I’ve journaled for more than 20 years – mostly prayer journals that tend to track my heartaches, celebrations, and spiritual journey. But until a couple of years ago, I’d never done a regular practice of reflection to take stock of what God is doing each season. As I look back in my journals, photos on my phone, my calendar, and social media, I find it helpful to reflect before moving on to the next season – a practice inspired by Emily P. Freeman to mark the sacred and the silly. And we can all admit – the winter of 2020 brought one of the most challenging, unique seasons to ponder.
Here are five things I learned this winter (Dec. 2020-Feb. 2021). What about you? Share yours in the comments below.
In a rut, try steps and sunsets.
At the beginning of the pandemic (that began one year ago – what?!?), I admit that walks and sunshine were frequent therapy. But when winter came, I was reluctant to get outside – while, admittedly, North Carolina doesn’t often drop below freezing. I missed those walks, and am trying to be more determined to get in those steps. And now that the trees are bare, pink and orange sunsets peek through our backyard oak trees. Time to embrace the outdoors again (though the yellow pollen is coming!).
Plan margins in December.
While most of the programs and parties were canceled this past year, I still felt squeezed for time. At 43 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to make December a calmer month where I can focus on what’s truly important. I’m a notorious last-minute gift shopper, though I did better this year. But I didn’t make time for one of my fave traditions – watching my most-loved Christmas movies, White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life. We watched the movie Contagion on Christmas Day – ironic, right? I’m a big fan of “white space” in my schedule, and I need to plan this each December, pandemic or not. Anyone up for a Christmas movie marathon?
It’s ok to honor the hard things of the past.
Over the last three months, I’ve shared a few images of difficult medical anniversaries – forever etched on my brain and my body. A friend jokingly teased me that I needed to stop looking at those, no wonder I was anxious! I get her sentiment, I truly do, but I assured her that I don’t look at these images daily or even think of them on a frequent basis.
Instead, these somewhat graphic reminders serve as a tangible Ebenezer stone, or “stone of help” – a way of remembrance of the Lord’s power and protection of that time in my life. So, yes, those were really hard, scary days, but remembering them always takes me back to God’s unchanging faithfulness. These reminders were some of my most-viewed posts over the last three months: Psalm 103, Rare Disease Day, and a look back at a CT scan from February 2012. I can tell you love reminders of God’s faithfulness, and I bet they remind you of your own scars and God’s goodness on your hardest days.
Delight stems from gratitude.
I chose delight as my Word of the Year – and I’m thankful for this guidance on how I view my spiritual walk, my home and family, and in service to others. While I still grumble at times, God is using this word to restore my delight in little things, like cooking for my family. I’ve dedicated a journal for “delight” verses, observations, and a section to record delight I find in each family member. (That’s a gorgeous Gracelaced notebook, pictured above. that I received as a Christmas gift.) Those pages sat blank for a while, but I find the more specific I am, the more it overflows. I’m realizing if I list things I’m grateful for, delight tends to overflow. The people and tasks God has given me are a gift.
Suffering saved my faith.
“Writing gives us space to work through our biggest questions,” Allison Fallon writes in her book The Power of Writing it Down* (an excellent audiobook I’m listening to this month).
“Suffering saved my faith” has become a recurring theme in my writing lately, and not one I speak of lightly or in order to seek pity. (You can find a guest post I wrote on this very topic on my friend MaryBeth’s blog.) I write it because it’s true and it’s a way for me to process what God has done and is doing in me, a girl who is pretty attached to comfort and ease.
I’m beginning to see that God rescued me from a shallow, rootless faith based on circumstances and is replacing it with hope based in His character. It is a slow, sanctifying work, but I’m finally seeing how infertility, chronic illness, and unexpected loss are producing endurance, character, and God-based hope that does not disappoint, as laid out in Romans 5.
I cannot walk your tumultuous road for you, nor can I speed along your season of suffering, but I can point you to a Savior who never leaves you. I can remind you that He will never waste your pain. I can assure you He will comfort you in the darkness and hem you in before and behind. Others’ stories have refreshed me in seasons when my soul is parched for truth – I pray I can do the same for you.
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