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/

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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