The slate is clean and white, a new year ahead! What am I determined to remember heading into the upcoming months?
1. The dream is not dead. Dreams change, alter, of necessity. When I began this blog some years back in 2007 (or was it 2006?? ack, my memory!) Jack and I were making preparations to relocate eventually to acreage where we could be more self-sufficient. In the ensuing years, I experienced discouragement as that dream would seem to be on the precipice, yet fall through time and time again. It was not for a lack of effort and creativity, and patience, on our part. I said I was discouraged, and I'm sure Jack was, at times, but he has the gift of a resilient outlook on life and an irrepressible optimism. I'm so glad, otherwise I'd be tempted to let my sometimes dour outlook on adversity have freer reign. So, instead, God has taught me to cherish what I do have, especially the partner He's given me. Jack is THE best. No dream for me would be happy without his being the main ingredient within it. I also am so grateful for being right where we are, even as I hope to one day relocate. Jack is behind this desire...he wants to see us settled to his satisfaction where we have fewer monetary obligations, namely mortgage. Until then, here we are. This place is simply beautiful and has sustained us so well. If we remain here, it's because God has decided it's where we need to be for the longterm. We planted out all those buckets of plants right here...put down roots, literally. We remain poised for change but dig our weeds right here, right now :)
Dreams delayed can sometimes make one heartsick, but dreams can be tools to change us. I'm different now, much the same at heart, but having made concessions for real life, and learning to bend to fit dreams to reality. I also allow for the open door, not just the closed ones. As God directs our path, we continue to knock on doors. If the door ever opens to "that dream," the one where we're on some land where we can build something very small and have no mortgage, I believe the delay has been a learning experience. And a lesson not to allow hope in something future to lessen the living in the Now.
2. Remembering to be present in my own life. Life is so short. The other day, I was putting together some pictures for my daughter from photos collected over the last few decades. I realized something as I went through the albums and boxes of old pictures...I had left myself out of almost all the shots, and had not included any of the few pictures of myself, with only a few exceptions. It was weird. It was as if everyone else had lived through those birthdays and holidays, special events and candid shots, but either I was the one behind the camera lens, or had excluded my picture intentionally. It was as if I were absent from my own history. I'll probably always be camera-shy, but this was somewhat ridiculous! So I went on a hunt for a few pictures to include, and I did finally find a few. So into the albums they went. Some passing vanity of not wanting my photo to be viewed unless I were at an ideal weight, a cuter outfit, a more flattering shot instead of that one laughing with my mouth completely open...how silly I had been to be so superficial. Those who know me today would seldom realize that as a child I went through a period when I was so painfully shy I would cry if I were forced to say hello to someone I had never met before. At my core, I still have a shyness that wars within, but I've learned appropriate ways to push past it, most times. But I think it's that latent "pull-back" tendency that kept my image from being among the photos of family and friends. I resolve to be present TODAY, warts and all, and without apology to myself. If I'm caught in a photo laughing with food in my mouth or on a bad hair day, or at a size I wish were smaller, fair warning...too bad, it's me! I refuse to be invisible in my own history any more.
From a wonderful book I'm reading called Making Loss Matter, by David Wolpe, he quotes Thomas Merton: It is a foolish life which is lived in the minds of other human beings. Freeing myself from the constraints of what I believe to be the opinions or conviction of other people is allowing me to do something that would otherwise not happen --- mature. I need to have enough confidence in the lessons I've learned about what's important to me and how to walk out this life that I am not edged out, by my own omission, into a life where I don't appear in any of my own life's scenes. I need to trust the wisdom God has gone to the trouble of teaching me. I'm quick to listen to others, and learn, and defer. I need to quit pretending that I, myself, have less to offer and I need to actually use my talents and knowledge, or I'm living a shadow life that mimics others, rather than being present and vital in my own. I need to make my time here count in a meaningful, sometimes bolder way, and not as the child who is plagued with fear of failure or embarrassment and retreats to the safety of shyness...or invisibility.
3. I'm resolved to delight in my Judaism. I rarely write about this here, but today is the exception. This figures largely into my life, so on the list it goes! Did you know when you're a Jewish convert or are at any specific point in the process of conversion, it's going to be very controversial? It's not for the faint of heart :) I'll leave it at that, but I'm not talking about friends in christianity who don't understand my choice that way, but rather some Jewish sects who have very concrete ideas of what that means and how it should happen. And, of course, I'm not the perfect fit for some of these groups. :)
I'm an odd fit theologically and spiritually--there is no cookie cutter formula for me other than my credo "to the Torah." The quest of going "scripture only" flies in the face of some element of ALL religious groups at some point. That my conclusions don't agree with most of the people who made up my life for my first three decades and more has meant loss and being misunderstood, but my focus remains simple "Seek God." Most of my friends are christian, as I was for most of my life until several years ago, and my love and appreciation for them has not diminished. For some, my conversion was a deal-breaker, for others, they chose to "trust me to God." (that's how one lifetime friend puts it :)) The funny thing is that as a convert to Judaism, there are certain religious Jews who do not welcome me (yet!) because my conversion did not match their established traditions for such. That's not to broadly generalize, nor to denigrate any group, but it is a reality I was blissfully unaware of. Nevertheless, I'm at the point where I've got to be ok with that, after all, I'm happiest on this path.
I am happy to be the oddball (with some caveats, ha)! But it can be rather like being the one schoolkid not picked to be on the kickball team at recess :) Where some people are born into a culture of belief and never ask questions beyond the "approved ones," I will always reserve the right to ask and seek and want to know the scriptures. Question everything. Truth can always bear up under the asking of questions.
Judaism, by my definition of following the Torah as the covenant between God and Israel, is broad enough to include me and endlessly rich in equipping folks for its primary goal...tikkun olam...the bettering of this world, or literally in the hebrew "the repair of the world." It expects participation, not resignation, and includes a motly crew that very much now includes me. It's messy work, but it means one person CAN and DOES make a difference, here, and now. So this year, I'm going to FLY. I'm going to continue to learn, study, and pray. I'm going to look for ways to make the ordinary meaningful, and do what I can to make this a better place, to fix little wrongs and add enthusiasm and some elbow grease to existing efforts already doing this.
I'm not anything "typical" as far as being Jewish, but the one unifying element among "practicing Jews" (meaning ones who have Jewish belief, not just ethnicity) of any "variety" is the Torah...a love of living its precepts, love for fellowman, love for God. I may have to piece together my own place along this path, and that applies to finding a congregation. There's not an orthodox one to be found within driving distance, plus the orthodox don't drive on shabbat. Our work schedules thankfully allow for Saturdays off at this point (Yayyyy!!!) but we're so tired on that day, we usually rest here at home instead of finding a service somewhere. We participate in services via the internet, but that, understandably, has its limitations. We study regularly, but not with others, and my attempts to gain an internet study partner through some better known sites has so far resulted in my being told that my conversion was not orthodox enough to make me eligible to study with the orthodox . Which is beyond ironic because I'm what most Jews would think of as quite "observant." This only means I'm now fully in my usual comfort zone of being...a square peg in a round hole!!!! HA! It's ok...to be original :) Which leads me to my next point...
4. My definition of success and of myself is not going to look like anyone else's. Sometimes the fact that I find myself not squarely in ANY camp is a bit unsettling. But we have to strive for authenticity, being true to the unique qualities God created in us individually, and the values which anchor us. "Success" will be defined personally much differently for me than how our surrounding culture defines it.
I love love love the Steve Jobs quote (may he rest in peace)
Thank you to Steve Jobs. This is a very powerful quote, and I won't forget it soon.
5. Be more deliberate. This will mean having my goals before me, becoming more disciplined, getting healthier, organizing certain areas of my life better, using what I have at hand to utilize my talents, and not starting too many new projects until I see through the worthwhile ones at hand. It will also mean being kind, and investing more effort into relationships and keeping them nurtured. It also will help me focus attention on being true to my core values in ways that support integrity even in small details. Specifically, I'm going to be aware of things that I do and how I do them, such as how I use my time. What do I fill my moments with, my mind with? What company do I keep, and what have I been rationalizing under the guise of entertainment, relaxation? I've found that as much as I enjoy watching movies, I've slowly over the years compromised some of my core values in what I allow myself as far as "enjoyment" and entertainment. There often is so much yuck along with the fun stuff, I've lost my barometer many times by justifying junk as entertainment. Being a really easygoing person in this area (I don't like santimoniousness in myself or others), I've gotten TOO relaxed. So this year I will exercise more deliberateness (is that a word?) in being honest with my choices and honing my focus a bit more in areas I'm slack or unproductive. This also goes for Bible study, career, household, relationships, and so on. Here's to a gentle and consistent raising of the bar to gain the best rather than settle for counterfeits :)
6. Joy!! This is a choice and an attitude. I've had many times of grief and loss in my life. I've also had great blessing. No matter what befalls, there is something to be grateful for. To not cultivate joy and choose to see the extraordinary in the everyday is to miss the gift we're given every morning when we wake up and have been given one more day to live. I'm no stranger to adversity, but without it, I'd still be a child and not an adult. Our focus AS we go through things is our choice. I'm determined this year to celebrate JOY any time I can grab it! Life is to be tasted, handled, marveled at, experienced. It's way too short to settle for mediocrity, and too precious to not appreciate its worth. I resolve to grab joy at any turn possible.
7. Cultivate community. I need to continue to do this, even though a large part of my makeup is to be a hermit. I need others and have much to offer. I'm the person who is uncomfortable in a crowd unless it's a crowd of people I already know well, and even then I prefer to interact with one or two people at a time. But it's time to push past this big rock of reluctance and discomfort I have, so I can become more connected. Whenever I've done that in the past, I've seldom regretted it.
And there we have it! This past month has been one of reflection and contemplation, and as is the case this time of the year for me, I was waiting to see which things rose like cream to the surface, as far as how to proceed from here.
I'm so grateful for all the blessings we've been given, and so aware of how fine a thread holds things up. Jack and I are so very aware of how God's protection and mercy have been the only reason we're still here, with a house over our heads and money to pay the bills so far. Our dreams and hopes are in His hands. Our hearts our full of gratitude!
I'd love to hear any thoughts you have to share, even if this is not yet your own new year. I so appreciate the many comments and emails I receive and I thank you for sharing your life with us. Every comment, email, is cherished!
May your year ahead be full of good!!