This year has been full of new experiences for me, and yet I find myself in the same place I was one year ago. And I’ve struggled with that – a lot – but it’s time to break free. While counting down the last hours of 2014, I begin looking ahead with purpose.
Running toward the Goal
After seeing the portrayal of Apostle Paul as a truly broken-then-reformed man in last year’s The Bible miniseries, I’ve been more drawn to his words than ever before. His humility was more than just a personality trait; it was the after-effect of a man who was wrecked, utterly disturbed by a traumatic experience and then lifted up by Jesus the Christ into usefulness and a mission. His purpose was revealed in his devastation. And then Paul embraced that purpose and set after it with all his might.
I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize.
My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. Philippians 3:12-14 (CEV)
For the past 2 months I’ve been looking ahead and looking within to determine what comes next for me. What I know is that it can’t look the same as it has before. I can’t continue along the same path. I don’t know the details. I don’t know the timing. I only know that I have to forget what is behind and run toward the future. I’m not good at running, but that’s precisely what I’m called to do.
A Moment to Reminisce
Despite my lackluster years of late, I did find much joy in 2014, and those things deserve recognition. Posterity demands it, and my heart holds these experiences dear. Every moment in life adds to our stories. These were my stories from this year.
South Texas Respite
At the beginning of the year I was still victim to my health and, therefore, traveling with my nomadic parents. They’ve spent most winters of the past decade volunteering in South Texas, and this year I was able to meet the people who love them so dearly. Camp Zephyr is filled with incredible staff who love Jesus and serve with their whole hearts. Their joy is infectious! Although I wasn’t able to spend much time truly getting to know them, they immediately burrowed into my heart. It’s a gift to be returning again this winter, which makes a wonderful bookend to 2014.
I spent part of the spring and summer at a homeless shelter in my North Texas town. In one sense it was a blessing: I needed resources to help me through the challenges of job searching with no home and no income. In another sense, it was everything you would expect from communal living. I was stretched to my emotional limits and had to fight off despair week after week, but I also met great people and found joy in the midst of the heartache. The shelter where I lived was a place of purpose, pushing every resident to find sustainable work and teaching the necessary skills to help make that happen. My lesson – which is now my soapbox – was that the face of homelessness is far different than you may imagine. It can look very much like the person working your office reception area or the “middle class” people sitting next to you on a church pew. It’s wrong to make assumptions, and it’s even more heartless to not ask people their stories. While there may be a bit of shame, there’s a greater need for unconditional love. We can all offer something to the people we meet, and you just might see an opportunity to restore a person’s dignity.
A Brief Period of Employment
While living at the shelter I did find an incredible job at a local university, and I thought it was everything I’d been searching for. I provided administrative support to 13 professors, had my own office, and was able to put all of my career skills to work day after day. I also had access to great professional development opportunities (my favorite being Emotional Intelligence seminars), and immediately hit it off with my office neighbor so that we made each others’ days better just by being around. The job was a God-send with an underlying heavenly purpose. Which made my departure all the more crushing. Having found an equilibrium with my health issues, I was all in with the new job. Until my body developed new ailments, and I was once again unemployed and at the mercy of my health. I mourned this job for several months, and I’ve been frustrated in every way. But, as in all situations, God brought a silver lining out of the dark cloud, and I’ve finally been able to gain perspective. My university job was a blessing that just took a little longer to recognize.
Part of that blessing was qualifying for health insurance on my first work day and being able to retain that healthcare for almost a month after my final workday. So, finally (FINALLY!) I was able to visit all the necessary doctors and then have much-needed, much-delayed surgery during the fall. After struggling throughout my adult life without proper diagnoses and/or disposable income for treatment, being able to tackle every ailment that cropped up was a joy and a gift. Everything culminated in surgery and, thankfully, quick recovery that has given me a new lease on living. I hated losing my job but I am so grateful to have this debilitating chapter behind me.
Time and Energy for Reading
An interesting side effect developed from this roller coaster year of living with various people and struggling with my health: I craved silence like never before. Shelter living offered TV with the lowest common denominator (usually sports, stupid comedies, and true crime), and the only quiet moments came after lights-out curfew. So I began to read again, and after a few weeks I began to crave the reading itself. While working, my exhaustion and long days allowed for only short spurts of concentration, but I kept to the reading by following blogs and chasing rabbit trails around the interwebs. Even when Jack Bauer resurfaced and Fall TV began, I just wasn’t that interested. It’s as if I’m slowly extracting myself from the quagmire of entertainment media that has consumed me (and this blog) for so many years. I’m finally rediscovering my love of books. Though I still love movies and still enjoy lazy days of TV binge-watching, I no longer want to fill all of my down time with them. Which leaves much more time for creativity and inspiration.
My Year in Books
All told, I read 24 books this year, including one abandoned Brad Meltzer title. [correction: Divergent is a trilogy, so I actually read 26 books this year!] It’s a big number considering I only completed 6 books in 2008, and it’s a great starting point for a reading challenge in 2015. It’s also notable since I read only for pleasure and without any goals in mind. Reading became a true leisure activity for me once more, and I’m very proud of that! Two books stand out from my reading year. Go With the Flow by Brad Huebert outlines a simple yet enlightening approach to devotional time and prayer, and it continues to resonate with me 7 months later. Huebert recommends patterning your personal time with God after a walk into the ancient Temple of the Old Testament. Beginning with the Ascent to the Temple steps, we are to prepare our hearts by ridding the mind of all that troubles and worries us. We then pass through the Gates with thanksgiving and praise, and continue onward into each Temple chamber until we enter the Holy of Holies and become still in the Presence of God. After Huebert shares his own experience of imagining this journey into the Temple, it takes no effort to put myself in that same frame of mind. And it has transformed my time with the Most High God. I cannot recommend this book enough!
The greatest novel I read this year has also been added to my all-time list of favorite books. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is (as recommended by GlitterFem) the kind of story you wish you’d never heard so that you could experience it again for the very first time. It is best read with no idea of its plot or characters or story. You simply need to walk through the circus’s grand black gates toward the towering, majestic clock and amble your way through the forest of black-and-white striped tents. Pick up a bag of scrumptious caramel-drizzled popcorn and a couple of chocolate mice, then give yourself over to the experience. You will never regret your time in the world of The Night Circus. It is at once exquisite, mesmerizing, intense, powerful, sensual, romantic, and fantastical. No words can describe it well enough for the uninitiated to comprehend, so I can only suggest falling into this book. You will be forever changed for the experience. I’m not sure another book will ever come close to this again.
Preparing for What’s Ahead
These last few months of 2014 have provided plenty of time for introspection, and I’ve taken the opportunity to really dream. I dove into CreativeLive courses with an eye toward blogging and online business for makers and designers, and I’ve been consuming media on finding creative purpose and turning that into a marketable product. It’s been incredibly inspiring, and my mind is swirling with creative possibilities. There’s no deadline, which means I can really dream, but I’m finally feeling open to any possibility. This year has taught me that confidence and courage are choices, not inherent traits, and my future is as open as I allow it to be. That’s very freeing! And I’m excited to see where it might lead. I hope 2015 brings you hope and possibility, as well. Happy New Year!
Par for the course these
years days, I wasn’t able to properly wrap up my Readathon experience immediately after this fall’s event. Blame it on extended reading hangover plus a couple weeks involving surgery and recovery. But during the delay I was able to finish the third book that I began in the late hours of readathon, so the timing is just about right to post my official post-event survey. It always works out in the end, doesn’t it?
- Which hour was most daunting for you? I’m just gonna admit it finally: a 7am start time is too frakkin’ early for me. I never get to bed at a decent hour the night before, so I never quite get started till hour 4 or 5. So, yeah, the early start time is most daunting. It sounds stupid, but it’s time for me to face up to my truths. ::sigh::
- Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Oh my goodness, I found GREAT titles for this fall’s event! I highly recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang. Two vastly different novels, but both so very engaging.
- Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? If only we could get more volunteers for cheering, eh? It dawned on me during the second half of readathon that I hadn’t heard from one cheerleader. Not on my blog and not on Twitter. And it really saddened me. I never realized how much I looked forward to the occasional pop-in to encourage and hoorah. But I missed it this time and was sad that my name had somehow been left off the cheering list. :-( I wonder if there could be incentives for cheerleaders that might draw enough volunteers? I would definitely suggest revisiting the list of participants throughout the first 6 hours of the event to pick up any stragglers who didn’t begin in Hour 1. I suspect that’s how I was overlooked this time around.
- What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? It appears that adding a GoodReads group was highly successful! I look forward to participating in that forum next time.
- How many books did you read? During the actual 24 hours, I read 2-1/4 books with a total of 546 pages in 11 actual reading hours. Since then I worked to finish the third book as quickly as possible, so I’m going to count it as 3 readathon books this time. :-)
- What were the names of the books you read? From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg was a great way to ease into the day, then Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern took me through the remainder of the event.
- Which book did you enjoy most? Falling Into Place was a great choice for readathon because it’s easy to read and such an interesting (and witty) way to deal with a difficult subject. But The Night Circus is now my number one recommendation for any event, at any time, for anyone I’ve ever known. It’s enchanting and the most perfect book to read when the rest of the world drifts off to sleep and leaves you in your own little cocoon. I cannot think of another book that has charmed me quite like The Night Circus.
- Which did you enjoy least? I chose nothing but great books this time. A rarity!
- If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn’t a cheerleader this time, but after hearing of their struggles to keep up with so many readers this time, I’m hoping I can jump back in to help in the spring. The best advice I’ve ever heard for cheering is to keep a list of your assignments and check them off as you visit each blog. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to overlook a participant. Which just makes us all very sad. :-(
- How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Always, always, always participating. My best good friend said it best: “No matter what [I’m] going through in life, [I] stick with the readathon every time.” No doubt! It’s my favorite reading event of the year! But next time, I want to help with the cheering again, too. Here’s hoping!
The next 24-Hour Readathon is scheduled for April 25, 2015. Maybe you can join us!