Monday, January 31, 2011

The Yearning and The Filling


My cat Annabelle has a nose like a hound dog.

She can smell any kind of meat coming out of the fridge or the oven from two rooms away.  And she'll come running to stand at my feet, follow me around the kitchen, plead insistently for a taste of this food.

Sometimes I give in, let her have a small piece of what she craves and begs for.  But I always regret it later because it's never enough.  Never enough to satisfy her.

One thing I am learning on this journey to a thousand gifts is that the practice of counting God's goodness is meant to heighten our senses.  It's meant to give us "a nose like a hound dog."  So that we can smell and taste and see even the faintest whisper of His Goodness in our lives.  So that we come running to His feet, follow Him around, plead for just a piece of this Goodness.

And you know what?  He always gives it to us--this Goodness that we crave and beg for.  Not just a bite but as much as we can eat.

He gives it to us knowing full well that it will never be enough.  Never be enough to satisfy us. Never be enough to end our craving for Him.

He gives us a feast of His Goodness because He is Good.  And nothing delights Him more than filling us up with Himself.

Slowly I am learning to crave and beg for His goodness.  And this is the strange wonder of it all:  As the yearning deepens, my soul fills up.



#73  Amaryllis buds popping up in late January, surprising and delighting my heart.

#74  The way my Happy Light fills even the darkest days of Winter with light

#75  The friend who doesn't leave when the relationship gets hard and the hurt rises high

#76  The friend who makes spreadsheets, finds order in my chaos

#77  The way cranberry-orange bread pudding makes breakfast the happiest meal of the day.

#78  Much-anticipated book arriving on my doorstep

#79  The chance to journey through this book with a community of thanks-givers

#80  Sunshine pouring through my window on a Wednesday in Winter

#81  Fog rolling in, making the world seem small again

#82  The moment when the pain finally stops and warmth finds its way back to my body

#83  For creative inspiration--and finding everything I need to try something new

#84  For colors--all of them, even the ones that are a little bit ugly.  Because life is meant to be seen and lived in color

#85  Heart lessons learned from watching a furry, four-legged friend named Annabelle

#86  The yearning for His Goodness that leaves me full of Him

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In the Words

I sit down to write a post about me, to tell you who I am, to give you a window into the woman behind all these words.

Because some of you who read these words are my real-life friends, my flesh-and-blood family.  But some of you I only knew a lifetime ago and others of you I have yet to meet.

And I want to open my heart to all of you, invite you in for tea, share life across the kitchen table while cats and kids run wild.

Instead, The Fear walks through the door, sits down beside me, and makes me question what I am doing here.

I wonder whether I even know who I am, much less how to convey such a thing in words.  I wonder, too, whether telling you about myself will distract you from the One Who Matters more than anything I can say or do or be.

The second question seems easier somehow, so I tackle it first.  He is the One Who made me into the woman I am, Who keeps on making me through time and trials and triumph.  When I tell you about myself, I am telling you His Story of creation and grace and beauty made from ashes.  I am celebrating the person He destined me to become on that day He spoke the world into existence.

And I want to tell you about this woman behind the words in order to put you at ease, to welcome you into my heart so you can stay and listen and hear the One Who writes this story.

But the first question still has me tongue-tied.  All the words dry up when I open my mouth to tell you who I am.  Is it The Fear holding me back--or just the complicated chaos of my humanity that defies translation into sentences.

Maybe it's both.

And I realize today is not the day to lay myself bare.

So while I wait for the words to find me, will you do something for me?

If you don't know me in real life--or don't know me well--will you tell me what you wonder about me, what would help you know this woman behind the words?  If you do know me well, what is it about me that you think others should know; what is it about the real me that brings meaning and a better understanding to the words I write here?

It doesn't need to be big or deep--and if you can't think of anything at all, don't worry.  I am confident that His words will come when the time is right.

And His words are always more than enough.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome, Winter

Rain rivers slide down glass
Grey clouds settle heavy
And Winter grabs us tight
Shakes our confidence
Reminds us we are small

Some things stay green
Hold firm to branches full of hope
The rest turn sad, broken--
Empty selves waiting for rebirth
But even they know
The last word isn't Winter's
It's His

So we find our feet
Stand straight up and say
Welcome, Winter
Teach us to yearn and strain
For Light and Warmth
And Hope Himself

Yes, new life is coming
But He is already here
And we have much to learn

Welcome, Winter, Welcome



#57  Heater vents that open wide on cold mornings, beginning the day with cozyness

#58  Handmade heating pad nestled in the sheets, making every night a warm one

#59  The sound of strong wing on a rainless night

#60  Cat purring loud while I watch the trees wave fierce

#61  The middle of the night, when the old day is gone and the new one has yet to be born

#62  Hard conversations that make relationships better, truer, stronger--like a workout for love muscles

#63  The chance to say, "I love you.  You matter to me."

#64  When the sick kitty finally drinks water, shows signs of recovery, quells fears of loss

#65  Mug of tea cupped in my hands while sharing life with a friend

#66  When you think you can't and He insists that you can--and the moment you finally realize He's right.

#67  Combing through words that don't make sense and somehow finding understanding and even courage

#68  When a friend says that being with me means she can just breathe

#69  New teas coming home to be tasted and savored and loved

#70  The knowing and seeing that joy doesn't live somewhere out there; it's always here, right where I am.  I just have to open my eyes and see it.

#71  The way Winter prepares us to be reborn

#72  The courage to say, "Welcome, Winter"--with hope and faith and joy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Flower in My Hat

When I saw this hat and scarf set in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Crochet Today, I just knew I was going to make it someday:

Of course, it took me more than a year to get around to it.  And I made a number of changes to the pattern.  And I didn't make just one set; I made two.  But don't you think they turned out lovely?



As you can see, I changed up the color palette quite a bit from the original pattern.  I loved the look of the white background, but it seemed a bit impractical for a child's clothing item.  And since I wanted to make two different sets for two very adorable sisters, I chose the oh-so-girlie pink and purple pastels and accented them with darker shades.  I used Caron Simply Soft yarn in "Soft Pink" and "Orchid" for the main colors and then Red Heart Soft Yarn in "Wine," "Grape," and "Off White" for the edging and flowers.

I really like the look of the stitch pattern --a simple combination of single crochets and chain spaces--and hope to use it again in future projects.  I has almost a woven, basket-type look to it and gives the finished material a nice amount of stretch:



The other big change I made to the pattern was to make the flowers on each scarf "double sided."  The pattern called for flowers on both ends of the scarf but only on one side of the material.  Knowing how hard it would be for me, a grown-but-fashionably-challenged woman, to get the scarf tied just right to keep the flowers showing on both ends, I figured it might be even harder for 6- and 7-year-olds to do it.  To resolve this issue, I attached the flowers back to back on each end, giving a total of 12 flowers for each scarf:



With a grand total of 15 flowers for each hat-and-scarf set, this project was a bit more tedious and involved than originally anticipated.  But it was worth it for how well they turned out--in fact, I was exceedingly tempted to keep one for myself.  Because, oddly enough, the hat actually fit me just fine.  And don't you think every woman needs a flower-adorned hat complete with earflaps?



Well, maybe not every woman, but certainly this woman.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dear Rachel

Have I told you lately that you are amazing?

If it's been a few months, a few weeks, a few days, it's been too long.

It seems I am better at words when they are here, written down in front of me, refined by time and tears and Truth Himself.  When I am with you, I am far less prepared, articulate, put together.

But you see, that's just it.  I come to you as I am.  I come fumbling, faltering, holes in my story, searching for words that I can't seem to find.  And I come that way because you make it possible.

You make it possible for me to be who I am.

Do you know what a glorious, irreplaceable, uncommon gift that is?

The other day when I asked you what you see, through soul-grief tears you told me this:  Ordinary, not lasting, unimportant in the grand scheme of life and Him and all of this.

But just for a moment, will you sit here in my chair across the table from you and see what I see?

I see a woman of strength who has never been defeated by the harshness of this life.  I see a woman who loves her God with every corner of her being.  I see a woman who deeply longs to ease the suffering around her--and will do everything she can to do just that.  I see a woman who grows relationships with patience, compassion, commitment, and her whole heart.  I see a woman who prays with the kind of persistence and faith I have only yearned for.  I see a woman who lives out what she believes more than any person I've ever known.  I see a woman with the courage to be uncommon

From where I sit, there is nothing ordinary about you.

Maybe that's why He chose you to play the hardest part in my story.  In this painful, halting, piece-meal returning of my faith, there were others who inspired me along the way, others who encouraged me to find what I had lost, others who taught me how to grieve in faith.  But it was only you who carried me.

In two of the hardest years I've ever faced, you carried me.

You didn't shame me for my grief.  You didn't shame me for my doubt.  You didn't shame me for my anger.  You didn't shame me for my apathy. 

You didn't shame me.

Instead, you loved me.  You carried me.  And you stayed.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for staying.

And I hope, pray, beg for you to stay as long as He will allow.

Please hear this, way down deep in those soul corners that yearn and hurt and fear:  You are a strong, beautiful, compassionate, God-filled woman who breathes only blessing on those who are privileged to enter your life.

And all you have, all you are--they are more than enough.  For me.  For Him.  For all of this.

Know it.  Believe it.  Live it.


All My Love,
Courtney

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Knowing

I wasn't expecting it to arrive that day.

In fact, I held it in my hand for a moment before I realized the enormity of what was happening.

And for several minutes more, I debated whether to open it.  I didn't know what I would find inside, but I knew it would alter the course of my future.  And I wasn't sure I was ready for that, wasn't sure I was ready to know.

I had waited 77 days for this.

I had waited 77 days to know.

And suddenly, 77 days didn't seem nearly long enough.

My hands trembled as I opened it, and that familiar tightness settled in my chest.  The anticipation, the fear, the knowing that life was about to change and the not knowing whether it would be good or bad.

But there was something else, too.

A stubborn hope that a better life was coming.  An intangible faith that it didn't matter what I found inside.  I would still be okay.  God would still be near.  And we would still build a life together.

By the time I laid eyes on a page full of red and green boxes, I was ready to know.  And as I ever so slowly comprehended what I was seeing, I felt only gratitude for the knowing.

Yes, it's true.  My diagnosis has been expanded.  I don't have just one genetic mutation.  I have eleven.

Eleven.

But I could have been diagnosed with thirty.  Next to that, eleven doesn't seem so bad.

And really, this is good news.  Having these eleven mutations means that my body has every reason in the world to be weak and tired and broken.

These past few months, we've only been treating the single mutation we knew about.  And we've made incredible progress.  But there is so much healing that is still needed.  Finally we know why.  Finally we have answers.  Finally we can move forward in this journey toward healing.

After 77 days of waiting, wondering, hoping, and fearing, I am left with only a deepness of gratitude that cannot be expressed in words.  Thank you is too small.  But I will say it anyway.  Because it's all I have.  And because He knows how deep this gratitude runs.


#41  The return of faith

#42  Peppermint ice cream...so happy

#43  The most beautiful start to a brand new year, a gift from the One I love

#44  A friend finding hope in the midst of grief.

#45  Catching up with a dear friend after the holidays.

#46  The fact that two weeks away from this dear friend is much too long

#47  There are 19 mutations I don't have

#48  I could be discouraged by my test results, but I'm not

#49  Little bits of understanding about how to proceed in my treatment

#50  A doctor who jumps up and down (literally) at the prospect of learning new things to
help me heal

#51  Winter-themed mugs coming out of hiding, adding cheerfulness to the gray of January

#52  Venti, my far-away "little sister" who lives in poverty and dreams of being a doctor

#53  The reminder that "He is good, so good"

#54  And for holding my life in His hands

#55  Snow falling down in the quiet dark, covering the deadness of winter in glorious white

#56  The way the snowfall lights up the night--reminding me that when I am made "white as snow" by the One who bore my shame, His Light is reflected and it is beautiful to behold.




Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lighter Side {Updated One Year Later...}


After naming 2011 the Year of Faith, you might be thinking that I have devoted myself to all things deep and serious this year.

But you would be wrong.

When I made a resolution for 2010, I also included a list of fun things I hoped to do.  And in spite of all the hard business of grieving and growing, I still managed to do just about everything on my list:
  • I wrote more poetry--46  poems in all, compared to only four the previous year.  Of course, several of the poems I wrote in 2010 were utterly terrible.  But I hope to re-write, re-work, re-create a few of them in the coming months.  And having something to re-do in the first place is still something to be grateful for.
  • I tried to comment more on the blogs I read.  I'm not sure I was entirely successful here.  Some blogs I commented on more than before, others less than before.  But now I understand that commenting is an investment for me.  An investment of time, energy, emotion.  An investment I can't always make without going beyond what I have to give.  So I try to invest where the need is greatest and where I feel I can do the most good.
  • I visited my friend Laura in California, something I'd been wanting to do for years.  And it was truly one of my best vacations ever.
  • I finished the Growing Is Beautiful collage and blogged about it endlessly.  Okay, not quite endlessly, but close.
  • I visited new photography locations, the Bellevue Botanical Gardens locally and the LA County Arboretum during my trip to California.
  • I learned the art of amigurumi and made a whole zoo of animals.
  • I finished the "unfiled paperwork" project--four boxes sorted, recycled, shredded, and now neatly filed in a single drawer.  This project was fun at the beginning, horribly unpleasant in the middle, and gloriously freeing at the end.

Since the "fun list" was such a success last year, I've come up with a new one for 2011.  In no particular order, I hope to:

Finish the blanket I am crocheting for myself--after making 11 blankets as gifts over the years, this will be the very first one that's just for me.
{UPDATE:  The Hope Blanket was finished in April 2011.  Read about the meaning behind it as well as the creative process}


Learn knitting or Tunisian crochet--I've been wanting to make the transition to knitting for a long time, but since most of the things I make are for gifts, I've been avoiding the dreaded learning curve.
{UPDATE:  I tried a few swatches of Tunisian crochet and although it had potential, I really wanted to learn to knit.  Although I didn't succeed at doing this in 2011, I began teaching myself to knit in January 2012 and am currently about halfway finished with my first project.  Stay tuned for posts about that!}


Write poetry more regularly--37 of my 46 poems for 2010 were written during the April Poem-A-Day Challenge.  And I was pretty burnt out on writing poetry after that.  In my ideal world, I'd like to write a poem a week, but I'd even be pleased with once or twice a month.
{UPDATE:  Well, this is one of those things that turns out completely different than you expect.  I wrote very few poems in 2011.  Four, to be exact.  I did polish and post several poems written during the 2010 poem-writing frenzy, but mostly I wrote prose.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that.  Because it turns out that what I really wanted was to write more poetically in general--and *that* is something I actually did achieve in 2011.  After reading Ann Voskamp, both at her blog A Holy Experience and in her book One Thousand Gifts, I started to discover a writing style that felt so very *me.*   A kind of writing that has the story of prose but the beautiful imagery and word choice of poetry.  I hope to continue develop myself as a poet in the future, but mostly I just hope to keep writing, in whatever form that may take.}


Continue my One Thousand Gifts list and try to reach 500 by year's end.
{UPDATE:  I most certainly continued my gift list and actually reached 1000 in July of 2011.  You can check out the whole list and read about the way it changed my life.  Such a beautiful, God-filled experience that I'm doing it all over again with the Joy Dare 2012.  Stay tuned to see the amazing things God's going to do this year.


Re-write some of the information on my blog--such as the welcome message and the blurb about me.  Having been written two years ago, they no longer reflect who I am, where I've been these past two years, and what this blog has blossomed into.
{UPDATE:  I wrote an entire "about me" page and even recorded a video introducing myself.}


Get my hair cut--after nearly four years of growing it out, I'm more than ready for something a bit shorter.  Don't worry; it won't be drastic, just more manageable.
{UPDATE:  Well, I cut off my hair in August 2011, and by the time I finally cut it, it turned out to be a little bit drastic.  But little did I know that I needed to wait that long, needed to wait until I'd really accepted God's love for me before I could let go of the fear of being who I am.  I love my shorter hair and I'm looking forward to getting it cut again soon.}


Finish the organization project I started a few months ago.  I've actually been making good progress but I still have a few more places to tackle.
{UPDATE:  The biggest area remaining in the organization project was my work desk, and I finally, FINALLY finished it in November 2011.  And while I'm incredibly pleased with this accomplishment, I am equally proud of having kept up with all the progress I'd made the year before in other areas of my home.  Here's to a (relatively) organized 2012!}


Read a book (or maybe even two!) all the way to the end.  I've made a ridiculously consistent habit of reading books only part way and never finishing.  Top contenders this year will be Ann Voskamp's soon-to-be published One Thousand Gifts and two that I've partially read in the past, Luci Shaw's Breath for the Bones and N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope.
{UPDATE:  I read One Thousand Gifts all the way through, finishing it in March or April 2011.  This book?  I can't recommend it enough.  In fact, if you're a real-life friend and I haven't gifted you with a copy yet, don't be surprised if I do.  Of all the books I could have read, this was the one I needed most.  And for fun, I also read all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time as well as the first four books in the Anne of Green Gables series--I'll be reading the rest in the next couple months.}


Work through Beth Moore's Stepping Up study on the Psalms of Ascent.  I've had this on my shelf for more than a year and I think I'm finally ready to move forward with it.
{UPDATE:  I began the study on the Psalms of Ascent in October 2011--and I'm going very slowly, trying to really *live* what I'm learning along the way.  I'll be continuing this study in 2012.}


Bake more!  Currently I'm wanting to try my hand at scones and lemon meringue pie.
{UPDATE:  Um, well, yeah.  I baked a lot in 2011.  Really.  My waistline can tell you.  And you know what?  I really enjoyed it.  Well, not the waistline thing but definitely the yummy results of my baking obsession.  Lemon meringue pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, gingerbread, carrot cake, muffins, cookies, cheesecake bars, cranberry coffee cake, etc.  Yeah.  I definitely accomplished this goal!}


Celebrate my 30th birthday. I have no idea what that will entail, but I'm making an early commitment to fully celebrate and embrace this milestone.
{UPDATE:  I celebrated with an early party, followed by multiple tea dates and dinners with friends during my actual birthday week.  Oh, and I celebrated with a giveaway here on the blog, too.  And turning 30 has felt like a fresh start.  What a beautiful way to begin a new decade.}


I am certain this Year of Faith will be full of many deep and serious things.  But I have a feeling it will also be laden with laughter, silliness, and play.  Because the Author of my faith came to give me abundant life.  And with the returning of my faith comes the returning of abundant life.

Now that is something worth looking forward to.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to the Zoo

At the beginning of 2010, I decided I wanted to learn the art of amigurumi.  If you are wondering what on earth that is, you're probably not alone.  Amigurumi is the Japanese art of making knitted or crocheted stuffed animals and dolls.  A quick image search on Google demonstrates the vast array of possibilities in amigurumi.

Since I haven't yet learned to knit, I opted for the crochet route and found two books to help me get started:
Amigurumi World by Ana Paula Rimoli (Available @ Amazon.com)

Super Cute:  25 Amigurumi Animals by Annie Obaachan (Available @ Amazon.com)

I found the basic instructions in Amigurumi World to be excellent for a beginner like me, and they gave me all the tools I needed to tackle this new endeavor.  I didn't care as much for the patterns themselves in this book, as they were more whimsical in nature, creating animals and dolls with large heads and small bodies.  Thus, I turned to Super Cute:  25 Amigurumi Animals for more realistic-looking creatures.  While the basic instructions in this second book were not nearly as helpful, the patterns were just what I was looking for.

I thought amigurumi animals would be perfect as Christmas tree ornaments, so I set about making seven of them--one for my godson and the other six for the ones who call me "auntie."  And although it took me about five months to complete them, I must say they really did turn out to be "super cute."  Wouldn't you agree?
To give you an idea of their size, the tallest one (the horse in the top right corner) was probably about 5 inches tall.

I made the octopus first.  And I also made him last.  Because, of course, my first attempt at tiny circles of very tight stitches turned out not-so-tiny and not-so-tight.  But the eight legs were very good practice and by the time I made him the second time, after finishing the other six animals, he turned out quite perfect.  This pattern was adapted from Amigurumi World.

His happy face:

And proof that he does, indeed, have eight legs:



Next came the puppy dog.  This was the only other pattern I used from Amigurumi World and, believe it or not, I actually made his head smaller than the pattern called for:




Then came Mr. Bullfrog.  And even though my father thinks he is bizarre looking, I am quite fond of him and his "alien eyes":




Then I made this adorable two-toned bunny:

With a pudgy belly and little black tail:



Next I wanted to make a cat but didn't like any of the patterns in my two books.  So I started with the body from a cat pattern in Super Cute and then designed everything else on my own.




Then came the horse, probably one of the most difficult ones for me to complete:

The mane I ripped out many times before I figured out how to do it correctly:



The lion came last, and he is my most favorite of all.  I designed him myself, based off the cat I created, and chose variegated yarn to give him a little more pizazz:

I put my newly gained "mane skills" to work:

And here are his haunches and awesome tail tuft:


I definitely learned some new crochet skills and had a great deal of fun making these little guys.  And best of all, they were well received by the ones I made them for.  In fact, I hear they didn't really make it onto the Christmas tree because they were too busy being played with.  Now that's what I call success.

Monday, January 10, 2011

When the Dawn Breaks

I had to work that day, that very first day of the brand new year.

There were no late parties the night before.  No counting down to midnight.  No watching of fireworks bursting on the horizon.  Just a quiet evening spent reflecting on the past and inwardly preparing for a new beginning.  Then off to bed at a reasonable hour, knowing the morning would come quickly.

I awoke before the sun on that first day of the new year and began the daily routine.  I sat bundled in my little wing-back recliner, my favorite resting place, checking in on the world from my laptop and slowly gearing up for another day of work.

And that's when I heard it.

Scratch scratch.  Scratch scratch.

I couldn't discern whether it was the uninvited attic creatures or just my kitty cat, wanting to go where a closed door wouldn't let her.  As the scratching persisted, I left my warm and cozy perch to investigate.

Quickly I realized it was just my kitty, strangely wishing to go in the cold, cold closet just to "check it out."  She does that sometimes, always wanting to know what's hiding in the places she can't reach.  So I let her in and shook my head at her silliness.

And that's when I saw it.

As I turned away from the closet door, I caught a glimpse of the sky through a nearby window.  The tiniest sliver of moon hung low in a cold blue sky, and just below it, the horizon burned with the coming sunrise in a brilliant shade of reddish-orange.  It was breathtaking.

I pressed my forehead against the cold glass and whispered, "Oh Jesus, it's beautiful.  So beautiful."  And I felt the glory of His sunrise seeping deep into my soul, filling me with a yearning for the One who can make all things beautiful.

And that's when I knew it.

This coming year will be full of Him.  And it will be beautiful.  So beautiful.

Just two minutes later, the sky had faded.  And I whispered thank you to the One who had pulled me away from my ordinary life to witness the dawning of a new year, the dawning of the Year of Faith.

And I continue to whisper thank you for His endless gifts...

#21  Warm, soft, and beautiful quilt--sewn for me by my mom, reminding me that I had a home once and maybe someday I will again.

#22  Tea, crochet, and a Christmas movie on a lazy afternoon.

#23  Annabelle Cat going crazy over a catnip mouse on Christmas morning.

#24  Laughing until my belly hurts.

#25  Nutmeg, freshly ground, and the beautiful pattern that hides inside--I can't believe I am 29 years old and just discovered the wonder of whole nutmeg.

#26  Friends who understand my limitations, who wholeheartedly want the best for me even when it means a missed "tea date."

#27  Sweaters on sale, in the most luscious shades of purple, blue, and Christmas green

#28  The last Christmas sermon of the year, opening my eyes to see how abandoned and alone Mary must of felt that night He was born, opening my heart to see He is near even when I have felt abandoned.

#29  The way dangly earrings and silk scarves make me feel pretty and feminine, even in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

#30  Successful endeavors in the kitchen--they may be few and far between, but oh what joy when they come!

#31  Pumpkin pie with a perfectly un-soggy crust, covered in whipped cream and freshly ground nutmeg.

#32  When friends--or strangers--leave comments saying they needed to hear what I had written.  A beautiful reminder that although I do not write for an audience, God still uses me for His purposes.

#33  Having time to write, lots and lots of time to write.

#34  Finding words to speak what's long been waiting in my heart.

#35  Soft, warm yarn in yummy colors of pink, purple, and green.

#36  Hope for the new year.

#37  Unmade bed full of sunshine and sleeping cats.

#38  Bare branches against a blue, blue sky.

#39  People who read my story and say they are grateful for the sharing of it.

#40  The way Buddy Cat sunbathes--front paws stretched up and attached to the window screen, body splayed out in strange and awkward ways.  Because he loves the sun, and it shows.  It should be the same for me--do I love the Son and does it show?


Saturday, January 8, 2011

In the Naming


As this new year began, I found myself looking around to see what others were saying about the coming year, what hopes they had for the months ahead, what they were looking forward to doing or being.

And I was disappointed.

It turns out that most people are not "resolving" anything in particular for 2011.  They say making resolutions feels like adding more things to an already overloaded to-do list.  They say putting a time limit on what they want to accomplish isn't going to help them get it done any sooner.  They say the turning over of another year is just another day.

I used to think so, too.

But this past year changed me in ways I couldn't have guessed when I wrote my New Year's post for 2010.  In a year overflowing with both brokenness and healing, I experienced the beauty of new beginnings in nearly every corner of my life.

And despite what some may say, the start of a year is a beautiful new beginning.  A chance to reflect on where we've been and how we've lived.  A chance to consider who we are becoming and how that measures up to what God has called us to be.  A chance to choose a different path if we find ourselves going somewhere He hasn't led us.

Oh, I know.  I know that every day is a new beginning.  And we can reflect, consider, and choose on any given day of the year.  But do we?

Sometimes.

And I am hopeful, even confident that this year will be full of many new beginnings.  For me.  For you.  For all of us.

But I don't want to let this particular new beginning pass me by just because I'll have another chance to start again tomorrow or the next day or the next.  I want to start again today.  I want to reflect, consider, and choose today.

I spent much of last week reflecting on what this past year has been about for me.  And oddly enough, it's been about making progress.  The very thing I set out to do from the beginning. 

I wanted to make progress in my relationship with God, and miracle of all miracles, God came near and my faith returned.

I wanted to make progress in my health, and beyond all expectations, God brought me a diagnosis and the beginning of a new life.

I wanted to make progress in my work, and just when I needed it most, I was able to drop to part-time hours and give myself time to live, breathe, and focus on recovery.

And I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I hadn't deemed 2010 as the year for making progress?  Would these things still have taken place?  Or would I still be mired in two years of grief and devastation?  I don't know for sure, but something inside is telling me that even in the midst of our broken relationship, God prompted me to choose this path of making progress so that He could set about doing what He does best.  Changing the unchangeable.  Healing the brokenness.  Rebuilding the ruins.  Giving birth to new life.

In light of all that has taken place this past year, how can I do anything other than embrace the beginning of a new year and choose a path for the coming months?

As I've been considering what direction to take for 2011, two things have drawn me:  The way my friend Kimberley asks God for a word or verse to focus on in the new year and the way Ann Voskamp names each new year.  Until I began writing this post, I didn't think I was ready for either one.  But this verse keeps coming back to mind:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)
And I have decided to name 2011 the Year of Faith.

It is a year for re-learning what faith is all about.  A year for allowing God to rebuild what has been lost between us.  A year for believing that my healing will continue, both in my soul and in my body.  A year for falling in love and falling in step with the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

Of course, only He knows what this year will entail.  Only He knows what I will learn about faith and how I will learn it.  Only He knows what will be rebuilt and what will be torn down, what will heal and what will break.

Only He knows.

And that's okay with me.

Because I am beginning this year with more than just hope.  I am beginning it with a strange certainty that what lies ahead will be full of His Glory, full of His Redeeming Work in me, full of His Goodness no matter the circumstances.  Full of Him.

Yes, I am beginning 2011 with a strange certainty called Faith.

And I have never been more excited to see a year unfold.

Monday, January 3, 2011

And So It Begins...

Six months ago, a friend pointed me towards something over on Ann Voskamp's blog, A Holy Experience.  It was a blog post entitled "When You Feel Rejected:  The Fish Principle."

Reading that post broke something open in me.  Something deep down that had been locked away for months and months.  And I sensed it even then, that here in an unexpected way, something big was about to happen.  But I couldn't put it into words, couldn't put my finger on what was happening.

And although I hoped for it with an aching, yearning heart, I couldn't dare to believe that this might be the returning of my faith.  But in the end, these six months later, I now know it was exactly that.

I am certain I cannot do it justice, but still I will try, in my own faltering way, to tell you what that post means to me.

It is a story about life and loss.  It is a story about surveying the months and years of devastation in our lives and asking the question, "What do we do with all this?"  The heartache and the grief, the losses and the brokenness.  How do we make sense or make peace?  How to we find our feet or find our way?

The answer is simple and strange, unexpected and yet so perfectly true:  We count fish.

It's the answer found in John 21:1-14.  Jesus is appearing to some of His disciples after the Resurrection.  The disciples are out in the boat, having fished all night.  They have caught nothing, but Jesus calls to them from the shore and tells them to move their net to the other side of the boat.  And even though they do not yet know it is Jesus, they do as He says.  And they catch fish.  More fish than they can even haul into the boat.

And then comes this:  "Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'  None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?'  They knew it was the Lord."

153 fish.

As Ann Voskamp points out, "Someone had counted the fish!"

And what does this mean for us, for our broken lives and our endless losses?

It means "you pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —the net actually didn’t tear.  That there’s much in your net.  And you actually count them.  You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask: You know it is the Lord....  You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153.  Far more than 153.  It’s a feast!" (Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

Yes, we count fish.

One of the things I have learned these last two years, so very long in their depth and breadth,  is that counting our losses is natural and necessary.  Counting them helps us grieve, helps us process, helps us see the truth of our losses.  And we need that, I think, to really live.  To learn and gain and grow somehow from what has been taken from us.  To sit for a time in the ashes of our lives so that when He brings the beauty and rebuilds the ruins, we will know how great is this Grace that carries us through.

But counting fish is something different.  Something not quite as natural perhaps, but even more necessary.  It is, really, about counting our gains.  Not just the big and the obvious, but also the tiny and the ordinary, the ones no one else sees but us.  It is about finding the good things in our everyday lives and recognizing them for what they most truly are:  Gifts from the One who loves us beyond all understanding.

And it is in this counting of gifts, this cultivation of our gratitude to Him that we find our way in the midst of deep losses and everyday burdens.  It is here that we open our eyes and our hearts and our lives to see and feel and live His goodness.

As this new year begins and unfurls, I am beginning my own journey of counting fish.  Over at A Holy Experience, it is known as the One Thousand Gifts List.  And although I have only been counting gifts for four weeks now, already I feel my spirit changing, shifting, opening up, rejoicing.  

And I hope--no, I pray that some of you, Dear Friends, will consider joining me on this journey to a thousand gifts and beyond.


So let the counting begin...

#1  The desire to give thanks

#2  Kimberley, who inspires me in this and many other things

#3  Sleeping cats, all peaceful and adorable

#4  Kitty love

#5  People who deck out their yards with Christmas lights--kindred spirits every one!

#6  Sunshine warming my face in the middle of December

#7  The amaryllis that blooms faithfully and sometimes unexpectedly, inspiring poetry and photography alike

#8  The nearness of my God in the middle of the night when I am feeling abandoned

#9  Snowflakes--both the glittery plastic ones hanging on my tree and the real ones we occasionally see here in winter

#10  Finding beauty in the ordinary

#11  A makeshift Christmas tree for this makeshift chapter of life, teaching me to live even in the "in between"

#12  A pie made with love by a dad who doesn't bake

#13  A surprise visit and "Happy Birthday" hug from a sweet friend

#14  Happy little spring-colored tea mugs--for 49 cents each!

#15  Purple irises in December, their little yellow throats seeming to shout, "Rejoice!  Hope is near!"

#16  Hand-sewn Christmas bags to bring joy back into the wrapping of gifts

#17  The beloved friend who sewed these perfect bags for me

#18  Tiny poinsettia in a very untraditional color--peach!

#19  Glittery red and green antlers on my head, with little bells jingling in my ears with every move

#20  Shiny gold tea mug proclaiming "NOEL!" and hidden in the bottom of a Christmas stocking

And this is only the beginning of what I've already written down.  And all that I've written down is only a glimpse of what is to come.  Because God's goodness is ever-present, ever-growing, ever-beautiful.

And this is the beginning of falling in love again with the One who has loved me always with an Unfailing Love.

Will you join me?





holy experience