I have kept a journal for most of my life, since Grade 5 in fact. As author David Sedaris has said, “It’s an awful lot of work for something no one is ever going to see”, but I still forge on. Somehow the act of writing brings solace and order to my soul.
Another tradition I’ve done for probably 30 years is to look back and reflect on the year’s scribblings. Nowadays, I open up a new document on the computer, but in the “old days” I would get out pen and paper. Whatever the medium, I always start the same way. I write a heading on top: “2011 was the year that…”.
Sifting through a year’s worth of writing can be a painful process. It reminds me of what it must be like to go through the rubble of a demolition, combing through lots of useless stuff to find what’s worth keeping: the gold of the year. It’s hard not to wince at how many emotional ups and usually downs I have, and I begin to utter prayers to live with greater equanimity for the next year. (I’m still waiting for that to happen!) I’m so prone to emotional dramas (though the person who might not know me that well may not guess it).
I used to summarize the year with the “3 best and 3 worst” events of the year. But I would always realize how the “worsts” were usually not that black and white. God uses each difficult situation as an opportunity to learn some hard-won lessons, when I am receptive (please remind me of this next time I start to complain!)
So, here are some highlights of my year; the ways God has been faithful to me in pouring out “grace upon grace”, as a verse in the Bible poetically puts it. Not the best, not the worst, just ways that God has met me this year.
- This blog – In April, something happened which has been a huge blessing. An area newspaper called “West Central Streets” that I’d written for folded in February. In this writing void, I mentioned to my friend Bev that I’d been thinking of starting my own blog. The only problem was that I couldn’t think of a hook or theme to hang my thoughts on. It didn’t take before Bev, always the encourager, suggested that I use an old question that Paul gave me years ago, “Where was God in your day?” It has become a spiritual discipline that has helped to form my thoughts every week. My usual habit is to ride the waves of emotions within, but the trouble is that these do not have much wisdom in them! Emotional thinking does much to distract me from the calling I’ve heard to follow God’s path. So the blog has helped me each week to reach deeper within and articulate the ways I’ve seen God’s hand at work. Some weeks I wonder if I’ll come up with something, but it’s more like God comes up with something for me. I feel as though God has been creating a new language for me - a language of hope.
- Turning 50 – I asked my friends to choose a poem to read at my 50th birthday “Poetry
Slam and Potluck”. Everyone rose to the occasion and the poems brought a sense of wonder and depth to a great evening with dear friends. Another huge highlight of this party was that Paul said yes to writing a birthday homily for me – a short meditation of what it means to grow older. I have known Paul since I was 12 years old when he came to speak in the church I grew up in. At that time, he’d read a poem which struck me and which I later asked him for a copy of. Now, some 38 years later, he still had a relevant word for me. Sometimes the first half of life can remind us all too starkly of how we have failed to be the people we want to be, but Paul reminded me that he has seen the face of Christ shine in me. I felt incredibly blessed listening to his kind and gracious and faithful words. Read the homily here. It is called “The Shining: Lydia’s 50th Birthday Party”.
- Singing – Singing at the seniors home with my friends Eldon and Marilyn has been a blessing this year, as I’ve often written about. Like the blog, it is a place where I am reminded of my deeper values. The seniors in their fragility help me remember that my job (or whatever else is distracting me) is not nearly as important as I think.
- Lessons in limitation – This year I was thrown into disorientation when neck problems meant I had to give up running for a while. Limitation always brings with it lessons of leaning on God. In a society which values independence and youthful strength, we want to brush aside times of trouble. One thing I usually learn pretty quickly is how body obsessed I can get, mistakenly thinking that God is only present when I am comfortable. I always remember (usually through the nudges of friends) that hope does not lie in appointments or “cures”, but in God who is a friend in all circumstances.
- Strength in study – Every year at Watershed, Wednesday nights are dedicated to the study of scripture and faith matters. I am definitely not a scholar, and I’m sure many would say the same, but there is something that happens each week as we study together. The actual evening plus the reading and questions we answer to prepare ourselves, are always life-giving, rooting all of us in a deeper life. It’s like taking a multi-vitamin which somehow re-orients my perspective. This year we studied 1st and 2nd Samuel (Old Testament) and a book by Marcus Borg called Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: How to Read the Bible Seriously but not Literally.
- Movie Night – Watershed also hosts the “West End Movie Group” which meets once every 2 months with the outside community to watch and reflect on a movie. Through the leadership of Linda Tiessen Wiebe and Lyle Penner, we always have great discussions afterwards. I have never been failed to be encouraged by these evenings. 2011 movies included Troubled Waters, The Big Kahuna, Of Gods and Men, Get Low, Departures, Mary and Max, and the PBS video series “God in America”.
- Reading – Every year, I pick my top reads of the year. Reading is another one of those mercies which keeps me anchored in what matters most. This year I had 14 to choose from (down from 20 last year, ouch!). And the winners are:
- Top (non-fiction) novel/memoir: Even Silence Has An End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Columbian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt. Recommended by Bev, this memoir honorably exhibited all the best that I love in reading: a story, well written, of strength and faith winning the day in the face of extreme adversity.
- Top non-fiction/theology: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally, by Marcus Borg. This is a very clearly written book with excellent content to accompany our Wednesday night study from September to December, 2011. I enjoyed each chapter and the reflections and encouragements it prompted. It is highly recommended if you are looking to understand more deeply the most highly purchased but least read book in the world.
- Podcasts – I often jokingly say that I can’t give up running because that’s when I listen to some great podcasts. My top favorites are:
- On Being with Krista TIppet. This show from the States has weekly conversations about “religion, meaning, ethics and ideas”. I think my top favorite of the year is a show with a favorite Biblical scholar and author Walter Brueggeman.
- Tapestry (from CBC) – Though I don’t listen to each week’s broadcast, this show often has themes of meaning and faith. My favorite from the year has to be one about hope with author and nun Joan Chitteser.
- CBC’s Canada Live, which features a concert by a Canadian group. For someone like me who tends to stay with my tried and true favorites, it’s a great way to be exposed to new music. Favorites concerts of the year were those of Matt Anderson, Ray Bonneville, Danny Michel and Kim Dunn.
- I also love and would highly recommend The Moth (“true stories told live”) and This American Life with Ira Glass.
- Best Blog – I have followed a blog written by Winnipeger Bill Howdle when the Free Press wrote about it a few years back. He calls it the “Dying Man’s Daily Journal”, so named when his doctor told him at age 52 that he was dying of a brain tumor and of congestive heart failure. He is 56 now and I’m sure he’d say that writing his blog keeps him alive. This year I left my “lurker status” to thank him on his blog for giving me the idea to start my own, and since then we have corresponded back and forth. He has been an encouragement and next week he and his wife Vi have even invited me over for coffee.
- Holiday at High Lake – In early July, we joined friends Dave and Lorna in their rented cabin near Falcon Lake. I saw God’s “Yes” in their generosity and kindness in their gracious hospitality. We laughed a lot (for example, at an army of mice in the cabin which prompted side splitting jokes), ate great food, listened to a retreat by favorite author Richard Rohr (and Ron Rollenheiser), almost sank a canoe and listened to wolves howling at midnight.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog this year and provide encouragement, whether in the comment section, emails or in person.
What about you? What were some ways life has shown you the face of God this past year?