Word, 2019 Version

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So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.

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Except February is just around the river bend.

I Do Love Words

I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.

What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.

Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)

It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.

Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.

We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.

Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.

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There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.

And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,

“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.” 

We will end up being what we fight against.

I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.

So what words have I considered top define this longing?

Candidates have included:

  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Return
  • Restore
  • Simple
  • Me

(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)

More Than a Feeling

What am I longing for this year?

  • A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
  • A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
  • A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
  • A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
  • A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
  • A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.

A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.

. . . . . .

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She appears skeptical. Photo by Thomas Jörn on Unsplash

I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.

Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.

(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)

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Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.

Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

In defiance of her words (you really should listen):

  • I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
  • Striving is sometimes my middle name.
  • I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
  • I always feel I have something to prove.

“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???

This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.

Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.

I want to be gobsmacked.

(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)

What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.

 

A Long Obedience, and Other Lessons Learned at Nineteen

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Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash

Running, Galloping, or Anything with Horses

I didn’t want to run with the horses. A neighbor’s horse had once run under a tree branch in our back field, with me on his back, full intending to knock me off. I’d hit the branch. I had not fallen.

Another horse, a supposedly docile being on a trail ride, had been bitten by the beast behind him and reared up, again, with me on his back. The height of it is probably greatly exaggerated in my ten-year-old memory, but I remember the fear.

Our cousins’ ponies tried to bite me. Leaders of Girl Scout rides believed, erroneously, that we would all love to gallop. My best friend inducted me into typical elementary-schoolgirl horse fever, and I created an elaborate ranch on my bedroom wall of paper horses, all different, with names and histories. I loved my horses. I just didn’t love real ones.

My history with the equine family is sketchy.

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Photo by Florin-Alin Beudean on Unsplash

But Eugene Peterson said that Jeremiah said that God said—I had to run with the horses. At that point in my life, I trusted all three, although I remained a little unclear on who Jeremiah was.

Halls of Fame

An author rarely makes it into my mental Hall of Literary Fame. It takes excellence of storytelling, language, argument, depth, and truth to attain that level. Like a preacher who sits in the pews and can’t listen for unintentionally  critiquing (that is who I am), I admit only authors who take hold of my literary imagination. Pushing me theologically earns bonus points.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, who is certainly well-ensconced near the apex of my Hall, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished writers. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.” 

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We lost Eugene Peterson in October. We lost—he gained. He is said to have passed with joy in his heart and greeting on his lips for the One he was going to meet but already knew well.

I met Peterson (through his work) at a crucial time in my development, literarily and theologically. A new freshman at Washington University, I was also a new Christian, stumbling and uncertain exactly what I had signed up for and if it had been the great idea I believed at the time.

As a new believer in a highly unbelieving university, it seemed the thing to join InterVarsity, and there I learned of an entire publishing house devoted to making me a smarter Christian. You can assume by the alma mater that I enjoyed being smarter. This has not changed.

A Long Obedience

Peterson stayed with me while others faded. He taught me early in my faith about a long obedience in the same direction and how to run with horses. He taught me what most nineteen-year-olds need to learn yet rarely can—how to allow for failure, to expect slowness rather than instant effectiveness. He taught me that discipleship was a hard road that required perseverance, not five-point plans.

Of course, I didn’t know I needed to know all that.

You can see how old the book is by the photo. I no longer go by that name. Haven’t for decades. I no longer mark my belongings with unicorn stamps either, although given the magic of books, it’s not amiss.

There are arrows and asterisks and a few underlines in the text of A Long Obedience. Not many. I was still at an age where I believed books were not to be written in, sacred pages that should remain virgin white because someone in a library had told me that probably.

I didn’t know that a book is made more sacred by its highlighting, underlining, exclamation points, and creases. I bet Peterson could have taught me that, too.

The chapter that contains most all the underlining is called “Joy: Our Mouth Was Filled with Laughter.” I clearly felt the need for joy at that point. Not surprising, since my college years were flooded with grief at my mother’s passing a few weeks before high school graduation, my dad’s descent into alcoholism, and a close friend’s suicide. Peterson met me when I needed joy, and I didn’t know how to acquire it on my own.

“One of the delightful discoveries along the way of Christian discipleship is is how much enjoyment there is, how much laughter you hear, how much sheer fun you find. We come to God because none of us has it within ourselves, except momentarily, to be joyous. We try to get it through entertainment. Society is a bored, gluttonous king, employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.

But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God, and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. Joy is the verified, repeated experience of those involved in what God is doing.”

Did Peterson pave the way in my soul to be one of those who would not rest without excavating what God was doing? Did he play a role in my decision not to pursue law school but ministry instead?

I know, from my note-taking, that he offered me a way to find the joy that had evaporated from my heart. Choosing joy is a decision I would have to make over and over, given my propensity to be more negative than the average bear. Somewhere in that long obedience, the joy stuck, and the negativity is what evaporated, though it’s always a beast that requires patrolling of the borders.

Peterson found me when I needed a wise pastor, and that he was. I hope he helped make me a wise pastor in return. Thank you, good brother, for being who you were and for speaking words that will not die with you.

Comparison Creep

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T. S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but I vote for January. Where I live, January is blizzard month. Christmas, with all its cheerful songs and twinkling lights cutting the cold darkness, is over and done. January finds me peeling Christmas lights from the frozen ground, lights that stopped working a couple of weeks ago anyway, and tossing them away like the bright hopes they represented.

We’re staring down the barrel of a new year, with new demands–or old ones depressingly unfinished. Maybe we accomplished what we wanted last year, and now we’re feeling underwhelmed with the results. Or we didn’t, and we feel guilty because perhaps we never will.

Do you ever feel the sneaky pull of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that happens this time of year? Do you wrestle with the comparison creep that keeps you from fully finding joy in January? Join me at The Glorious Table to read more of this post and find out how sharing joy keeps FOMO at bay.

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