Bonne Année

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Have you heard about the "Good Riddance" ceremony for New Year's? Apparently folks reflect on the passing year and write down events that they're glad are over and done with, then they symbolically shred (or sledgehammer!) the list.

I can imagine what's scribbled on those slips of paper, can't you? The hurts, inconveniences, and  difficulties that are just naturally part of life. That bad decision, this unfortunate choice, that uncomfortable happenstance.

The emotions attached to the little ceremony are probably about equal measures of bitterness and ruefulness, regret and bravado. It's half warning and half plea to "bad luck:" stay in the old year and leave the new year (and me!) alone. I'm sure it's cathartic.

I won't be writing anything on paper to shred. Not this year. It would feel wasteful, like throwing away a really meaty ham bone instead of making stock from it. I don't want to squander the chance to make something deeply nourishing from the bones of this year, of the last few. There's sustenance in there, I just know it.

It's not that I don't have regrets that I could list out in detail, so many things I wish I hadn't done or wish I had. Certainly there are circumstances I'd be glad to see the back side of, too. Sitting here enjoying the last few moments of this year's Christmas tree glow, though, mostly I find I'm just grateful.

We didn't have yearlong rainbows and roses. In fact, it may have been our hardest year yet.

First let me assure you: I'll understand if you think mine sound like "first world" problems. My husband is gainfully employed and is well-respected in his field, and I have the privilege of being the anchor at home. I economize at (nearly) every opportunity not because I'm worried there won't be enough money for the rent but just because I want to respect the effort required to earn the money by spending it thoughtfully. Our kids are healthy and we're not doing too bad ourselves. We just had a memorable visit to France (right in the middle of this ragged year), in fact, en famille. We have wonderful friends and a great church family. No matter what comes flying over the horizon to splatter itself on our windshield, we do have a windshield. Trust me, we know it.

Still, 2012 was just...different. There were the usual number of bugs (and a smallish bird or two) spattered on the windshield, but there was more, too. Something sharper, wounding deeper.

July 1993
July 2012
Champs Elysees

For much of the year, it wasn't us against the world. It was us--worn out and hurting--against each other.

And it was rough.

Call it engine trouble, us trying to power our life together with our own "good flesh," contrary to what we KNOW: God alone.

It might help to first know the backstory, that we've had a run of us-against-the-world years, starting about the time of Chet's dramatic diabetes diagnosis, which steamrolled into his mom's death, his adult son's estrangement and a too-long stint at a well-paying but unbelievably grueling job. Stirred in and mixed well was the menacing re-appearance a couple of years ago of the unbalanced would-be suitor who dogged my grad school years, a particularly heart-rending episode of my tormented sibling's lifelong struggles, a discouraging hormone replacement struggle, and the frustrating "diagnosis of exclusion" process that typifies fibromyalgia. And, of course, there's the issue of two strong-willed teens and two strong-willed parents in one house.

Among other ingredients, of course. Those were just what I consider big things, not the daily grinds. The off-grid weeks brought by four hurricanes, the two major surgeries and one minor, the root canals, the totaled truck? They don't even make the top 30. Since Thanksgiving 2007, we've had five years of one big thing after another.

All together, though, it's made for quite a batter, one that's battered us all.

Us against the world, until it just...wasn't. Not quite what we had in mind on December 31, 2012.

But God is faithful, and while I don't doubt the Enemy is still hoping for some uglier outcome, so far, it's so good. There have been so many sweet blessings squeezed out of what could have been a pretty sour year.

Maybe the best way--the only way--to start the new year off right is by giving God the glory for lessons of the old.

I remember better when I write, so consider this list some of my homework, not preaching. Just me, pondering and praising:
  1. I'm thankful for the truth  "In Christ Alone," especially the Alison Krauss version of it. I'm a slow learner, and having a new heartsong helps. I hum it. I sing it. I mean every morning when I open my eyes to live it. My husband, my kids, my accomplishments are not--cannot be--my security. To place on any person that responsibility is to doom the person to failure and myself to disappointment. Daring to ground my significance in my "skills?" Just plain hubris. Getting my heart straight--a work-in-process for sure--is my biggest challenge.
  2. I'm grateful for this man who keeps being okay with being married to the kid in the dunce cap, keeps reaching out to me, keeps trying. While we work pretty well together as a parenting and home-making team, we'd let the relationship part drift off.  I am sooo grateful he hasn't just given in to the "easy thing," and I'm positively giddy when I  see actual joy peeping around the corner! There are still rough days (yesterday, me losing sight of #1!), but every time I see his blue eyes flash affection, I'm hopeful, not to mention thrilled.
  3. I'm beholden to the friends who opened their hearts and histories to us in encouragement. For too long, we both bought and sold the lie that we were doing fine despite the bugged-up windscreen, despite feeling like we were smooshed across the cosmic plane ourselves. Early last year, when we hit a point where the we first had to recognize and admit it to others that it was a facade that we simply couldn't maintain any more, nearly everyone we shared with reached for us, enfolded us, set to work wiping the Enemy's lie out of our eyes.  (He does so want us to believe that our marriage is a sham, that there was very little left worth saving, that the grass is so much greener over there!) When we cried "uncle," asking for help, pleading for prayers--praise God!--we got BOTH, and more, immediately and by the bucketful and from many directions. Coming clean first to ourselves and then to that handful of intimates was tough, but I think it might have been essential. Going from someone telling us not so long ago, "I wish we had the kind of relationship you two do" to admitting we were struggling mightily? Brutal. The potential for improving intimacy and blossoming authenticity between us and others too? Priceless.
  4. I'm thankful for the slow-dawning realization that pain is not to be resisted but leaned into. Past years taught me that I have to do more than tolerate trouble. This year taught me that there's a big difference between accepting difficulty and receiving it. Here's what I think that difference is: Cutting away the neatly sliced parts from around the bone and throwing the bone and all the meat left attached to it in the trash? Tolerating. Putting the hambone in the freezer, recognizing some good might come from it at some point? Saying with a sigh, "I'm sure God's gonna do something with all that, someday." That's accepting.   But. Knowing there's sustenance to be found and going after it--chopping vegetables, crushing herbs, boiling the whole thing for hours and then keeping the heat up to reduce out the extra liquid to concentrate the strength and then--and here's the lesson that's changed everything for me--actually unclenching enough to offer thanks for the chopping and the boiling right in the middle of the owie bits? THAT is receiving. (Why do I want to receive instead of tolerate or accept?) I still clench, but I'm trying to remember peel those fingers back so I'm holding out an open, receiving palm.
  5. Most important, I'm grateful and humbled God pursues us, together and separately. We are privileged to get private tutorials with the One-and-Only on the topic of that very one-and-onlyness. Not punished, not banished. Instructed. Because He loves us. The hard years and these difficult times aren't because He's mad at us, but because He actually delights in us (wild, huh?) and because He wants us to live at our best. There's only one Source of Life and--newsflash!--His name's not Chet! Unless we live this out in our marriage, we're two ticks with no dog, each scrabbling for the best tooth-hold on the other, but both still going to bed hungry.
So I'm not looking to say good riddance to last year's lessons. They were too juicy. While I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to the lessons slated for our divine lesson plan for this year, I am grateful that they are purposed, and I trust God they'll have plenty of meat. I believe every one of them is for God's glory and my good, no exceptions. (Read Hebrews 4:12)
(Too bad many of the spots are likely labeled "reteach," most of them with my name. 
Don't you hate being the slowest student in the class? I do.)

As we head into 2013, I still believe we have all the promise and potential we had back on Day 2, when I snapped this image of my bouquet the morning after our wedding. Maybe, after all this, we have even more. I hope so.

I don't know the precise lessons the new year will bring, I think I already know God's will, His main objective for it all.

Surprised? Think it sounds pretty brazen? I'll share:

“Give thanks in all circumstances, 
for this is God’s will for you…” 
(Thessalonians 5:18)

 Bonne année et bonne santé, everybody.

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