2017: Peace and Justice

For more than ten years, I have skipped resolutions in favor of themes for the New Year. I ask God to give me a word and then I wait. Some years, he gives me more than one word, like in 2007 (Purpose and Vision) and in 2008 (Laughter and Possibilities).

2017 is going to be another two-word year. 2015 was DREAM and it was in that year I began to wrestle with my dreams for the future and eventually found myself dreaming a new dream. This January, I will return to college for the first time in thirteen years. This whole going-back-to-school thing is born of that 2015 theme being followed by my word for 2016, which was Daring.

I did a lot of daring things in 2016, including a month living away from my family (in Honduras) and starting work as a preschool teacher. The latter has turned out to take more daring than the first.

For the last few weeks, I have wrestled with my theme for 2017. I kept hearing two words, but I only wanted one of them.

Peace. Justice.

I only wanted Justice.

My heart is so focused on justice lately. I am in a place of needing to fix the world. If you know anything about Spiral Dynamics (thank you Liturgists Podcast), you will understand when I tell you I am in an orange/green phase of life.

Peace felt like a weak word to be handed by a strong God.

But then it hit me… Peace and Justice are synonyms. Or, at the very least, they are intimately connected. In my own soul, I cannot have one without the other. I was driving along, listening the the Liturgists, and one of them quoted Jesus, “Love God and love neighbor,” and it gut-punched me.

Peace and Justice.

God and Neighbor.

True peace requires everyone to be loved and taken care of. True peace requires no need to strive for justice because justice and mercy have already been handed out.

Or maybe, for my spirit, true peace can only come when I am certain I am striving for justice in the ways that I can, in the ways that I am called to do so. I need to be loving God and loving Neighbor.

I don’t know for sure. It is something I will be wrestling with in 2017. Rarely does my theme turn out to mean exactly what I think it will mean. The Year of Patience was pretty hellacious. And the year of Oblation ended with me questioning every aspect of my faith and religion.

And I already had a year of Peace in 2011. Maybe 2017 will add new dimensions to what I thought I learned that year.

I have created a list of Peace/Justice books on Goodreads. Some are books I have read. Some I want to read and some have been suggested as additions. I am still taking recommendations, so leave a comment or send me a message. There may be some inclusions that seem odd to you, but that is because I am still trying to figure out what kinds of Peace and Justice God means.

My heart is most broken for racial justice.

I feel as though I have lived too many years in a white-washed world.

That isn’t what formed me. I grew up in a diverse school system. My friends in high school were Korean, Black, Filipino, Hispanic, and White. My white friends were not the “upper-class” white girls with the expensive clothes and the right shoes and the perfect make-up. Those girls were mean to me. I felt safer with my friends of color or my friends who were, like me, poor to middle-class. The thing is, I never thought about how diverse my friend-group was. They were my friends. End of story.

Now I realize my experience is not the norm, at least not for the people around me in adulthood. I have to make a conscious effort to ensure my children have friends from other races and cultures. When I am in an environment with people of multiple races, I notice they seem to self-segregate, and I don’t feel free to cross that line very often. When did that happen? Did I change or did other people change or is it the difference of place?

I grew up near a military base. My dad only dated black women and married a black woman. I feel out-of-place with non-diverse groups, but there is no good way to say that. How do you say, “I miss black people?” I miss the smell of Kimmi eating kimchi and the flow of Spanish words and Kim Jones putting me in her afro wig in Creative Writing class and EJ dancing with me on my 17th birthday, his dreads swinging and our bodies close with no thought to what color skin we each lived in.

I miss reveling in the differences found in humanity, exploring those differences rather than disdaining them.

Lately, I want to walk around with a sign above my head: “I don’t like Trump. I am not racist. I want to fix this mess of a world.” I can’t do that, so I am trying to live in such a way that those things are obvious to anyone who meets me. Not in an alienating political way, but in a way that invites others into conversation and relationship.

I want my life to be an open door to community for everyone I meet, regardless of race, culture, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, gender-identity, political party, etc… I am sure I missed a category but I am so tired of needing categories. I want to be in community with you all.

I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am white and Christian, I am…. well… anything. I don’t want people assuming things about me, and I don’t want to assume things about people. I want to be aware of my white privilege and use it to help others or else walk away from it in protest. I don’t know. I just want to be better than I am.

I don’t have little goals.

But neither did Jesus. He wanted to love the whole world.

So do I.

2016: The Year of Daring

My word for 2015 was “Dream.” You can read about that here, but the general explanation is that I thought the word was a noun, that 2015 would be a year about dreams. In a way, it was, but as I sit here at the end of December, I believe the word was always meant to be a verb.
It was a year when I learned to dream again.
It was a year of learning to let go of old dreams, to take my claws out and let them
breathe, change shape, grow.
Sometimes, one theme flows naturally into another, and this is one of those times.
My word for 2016 is “Daring.”
Daring to dream?
Yes.
But also daring to act. Daring to try. Daring to ask. Daring to speak. Daring to believe.
I love having a theme for the year. It works as a lens. When things are hard, I hold up my lens and ask myself what lesson I am learning. I’ve been doing this for a decade now. Unlike the resolutions I used to make, my theme is never abandoned.
It isn’t something I can fail at.
It is a window or a mirror.
It is a shovel, a pencil, a paintbrush, a hammer.
It’s whatever I need it to be, whatever tool is most useful at the time.
I have never once regretted asking God for a theme for the new year, even though some years it is hard hard hard and I wish my theme had been easier.
In 2005, I declared it my year of FREEDOM. It was a scary year of learning all of the ways in which I was not free and fighting against those chains. in 2006, my word was CONTENTMENT and I became very aware of the greed inside my soul. I had to face myself.
2007 was PURPOSE AND VISION and mostly I learned what my purpose wasn’t and that my vision for my own life was cloudy. 2008 was all about LAUGHTER AND POSSIBILITIES and it was a great year. It was also a hard year, but as we moved away from friends and the familiar, I was reminded to look for the possible. 2009 was PATIENCE, and I needed lots of it.
2010 was TRUST, which followed PATIENCE well, because when your patience appears to not be paying off, you really have to trust. 2011 was PEACE and 2012 was my year of MARY.
After Mary, it made sense that 2013 was my RED LETTER YEAR. I focused heavily on what Jesus actually called us to, the words he actually spoke. My faith was shifting in small ways, and I needed to hold onto the one thing I was sure of.
Then, in 2014, my theme was OBLATION, and that almost shattered me. When you set out to pursue devotion, you learn where you are not devoted and you realize there are some aspects of the faith you once embraced blindly that you cannot be devoted to anymore.
And so it was time to DREAM again.
And now, it’s time to be DARING.
I’m looking forward to 2016.

Dreaming into 2015

2014 has drawn to a close and I didn’t do any of my traditional end of the year posts. I apologize. I could still do them, but I feel like it’s time for a change. Instead of scrambling to make the bookish year-in-review posts I skipped while sulking around with the flu, I am going to focus on the future.

It’s 2015, y’all.

Every year, I ask God for a theme. This is not a resolution kind of thing. It has zero to do with goal-setting or expectation for the year ahead. Instead, I take what He gives me and use it as a lens with which to look at the events of my year,

Last year, my theme was Oblation. I thought that was my theme because I had started the process of becoming an oblate to a monastery. A year later, I am not an oblate, though I have not 100% abandoned the idea. It just turned out to be wrong timing, and I am unsure when the right timing might happen.

Oblation is another word for devotion, and 2014 was full of me learning about devotion… I learned where my devotion was misplaced and misfocused. I saw where I needed to be more devoted and I also struggled with religious devotion.

A. Lot.

That’s usually how my themes go. I think they mean one thing and God flips me on my head. The year of Purpose and Vision? The year of Freedom? Lawdy… The year of Patience? Those were some crazy years.

This year?

Dream.

That’s my word.

The implications are manifold. And I want to believe this gift of a 2015 theme means my own writing dreams are about to come true.

They might.

But I suspect there is a lot more to my theme than book publication. I suspect God is planning to teach me a thing or two about chasing dreams… mine and Corey’s… the dreams of my children and friends…

Maybe there are some dreams I will have to let go of. Maybe there are new dreams to be embraced.

I won’t lie and say I’m not nervous. When I first heard the word in my head, I asked God to send confirmation. Because the word scared me. I’ll admit it. The year of Patience didn’t show my patience paying off. Rather, I found I needed more of it that I could ever dream of possessing. So the word dream made me worried… what if it means I will LOSE my dreams instead of making them come true?

The thing is, whether God gave me the theme or not, what will happen this year will happen. I may as well jump on board.

And, yes, again and again, the theme has been confirmed.

2015 is very definitely a year about dreaming.

Theme 2014: Oblation

My theme for 2014 is Oblation.

Cue everyone looking confused.

No one knows the word when I use it, so I promise you are not alone. I learned the word from Kathleen Norris years ago, but it is only common in certain circles. Typically, monastic circles. So, no worries. Here is the definition.

ob·la·tion
əˈblāSHən
noun
1. a thing presented or offered to God or a god.

 

synonyms:
religious offering, offering, sacrifice, peace offering, burnt offering, gift of thanks, first fruits, libation

Partially, this theme comes from my pursuing the path of an Oblate, but it is much and more than that. Even before I decided for sure to follow the oblate’s path, I was turning more and more to the habit of intentional devotion.

Now, when I say devotion, I don’t mean “devotional.” Doing a daily devotional reading can be PART of oblation, but it is not the sum of my meaning. I am talking more here. I am talking about spiritual disciplines. And I know that sounds like work. Discipline. It sure is work to discipline my children. Neither of us enjoy it.

This is different however. This is about choosing Jesus again and again and again. It is about reminding myself of my own vows, my own promises, my own first love.

It’s about turning first to Jesus when I want to turn to a book or a brownie or a phone call.

For me, this includes one major new practice.  Well, not new. It is an ancient practice and one I have been attempting to adopt for many months now. I mentioned it in a past post. I have been praying the hours. Okay, not all of the hours, but I am making the practice a part of my day. And I am learning a lot.

So, Oblation.

2014.

Bring what you will. I have my hopes. I have my suspicions. I will be surprised, disappointed, pleased, and baffled by the contents of your days.

I will be all of these things, but I will not be

Afraid.

And I will not be

Alone.

Praying the hours brings both solitude and community in one fell swoop, something my introverted little heart has longed for and never thought possible.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a little more about my first epiphany of the year.

2013: That’s What He Said

Doesn’t my theme sound, well, less than holy this year?

I got an inkling of my theme way back at the beginning of 2012, when I was focusing on Mary. Something inside me stirred and continued stirring as the year flew past. Then I got an Amazon Vine email that contained Shane Claiborne’s newest book, Red-Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?

I adore Shane and have been convicted and spurred on to change by his books in the past. They are eye-openers, to say the least. The title of his newest spoke to that stirring in my soul, the part of me fed up with “church” and all of the craziness that is modern Christianity. I have embraced my inner skeptic and allowed myself to question and wrestle with my faith (or lack thereof) as this year drew to a close. I have felt torn open, laid bare, rubbed raw. I have asked myself if I could narrow my religion down, nail it to my heart with only the words of Christ.

What if I quit worrying about things Jesus never spoke of and focus entirely on the things He actually said? Even before seeing Shane’s new book title, I was fairly certain 2013’s theme would be focused on Jesus, on the actions He commanded and the lessons He taught. It seems fitting, doesn’t it? To pass simply from a year about Mary to a year about Jesus. She has, in essence, birthed him inside of me this year. Focusing on Mary helped me to focus on Jesus, to imagine her vast love for Him, her tenderness as she nursed and swaddled Him, her pain when He was taken away.

I want to know Jesus as intimately as Mary knew Him. I want to actually live with Him within me, as Mary did for those nine months. Can I serve Him as she served Him? Can I follow Him as she followed Him, even if that means kneeling at the foot of a cross, losing everything I was certain could not be lost? Can I serve Him even when I feel betrayed by Him, as Mary must have felt when He said to the crowd, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” How her heart must have broken in that moment. Can I bare that?

In 2013, I want to learn to live with Jesus’ words and also with His silence. So it is the year of That’s What He Said or, if you’d prefer a holier wording, it is 2013: The Red-Letter Year.

Happy New Year, friends. God’s blessing be upon you in whatever it may bring.

2012: Year of Mary, Let it Be

2012 is drawing to a close as I sit by a river in Tennessee. I was here last weekend as well, when the world didn’t end. It’s becoming a tradition. Back in May of 2011, when the “rapture” was set to occur, I was sitting here as well, sipping coffee, writing in my journal, watching ripples on the river water. In a way, this peaceful place is the perfect setting for my theme wrap-up.

2012 was my year of Mary. Is my year of Mary, since 2013 hasn’t quite broken the horizon yet. Last year, at around this time, I felt certain God wanted me to focus on Mary for a year. I have pondered her life and how she lived it. I’ve turned “Let it be” into a mantra, a phrase I repeat inside my mind, praying that Jesus will help me to mean it. Saying “Let it be” is easy enough, but actually letting it be, is a whole other ballgame.

I left my Holy Family out all year, sitting quietly on a bookshelf, a wooden labyrinth behind Mary and Joseph and their sweet little baby. I used a daily devotion book called Through the Year with Mary, and there were some delicious little nuggets of truth and insight to be found amid the pages. I read a book called Showing Mary, and I highly recommend it.

Summer sent me on an unexpected detour, a side trip to visit a different Mary. First, I signed with a literary agent, and discovered Margaret George to be one of his other authors. I really enjoyed Memoirs of Cleopatra when I was in college, so I decided to read another of her fictional biographies. I chose Mary Called Magdalene, and I was plunged into a world different from my own but somehow very familiar as well. I found myself looking at Jesus in a brand new light, really thinking about his teachings and what he might have meant by so many controversial statements.

In the middle of reading Margaret’s tale of Mary, I boarded an airplane and made a pilgrimage to Seattle, where my husband and I led a group of teenagers and a couple of other adults into the heart of homeless ministry. The shelter where we served? It was called Mary’s Place. The church where we worshipped with many of those women? It was named for Mary as well. I felt God so near that week in Seattle.

The second half of the year has included some disappointments, some failings. I wonder if Mary felt like a failure when her son was executed. I don’t believe for a minute that she knew or expected how his story would end, or seem to end. She said, “Let it be,” but torture and death weren’t the events she agreed to. Were they? Maybe, on that final day, Mary felt like a failure, just as I’ve felt lately. It would only be three days before she knew He was alive again, before He revealed that part of His divinely ordered plan. I’m clinging to that bit of hope, the chance that my current feelings of failure will be somehow transformed. Maybe, by this time next year, I will see my mistakes and rejections as seeds, their limbs already stretching to the sky, their buds almost ready to blossom.

As 2013 approaches and my Year of Mary fades silently away, I am saying again, even knowing how weak my heart feels, Let it be, Lord, let it be.

2012 Theme Update: Year of Mary

I have been reading Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George for a few weeks now. I would have finished sooner, but it is an older library copy and prone to loose pages. I didn’t want to carry it on the airplane rides to and from Seattle or risk it getting pulled apart inside my luggage. So I left it behind and read a Kindle book on our trip.

Last night, I had less than 100 pages till the end of the book, so I sat in bed reading until around 1 o’clock this morning. I was curious about Ms. George’s decision making process, leading me to read her author’s note which was printed at the end of the book.

In the note, she explains the legend that Mary was martyred at Ephesus and buried there. She wrote of pilgrimages to that sacred spot and other such things. Then, she listed the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene…

July 22.

My brain went foggy for a moment. I kept thinking it was the 20th, but no, because my older sister had a birthday on the 20th, and that was at least a day earlier. I walked downstairs to ask Corey if it was July 20th or 21st. Seeing as, it was past midnight, he shook his head and told me, “Today is July 22nd.”

I don’t really believe in coincidence, so this gave me a bit of a start. What are the odds I would finish the book on the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. I had no idea there even WAS such a day until I read it on that page. I stood in my kitchen a while, wrapped up in the warmth of a tiny arrow sent from God. There is something I felt was happening but wanted assurance. Now, I have that assurance.

I started 2012 with a theme, as I have done each year since 2007 or 2008. I can’t remember for sure. Maybe it was 2006, even. Regardless, this year was different than those that went before. Usually, my theme comes in the shape of a word or phrase I feel God pressing into my heart. This year, my theme came in the form of a person. Mary, mother of Jesus. I have been reading a devotional that offers snippets of writing about Mary. I read Showing Mary  and left my Willow Tree Holy Family out where I could enjoy it all year, instead of just at Christmas. Black Madonnas wove themselves into the book I was writing.

Then, I picked up Margaret George’s fictional biography of Mary Magdalene. I was feeling very grateful for Margaret, as I referenced one of her books (Memoirs of Cleopatra) in my tornado-themed novel, and sent it off to be read by her very own agent, though I had not realized he represented her. He and I got a laugh out of that “coincidence.” So, I was reading the book and opening my Bible to verify things Jesus said. Then, we began packing for a mission trip to Seattle and, suddenly, it hit me that we would be serving at Mary’s Place. I assumed this referred to Mary the mother until we arrived for worship with those wonderful women on Saturday morning. The church there is called Church of Mary Magdalene.

I have felt God is steering my theme in a new direction. When I was given my theme, The Year of Mary, I assumed I would be dealing with Our Lady of Heaven, with her willingness to just “let it be,” and I’ve been dealing with just that. But also, I’ve dealt with other things, things so vague I have no words to tell you about them. But Mary Magdalene has taken up residence to help me deal with them. She and the Blessed Mother are holding hands and watching me with a smile.

At least, I hope it’s with a smile.