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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12 Days of Christmas {Prompts}

When I was ten or so, I decided to memorize the lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. I wanted to know every single gift that “my true love gave to me.” Never mind that the true love was rather bad at selecting presents. (He gets points for creativity, though.) How many pipers were there…? Or was that fiddlers…? I did eventually figure it out, although I had to look up the lyrics again tonight to check…

Never mind how many pipers were piping; we’re officially into the Twelve Days of Christmas!

In honor of that, I’ve made a short list of Twelve Christmas Journal Prompts, very loosely inspired by the true love’s unique presents.

Twelve Days of Journal Prompts

Spread them out over a dozen days, or do a few at once. (Or, if you’re like me, wait until the end of twelve days, then do them at once.) Make up some of your own, too, if you like, and share them in the comments!

12. Which twelve Christmas songs are at the top of your playlist?

11. List eleven people you are thankful for. Say a prayer for them and send some kind words before Christmas!

10. Think of ten ways you can make someone’s heart leap for joy.

9. What are nine things that make your heart dance?

8. What eight chores or tasks are on your to-do list this week? Is milking one of them?

7. List seven ways you can unwind and find stillness this season.

6. Write about six of your fondest seasonal activities.

5. Make a list of five things that glitter with cheer.

4. Who are four people you need, or want, to call?

3. Which three countries would you most like to visit? What would you do there?

2. Write about two peaceful Christmas memories.

1. What is your one Christmas wish or prayer?

Merry Christmas, even if you aren’t given a partridge in a pear tree!

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Still Christmas

Silent Night

It seems as though most of my recent posts have started with, “I can’t believe it’s this time already!” or some such exclamation.

Once again, I can’t help expressing that feeling of where has the time gone? Christmas is in less than two weeks. (Don’t panic!) Just a couple of years ago, that wouldn’t have surprised me. I would have been anxiously counting down, practically to the hour. I could have belonged in Dr. Seuss’s WhoVille, with the massive Christmas Clock and bedecked everything.

In recent seasons, though, I’ve lost track. I don’t have a countdown, and I’m not wishing away days until the 25th. I still love Christmas, just not in quite the same way.

You see, for most of my life, I’ve equated Christmas with a glittering celebration and an entire season devoted to decking the halls with mistletoe and holly, belting out slightly-louder-than-necessary songs, and watching reruns of the same sappy, seasonal movies. It couldn’t fully be Christmas if every surface didn’t have a decoration, if I didn’t devote time daily to planning the season, and if – heaven forbid! – I listened to anything besides Christmas music.

All of that was so fun, until I got a little older. Then Christmas began to come and I would feel joy but also a twinge of melancholy. Why? This was the most wonderful time of the year, and everything was going wonderfully! What right did I have to be sad? I couldn’t be a humbug, for shame!

So I charged ahead, fa-la-la-la-la-ing and hustling and bustling. I could not slow down or give anything up, or I would have no Christmas cheer. Right up until last year, I made Christmas happen as I thought it should, even when I didn’t feel like going all out. Even when it wasn’t fun, or didn’t feel so jolly, I pushed through as if plowing fresh snow.

I expected to do it again this year, but I haven’t.

This Christmas season, I’ve actually allowed myself to slow down, to stop, think and simply breathe. Seasonal stress is no longer filling up my heart, so I have more capacity for joy. My calendar isn’t crammed with extra Christmas festivities; my gift wrapping doesn’t measure up to Pinterest; I haven’t set a record for mailing cards; and I’ve even listened to non-holiday music from time to time. (Shocking, isn’t it?)

And you know something? It’s still Christmas. It seems so simple, and it has been said before, but this feels like the first year I’ve believed it. Maybe more than ever, this year I am starting to realize what Christmas truly is. Not chaos and pressure, but a celebration of a Silent, Holy Night. Even when traditions are overlooked, the meal is a little simpler, or there are fewer gifts under the tree, it is still Christmas.

Jesus still arrived in an overlooked stable, and was bundled in a plain scrap of cloth. Yet in that simple, unimpressive wrapping, the greatest gift ever was given. It is God’s incomparable gift we celebrate at Christmastime! I can’t help but wonder, though, would I have more time to truly celebrate and reflect on that first silent night if I made my life a little quieter this Christmas? How many Decembers have I spent anxiously preparing for one day, instead of embracing each step of Advent and focusing on what- and Who- I truly want to celebrate?

If you feel more stressed than silent this year, may I encourage you to pause for a moment? It will still be Christmas, even if some bows are untied or not all the decorations are hung. Christmas memories don’t consist of what the house looked like or what was under the tree. For me, my most treasured holiday memories are about the people I enjoyed it with; the blessings I experienced, and the ones I shared.

So this Christmas, even though I love festivities and lights, I want to focus on one thing even more: A Silent Night.

What are you focusing on this season? How do you feel about the holiday hustle and bustle? Is there anything you would like to set aside to spend more time in silent joy?

Wishing you a calm, bright Christmas!

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