Not exactly ringing in the new year

I have always enjoyed turning the page at the beginning of a new month, and putting up new calendars at the first of the year. This year, not so much. After my mother’s requiem, my older brother declared, “Well, now you’re the matriarch of the family.” Yikes! Besides feeling like a heavy mantel, it emphasized the reality — I was no longer a daughter. I’m a senior member of the oldest generation in our family. Those thoughts focused the limited time I have left, wiping away my childish view that life would keep going, would get better if I just waited long enough. Then recently I had to deal with Social Security’s life expectancy tables, which hit between the eyes. Even in the best of circumstances, my days on earth are very limited. All that makes “redeem the times” echo in my thoughts, like a jingle you can’t get out of your head.

Old family clock w Eph 5 16_17

That’s just darn depressing.

At first, it was as if a shadow had passed over me.

Then I heard a snippet of a sermon on the radio. Tony Evans said, “We are either walking from life into death. Or we’re walking from death into life.”

Reality burned the fog off as I remembered I am follower of Jesus, so this world isn’t my home.

Given the shape it’s in right now, what a relief!

Like my mother and brother before me, when I leave this world I will really begin to live for the first time. This life is just a preamble, a preparation, barely a glimpse, at its very best, of all to come.

But another cloud hovered, an anxiety-filled urgency about all the things undone or unfinished: the books I’ve written and am editing and preparing for publication, the one not completed, and all the others waiting a turn in the wings of my mind, all sorts of projects I’d like to accomplish, and I want to enjoy way more time with my family. I love watching my children grow, seeing their personalities mature and flourish. I want to see my grandchildren, all nine of them, grow up, to dance at their weddings, and even hold a few great-grand-babies. Most important, I’d like to see them all secure in their eternal future. Walking from death into life.

And I’d love more dinners, lunches, reunions, games or hugs with other family members spread all over the world.

And more chats with friends, sharing in Bible studies, more songs to sing, not to mention beaches to walk and waves to ride . . .

I better stop here. You have the idea.

This goes way beyond seizing the day, and making the most of every moment. Like the lavender essential oil I diffuse into the air around me, I want to infuse every waking moment with eternal meaning.

Since my desk faces the opening into the kitchen, my first question after typing that was: eternal meaning when I burn the roast, or clean doggie footprints from the freshly mopped floor? Eternity in peeling squash or running the blender? Moving wet clothes from washer to dryer?

Yes. I think it calls for a combination of two mindsets.

Intentionalality — being completely present with whatever I am doing (which is rare for me, especially when doing mundane tasks)

Gratitude — giving thanks as I take this breath. For being able to move my fingers. Stand on legs that can support me and allow me to walk. Eyes to see the reddened almond leaves flutter in today’s cold sunlight, knowing they will be gone after almost-freezing temperatures tonight. (Yes, that’s severe winter weather here on the Florida Gulf coast.)

Some may have stopped reading by now, or you shake your head, wondering how I arrived this far in life without figuring that out. Some of you actually live that way. You inspire me.

Others, those who have grown up shape-shifting or mind-shifting to avoid dysfunction, pain, fear or chaos, understand what a challenge present-living can be.

I’ve hit on gratitude and more purposeful living before, but this is another layer deeper. This lap around Mt Sinai is closer to the top, higher, and the view is clearer, further.

I don’t feel like I’ve expressed what I’m experiencing well, but I am hoping to live it well.

So teach us to number our days, That we may cultivate and bring to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Tell me, what comes into focus for you when you number your days?

Breathing room for my soul

Breathing room for my soul – Where does that come from? Certainly not from trying harder, good intentions and daily tasks, rushing to meetings or practice, raises and promotions, badges or awards, or another day turned on the calendar. We can live our whole lives without breathing room for our souls, can’t we? The harder we try, the harder it is to inflate our lungs. In Western culture, we run our oxygen-starved bodies on adrenaline. What feeds our glory-starved souls?

In the apart-ness of grief, the enforced time alone, my vision, often blurred with tears, clears to a fresh reality. Raw grief strips attachments and resets priorities — richness in relationships and memories.

As I sort through my mother’s belongings, bits and pieces of my life are exposed. I recall how many times God worked, spoke, protected, provided, healed and nurtured me.

How precious the ability to recall!

Grandmother's Clock
Grandmother’s Clock

And for the first time in my life, I see there isn’t time to learn all the things I’ve wanted to learn or do all I’d planned to do.

“Teach us to number our days.”

I never would have guessed I would find breathing room for my soul in sensing my own mortality.

Rather than sadness or panic, numbering my days is setting me free.

I don’t have to become.

I simply chose to live now, love well and share as I am able.

Ahhhh. Big breath.

“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Phil 4:11-13
The Message

Letting go of trying-so-hard releases me. It is enough to be me. ‘Who I am’ is the only thing that I will take into eternity.

And ‘who I am’ is good enough because I am a child of the King, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Relationship with Him undergirds my life, and promises my future, forever.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14 NIV

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Did you get enough?

“What did you get for Christmas?” Christmas tree

When we were kids, that question implied the friend really wanted a turn to brag about their new train or bike or roller skates – always something bigger or better than you received.

But were they really asking, “Did you get enough?” Did you, like he or she, arrive at the end of the day and wonder, “Is that all there is?”

For adults, the question is usually, “How was your Christmas?” The question is too often only as deep as, “How was your vacation?” It’s good manners, and makes better conversation than the weather.

With us, the hidden question may be, “Did you survive the crush of activity, expectations and indulgences?” For others, “Did you have to endure family members you’re glad you won’t see again until next year?” Or simply, “Did things go as you planned? Did you get what you wanted?”

In the end, though, perhaps the deeper question really hasn’t changed. Is that all there is?

This Christmas was far from normal for me. With many health and energy challenges, I shopped from bed with my smart phone. Advent candles were all I managed in preparation. My husband brought down the tree and plugged in the lights. I hung the ornament my grandson made in school, and set out the manager scene (weeks behind), placing the important figures around the room, to move towards Christmas.

No lights outside, garlands on the mantel or decorations scattered throughout the house, all of which I love. No smells of Christmas baking, aside from the Tropical Christmas Pudding I had started months before for my British son-in-law. Since I couldn’t count on having the energy for a big Christmas dinner, nothing special was planned for the day.

Christmas Eve we traveled north to enjoy a wonderful dinner with our son and his family, then to a candlelight service with YD and her family. Our time with all of them was sweet.

Christmas Day, my husband and I provided music for an intimate gathering of families for our Spanish congregation, then I picked up my mother from her assisted living home. She didn’t even know it was Christmas.

I spent Christmas caring for Mom, and trying to draw her back to reality. Towards the end of the day, she kept asking where she was going to sleep, obviously longing to stay, so I pulled out a clean toothbrush and soft flannel PJ’s.

As I do with my grandchildren when they visit, when I tucked her in, I put my hand on her forehead and prayed for her.

When I finished the prayer, she smiled radiantly and said, “You’re the best Mommy I have ever had.” Then Mom turned on her side and fell asleep.

Mom tucked in on Christmas
When I walked back to the living room and stared at the baby in the manger, I knew the answer.

As long as I sought gifts of time or stuff, even my own mother’s love — anything in this world to satisfy my need for love — I would always end with, “Is that all there is?”

Now that the Manger Child, God become human, has grown into the Savior of my heart, I know that Christmas isn’t about presents.

Christmas is about presence.

His presence in my life has filled the longing in my heart.

And now I can freely be the hand of love. I can give the gift of my time, energy and attention because I have received love that overflows its boundaries, a love that seeks to give, and give, and give again.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5:1 (The Message)

How was your Christmas?