Year of promise

Anyone remember the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? In the book, everything seems to go wrong for Alexander, from the petty to the annoying to the plain not good: he wakes up with chewing gum in his hair, there is no dessert in his lunch bag, he gets a cavity, he gets soap in his eyes during bath time, he fights with his siblings. He laments that he just wants to move to Australia, sure that no one has bad days in the land Down Under.

At the end of the book, his mother reassures him that everyone has bad days, even those who live in Australia.

Sometimes I feel like 2016 was just one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

AlexanderLike all new years, it started out with promise: fresh dreams, reaffirming goals to accomplish in the next 12 months, plans to travel, make lifestyle changes, etc. And for a while, it seemed like everything was going well. But, as they say, LIFE happened.

It seemed like every day seemed to bring new frustrations, things that hampered the accomplishment of goals, old enemies that didn’t want to stay down. Doubts of my future as a mother. As a writer. Loss. It sometimes felt like nothing was going right.

And that’s just on the personal side. Worldwide,  it seemed like 2016  was the beginning of the End Times: every other day the news was full of violence and death, hate and prejudice, cruelty and evil. The US election cycle was particularly vitriolic, and the outcome remains so.

I’m an eternal optimist, and try to see the good in every situation. But by the end of 2016, I was ready to throw in the towel. It didn’t help that my husband got sick over Christmas, I got sick shortly after, and my beloved dog Bazinga suffered some burns in a cooking accident. It felt like 2016 was just kicking me while I was down, and I felt myself crying out to God, “What did I do wrong? Why is all of this bad stuff happening?”

As Anne Shirley says, I was having a “Jonah Day,” only it felt like a Jonah year.

I’m sure Jonah thought he was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when he was swallowed by the whale. He hung out in a fish’s belly for three whole days. In Jonah’s case, he suffered because he didn’t heed God’s commands. But in the case of Job, he didn’t do anything wrong. He suffered because God knew that no matter what Satan threw at his trusted servant, he would withstand it. And after losing everything and still not cursing Him, God doubly blessed Job for being a good and faithful servant.

Good momentsI’m not like Job. I definitely haven’t lost everything, and my 2016 was certainly not as bad as it could have been. But even if it had, that’s no excuse for me to whine and complain and give up. The Bible promises us that “In all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I might not be able to see the big picture of what God is doing in my life, and I might not EVER be able to, but I cling to the promise that something good is happening all along.

And you know what? When I think about it, there were some pretty great moments in 2016: wonderful times hanging out with my family, hearing some pretty incredible music from my symphony, some breakthroughs in my writing, brainstorming with a wonderful group of writers and friends, joining the church choir and rediscovering my love of singing. Gaining a niece. Making new friends. Renewing old friendships.  Learning to lean on God in the hard times as well as the good.

So, instead of making a new year’s resolution or choosing my “one word” for the year, I’ve decided to do something even simpler: focus on the good that I CAN see. For every week this year, I’m going to write down at least one thing good that happened in my life that week in my journal. The first week of January, it was praying in the new year together with my husband. Last week, it was the sense of accomplishment on a video I produced for work. This week, I’ve already included the very long phone call I had with one of my best friends on Sunday night.

No matter what 2017 holds, good or bad, I’d rather focus on the good and make it a year of promise.

 

Keeping the Focus

Have you ever seen the Pixar movie, Up? It’s about an elderly gentleman who attaches hundreds of helium balloons to his house so he can move, house and all, to Paradise Falls. When he arrives close to the falls, he and his young stowaway encounter a talking dog named Dug. Now Dug, like any good dog, has an affinity for chasing squirrels and he’s easily distracted by them.

Check out this scene:

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Too often I’m like Dug in my relationship with God. I’ll be praying and all of a sudden my mind is chasing squirrels, so I have to redirect and get my focus back on God. Those “squirrels” come in many shapes and sizes: writing, family, cleaning house, Star Wars movies … you get the idea. By themselves, none of those are bad, but when they steal our focus away from God, then they become our object of worship.

A former pastor of ours repeatedly used the phrase “Keep the main thing the main thing” in his sermons, so that’s my goal this year, to keep my focus on God even when “squirrels” are running around me, trying to distract me.

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:25-27

As a bonus, I’ll send you in to the weekend with this fun song by For King and Country, “Fix My Eyes.”

Less is More

I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I rarely do. Mainly because I think that no matter what day of the year it is, it’s never too late to make a fresh start, to start over, to make a change.

However, since we are at the beginning of a brand new year, I was thinking of what word I’d like to apply to my life over the next 361 days (or hopefully more): LESS.

This word “less” can apply to a lot of things: I’d like to weigh less, I’d like to eat less junk food, I’d like to watch less TV, and waste less time.

Of course, the opposite of “less” is “more,” which is what I hope to gain by using this word “less.” By weighing less, I can be more active. By eating less junk food, I am more likely to live a longer life. By watching less TV, I have more time for reading and writing. And by wasting less time, I have more time for things that are important.

Less-is-more-306x190But less and more can also be applied to my spiritual life. John 3:30 says, “He must become greater,  I must become less.”

As a person, I have a fairly high opinion of myself. I don’t usually suffer from low self-esteem, I am confident in my own abilities, and my place in the kingdom of God. I openly embrace God’s grace in Jesus’s dying on the cross.

But if I follow Christ’s call to become less, that means I need to humbly submit my weaknesses and failings, including my confidence in myself. It would be to follow Christ’s own example:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8

So what does “becoming less” mean on a daily basis though? It means thinking less highly of myself. It means less talking about myself, and more listening to others. It means being less concerned about pride and more concerned with truth, such as admitting when I’m wrong in an argument with my husband (do you know hard that is to do?)

It means spending less money on myself and having more of an offering than just what is left over. It means reading my Entertainment Weekly magazine and celebrity gossip blogs less, and more time in the Word. It means less time worrying and more time praying.

A favorite band of mine in college, Relient K, had a song called “Less is More.” Click on the song title to hear the whole song. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Jesus, I call out ’cause I’m sorry
Because I fall so short of your glory
To the best of my ability
I’m practicing humility
And I lay myself before
‘Cause less is more

Just One Word

Can one word change your life? We believe the answer is yes. Think about it. It only took one word to accept a wedding proposal, and a word like “cancer” can send your life into a tailspin.

But the word we want to talk about for the next two weeks is one each of us have chosen to focus on in the new year. We hope you’ll join us in prayerfully choosing your own word. By focusing on this word, we hope the heightened awareness will help each of  grow in that area.

Here’s a list of some possible choices:

JustBeEnough-Three-Words-2013

 

Of course the list can go on and on. Last year, my word was “gratitude.” I wanted to learn to be grateful in all circumstances–even the bad ones. It wasn’t hard to be grateful on our Alaskan cruise, surrounded by friends and God’s beauty, but it wasn’t as easy sitting by my husband’s hospital bed, day after day in the ICU.

Gratitude fills me whenever I look at our family photo this year.
Gratitude fills me whenever I look at our family photo this year.

Still, my year of “gratitude” focus helped me see the blessings God was pouring in during that time. I was surrounded by family and friends, both in person, by phone, and through Facebook. People from across the country lifted him before the Father, including those who didn’t even know him.

Incredible doctors took care of him.  One of those is a man who studied at Harvard and John Hopkin’s and did his residency at Mayo. He had dual specialties in pulmonology and infectious disease. He grew up in Council Bluffs and came back here because he wanted to be close to his patients. This incredibly kind doctor left at 11 at night and came in before 5 to check on David. I had to think God put him in this place, at this moment to be here for us. And I was incredibly grateful.

wisdomSo what is this year’s word? I’m teaching a ladies class at church, and for the last few weeks, we’ve been studying “wisdom.” I’ve decided to make that my word for the year. God promises to give us wisdom when we ask for it ( ). I want to be more aware of asking for and using wisdom in all areas of my life– in making healthy choices, in the words I use, in the things I commit to, and in the words I put on a page for readers.

Ready to pick your word? There are no rules, and we’d love to hear it.