The pulley came off the top of our barn, where they hauled loose hay up through a door that flopped down. The farmers before us would haul loose hay up and over the door. Loose hay is layered on timbers in our loft. With many people posting night pictures of solstice, I think of this gizmo, how ropes swing around it going up and then going down. We ride our years solstice to solstice–shortest daylight to longest and back to shortest. (I think of solstice as the beginning of the year, because the fall through darkness has ended. The horses begin shedding. Light begins to swell.
Once Christmas is over people are setting goals, and picking words to define their year. Some people’s dreams burn in their chest. (They have for me.) Some evaluate this past year by reading journals or writing detailed Christmas letters. I read how people wish for a better year because 2018 was horrible. I have had years like that, though for me 2018 was pretty nondescript and nondescript is good.
Though when I think about it, I remember that Tessie was so sick she could have died and Night ended the year expensively ill. But I climbed onto Morgen’s back and started riding her, have ridden her canter like a merry-go-round. A very skilled crew of craftsmen re-sided our barn with white steel. We finished roofing our house. We found a new church that has welcomed us and become community. Each day when I walk the dogs down to the corner I say thanks for my breath, for these dogs, the road, the sky.
I chafe against setting goals, against setting a word as my theme for the year. Do I have to look back? Look forward? I think of the wise words: “Forgetting what lies behind but pressing forward to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” There’s something of grace to drop things like stones into the river, hear them clink against other stones, the water reflecting the sun. And something fish like, gliding forward towards the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, which I take to mean, practicing following his ways.
This year I wrote down these words, day after day, because I want to be glad when Jesus shows up and I know how I am riddled with faults: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be honor, majesty, dominion and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24 -25).
A person can make plans, can even call them dreams, that lie close to the heart, that are desires that energize, but like this passage says, “Devise a plan but it will be thwarted. State a proposal but it will not stand, for God is with us.” I longed for my book to be published by a traditional publisher. I wanted to pay Bruce back for the money I’d invested. But I learned that my book being fancy published wouldn’t rescue me. But God-with-me did.
Since I’ve retired, it seems futile to even begin to make a plan. It’s not only God that’s not tame. So is life. We can pivot from joy to grief back to joy again. Our lives can pivot to before and a new normal. Death and deep grief can quickly descend. So can new opportunities, and desire fulfilled like a tree of life.
Retirement itself has not been tame or predictable. A friend stopped me while I was walking the dogs and said it would take several years to find a routine. I thought he was fooling, because I had a great routine when I was working, that not only got my work done on time, but also got writing work done. But my job was like a fence that kept me focused on my work and offered a way to give back to the community using my talents.
My routine is structured around chores, which I do three times a day, but I find all this free time lends itself to taking it too easy, spending whole days reading my phone. I am caught between “there is always tomorrow to get ‘er done” and as a senior citizen, death is closer than ever before. (I know that is true of all of us, but it is very much on my mind, and I find myself anxious, frozen and overwhelmed as my days whirl away. Today becomes tomorrow so fast my head swims. I hardly know what day it is. Some weeks I’m ahead one day and others I’ve behind a day.
I’ve invested in a variety of planners these last few years. I tried the big iBloom planner that offered space for lining out the year, lines to plan each day, but I found it too big. I did Sacred Ordinary Days which did knock me into a daily practice of listening to the daily lectionary on the BCP app, but it was bulky and it was set up to write down three daily goals. Heck if I knew which ones I’d get done that day. There wasn’t much space for reflection or planning. For a time I read through the Daily Office on the Mission of St. Clare because the prayers say what my heart can’t say, because they are scriptural and ancient words. I stopped because of time.
I subscribed to a Productivity planner that offers space to both plan your week and reflect on how well you’ve reached your goals. But it urges you to focus on three tasks a day, with one primary one. Decision making is so hard for me, I froze when I picked it up to give it another try. I’d write down goals and find my days taking a different shape. It was another opportunity to feel like a failure. If I tried to stick to my list my anxiety rose.
I even saw a therapist, hoping for help with how I while away my days on Facebook. She listened intently, and was very safe to talk to, but even she couldn’t help me get my legs under me to set goals, dream, do stuff.
But I don’t feel helpless as a hog on ice. I returned to the system I’ve been using for years–keeping a journal and a separate weekly planner that allows to write down my goals. I write down my ambitions for the week and see if I get them done. I am using the Moleskine Weekly Planner 2018 -2019 for planning and the Moleskine journal for journaling. I also have a dry erase board for the refrigerator. I am tempted to write down this list so I see it every time I walk by. That visual might help.
I feel content with my days, quiet, unambitious, except for doing chores, reading my phone, writing here, and watching something good on TV. I would like to read books more and turn down the screen.
So these verses– Devise a plan but it will be thwarted. State a proposal but it will not stand, for God is with us.” about say it for me. There will be no word I follow this year because I’m not wise enough to know what that would be. And the failure to do what I set out to do, day after day, just makes me feel defeated. Yet my days are rich, happy, content. I don’t know how God will direct my paths. But I do know I want to do better following His. The same with making plans. I can write down things I want to do, but I don’t feel like I’m wise enough to know if those are the things I end up doing or the things I should be doing. I told a friend all the things I wanted to accomplish and she wisely said, just focus on one. Wise words, but which one?
I wrote out the answers to Parker Palmer’s questions as quoted in a Richard Rohr meditation. They made sense to me. : What do you want to let go of in the coming year? What do you want to give yourself to? What is keeping you from giving yourself fully?
What about you? How to you meet the New Year?
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