Everything I thought I knew has come undone.
It’s that thin place between years where it’s easy to grow introspective. At the threshold between decades, I suppose we are all looking back. This is my fifth year choosing one word for the year ahead. I have found the practice of choosing a word (as opposed to goals or resolutions) fruitful.
I try to spend significant time at the end of the year in reflection and planning. I was grateful to have time again to do so this year at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. My mind wandered past 2019 and back over the past five years that have been a blur of nearly constant change. Just as 2016 began (Practice), my world turned upside down when a trip to India made it clear to my family that God was moving us overseas. 2017 (Rhythm) brought delays and shifts and finally the move to Bangladesh. In 2018 (Present) we barely settled in our new home before unexpected changes turned our hearts again toward the U.S. This year (Still) uprooted us. We spent half the year in Bangladesh and half the year trying to find our footing back in a place that didn’t look or feel like home anymore.
During all this time there were constants and imperceptible shifts. My faith, my family, and my writing grounded me through all the changes. But all those tiny moves added up to an unrecognizable life after many years. My writing slowly built a base and I was bolder with my voice. My children shot up as they are want to do no matter how we stop them. The way I practice my faith and the way I see the world shifted also. How could it not when my eyes continued to open to the ways the Lord is moving outside my own little world, bigger and wilder and more beautiful than the boxes in which we try to contain the God of the Universe?
As I journaled and prayed and came to the question, “what was the overarching theme for you in 2019?” two words came to mind: unraveling, deconstructing. I realized it felt like everything I knew had come apart in my hands.
Mid 2019, our dreams for a future living overseas had shattered and we had no idea what should come next. We moved into a house that needed significant work to be functional for a growing family of four. I couldn’t envision what it might be and I felt trapped in its too-small walls.
We returned to a community that hadn’t experienced the tumult we did over the last half-decade of chasing dreams and then losing them again. I knew I had changed too much to fit like a square peg in some of the same grooves I’d seamlessly slipped into for years. I longed for community but pushed them away at the same time because it was painful to see how poorly I fit.
I had set down my writing when we moved to Bangladesh, overwhelmed by language learning. I had picked it back up and seen some real growth in the last year writing at new outlets. There were people nudging me to finally write that book. But trying to find the words felt like trying to grasp running water between my fingertips.
I sat down at the prompting of an online community of women that I am in to try to write a vision statement for my life, to try to make sense of it all. I did all the background work of reviewing my dreams and goals. And then I went blank. When it came to actually dream about what life could look like in the future, I had nothing. I couldn’t see past these obstacles. My definitions of faith, family, community, home, and my writing had all shifted so much I no longer could see what was or what could be. I could only put one foot in front of the other every day.
I spent months gasping to breathe, grasping for something I couldn’t touch. I thought if I could see what was to come, I could finally be whole. I stayed still and clung to the only Rock any of us have. I held onto the words that had carried me all year and went “steadily deeper into the heart of the one who has already dreamed you complete” (Jan Richardson).
I was completely blank when I considered a word for the coming year. I didn’t dare to hope, frightened to see dreams dashed again. Early one morning I was thinking about these things as I walked around our yard. We are planning to build onto our house but progress has stalled as we wait for income to stabilize. Mangled tree roots and partial stumps dot a muddy mess that will hold a new master bedroom and bath. We dream of a screened-in porch and a fire pit, a garden space. I can’t see these dreams yet and it frightens me. What if we are disappointed again? What if we are left with this muddy mess forever?
I looked above the yard in shambles to the branches which are bare for winter. I watched a hawk circle the line of trees that shelter our little family and a word surfaced. I knew it was mine. Build.
I’ve been trying for so long to cast a vision, to control the future, to build tidy dreams that won’t break. But I am not a visionary; I am a realist. I am not courageous but I want to be. I’m going to break the rules (hard for an Enneagram 6 to do) and I’m not going to write a vision statement for my life, even for my next year. I am going to focus on building a life instead.
Like our recent kitchen renovation: I can’t picture what life will look like when another year is over. I didn’t plan that kitchen renovation; my husband and best friend did. But I picked up a paintbrush and helped. I took part in making something beautiful I couldn’t yet imagine.
I will trust the good plans of a God who knows what wholeness looks like for me and my family. I don’t have to know what the finished product will look like to shake off this fear and move. I want to take part in what God is building.
After the deconstruction, comes the building again. After the unraveling, the remaking. I may not have a clear picture of all the details but I know what the foundation looks like and it is very good. I know what a life lived grounded in the love of God and loving your neighbors feels like. And that is something I can build upon. So, I enter 2020 holding onto the belief that something beautiful will emerge.
“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” – Philippians 1.6, The Message
What are you building upon this year? Do you feel like you are in the muddy mess part of things, the foundation stage, stacking brick upon brick, or are you following a perfectly constructed master plan?
Do you have a word that is guiding your year? How will you allow the word to keep you focused on the transformation God is doing in your life and building a life that loves God and loves your neighbor?
I’d love to hear from you and be praying for you this year!
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