Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Word for the New Year

Earlier this week, I chose my "one word" for 2017. You may have seen this suggestion making its rounds on social media. Choose one word that becomes your guiding theme in the twelve months ahead. People's answers have a beautiful variety: thankful, peace, trust, action, hope, brave. I have seen many as the clock keeps ticking its way closer to the new year, and I have chosen mine:


I rolled it around in my brain for a day, considering others but returning to this one. I mulled over why it was the strongest contender. What did it mean for me? How might it affect my year? It nestled into my consciousness and I decided to let it stay. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share it with you on this blog. As I sorted out my musings into readable paragraphs, I also tried to find a good quotation to use to introduce the idea. It was a rare occasion of Google failing me.

What I found was quote after quote affirming a person's self-worth. I am worthy. You are worthy. On and on and on. We have a crisis of self-worth. This isn't news. It's been going on for decades and only getting worse. The misguided responses of rooting out all humility and lasting, God-given identity haven't exactly helped.

All these people attempting to answer this crisis. At first it seemed like there was nothing applicable to my theme for the new year. I wasn't looking for an affirmation of self-worth. It is exactly because of my belief in my own worth that I chose this word. Then I realized that maybe, just maybe, this new year's theme is a piece of the puzzle of living in a manner that says you know your worth.

I chose WORTHY because I am tired of giving of myself to things that are not worthy of me. I'm tired of being tired - physically and mentally. I, like many people, have trouble saying no to or stepping away from that which isn't worthy of a portion of my reserves of time, energy, attention, and care. In the coming year, I hope to retrain myself to an extent. Give myself only to what is worthy - be it activities, hobbies, relationships, responsibilities, worries, thoughts - and within the collection of what is worthy, spend myself to an extent that is proportionate to each one's importance. Not everything and everyone is worthy of what I have to give, and not everything and everyone that is worthy is equally worthy.

At the close of 2017, I aim to have this a bit more sorted out than I do now. The end result, I hope, will be less of that tiredness I mentioned, yes, but also a better ability to pour myself out for what is WORTHY because I am not wasting myself on what isn't.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Listen to Your (Inner) Three Year Old

My three year old gets it. All that is necessary to fill him with excited anticipation is to tell him we are going to do something together. The activity matters little. Togetherness is the key.

During the brief forty-five minutes we had this morning between him waking up and me departing for work, he must have asked ten times for me to spend time with him. The asking comes in a variety of forms - will you sit with me; can we watch a movie together; are you going to eat with me - but the heart of the question is constant: Can we be together?

Connection; companionship; unity; family. It is my belief that we do not lose our early years' desire for togetherness. We grow adept at minimizing its significance, quieting its voice. We learn to ignore it. We all have our own reasons for doing so.

With each instance in which I must reject my son's request for time with me because I am required to be elsewhere, my heart hurts. Yet there are plenty of times where I also turn him down carelessly, preferring that he leave me alone to do the things I'm more interested in that day or the things I think have to get done. I am imperfect in it, without a doubt, but having children has reawakened my own desire for and value of togetherness.

This isn't written with undue guilt. We cannot be there with them non-stop. Jobs, obligations, responsibilities, and even solitary endeavors are both necessary and valuable. Yes, my children have to learn the hard lesson that they are not at the center of the world they occupy nor can they count on always receiving what they want from others. My thoughts run less along the line of eliminating those lessons and more along the line of wondering what society, and specifically my own family, could look like if alongside those harder lessons everyone also learned that we do not need to guard our hearts against the natural desire for togetherness.

Final request of the day: "Will you rest with me?"
What if I said yes more often, both to my son and to my own timid longing for greater togetherness? What if I factored it more strongly into our Christmas season plans and my New Year's resolutions? What if I replaced "not right now" with "yes, we can be together" as much as possible? It would be a difference maker for the good, I am sure of it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Paradox of Suffering and Hope at Christmas

Photo provided by Trisha Hummel
Today is my cousin Trudi's 44th birthday. It is her 23rd birthday in eternal life. I was still stumbling my way toward my teen years when Trudi was murdered. Trudi and her older sisters were thick as thieves with my older sisters while I was just one of the little cousins in our extensive family circle. I remember her as cool; fun and beautiful; bold and humorous.

This weekend I spent hours addressing Christmas cards. As I scribbled the names, streets, and cities of my cousins, I couldn't help wondering about Trudi. Would she live in the same area, like her sisters, or would she have established her life elsewhere? Would we have attended a wedding? Would our children have played together by now? Would we have that comfortable, enjoyable dynamic that develops between family members after the years have placed us on level ground?

Hypotheticals. They do an excellent job of muddling the mind and stinging the heart. There's nothing like loss to leave you wading through a pool of hypotheticals. And there's nothing like Christmas time to amplify the wound of loss.

This isn't a direct quote, as I can't remember where I heard it, but I once read that St. John Paul II said suffering is created by feeling cut off from good. We live and love and link ourselves to sources of good. When one of those links is severed, we are left trying to patch the tear.

What has severed a link to good in your life?
Job loss

Every cut in our connections to what is good is felt keenly in this season of celebration. For some, the suffering renders Christmas undesirable. Potential joy is swallowed up in misery. Sounds of peace are drowned out by the roar of hypotheticals that can never be.

Oh, the paradox of Christmas. For Christmas, my friends, is the arrival of the Divine Response to every wound and cut and tear you carry with you. It is Almighty God dwelling amongst us. He made Himself vulnerable to encounter our vulnerability. God entrusted Himself to the arms of a mother, to the home of an earthly father, and to a community of imperfect, suffering individuals.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst
Christmas is the issuance of God's answer to our suffering, to our feeling of being cut off from good. It is a resounding song of hope: "You are not cut off. You are not abandoned. You are not lost. For I am with you. Here in the deepest cuts, I abide with you. I may have allowed pain and loss, but I fill the voids. I AM the source of all good and I AM here."

Christmas, when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) is the root of our conviction "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).