The lure of the blank calendar, it tempts me with possibilities every single year. This is the year I will be more, be different, be better, I think. And because I cannot resist the temptation offered by a package of new sharpie pens and a completely clean planner, I dive in to New Year’s dreaming and goal-setting and word-choosing like the best of them. I consider myself a connoisseur of list-making, actually: those of you who share in my joy of ‘checking boxes’ will understand that. And this year, perhaps more than any other, and I know with so many of you, I am desperate for new.
Desperate: having an urgent need; eager, impatient, fraught, forlorn. It sounds a bit dramatic when I put it like that, but in some ways it is an accurate representation of my heart.
Just after Thanksgiving my little family drove to the base of Mt. Spokane and cut down our own Christmas Tree for the first time. It was cold and damp and gray outside, and I had to grab Cannon by the hood of his jacket no less than five times before he took himself for a jaunt into the woods, but we absolutely loved it. There was a bonfire and candy canes and the smell of fresh pine everywhere. We found the perfect tree for the corner of our living room, cut it down and then watched the staff get it ready to travel home.
Just before they wrapped our tree, a young man placed the base in a small box-looking machine, stepped back and turned it on. With wide eyes and a bit of confusion, Harper watched this machine shake our tree relentlessly, buzzing and humming as thousands of little pine needles fell to the ground around it.
“What is he doing, mommy?”
“Oh Harper, that machine is actually helping our tree. It’s going to make all the pine needles that aren’t healthy fall off, so that what we take home is a beautiful, strong tree!”
“Why is it so loud?”
“Well, it has to shake pretty hard to do its job. But once it is done, our tree will be fresh and ready to decorate!”
“Oh,” she said in relief, believing me when I told her what was happening to our tree was good, even though it looked intense.
I think I know a little bit how that tree felt, because this has been the year God took my faith, gently held it out for me to look at, and gave it a good, hard, much-needed shaking.
And as much as I want to run to something new, something with potential rather than memories I cannot change, I know that God didn’t do all that shaking just for me to move on even though I so want to. I want to move on. I want to stop crying and feeling fragile when I pride myself on being faithful. I want to get back to genuine joy. I even want to write about something different, something that isn't born from the curveball life threw at us this year. I want to stop feeling like I am putting one foot in front of the other simply doing what I am supposed to do and start feeling like I am running my race with the energy and purpose a Christ-follower should have.
But sometimes, it’s not as easy as that. Sometimes, we just need to slow down, then take a good look at all the things that fell off of our heart during the shaking: the pride, the self-sufficiency, the correlation between my works and my blessings that I absolutely believed existed. The life that I wanted was also one that I thought was honoring God; but it was, in all honestly, equally honoring to me. And that life, with those motivations, that is what is left on the ground right around me.
For 30 years, I have had a strong faith in Jesus, one I believe is grounded in as much logic as faith can have, but made true only by the work of the Holy Spirit in me. My belief in Jesus has, for as long as I can remember, been real and deep and even meaning-making for me. It is how I have always seen the world and three decades and many naysayers offering perspectives to the contrary later, I still cannot make sense of the world any other way but His. And yet, my faith has been the faith of someone on the balcony, not the faith of someone traveling down the road.
Sure, I’ve given my thoughts, offered my opinions on the best way to get there- wherever the destination might have been- even shared truths meant to motivate and encourage travelers. But I’ve done it from the balcony. I have talked about God being good, but it’s been from a personal place where it was really easy to believe that. I've never been one to ignore the pain and plight of so much of the world, but I never had to bring that pain and plight home. This year, I have, and I feel a whole lot more like a traveler. I still talk about God being good, but I have to watch a little boy hurt himself in my care and actually believe it; we have to face a very unpredictable and very unnerving future and say "but God, you are still good."
The balcony was not a bad place to be, but being a traveler is what finally shook all that wasn’t real off of my faith.
A year ago I would have offered you a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of me.
Today I know I have nothing to offer, I'm just sharing what I’m learning as I travel.
A few days ago I went to leave a message for a group of friends about why I could not commit to something, and without warning the tears just started falling. It is in moments like these that I realize I might not be done being shaken. When my friend asks at gymnastics class how we are, or when a phone call across the country to my best friend goes from easy catching up to deep sorrow about a hard week in seconds. My unbelief gives me away in moments like this. I am shamefully prideful and still, at times, feel paper thin. I never know when I will be able to talk about our life and Cannon’s journey in a manner of fact way or when I won’t be able to get a sentence out before I’m choking up. But I do know this: we are not moving on from this year as much as we are moving in to what this year taught us. And in the midst of a complicated diagnosis that very much complicated our life, that lesson can be summed up pretty easily: God is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
My prayer is that I would walk in to a New Year knowing that my faith may have been shaken, but my soul isn't stirred. Jesus won it long ago and he will keep it until the end. I'll fail a thousand more times at doing this life well, but He won't. Maybe I'm not desperate for new so much as I am desperate for Him.