When we touched down in London on January 2nd, after two weeks with family in the Arizona desert, I disembarked with malaise after being knocked dizzy with a head cold. Adding jet lag to a cold virus is like looking drunk at life through a plastic translucent shower curtain. I could make out the shape of things – I’m at home in a foreign country where people drive on the other side of the road and it’s dark by 3pm – but I landed into the New Year disoriented.
Slow at making plans and discerning fresh ways forward, picking a word to name the year seemed like chasing the wind to me. I didn’t really care. I’d just been with my people for 16 glorious days in the sunshine, eating copious amounts of Mexican food and driving – driving! – down familiar streets in a convertible. I decided discerning what’s next could wait another week because God is in control of my future anyway.
Slowly, we entered back into routines of setting alarms, curating online grocery orders, hiring a car for shopping at Costco and Ikea, walking to the market for bread, collecting garbage on Monday night, refilling water pitchers, and burning candles. I grieved the carefree convertible closeness with my people. And the lack of sunshine, oh, the sunshine. But familiar rhythms provided reorientation back into new normals.
And then we received some terrible news and the flu became an unwanted close companion.
After one of our spiritual fathers passed away from a cancerous brain tumor, my H did a U turn and flew back to the US on the same day I awakened with body aches and chills from fever.
I took the forced Sabbath as permission for remembering the markers of my past, praying between pages of books, contemplation, and journaling all the things. That time was a capsule of uninterrupted intimacy with Jesus. I practiced listening and adoration more than requesting and seeking help. I anticipated silence and waiting. And became comfortable with my son’s ability to sustain a diet of eggs, cheese and tortillas.
A week later, lunches with friends and opportunities with volunteerism replaced the grief of those early days in January. Then the flu returned with a vengeance. I now wear an invisible badge of honor that reads, “Recovered from influenza twice in one month.”
My pillow became soaked with the grief of cancellation — lunches, dinner parties, coffee dates, radio interviews, hair appointments. Starting 2018 has been like driving a car on bad gas, stuttering into the New Year.
January brings hopeful aspirations that coincide with sorrowful resignation. We want to experience change, transformation, the beauty of purposefulness, but the realities of the mundane inhibit perspective until the details of what we once envisioned are barely discernible. It feels as if a Grand Canyon separates what we long for and what we have.
And just like that, it’s February, the month we remember that we are loved.
I began to interpret the theme of January — two steps forward and one step back — as God’s almighty discipline. Or more honestly, His abandonment.
But when we allow the wilderness of our current circumstances to define the future, our view becomes translucent to God’s transperance. We can’t dream, forecast or envision how life might look different from the way we currently experience it when we fear disappointment; when we are afraid that we are a disappointment to Him.
Between idealism and reality is a sacred lesson: life is fleeting but love remains. God wants us to live with him in the here and love him in the now when we are tempted to rush ahead and control how a year in the life should turn out.
Two steps forward and one step back seems to be His favorite dance. The new in a year is for new conversations that pull us back to renewing our mind in Christ when we are prone to dance into the new year absorbed with self and guided by futility.
Maybe, just maybe, the first month of the year has been more of a setback for you and less of what you envisioned while watching the ball drop.
Envision this: Jesus is taking one step back while holding onto your hand. Lean back, into his chest, feel his breath blowing on your face and allow Love to lead as your waltz into February.
And while you wait for Love to twirl you into March, here are a few book suggestions to keep the light of hope glowing in the dark.
Deeper Waters by Denise Hughes – I had the pleasure of endorsing this book and re-read it while I was convalescing. I am captivated by Denise’s storytelling and deep knowledge of the Bible. She inspires me to read through scripture with fresh eyes, curiosity, and attentiveness to the Spirit.
Utmost Ongoing – I’m honored to be a contributing writer for this book that celebrates the legacy of Oswald Chambers. The stories are rich and thought provoking, much like his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. I’ve savored one essay a day during morning prayers.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton – I found this one on my H’s bookshelves in his office at church and I have loved the spiritual formation in it. If you are in ministry or a Christian leader in any capacity, I highly recommend it.
A Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – Because I realized my reading list for 2017 was low on fiction and I have never read Alice Hoffman, I chose this one when I discovered it at Half Price Books in Phoenix. I can’t wait to read her The Dovekeepers next. If you value good writing, she’s your author for keeping the lamp on past your bedtime.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – I loved his Rules of Civility and received this one from my daughter for Christmas. I’m only one third of the way through but understand why everyone is raving about it. He keeps you curious about what will happen next.
February Printable Calendar
For those of you who have been patiently waiting for the printable calendar pages that coincide with each chapter in Rhythms of Rest, it’s been two steps forward, one step back on changing the dates from the old year to the new. I apologize for missing January. Download the February 2018 printable calendar to persevere in resting in God when busyness threatens to overtake you.
I realize it’s been a good long while since I posted anything here. Actually, more than a month which a record of silence for me. You can find more of my writing in your inbox every Friday by subscribing to the Sabbath Society here. Because sometimes a friendly letter is easier to write than a blog post.
Shelly, this post has made me sit down twice beyond my original first read while sipping coffee. That is to say that now, I have read your work of the heart not one time, not two times, but yes three. I wish for the gift of communicating at moments like this.
I wished while reading that I could have supplied you with soup and sat beside you offering healing prayer!
March into life holding the banner of love and life high!
Grateful for you and yours always,
Vicki is so lovely to see you here. I imagine you under the bright Texas sunshine sipping your coffee while reading this and I hope reading it three times isn’t because I wasn’t clear or the words, confusing. ha! Your comment is a warm hug, a big smile and a kind encouragement, even though an ocean separates us. Thank you for always being in my corner. Love you!
I can hardly believe it’s Feb. 1. It’s as if “the wind has changed” (Mary Poppins) and today I’ve awakened in the wilderness…the clouds have rolled in and February doesn’t seem to be tuning up for playing a waltz. Oh, I hope I’m wrong. The wilderness can be arrestingly beautiful, so let’s hope that’s what I’ll see. Thanks for sharing. I’m praying for your immune system to recover and take you back out onto the dance floor.
Praying for you Dea . . . . still . . . .always have you on my heart. The wilderness is only temporary.
So glad you’re back, Shelly–I’ve missed you this month! I, too, was sick twice in January. First, gastroenteritis came to call early in the month, and a week ago last Saturday I succumbed to the flu–in spite of the shot. Tamiflu helped some; they tell me the cough could linger another couple of weeks. (I’m impressed you were able to read during your siege. Even though it’s a favorite activity of mine, reading did NOT appeal to me while I was sick.) The goals for 2018 I’d set with such hope and optimism, languished in a corner of my mind just about the whole month. However, your “focus-ahead” attitude for embracing February, “the month we remember we are loved,” gives me renewed interest and energy for those new year goals. I’ll just pretend 2018 is starting with February this year, because in many ways it is! P.S. Thank you for the book suggestions, Shelly. I always appreciate recommendations from people I trust. And, of course, that would include you!
So sorry to hear you’ve been sick too Nancy. The first time I had the flu it was mild in comparison to this one. I remember thinking the same thing — surprised I could read despite being sick. It felt like a gift. But this time, I’m sleeping more than reading to tell you the truth. Thanks for letting me know you were here, it’s lovely to have you check in. I pray that February is redemptive for us both.
Wow! I too read this more than once. The first time ’round, I just identified with the huge sense of disappointment and defeat. I was most assuredly “allow[ing] the wilderness of [my] current circumstances to define the future,” I couldn’t “dream, forecast or envision how life might look different from” my present experience, and I was much afraid that I was as much”a disappointment to Him” as I was to myself. Then I came to your statement calling February “the month we remember we are loved.” That’s what stuck with me later and brought me back for a reread.
Measuring myself by my achievements, my “usefulness” to God–or lack thereof–I’d missed the point of my existence! I know people who only “love” others if they’re “useful” to them. What a contrast to the Lover of our souls, Who loves us just because He loves us. Thank you for bringing that reminder out of the fog!
I’m so thankful for the way you shared how you processed this post personally Sylvia, what a gift. I have had significant people in my life express love in terms of my usefulness and knowing the difference as an adult is quite freeing really. I appreciate you pointing that out.
Lovely to hear from you, though I’m sorry to hear that you missed out on so much in January. I feel like I’ve had a similarly stuttered start to the year, one way or another. There is for sure a real grief in losing out on the hoped-for dinner parties, treats and work opportunities.
I did wonder about what you were saying about not ‘allowing’ the wilderness of our lives to define us, and choosing to dream for the future. I can definitely understand how that translates to your situation of temporary illness and setback. But I have a question of application for a different group of people – I minister to and hang out with many people with debilitating, chronic, deteriorating illnesses that drag their suffering and wilderness experiences into decades and indeed their whole lives. It’s something I think about a lot and mich of the focus of my writing.
I was wondering what you would say to someone in that situation, and whether your advice would differ?
Tanya, it is lovely to see you here. As I’ve been convalescing over the past month, I’ve thought often of people who are chronically ill and unlike my situation, do not have an end in sight. It has given me great pause and an opportunity to pray for many friends who suffer with the ongoing realities of the wilderness being more than just a season. I have prayed Ruth Haley Barton’s pray of indifference often — not an indifference like apathy but an indifference to matters of my personal comfort and advantage to gain some understanding of the mind of Christ and His will. I could never begin to empathize with your situation Tanya, far be it from me to give you advice. I only have sympathy and compassion and humility to offer. I do know this, my lack (physical, financial, social, etc.) leads me to an inner exploration of the person of Christ and the more I experience his love, the more the outer things diminish in importance. In Christ, we are not defined by what we lack, but what we have and that gives me great comfort most days.