Out of the Ether — OneWord 2016

On January 1st, I sent out my first Tiny Letter of this new year. This is a project I have come to love and I am grateful for the friends who have subscribed to these missives, most particularly for the much smaller number who take the time to send me a response of some kind. Thank you!!

In that letter, I said that I was still waiting for my ‘word’ for this year to reveal itself to me. I was even so bold as to say I hoped it would be an easier word than the last few have been. My word for 2015 was ‘STRETCH,’ for 2014 it was ‘OBEDIENT,’ and for 2012, it was ‘WAITING.’ (Not sure what happened to 2013, but apparently, a word never materialized for that 12-month stretch!) Not one of those was easy, in any sense of that word.

After writing that letter, as I readied myself for sleep and turned out the light, I asked again for a word to appear. And lo, out of the ether of near-sleep, a word appeared. I thought I heard it as . . . slow.

Well, yes, that surely fits. 2015 was the year of Falling Down a Lot and every time I hit the ground, I thought to myself, “Woman, you have GOT to slow down!” So slow seemed right somehow.

But that sense of rightness lasted all of 30 seconds. Because coming immediately on the heels of that word was this one: ‘STEADY.

Ah, yes. I’ll take it! I said into that ether. I.will.take.it.

I’ve been chewing on that set of seven letters ever since, trying to conjure up images/ideas/connections as I reflect on the year just past and lean into the one so recently begun. Here are some of my initial thoughts and a few recent photographs to illustrate them.

 

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After the turbulence of 2015, the entire concept of steadiness comes as a welcome gift, one that I am still unpacking, one that I am confident will be multi-layered and complex. For example, have you ever watched sea stars? They are among God’s steadiest creatures, I do believe. They only move when hungry or in danger and they cling to rocks, coral, wharf poles — anything sturdy and stationary. On top of that, they’re gorgeous — brightly colored, a pleasing shape and they have this incredible ability to regrow injured limbs. Hoping to make this a year of Not Falling At All, I want to learn from these guys and cling to the sturdy stuff. And, of course, it never hurts to look as good as possible whilst clinging, right?

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Living in a beachside community provides easy access to one of the grandest of reminders that steadiness is a virtue and gift. The waves keep on comin,’ you know? Sometimes they’re slow and piddly; sometimes they’re muscular and wild. But no matter the weather, the time of day or night, the condition of the beach (or the presence of frail human bodies!), those waves are steady. They roll on, without end or interruption. I’m hoping for NO interruptions this year, at least none of the unwelcome and/or difficult kind . . . like emergency room visits or moving all my earthly belongings across town.

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Now I will admit that some human bodies are less frail than others when it comes to those waves. We spent a fair amount of time watching surfers while we were away celebrating our anniversary last month. This particular guy was not young. No, indeed, not young at all. And he managed to catch a ride with some frequency. It’s true that a surfer’s steadiness is a temporary and usually short-lived thing. But while it lasts? Oh, GLORY. Even just a few moments of glorious steadiness would be welcome, welcome.

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Now this old codger knew how to be steady! He clambered up on the edge of the Pismo Beach pier, folded his large webbed feet underneath his feathers, sat down firmly and drew his great neck and beak into the warmth and softness of his feathers. He remained watchful and alert, but he sat there, perched on a narrow plank for a good long time. When a nearby fisherman caught a small fish, he was instantly across that pier, waiting for a taste — he got one, too. Being steady does not mean being unwilling to move. Rather, I think it implies an alert readiness to change course, as needed. That’s the kind of steady I need.

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And then, of course, in any central coast California beach town, there are the bluffs, those large, yellow-to-peachy-pink rock formations that rim almost every sandy cove between Ventura and Pismo Beach. I love them — they’re craggy, uneven, vulnerable to erosion, yet somehow one of the steadiest things in our landscape. They are ever-present, providing grand vistas of the broad Pacific, reminding us that we are truly tiny creatures with short life spans. They are a regular reminder of beauty and strength, two of the many facets of ‘steady.’

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The oak trees that are ubiquitous in this part of the world remind me of the value of hanging in, hanging on, standing strong, offering shade, and withstanding both wind and drought. They are, in many ways, the epitome of steadiness to me. We don’t have oak trees in our current neighborhood, at least not very many of them. We were surrounded by them in our former home and their presence is one of the few things I miss since our move. I’m glad they’re EVERYWHERE in our town, because I enjoy being around them. I’d love for 2016 to be a year of hanging in/hanging on/standing strong, etc. Praying in that direction these days, that is for sure.

DSC05922I did a quick biblical search for the word, ‘steady,’ and got back a grand total of four. I may reference one or two of them in the year ahead, but this one, from the beautiful book of Isaiah, seemed wildly appropriate for me at this point in my life:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Isaiah 35:3-5

Yes, Lord. I am relying on you to provide both strength and steadiness as needed in the year that is unfolding before me. And I relish this picture of an inordinately long-lived rainbow as a reminder of the way in which you, O God, keep your promises to humankind. As always, 2016 will be a year in which you are the steadiness I seek, the steadiness I need.

Do you have a word for 2016? Share it in the comments — I love reading what others are living with/wrestling with/hoping for!

Slowly, but Surely . . . and My Word for the Year

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Already, this has been an interesting year, marked by events both painful and rich. 

And it’s barely three weeks old.

A dear friend is facing into a difficult cancer diagnosis — for the third time. A young father I love just endured surgical removal of a cancerous body part, prognosis very hopeful. . . but still, difficult and frightening. Another friend discovered some challenging news about her unborn child. My mom forgot where she lived the last time I took her back to her room. And I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. 

On the brighter side, we have these tidbits: A grandson is off to Budapest for a semester. BUDAPEST! We have a great family vacation coming in July. I am walking, gradually building up strength and endurance, and managing about 1.5 miles every other day. This after six months of either NOT walking at all or moving very slowly and carefully everywhere I went. Also? I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. (Some things are both painful AND rich in this life.)

And so we inch along, moving from shadow to light, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? A crazy quilt of the hard and the lovely, all of it forming us, shaping us, sifting us. And it’s that sifting part that we resist, not at all sure we want to release the things that need releasing, to let that chaff be winnowed out and blown to the wind.

I’m wrestling with a few small personality issues in my life these days, letting my feelings get hurt too easily and worrying excessively about the underlying agendas at work in some of the smaller groups I belong to. I spend way too much time wondering what I should say, how I should intervene to insure that everything turns out the way I’d like it to turn out.

But here’s the truth of it: it’s not up to me, is it?

This much I know: I am asked to reflect the Savior I serve wherever I am and whomever I find there. And in each and every situation, to trust that ultimately, ‘all things will work together for good,’ that God knows what God is doing, and as long as I enter each tender place with my heart in the right space, nothing further is asked.

But I gotta tell you — for a control freak, like me? Someone who has long believed that competency, clarity and harmony trump just about anything? Yeah, well. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, to trust that things will work out just fine, even without my intervention and/or feeble attempts at manipulation. It’s tough to keep my mouth shut when it needs to be shut and to speak when I need to speak and leave it at that.

I am a slow learner, it seems, because these are lessons I have to keep learning over and over again. This letting go stuff requires a daily — sometimes hourly — response in my spirit. Will I cease and desist from obsession, over-worry, hyper-sensitivity? Will I breathe in and out, and with each inflation and deflation, make space for the Spirit to rule? Ah, yes. THAT is the question.

So when I asked for a word for 2015, it took a while for me to hear it.

Last year’s word was obedience,  and that proved to be a tough one for me on many levels, perhaps beginning with the very physical act of relinquishment required for that foot surgery mid-year and the long recovery that followed. But there were other areas of life where I watched God do God’s thing in me, asking me again and again, “So . . . is you in or is you out??”

So in the midst of all of this, the word that came to me for 2015 was a strange one, at least to my ears. I like it, but I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and I haven’t a clue what to expect because of it.

So you wanna hear it? Here goes . . .

S T R E T C H

After a year like the last one, that particular word felt wonderful, to tell you the truth. Yes, yes, yes! I want to stretch myself, to reach out physically, to walk more and with greater confidence. To take more trips, see more of this grand world, enjoy these years of retirement and relative good health. Goody, goody!

And then I began to remember that stretching, as great as it as, as good for me as it is, can sometimes hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach for something just beyond your grasp. And God has this way of pushing against the very places in me that are resistant, that curl up in a ball and hide away from the light, that whisper self-protection, isolation, and fear. 

Maybe I’m going to be asked to stretch in ways that are scary, to step outside my very familiar comfort zone and do some things that I’m afraid to do. 

Am I willing?

I want to be . . . I think. 

Interestingly, the very first way in which I think I’ve been asked to stretch is to take a step back, to unsubscribe from a long list of blogs that I’ve read for the last 4-5 years. Not because I no longer wish to read what I find there, but because I sense I’m being asked to simplify, to pare down.

Why?

Because I am being ever-so-gently-but-ever-so-firmly pushed to tackle some things that are (to me, at least) big projects. These are major challenges to me, they are the Large Overwhelming Anxiety-Producing Things. And in order to stretch into those areas, there has to be some give in my schedule, and in my spirit. 

I promise to keep you posted as the year progresses. Should be interesting, right? Let me know your word for 2015, if you have one, and tell me what you think it means now, as the year is new. Maybe we can check in again at mid-year and in December and see what we’ve learned. What do you think?

Linking this with Bonnie, the FaithBarista 

A New Year, A New Word, A New Direction

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I’ll tell you what: I am not a fan of this whole one-word thingy.

Why?

Because for the second time now, I do.not.like the word that came.  (previous experience – 2012; word? w a i t i n g) 

Okay, so I asked. Both times.

And each time, the word is hard, complex, puzzling.

Obedient? REALLY? This argumentative, rebellious, pushy, bossy heart? 

Uh. . . that would be a YES. A great, big, gnarly YES.

Sigh.

But here’s a sweet and interesting piece to this story. Immediately after dropping that doozy of a word into my conscious mind, the Holy Spirit began to sing to me. Yes, you read that right.

Not actual music-music, but a sweetness, a lightness, an invitation, a softening of the shock of knowing that ‘obedient’ is the word for 2014.

“Let’s look at this word in a new way, Diana,” the song seemed to say. 

And I was reminded of the only sermon I ever preached on the topic of obedience, coming out of Hebrews 5, where we’re told that Jesus ‘learned’ obedience. The incarnate Son of God, just like the rest of us frail human creatures, had to learn what it means to be obedient. And yes, he learned through his suffering.

And I’m not terribly fond of that whole concept, you know?

But as I wrestled with that text, I did it in the context of . . . wait for it! . . .  bird-watching. I sat in my backyard and I watched the birds that flit and float and hover around us here in central California. 

And I realized something. The birds do what comes naturally — they are being birds, with their whole hearts (if birds can be said to have hearts).

Birds are obedient to who they are.

And so was Jesus. 

And I believe that I am invited to re-consider that word in that context: to be obedient to who I am,  who it is God has called and formed me to be. To be true to my gifts, to be open to the Spirit, to discover more and more about what God is whispering into my life.

Yes, that may involve suffering of a sort — occasional discomfort, maybe even downright fear, probably a lot of  truth-telling.

Toward the end of last year, I began to sense an invitation to re-think this blogging space. I’m still mulling on that and hope to soon have another post or two about where I’m headed in 2014.

Maybe it will involve things like this: wrestling with hard things, searching for answers, learning to sit with the mystery when answers aren’t easy to find, maybe even speaking the teensiest bit prophetically?

YIKES.

Are you sure about this, Lord?

Tune in next week. I hope to have more details for you then . . .

Adding this to the growing list over at Bonnie’s place on January 9:

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