanuel: God With Us. He knows what it is like to walk in human skin, experiencing all that we experience. There is solace in that knowledge. 

I have a hard time grasping that fact sometimes, though. Obviously. If I had that fact internalized, I wouldn't ever feel alone. I guess that's why I need all these reminders. Advent and Christmas. The tree and it's lights. The carols on the radio. The friends who send an encouraging word through facebook. All are reminders that I'm not alone. Jesus was born. God is with us. Amen.


Divorce, Advent, and Gratitude

I haven't written much for a long time. I want to. It's probably good for me to be writing more now. But I haven't, and that's just how things are.

The holiday season is in full force. I've never had hard holidays before. But they are when you're divorced. 

Thankksgiving was my first one without having the kids. I went to my sister's and had time with her kids, who are growing up too fast. So  the time there was nice, but traveling distances alone isn't as fun. 

And now we're in Advent. Today is St. Nicholas Day. Both events have had many traditions for us in the past. But those have had to change. We're not together at the table every night for lighting the Advent candles and reading a devotional. Money is tighter, so the St. Nicholas gift was absent today (there will be gifts later, though) as was the shoe boxes that we typically deliver for going overseas. 

But we still had a good evening of decorating the tree (though I need to get a tree skirt, an extension chord for the lights, and a star for the top). We listened to Christmas music all day long, and we had time together watching Back to the Future III (we had seen the first one this summer in a park with DeLoreans there, so we've been finishing the trilogy). Tomorrow we're going to partake of a family meal after church followed by gingerbread house making and other activities. There are new memories to make, new traditions to try out. 

But it's not the same. There are memories with each ornament on the tree. There are fewer stockings to be hung. There are activities at which I'm alone. 

So I go back to gratitude. Gratitude recenters me.  It changes my attitude.

And I can be thankful of the hope of Advent. The hope of the returning Christ. Hope of change. Hope of better things. Hope of love, and grace, and mercy, and forgiveness. 

That's why I need Advent. As much as I love Christmas, I can't rush to it. I need the reminder of the goodness of waiting in hope. For that I am thankful.