Two weeks ago, a woman at church described her ritual for the New Year. Instead of looking forward to all the new and good things that can happen in the New Year, she likes to look back at the previous year. She said it was as if by looking forward she was expecting God to act in certain ways in the upcoming twelve months, almost as if she expected Him to pour out only blessings and no tribulation or trials.
We all know that tribulation and trials come with life, and looking forward with expectation can really multiply disappointment or despair. Looking forward with optimism and hope is different than expectation, so don't hear me saying that I'm not looking forward to what this year will bring us!
Anyway, what she meant by "looking back" comes from Joshua 4. In Joshua 3, the Lord had demonstrated His power and promise to Israel by stopping the Jordan river before the ark of the covenant. Israel was finally in the promised land.
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, "Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, 'Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'" [. . .] And Joshua said to them, [. . .] "this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?' then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever." [. . .] And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.This woman at church said she used this as her own model when looking back at the previous year. She chose events and seasons that reminded her of God's power, promise, and/or provision, and many of them were not what most would call "good" events; looking back, however, she could see the Lord in them, and she wanted to remember what He had done.
I thought her idea was marvelous, and I have decided to do that for myself as we begin 2015. And, since there are twelve stones of remembrance and twelve months in a year, I naturally chose something from each month of the year to appease the concrete-sequential list-maker within.
In January, we concluded our search for a church home. Like any group composed of and run by humans, it's imperfect, but the humans there are aware of that and strive every day to become more like Christ and Christ's vision of the Church. We've been so blessed by these people, and we've found places to serve and grow within this community.
It's here that we've really seen Hebrews 10:24-25 exemplified this year:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
In this month we completed a long planned-for and anticipated kitchen renovation project. It ended up looking great!
Looking back at this month, I am so reminded that Levi and I are immensely wealthy by the world's standards. What a luxury to be able to not only fill up over 100 jars with stockpiles of food, herbs, and spices, but to also have the funds to do so (the fact the we saved for six months to do so is irrelevant). It was a fun project for us, and it made us happy and excited to have it completed, but my joy and excitement in those possessions will help remind me this next year about Mark 10:17-21:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do no steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."I constantly need the reminder to loosen my fingers from my possessions and to value heavenly treasures rather than the fleeting and dead treasures I'm frantically storing up here on earth. A hard perspective, to be sure, but a necessary one as we enter another year financially stable and independent.
In March, Levi and joined a Bible study together that has since become a refuge and a place of true community. We have since joined some other groups that foster those same things, but this first one we joined will hold a special place in our heart. In this group we have an entire range of ages and life stages, and we can share our highs and lows and joys and struggles together with complete safety and acceptance and love. There is something unique and compelling about this group of people, and I am reminded of Jesus' commandment in John 13:34-35 every time we meet together:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have for one another.
In April, we entered a new stage of life as we made the decision to try intentionally to have children. It's a stage of life that we still long for, and I sometimes find myself struggling, but I'm trusting the Lord to build our family. Psalm 127 is a great encouragement to wait on the Lord with hope.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain,
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
In May we bought our first house. Home ownership has definitely had its ups and downs. For example, last week our baseboard pipes froze, cutting off the heat in our house. We then discovered that our main well line had also frozen, thus cutting off the water to our house. Without heat and water, it was an interesting morning, to say the least. But, thankfully, everything is working again, nothing broke or burst, and no professional help was needed. Phew! I guess that's what being at least 5 degrees below zero for five days straight not including wind chill will do to a home.
We want our home to resemble the house of the Lord described God Himself in Isaiah 56:6-7:
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, [which, remember, if you're not Jewish, this means YOU] to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant--these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
In June, all of our parents came for a visit, and it was a wonderful time for all of us. I was currently pregnant and struggling with complications with it, and having parents present for help, encouragement, and support was a blessing beyond description. We love them all dearly, and are constantly blessed by them. 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 gets is right when it comes to our parents:
For you know how, like a father [and mother!] with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
In July, I had my first miscarriage. It was the hardest point in my life to date, and the biggest test of my faith in the Lord thus far. I relied on one of my favorite passages at this time, Psalm 73:23-26.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven by you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
In August we received the first, bountiful harvest from our garden. It was wonderful to be rewarded with such beautiful and delicious fruits from our labors.
In this, we are reminded of another, greater harvest that Christ calls us to labor for in Matthew 9:36-38.
When he say the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
In September, I was able to join an adult, community choir here in town. I cannot describe how wonderful it was to have another outlet in which to use my voice! And though I was unable to participate in the final concert due to one of my lovely migraines, that in no way diminished the joy I felt at being able to use my voice in another way. I often prefer to spend most of my life singing, and I most definitely love using it to praise the Lord, as Psalm 100:1-2 always reminds us.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
In October, I began keeping up with this blog again, allowing myself another outlet for one of my passions: writing! It's been cathartic and joyous having the opportunity to let words flow from these fingers, and I constantly pray that these words would line up with Psalm 19:14.
Let the words of my mouth [and hands!] and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
In November, I miscarried again. It was harder than the first one in a lot of way, and left me with a lot of questions and self-doubt. I've had good amount of time to process and heal afterward, and my verse the last few months has been Lamentations 3:19-27 (my 3x5 card with it is still on my bathroom mirror and I read it every morning).
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yolk in his youth.
The two weeks we took to visit family over Christmas and New Years was refreshing and encouraging. We returned home with a full car and full hearts. While visiting Levi's family, we heard a wonderful message from the pastor in his parents' church. It was a pretty "meaty" sermon, but its premise was simple. If people can't see joy emanating from you as a Believer, then you better check yourself because something is wrong. As someone who belongs to Christ, people should see joy in your life.
Now, there was a lot more in that message, including a clarification of just what joy is, (for example, I could still be joyful in the Lord despite a miscarriage. I, personally, wasn't, which was an indication of my struggle in my faith) and what joy looks like. But it all comes from a simply verse which we read every year for Christmas, but which is truly relevant and a source of joy year-round, Luke 2:8-11.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Clearly not all of these were good or happy times for us, but the Lord has been nothing but faithful to us this past year, and I've already seen how much He's worked the hard times for good. Remembering these things makes me nothing but hopeful about the year to come.
Keep it real, my friends,