What I Learned in January

januaryJanuary is always the month of newness. It inspires resolutions, and then demands readjustment. By the end of thirty-one days of trying to improve everything, I’m usually ready to hibernate. Forget the New Year. I need a new bedtime.

With that first month behind us now, I’m pausing to wonder where it went. What I accomplished. What I learned.

I’ll be sincere: January did not go as I intended. I had high expectations in several areas, and I didn’t live up to them. I barely wrote a few chapters in the manuscript I planned to complete; I haven’t figured out my future yet; what I want changes at the slightest notice; when I evaluate my actions from the last month, some of them make me cringe. This year already feels like it’s off to a choppy start. Outwardly, nothing drastic has happened, but I can’t shake my inner sense of unsteadiness.

I’m tempted to delete that entire paragraph, but I’m going to leave it because I promised myself something for this year: I am going to be authentic. It’s too tempting to create a perfect persona. It’s too uncomfortable to be vulnerable and real. Yet I’m learning that I connect most truly and deeply with others when there’s a sense of sincerity. In a world of photo shop and plastic, I think we want to know what’s genuine. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who feel messy and uncertain. Every intimate detail doesn’t  need to be spread. We still need a sense of privacy. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend we’re perfect.

So in the midst of others celebrating their life-changing resolutions, their unstoppable success, and how 2015 is the best year ever, I’m happy for those people. But I’m not going to claim I’m one of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

January was not the triumphant month I imagined. It had ups and downs, but I can honestly say I learned along the way. I am learning. Here is a scattering of my humble findings for last month:

  1. Even when I don’t get the results I want, there is no regret in being brave. Courage is a choice I have to make with trembling limbs and knots in my stomach, but once I do, I am free. I no longer have to wonder what would have happened if I had stepped out. Fear doesn’t deserve the final word. Faith and freedom do. It’s empowering to type those words, even though it’s a little harder to breathe seeing them.
    be brave quote birds
  2. Patience is a process. Every time I think I’ve got it mastered, I have to learn it over. And then over again.
  3. Even loners can’t always walk alone. I am an introvert through and through, and I lean towards working by myself. I’ve recently discovered the true value of teamwork, though. I used to talk a good game about it, but now I’ve played it. And on a great team, everybody really does win. I’ve been able to watch this happen in ministry, at work, and recently in writing when I joined the fantastic team of The Fangirl Initiative(Which is a super fun, nerdy blog! Here are a few posts I’ve had the pleasure of sharing there.)
  4. It’s important to make time for what makes me happy and whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up reading until 4 AM, something I hadn’t done in years. It actually felt amazing. I need books to read like I need air to breathe; I need to journal and clear my head often. And I need to make that a priority, not a luxury. Rest should be a gift, not something I have to earn by doing enough work.
  5. Speaking of books, we can no longer say Harper Lee published only one! In a bizarre twist of fate, the novel she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird is being released at last this summer. Decades later, the public will have something of a sequel to the beloved American classic… The beloved classic I have yet to read. Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, I kind of felt there was no rush. Now that the buzz is all about the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I probably need to get a move on!
  6. Bookworms share a common problem: There are so many reasons to buy books! It’s impossibly hard not to give in to all of them! Dratted budgets. Thank you all for the brilliant response to my last bookish post- I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 😉
  7. Words have such power. In the last month, several people spoke encouragement to me, whether through texting, over Twitter or in person. They may never realize the light those words gave me, but I’ve clung to them. Speak kindly. Lift others. You never know how you’ll inspire them.
  8. Even the best intentions may go awry. I fully intended to have this post finished in time to participate in the link-up on one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the SkySadly, I missed the deadline. I didn’t want to miss reflecting on January, though, so here it is. And if you’d like to see what other bloggers learned in January, here is the post I was *supposed* to add my link to. 

What did you learn in January? Is there anything you’ll change for February, or do the same? How has this month started off for you?

All the best for February!

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Forward into ’15

Go forward: 2015

Eleven days into 2015, and zero posts until now. That was definitely not one of my resolutions. I have such high hopes for this year, and myself in it, but the truth is I’m having trouble shifting into this New Year at all.

I don’t mean that I’m still writing 2014 on all my checks and journal entries, although I actually just did that. I feel like I’m still living in 2014, repeating all the patterns I want to change in 2015. This first week and a half has been unstructured and rather sporadic, reminding me of last year.

2014 was filled with changes, most of them out of my control. So much shifted, from my priorities and responsibilities to my dreams and relationships. I spent much of the year split between fighting the wave of change and learning how to ride it. Last year tested my faith and forced me to trust God; to wait on Him. More often than not, it meant simply being still. Which, for me, meant waiting anxiously for something and going partly crazy because I felt like I was doing nothing. For a girl who likes being in control and keeping busy, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

It didn’t go perfectly, and I have a lot more growing to do. Eventually, though, I settled into the stillness. (For the most part, anyway; my family could tell you I still had my “moments.”) Overall, though, I had to accept that God was doing something in the seasons of nothing. I had to learn not to fight those times, and even to give thanks for nothing. Not all the answers in life are instant or permanent, and it’s a little easier to see that now. I stopped trying to figure everything out and gave up my “five-year plan.” (And also my ten, fifteen and twenty year plans.) I don’t know what’s happening next month, or even all that could happen in the next two weeks. Even so, I know God is truly in control, not just because my Pinterest quotes say so, but because I have seen Him arrange my life before. I have seen what happens when I finally get out of the way and give Him space. 2014 was the year of being still and seeing the salvation of the Lord. It was the year Exodus 14:13-14 came true for me.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…… 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”  

That was hard to accept initially, but it truly worked and now I’m rather comfortable where I am. There are still other things I want to accomplish, dreams for me to chase, yet the routine of 2014 has at last become familiar. I might not be completely satisfied, but I’m safe here in the waiting… In the stillness.

And now that I’ve found the faith to wait on God… I have a dilemma. He’s asking me to have the faith to go forward again.

In verse 15 of that same passage, in 2015 of this same girl’s life, the stillness has ended. To paraphrase that verse, the Lord says, “Why do you cry to me? … Go forward.” (emphasis mine.) 

Go forward? It’s what I was straining for last year, before I learned the importance of being still. In 2014, I didn’t need to go forward. I had been racing forward too long, and needed to slow down. To stop. Breathe. Rest. Wait.

Now? I’ve found that rhythm of silence. And I’m afraid to leave it. It’s puzzling, how last year, being still seemed like the worst thing. I was chomping at the bit for the command to go. It’s finally come, and suddenly I want to curl up and stay still.

It’s what I’ve done for the last several days, fighting the strain of going forward. If I go forward, I have to move into the unknown. This season of stillness has given me a chance to recover my faith and grow it gently. If I move ahead, it will be tested all over. It will be strained and shaken and forced to dig its roots deeper in the rough patches.

In the nothingness, I could dream safely about the someday’s filled with something’s. If I go forward into that someday, and start doing that something, I’m afraid those daydreams will be shattered. What if I fail at everything I’ve been waiting to accomplish? What if I somehow mistake where God is leading me, and derail onto the wrong road entirely?

Forward is frightening. Moving forward might mean falling or failing.

But the time has come. If I want to live my life as a symphony of God’s grace, it’s time to start playing the song. I can no longer be silent, even if it means I’ll be missing beats and playing plenty of wrong notes.

The faith I learned through stillness has to carry me forward now. It’s time.

What are you going forward into this year? 

Forward into 2015!

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New Year’s Symphony

My final post for the year. Already, it has come to this. In a matter of minutes, everything will bear the date of 2015. That’s hard to believe, especially considering I wrote 2013 on something just last month. I was finally getting used to writing 2014, and now I have to readjust again.

I didn’t accomplish everything I planned to in 2014. In fact, most of my plans were turned upside down or torn up completely. Most of my accomplishments were entirely unplanned. In some ways, I’ve changed dramatically, and in others I still have a great deal of growing to do. Still, I don’t feel totally like the girl who crossed from 2013 into 2014, and I know I have the chance to change entering 2015. No matter how many resolutions I failed in the past, something about a brand new year fills me with hope: Hope to do more, see more, be more. To change more and make more.

For a girl who typically resists change, I tend to stack too much of it on the brink of each New Year.  I once made a dozen resolutions, only to forget them all by Valentine’s Day.

So this year, even though I have goals, I don’t want to make them the center of my plans. After all, if there’s one thing I have learned this year, it’s that plans change. I’m tired of making long lists where I either quit and feel like a failure, or succeed yet still feel empty. My desire is for 2015 to be a deeper year, one of true growth. I don’t want to measure my success this year by how much I produce or earn, but by the person I become.

Yes, I’m still going to try the usual things, like getting healthier and becoming more organized. What I really want, though, is to change my way of living. I don’t want this to be another year where I miss the miracles around me, where I go through each day and forget about the One who gave me those days.

I found these beautiful words from William Ellery Channing a while ago, but I’ve adopted them as my mantra for 2015.

 To live content with small means, 
To seek elegance rather than luxury, 
    and refinement rather than fashion. 
To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. 
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,
to listen to stars, birds, babes, and sages with open heart,
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. 
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, 
    grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony. 

– William Ellery Channing, “My Symphony”

To remind me of this each day, I made some simple quote prints. Each time I see them, I hope I’ll remember that life is a miraculous gift. 2014 was a gift, despite coming in an assorted box of good and bad, and 2015 will be the same way.

Symphony bird printSymphony tree print

If you would like to share that reminder, you can download the free prints in 8×10 size here, or in postcard format here. For the 8×10 size, there is a design with birds, a text-only one, and one featuring trees. The postcards are printed with either birds or trees. 

As the final notes of this year fade into silence, and the symphony begins to play for 2015, I hope our new songs will be beautiful. No matter what changes come- both in our control and out of it- I pray we will have courage and strength. I pray that when we don’t, we will allow ourselves to be carried and comforted by God’s unfailing love, and covered in His grace.

Most of all, I pray we will make the most of every new beginning. Of our fresh year, and each fresh day in it.

Happy New Year, dears! May your days in 2015 be filled with unsinkable joy, unshakable peace, and unwavering hope.

I’m looking forward to sharing another year with you.

Blog SignatureP. S. Be sure to check out these inspiring New Years Posts from a couple of my favorite bloggers, as well. 🙂

2014 Going on 2015 from Rana at the Villain Authoress 

Turn to Face the New Year from Miriam at Wishful Thinking 

Thanks for Nothing

Thanks for Nothing

I have so much to be thankful for. It crosses my mind at random intervals throughout the year, but at Thanksgiving, it’s so much plainer. Towards the end of November, life seems to glow with gratitude. As the season crosses into Christmas, I want to sing and smile at strangers and express thanks for everything.

But there is one thing I’m not thankful for. I have trouble being thankful for nothing.

It’s an odd statement, and I’m pretty sure it’s grammatically incorrect, so let me explain.

When everything is going my way, when life is busy and bustling with blessings, it’s easy for me to be grateful. It’s second nature to give thanks for each good thing, for each answered prayer and successful step forward. When my dreams come true; when I get the job I wanted; when the words come smoothly, the “thank you’s” flow freely.

In the times when nothing is happening, though, when nothing is working out the way I planned, and I feel like I know nothingI don’t consider being thankful. How can I be, when there isn’t something to be thankful for? Who says thanks for nothing? 

I don’t. When nothing is going as I want it to and I feel stuck in that nothingness, my response is not to be grateful. It’s to sulk and mope about how nothing is going right. Nothing is happening. Nothing is changing. 

Although this year has been a whirlwind of change for me, it’s also been spaced out with empty caverns of nothingness. I’ve hated those “nothing” times. As difficult as change is for me, being stuck in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of seemingly nothing, is worse. I’m only thankful when I get out of those places!

Yet looking back, and then looking ahead and wondering if I’ll be in another “nothing” stage soon, I’ve realized something. Those times of stillness, when nothing happens and I go nowhere, have been some of the most life-shaping seasons for me. In every long stretch of “nothing”, something actually has been happening. God has gracefully been teaching me patience. He’s been holding me back when the time isn’t right for something else. He has given me these pauses so I can breathe, and rest, and simply wait and be still. 

Those moments of nothing are when I should be most thankful. Rather than being anxious about what may be ahead, and when I’ll get to it, I should actually pay attention to the powerful words found in Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Every time I’ve read that verse, I’ve paid attention to the prayer and supplication part. Do you know which part I’ve ignored? With thanksgiving. 

Don’t be anxious; be thankful. Even when there is a cause for anxiety, give thanks.

In everything and in nothing, give thanks.

This Thanksgiving, I want to say thanks, even for those times of “nothing.” …Especially for those times of nothing.

give thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! In the times of everything and of nothing, I pray you’ll be blessed.

What are you thankful for this year?

Also, on a mostly unrelated note, what kind of pie do you prefer? The pumpkin pie pictured above gave me a craving, but there are some scrumptious apple pies in my kitchen at the moment too. How does a girl choose?

One last thing before I go for the pie and whipped cream: Thank you for being a reader and friend here! I can’t express my gratitude, and how much it means to share the journey with you. It’s another thing I truly give thanks for.

Happy Stuffed-Like-A-Turkey Day!

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