What’s Ahead, What’s Behind

The kids go back to school tomorrow, which means winter break is officially over and the new year is about to begin. If you’ve been sticking around these parts for a while, you know that I love lists, resolutions, words, and goals. It’s that time again!

Last year, my word from the Lord was “recover,” and when I look at 2022 in the rearview, I can see the beautiful and constant work of healing and recovery.

It was also my 40th year on the planet, and I had a whole pile of resolutions, some more ambitious than others, most of which I didn’t reach. But when you resolve to do something, you set your sights on it, you hope for it, you drive toward it. Despite leaving behind or missing the mark on over 75% of my resolutions, I walked in the direction of light, health, peace, and joy, and that, my friends, is a successful trip around the sun.

I thought it might be fun to recap some of the best/favorite moments from 2022. Forgive me, there are many, many things I am grateful for in 2022, and many, many favorites.

Favorite Books of 2022 

(I read so many good books this year. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order):

  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers – this novel was heartbreakingly beautiful
  • At least five books I read this year had something to do with rest, or Sabbath. If you are exhausted, burnt out, and anxious to experience the presence of the divine but feel as if God can’t be found, these were wonderful books: Sabbath As Resistance by Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, Grounded by Diana Butler Bass, and The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • Two books that changed the way I see the world were Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones and That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart 
  • Three novels that were delightful, thought provoking, and granted the reader insight into other people’s lives were This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel, Phantoms by Christian Kiefer, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  • Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown and Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach between the Church and the LGBT Community by Kathy Baldock are two books I have referenced at least a dozen times each since reading them because of how clarifying and important they are

I read 40 books last year, which was one of the few resolutions I hit out of the park. I did manage to also write two essays, routinely compost kitchen scraps, and read Scripture daily. Oh, also, I have one paragraph toward my second novel. That’s all.

Favorite Songs of 2022

I mentioned at the start of December how I began a playlist called “Little Joys” back in May, when I was waiting to learn whether or not I had breast cancer. Songs have always defined seasons of my life. When I hear them again, I am instantly transported back to whatever core emotion I was feeling at that time, and I remember what pain, what loneliness, what joy, and what truths I learned. This handful of songs captures my 2022:

  • “You and Me on the Rock” by Brandi Carlile
  • “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” by James McMurtry
  • “Old Pine” by Ben Howard
  • “Little Joys” by Tom Rosenthal
  • “A Simple Song” by Chris Stapleton
  • “Two Of Us” by the Beatles
  • “One” by Birdtalker
  • “Unconditional 1 (Lookout Kid)” by Arcade Fire

Favorite Documentaries and Films of 2022

I watched and reviewed somewhere around 24 or so different films, TV series, and documentaries for Root & Vine this year. If you go on the Sabbath journey of books I listed above, you might find yourself discovering God in all things. One of my favorite places to discover God is in the creative visual projects of filmmakers and documentaries. I loved many of the shows I reviewed, but these were some standouts (I’ve linked to my reflections on them for your enjoyment):

  • Spirited – A knockout rendition of A Christmas Carol. I friggin’ loved this movie.
  • The Trouble with Wolves – I definitely enjoyed this documentary, but the reason I’m listing this one is because God took me on such a delightful journey through the evolution of wolf imagery in Scripture because of this film. 
  • The Biggest Little Farm – I was so inspired and moved by this project to farm sustainably, in cooperation with the natural ecosystem. The film captures the delicate balance of harmony and disharmony in the universal body of Christ (I know, I’m getting a little woo woo about everything God made. I don’t think it’s going to get any better. Or worse?)
  • Electric Jesus – This is a super niche film for people who are especially familiar with the 80s Christian heavy metal band movement. Because of this film, I often find myself thinking, “You don’t have to make Jesus famous. He already is.”
  • Honeyland – I think this was probably the most obscure film we reviewed this year, but I was captivated by this ancient way of being, the simplicity of the main character’s life, and the hyper-local ecological economy that is entirely universal. 

Favorite Moments with Jesus in 2022

As I’ve been writing this, I am feeling overwhelmed by how much happened this year. Here are a bunch of my favorite moments with Jesus this year:

  • After my mom called me to tell me that she is cancer-free following seven long years of having stage 4 kidney cancer. I cried for joy and celebrated with Jesus and the people in the coffee shop where I was working. I wrote about it at God Hears Her in “The Resurrection Life.”
  • Living in the unknown of May, waiting for answers to diagnostic mammogram tests right on the heels of my mom’s cancer news, and being held and carried by Jesus and friends and family through fear and worry. Also, again, for “Little Joys” by Tom Rosenthal.
  • The healing balm of God’s comfort and long vision in the face of my grandmother’s death, and the way he spoke through me to my family at her graveside service. I wrote about that at God Hears Her, too.
  • The long hours spent in awe and wonder with Jesus in the wilderness of national parks and miles and miles of roads on our Out West trip this summer. I want to write about all of that, and maybe I will begin this coming year, or maybe I’ll just wait and let it marinade a while. I haven’t decided.
  • Watching Jesus walk with Brandon through the first six weeks of seminary and the dozens of times the Holy Spirit decided to say the same thing to each of us separately. So spooky! 
  • Being disciplined by the Lord one Sunday morning during a meditation class.
  • Every single time I was moved to tears by every single moment of gratitude and joy in every single day. I have gotten kind of embarrassing to be around. Super gushy. I’m weeping constantly. I don’t think it’s going away.

Looking Ahead to 2023:

When I was praying and thinking over 2023, I thought at first this year might be defined by the verb version of “treasure,” as in “Mary treasured all of these things in her heart.” Lydia will begin her senior year of high school this year, and because of this, I am aware that we are on the precipice of major changes in our home. We will also celebrate our 20th year of marriage this year, and while I don’t know what is in store for us in terms of celebration, I am ready to celebrate this landmark. I’ve been with my husband longer than I have not. 

I want to treasure all of these things.

However, I kind of already do this (see gushy, weepy, grateful blob comment above), so maybe “treasure” isn’t the right word. 

This morning, I read Richard Rohr’s email for the start of the new year, about his theme of “The Prophetic Path.” In it, Rohr writes:

“We’re going to use the meditations this year to try to illustrate that the Christian way is a prophetic path… There is a third way beyond fight or flight, conservative or liberal, and it probably is a way of ‘kneeling.’ Most people would just call it ‘wisdom,’ which is always distinguished from mere intelligence. It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind.”

Ah ha! Kneel. This is the word the Lord has for me in 2023. I felt a leap in my heart and goosebumps rise when I landed on it. 

I’ve been granted several new leadership roles in 2023, serving on the regional leadership team for the Brethren denomination and serving as the moderator for our local church. These roles are a little intimidating and a little exciting at the same time. I am glad to be trusted with the responsibilities of these roles, but I also sense the burden and deep desire I have to lead well, to live up to any expectations for wisdom and discernment.

How can I do that? By kneeling.

A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus. A synagogue leader came and knelt before Jesus. Jesus knelt down and prayed for God’s will to be done in him. 

The kneeling posture is one of submission. It is a posture of prayer. It is a posture of hope. It is a posture of expectant waiting.

Kneeling makes my knees ache. My feet often fall asleep when I kneel. I am a woman of a certain age, an age that sometimes requires preparation and assistance in order to stand from kneeling. Can you give me a hand? Kneeling reminds me of my mortality, of my dependence on others, of the time and energy that is necessary prior to making big decisions.

The temptations of leadership and authority are to charge ahead, to make grand plans, to leap into the what comes next. I could do that. I am a great strategist and planner—I can justify and implement whatever schemes we can dream of. But before there is a strategy, before there is a plan, there has to be a vision, and as a follower of Christ, vision comes through submission to the Lordship of Christ.

I think it will be important for me to kneel this year. I think it will be important to submit to the authority of the Lord I love who loves me, who seems to have grand plans and is doing new things, who has invited me into these spaces, who has disciplined me back from my own scheming ways into his faith, his joy, his provision, and his peace. 

Jesus knelt in prayer, listening for the word of the Father, and then he said to go and do likewise. Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet and then told them to go and do likewise. I want to sit open and ready for whatever God has for me, kneeling at his feet, kneeling at the feet of others, listening and preparing to serve.

Resolutions for 2023:

I have some other resolutions for 2023. I probably won’t meet or keep all of them, but I will do my best to use them to walk in the direction of the light.

  • Read 52 books. What the heck, let’s go big and stay home and read all the books.
  • Reestablish an exercise routine. Practice yoga at least once a week, and walk or go to the gym at least three times a week.
  • Visit and explore one new place on the globe.
  • Do something wonderful with my husband for our 20th anniversary.
  • Keep seeking an agent for Some Bright Morning.
  • Incorporate some of the “little joys” from December into my second essay collection and revise it some more.
  • Complete a first draft of my second novel.
  • Ponder and maybe begin writing a road trip memoir.
  • Maintain Scripture reading daily and add in more time for meditation.
  • Be present for my children in their moments of need, their moments of joy, and their moments of flight.
  • Be a vessel of shalom for the people in my life.

Thanks for hanging in here and journeying with me through this vast and miraculous place. Isn’t it wonderful?

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/dawn-dusk-light-macro-460714/

Little Joys—Books

This year, I’ve traveled through the desert on horseback with a shepherd and an alchemist. I’ve fished the lakes of Canada by canoe, attended a boy’s boarding school, learned the dance of the herons along a river, sat in the kitchen of a distressed and impoverished wife in Michigan, explored vocation, followed a friend as she sought out her origin story, listened to veterans returning from foreign wars, walked from refugee camp to refugee camp with my older sister in Rwanda, played with magical creatures within view of a cerulean sea, smuggled my Jewish friend to safety, searched the globe for a safe place for a transgendered child, sat in isolation after sordid affairs, sought the Virgin Mary statue of my youth, magnified Ohio’s natural landscape, surveyed a century of macroeconomics, hurried across the Mexican border with a heroin dealer and observed a doctor prescribe painkillers along the Ohio River, and delighted in the minutiae that makes life marvelous.

Every book is an expedition into a meticulously crafted, imagined world that was born in the mind of a writer. Books are a glimpse into other people’s souls, a portal into other people’s minds. Not only do I experience far more than my own life is able to accomplish, I get to do so with at least one other companion, the author who journeyed to that foreign land first. What surprises, what delights, what challenges they encountered as they set out to create something that did not exist before! 

Then, after many rejections and negotiations, drafts and delays, that author sent their final manuscript to print, and an editor reviewed it, and a publisher forwarded it to the printing press, and a press operator programmed the press, and the pages came, and the ink dried. The paper was folded and cut and glued and bound and boxed and shipped, and now, finally, anyone can enter into one author’s story. Anyone can enter into one author’s mind.

Above me while I write are probably 400 different books, 400 different tales, 400 different angles and perspectives, 400 different journeys that took years to live and years more to write before they became these bound volumes honoring fragments of life that come together to form a mosaic of humanity.

I love books.

#advent #littlejoys #books #reading

Little Joys—Reruns

I’m still recovering from whatever bug decided to bless me with a head cold the last couple of days, so don’t expect anything brilliant here. Do you know what’s great? Reruns. Reruns and streaming TV with vast catalogs of movies I’ve already seen. Comfort food TV. That’s what’s great.

I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” again on Saturday for the second time, forgetting what an awful movie it is. It’s so depressing. And then it’s so good in the end that it makes all the ugly crying I do throughout it worth it. I don’t remember what else I watched but I feel like I watched 873 hours of television this weekend and may never watch television again.

Our go-to comfort foods lately are The Office, Parks and Rec, and Friends. What do you return to over and over again? 

That’s all I’ve got today, folks.

Photo by KoolShooters

Little Joys—Long-Term Memory

This morning, my devotional referenced Elizabeth and Nathaniel’s pregnancy experience, and it got me thinking about the words recorded about Mary in both Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51. Mary treasured the startling events and moments in Jesus’ early life. She tucked them away in her heart for safekeeping, to ponder and remember later.

There are lots of miraculous birth stories in Scripture—Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, to name just a few. No matter what the backstory, once these promised babies arrived in their miraculous ways, they had to be nursed and weaned. They had to be rocked and shushed and sung to sleep. As they grew, they needed to be taught everything, just like my children, from how to hold a spoon to how to drive a car and everything in between. You have to teach children everything. Without long-term memory, it would be easy to lose the sense of the miracles each of these creatures are amidst the rubble of everyday life.

There is a sliver of miracle in every birth story, but some seem to have overcome even greater odds. Our son, Elvis, is one of those births. In the monotonous and normal days since his recovery and release from the NICU, the things that were said about him, the coincidences and synchronistic moments that nurtured those fragile days, I’ve treasured all of them in my heart.

Sometimes they slip out in conversation. I am compelled to say again what a miracle you are. Let me tell you once more how it was when you were born.

Memories of past events like these have a way of surprising me when I least expect it. Some aroma, some turn of phrase, something a friend or family member says will trigger the release of that memory, and suddenly I’m taken back, taken aback, to that moment in time. And now that the memory has surfaced again, it is being manipulated and transformed once more, by whatever is happening in the present, so that what I remember of the past and what I have made of the past evolve over time, changing even as they change me.

There are so many different moments that happen in any given day, and yet only so many of them make the transition from short-term to long-term memory. Some long-term memories are bizarre details I can’t make any sense of—why, of all things, do I remember that day? That moment? But most of those memories have shaped my identity. They have helped me to understand how I became who I am. Some are the origins of my worries and fears, while others serve as the touchstone of my self-worth and sense of being loved.

Where would we be without long-term memory, without the ability to pluck these moments out from all of the other ones and remember who we are? What a gift, what a joy to be surprised again by the treasures in our hearts, the treasures of early days, the treasures of the wondrous things that have been and have been said to shape ourselves and our loved ones.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon

Little Joys—Old Photos

One of the fun outcomes of this “little joys” project is that I’ve had to keep adding other ideas to my list as I’ve gone along. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover all of them during advent. Perhaps I’ll have to keep at it until I exhaust my list. 

Hopefully, I will never exhaust my list.

This is the bookshelf above my desk. Besides books (another little joy to come), most of my shelf hosts photos and mementos. These three photos are from my dad’s side of the family.

You can tell any story you want from old photos, but the true magic of these frozen moments are the facts and memories of the lives that animated those images. I like surrounding my office with these black and whites. They had their own stories to tell, their own ambitions and regrets, obligations and dreams, some of them realized and others never revealed to anyone else. The secrets each heart keeps could fill volumes.

Two of these photos showcase my grandma and grandpa when they were young, before they had children. The third is of them when they were older, but probably not much older than we are now. In a way, they are before and after shots of those ambitions and dreams, dreams that manifested in the form of descendants to outnumber the stars, in place of a Nashville stage.

Tonight, our advent activity is to go through our annual family albums, to travel into nostalgia, to remember when. Someday, these three photos will just be two dimensional glimpses of a grandchild’s ancestry—a distinct nose, a knowing smile, the certain shape of an eye—with no stories attached to explain the young man and his band, the tall girl in the cowgirl hat standing by him in a crowd, the cluster of children surrounding them. Someday, even the thousands and thousands of photos I’ve collected in photo albums will become mysteries to a descendant.

But for now, I still hold their stories. For now, they are still as real as they ever were to me when they were living and breathing beings. I can almost hear the two of them singing.

Little Joys—Bodies That Can Heal

One of our kids stayed home sick after we stayed up super late seeing Hamilton last night (It was so good!). With so many viruses floating around lately, I was hoping our immune systems would prevail through yesterday so we could all enjoy the show. We just made it.

My guess is that Elvis was already fighting off a bug of some kind, but not enough sleep and hearty, German food, plus multiple steins of Coke at dinner last night must have made his body finally give in.

It is amazing that our bodies can heal. Think about it. Is there a single object that humans have made that can mend itself when it breaks? No phone screen, computer, light bulb, or battery can just automatically fix itself when it senses something is wrong. Sure, you could install a virus protector (which is essentially an immune system for a computer). So I guess there’s that. But our bodies can actually break, with broken bones and torn nails and burnt skin, and through the mighty power of blood and neurons and time, our bodies can heal themselves.

When our kids have had small scrapes or scratches that make them complain about their pain or feel sad that they’ve been injured, I have often reminded them, but isn’t it amazing that God made our bodies so they can heal?

I’ve never appreciated this more than after recovering from a chronic illness. I say “recovery” with a little hitch in my breath, because generally speaking, once you have POTS, you always have POTS, but sometimes your body will recover to the point of normalcy again. Also, it might take longer to recover from other illnesses with POTS, or other illnesses can trigger a POTS attack and set you back again. 

All of that being said, today, and in the days and weeks preceding this post, I have felt myself again. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t dip down to pick up something I dropped and marvel that I could do that without my head spinning or without losing balance. Instead of the little beaten soldier in charge of vocabulary having to trudge back into the folds of my brain with a flashlight and a limp in order to find the word I know I know, sometimes it just surfaces, there it is, the word I knew I knew and didn’t even have to think so hard to find. Eureka, you found it! I shout with glee to my battered but recovered Captain Thesaurus, who grins with unabashed pride.

Maybe that’s the best part of having journeyed through this long stretch of Covid recovery: doing things again without having to think about them. POTS is a form of dysautonomia. Dysautonomias disrupt all of the automatic functions your body normally does on its own. It was made to breathe, beat, sweat, and heat without your conscious mind doing anything about it. Your autonomic nervous system is the man behind the curtain you normally don’t have to pay any attention to; he just makes Oz go.

When you can’t stoop down, spin around, reach high, or stand up from bed without consciously preparing yourself for whatever might happen next (dizziness, headaches, blackouts, weakness), everything has to be done carefully.

But now, now, everything I do I can do care-freely. I can do all of those things, stoop, spin, reach, stand, and even more, and when it just happens and I don’t even have to think about it, it feels like magic. Wow, I think to myself in wonder, you’re better. You have a body that can and has healed. It’s miraculous in the way every little thing is miraculous if you look close enough.

I say bodies that “can” heal because of course sometimes they don’t, and when they don’t, we’re left to grapple with the finitude of all things, how all things pass away, how even the stuff of miracles eventually dies… even if it rises again. So, even if… even if this body doesn’t heal next time, even if healing isn’t physical, all things are being made new, all things are being regenerated, all atoms and elements are disconnecting and reassembling into the next new thing, and that, too, is miraculous, a whole universe of interconnected miracle.

Photo: Portrait bust sculpture of young woman with hair up by sculptor Billie Bond. Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – the repair of broken ceramics with gold and a philosophy of making something better than it was before – seeing beauty in imperfection. Ceramic, resin and gold. Life-size.

Little Joys—Home

After a full weekend staying with family and enjoying the pleasures of being together with those I grew up with, it was also so good to come home.

I didn’t used to be such a homebody. Early on in our marriage, we would spend nearly every weekend staying over at one parents’ house or the other, taking our kids and baggage to last us a week in the wilderness. When the kids were little, it was so much easier to drive and spend a longer period of time together than to try to pack up and make it there and back in one day. 

And when Brandon used to travel all of the time, I tried to fill my lonely nights and weekends with anything and everything, road trips and museums, parks and playgrounds. Every hour was filled with movement and activity. Home was a nice enough place, but the monotony and routine of it all made me frequently glad to leave it, kids in tow, for some other kind of adventure outside of its walls, or just some other space that also was home, with other people who are home.

Now the kids are growing and spinning off in their separate directions throughout the day, and I work from home. This space has become the central hub of all that matters in my life. Like no other season, I feel responsible for and able to shepherd in and cultivate peace and joy within this space, so that when my husband and my kids spiral in from wherever they have been out there, what they find in here is calm, light, and joy. Home ought to be a sanctuary, and that’s what I strive to make it… not just for my own family but their friends, and our friends, and our family when they visit.

That’s the joy I collect from home: the pleasure of preparing a place where my people’s needs are met, where the atmosphere is one of brightness and calm, even if the calm is filled with chaos and laughter and yippy dogs, a place where people feel at home, even if this isn’t where they rest their heads.

I recently read Tom Montgomery Fate’s newest book, The Long Way Home. The chapters in this memoir wrestle with the concept of home, far and near, the people and places that feel like home and those that are foreign. We are fortunate to feel at home in either of our parents’ houses. Both places are places of safety and comfort, laughter and love, joy and warmth (when the thermostats are turned up and the fireplace is on). There are also many places beyond our address in Ashland that feel homey to me, places in memory that have the essence of home baked into them: my grandmother’s farmhouse, for instance, or even farther back, my great-grandmother’s trailer, though she’s long gone, still feels in memory like home. So do the woods behind our house, the creek that ran through my grandparents’ forest, the fields of my youth.

Beyond anything else, the feeling of being at home somewhere has to do with safety, acceptance, and unconditional love. Whether it’s too hot or too cold, spotless or cluttered, small or sprawling, home is where you feel able to be yourself and loved for it. And this space, to me, is home.

Little Joys—The Woods

Until we lived on a property with pine trees, I never appreciated the seasonality of evergreens. Our pines, rhododendrons, arborvitae, and spruce have growing seasons and seasons of dormancy, times when they are more aromatic and times when they drop their needles. We planted some trees in the last few years, and when I see their new height and bright, fresh growth, I feel proud, as if I had anything to do with it.

There was a moment in 2020 when our spruce trees started dropping their lower branches, so much so that it was alarming. Google said that trees will do that sometimes; if they have reason to believe it’s going to be a hard winter, they’ll reduce the things they carry to ensure their own survival. It was like the spruce trees were reading the universe for signs of global pandemic. I noticed it right around the time I was deciding to resign from my job to make space for recovery. Maybe we were sharing the same air, saying the same prayers. Maybe they had their own form of long-Covid.

Around the same time, our pine trees produced an exorbitant number of pine cones. I mentioned this to our arborist (the lady we bought our new trees from), and she said she’d noticed the same thing, and it usually meant we should expect a lot of snow. The pine trees know their lives are short, even though most live between 100 and 200 years. They know they are mortal. They will ensure the legacy of their species, even if it’s the last thing they do.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve taken every opportunity to take my work outdoors, onto our deck, where I can sit among the trees’ canopies. I watch the squirrels, because my dogs tell me to, and listen to songbirds, hawks, and crows call to one another from the trees. All around me, there are stalwart trees, holding the soil on the hill, casting down their leaves, interrupting the wind. I take great comfort in their constancy. The squirrels hustle from tree to tree, the birds flit between branches, there one day, gone the next, the deer haunt the underbrush so quietly you’re more likely to miss them than spy them. 

But everyday, the trees are there. It is a comfort to be surrounded by things that have existed before me, that are taller than me, stronger than me, and will last longer than me. The woods are models of perseverance and suffering. They drop what they can no longer carry. They are rooted in the earth and reaching towards the sky. They grow. They make room for others in their shade and shadows. Even in their dying, they accommodate the living, becoming a sanctuary for insects and fungi, squirrels, foxes, deer, coyotes, and mice.

In the morning when I rise, I look out our bedroom window to see if all these witnesses still keep watch, to see how we will together greet the day.

Little Joys—Mugs

If you are like the vast majority of Americans, at some point during the day, you consume a hot beverage… why not drink it out of a meaningful mug?

We have a mug problem in our house. We have not one, not two, but three locations in our kitchen where you can find mugs. Brandon and I use the Fiestaware (standby for a whole other entry on plates!) mugs for our morning cups of coffee. After the kids leave, I switch to tea—usually Twinings, but right now I have a container of The Republic of Tea’s Comfort and Joy Limited Edition blend (so fancy!)—and use one of dozens of mugs that each have their person tied to them. Gifts from friends or family, mugs commemorating past Christmases, mugs with children’s artwork printed on them, mugs from our favorite coffee shops, mugs from vacations we went on together, all the mugs, and each one filled with comfort and joy, whether branded so or not.