2017 – A Look Back at My Year

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I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. The New Year will have enough in it for me without my making a to-do list!

However, now that the last few days of 2017 are coming into focus, I pause to take a look back at this year and ponder what the new year may have in store for me.

I did something a little different yesterday from anything I’ve ever done as I consider the ending of one page in my life and the beginning of a new one. I pulled out my journals from this past year and began reading, remembering the year and my written thoughts from each day, beginning with New Year’s Day. Some of my journal entries weren’t terribly impressive or interesting at first glance, but then something happened while turning the pages from one day to the next. I began noticing the emergence of a handful of themes, as I read my own words and musings from day to day. I began to jot down main topics of my writing, discovering that there were a few things that seemed to stay on my mind, or in its recesses, throughout the year. Interesting!

And now, I will share these with you, my dear readers and friends.

Spiritually, it was a year of growth for me. Early in the year, I wrote that I felt off-balance and not sure where I was heading. I had a premonition of challenges and struggles in my future, which weighed heavily on me during the winter months. Then, one day after listing the things I was grateful for, I ended the entry with, “I love God!!”  With spring, came the unexpected death of a dear friend, and I also watched helplessly as some of my favorite little farm animals died, one right after another, without cause or reason, it seemed to me. I wrote about “the ebb and flow of life.” It was a time of sadness and loss, and I found myself turning to God and prayer for comfort and understanding. Gratitude remained an ongoing theme, along with God’s grace. With these losses tearing at my heart the way they did, I began seeking to make a difference through my own life and in my writing. I wrote about fear versus faith, knowing that my faith could overcome any fear I had. It was an epiphany, hearing God’s voice in my heart and recording His message in my journal, “I will take care of you. You have nothing to fear.”

Professionally, and as a by-product – financially – 2017 was a year of  insecurity. Early in the year I learned that my job wasn’t secure, and I began wondering if retirement was approaching more quickly than I was prepared for. Money, or the lack of it, took a prominent place in my journal where I fretted about being poor and worried about the future and my financial status. I rode that choppy wave until the end of July, when my position was finally terminated. During this time of waiting for the ax to fall, I coined a new mantra for myself, sharing with my prayer posse girlfriends that my immediate goal was to just “relax and let life happen.” It was much easier said than done, especially when panic would overcome me, and I’d forget momentarily about God’s promise to take care of me. I applied for a newly created position at the same place that let me go, wondering if I wanted to go back there to work if they offered the job to me, or if I might perhaps be ready to retire, regardless of my income.

So, what did I do? In August, I went on a road trip with my cousin! We headed north to Maine, then meandered our way back, exploring back roads and picturesque towns, staying in obscure places, meeting fascinating people, reuniting with old friends, laughing, crying, talking, and soaking in this beautiful part of our country. It was in a gift shop in Amish country that I found a plaque that read, “A ship at harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for,” which I bought. In my journal entries during this trip, spirituality and faith took a front seat, as well as this new mantra about ships. I decided my ship is not ready to stay in the harbor. My ship is still at sea! While on the road trip, I received an invitation to interview for the new position opening, and soon after returning home, I was back where I had left two months earlier. God was at work in my life. I had a new job, which was exactly like the one I was terminated from, but with a higher pay grade and better benefits. Again, my journal pages were dotted with thoughts and prayers of gratitude.

Another theme of my year was that of yearning for a circle of close friends, and in particular for someone who might join me on my life path, someone who would understand the heart and soul of a writer.This was the year that “Jennie’s Girls” became an official group, and I wrote about my love for these delightful young women who took me in as their adopted mom / big sister, and who have placed my heart tenderly into their hands. They have taught me how to live in the present and not obsess over the vague and unknown future. Again, the word “gratitude” found its way onto my journal pages. I also noted that I was beginning to feel more like a part of the “prayer posse” of women I meet with on a weekly basis. I had felt very much on the fringes of this group when the year began, but as it progressed, my writing clearly expressed that this was becoming my circle of friends. As for finding someone who might join me on my life path, I am hopeful. We’ll just have to wait and see what I write about in 2018 regarding this!

So it is that I bid farewell to 2017 and all that it brought my way. It was a year where I often felt like I was not treading on a solid surface, but on a wobbly one at times, and one where I was tested with loss and sadness, often coming at me from many directions and in various forms. But through the year I came to realize that indeed my house is built on a firm foundation, and that God is keeping His promise to me. I was also reminded that faith is stronger than fear, good friends are in my circle, and that my ship is still at sea. I am looking forward to 2018 with joyful anticipation of whatever is out there waiting for me.

Goodbye 2017, and thank you!

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Does God Need an Invitation?

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Every now and then I run upon something on Facebook that causes me to back up and take another look. The following, with the name edited out, was posted this morning, finding its way somehow to my Facebook Timeline.

“I’ve invited God over to my house to spend the day. Today will be a continuous day of prayers. My son’s brain surgery is this morning. I know all our family and friends have [my son] in their prayers.”

I wonder if anyone else thinks this is an odd statement. While it received a long list of comments of “Praying”, and other similar comments and statements of love and support from this person’s Facebook friends, I couldn’t just let it go without further thought and a comment on my blog.

I didn’t know the history of this beloved son’s brain problem. Is it a tumor that has been growing for some length of time? Is it an aneurism which requires immediate attention? Is it something malignant? Or benign? As I delved deeper into Facebook, I learned that this young man has cancer, so these questions were answered for me, after quite a few clicks into other people’s posts and timelines.

Now my questions are, “Where was God yesterday? Why was God only invited into the house today to spend the day? Why did God need to be invited in the first place? Will this person still need God tomorrow? Will God be asked to leave if things don’t go well?

I am sure that many prayers have found their way to God concerning this young man and his cancer. And I’m sure the parent who posted this has prayed many, many prayers for the health of her son. I feel confident that her home is filled today with prayers and petitions for her son’s recovery. What puzzles me is the phrasing of her Facebook post.

I don’t want to sound judgmental – I would be asking for prayers for my son should he ever face something like this in his life. My Facebook friend had her own way of letting her friends know of her need for support and prayers, and I know that God is listening and answering those prayers.

The statement did make me stop to think, however, about my own spirituality and beliefs about God. My knee jerk response upon reading this post – to myself, of course – was, why just for today? And why did God need an invitation? For me, God doesn’t need to be invited to my home. God IS my home, and God has invited ME to be part of God’s great home. I believe that God is with me in every breath that I take, wherever I am and wherever I go. Everyday. Not just when I need something from God. Not when something bad happens. Not only for today, but also for every minute of my life. God is as close to me as my own heartbeat.

I thank God for being there with – and guiding the hands of – the surgeons operating on this young man today, for being with the nursing staff that will be monitoring him as he begins the recovery process. I also thank God for the faith and strength of the parents, relatives, and friends. Most importantly, I thank God that an invitation isn’t necessary. God is with us even before we ever put out an invitation.

Always.

A Circle In The Sand

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In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has this quote, “But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. ”

There have been a few times in my life when I felt very strongly that I was standing in my very own circle of sand, being where I was meant to be and believing that I would be there forever. Then, the wind would begin to blow across my life, picking up the sand and redistributing it. The result was that my circle in the sand would fade away, and I would become lost, not knowing where I was or where I should be, at least for awhile.

Four years ago I found myself in a situation where I was standing in a vast desert of sand, without a circle to surround me or define me, or a horizon to guide me. I had lost my sense of home, and the future looked very bleak from where I was standing in the desert, with the hot, dry winds of fear, doubt, and failure swirling around me. I didn’t know where to go, or where I belonged. I was physically and emotionally homeless. Thank God, I was not spiritually homeless, even though at times I felt as if I were.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone or homeless, at all. God was in the wind that blew; God was the wind that found me wandering in my personal desert, promised to deliver me, and led me to Monroe, Georgia. With the help of my family and some very special friends sent my way by God, I was lifted from the violent sandstorm that raged around me and engulfed me, and was gently set down on a quiet street in Monroe, where the storms of my life settled down, and God once more drew a circle in the sand for me, and caressed me with gentle, healing breezes.

I can identify with Elizabeth Gilbert’s feeling. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I thought Monroe might be a nice place to live, I probably would have given you a blank expression of “Where?” written all over my face. Monroe was not a city in Georgia that I yearned to live in, nor was it even a spot on a mental road map of favorable Georgia towns. But here I am! And I can clearly see the circle drawn in the sand where I am standing. I feel as if I belong here, that Monroe was waiting for me to arrive, and that I really had no say in the matter, after all.

I have found sanctuary here. My little apartment is my nest and safe place, where I can pray and meditate, write and dream, laugh, sing, dance, and cry. The sidewalks of Monroe have become my friends as Sunshine and I walk them daily, observing the changes from day to day and season to season along our path. My neighbors have my back, as I have theirs in my little community of apartment homes. People wave to me from their cars as they pass when I am out walking or sitting on my front porch, and speak to me on the sidewalks or from their porches as we stroll through town. The owner of my favorite restaurant knows me by name and gives me a hug whenever I go there for a meal. Monroe police are a visible reminder as they patrol the town that I am protected from danger here. My newfound friends in a weekly Bible study are my new prayer warriors, as my spiritual life is enriched and expanded with each day.

God, indeed, has drawn a new circle in the sand for me, and even though it was through some very unfortunate events in my life that sent me here, this is the place where I am supposed to be. I was never meant not to be here. I pray that my breezes will be gentle and light, and that my circle won’t shift for a long, long time.

Monroe, Georgia. Who’d have thought?

I am home.