The Depths of Winter

a cold January day at an old Irish cemetary

a cold January day at an old Irish cemetary

My daughter and I had a recent conversation about “winter music.” As we drove around in my car, I yet again forced her to listen to Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night. She didn’t seem to mind, but was curious why I was still listening to Christmas songs and it was after January 6. (We do observe the full 12 days of Christmas in my home.) I shared that throughout the centuries, people had songs they would sing during the dark, short days of winter, and this was the music Sting honored with his album. That definitely included some tunes about the Christmas story, but winter was broader than just 12 days.

I acknowledge I am like much of our society when I want to skip winter, unless it involves a pretty snow that is easily drivable in a day or two. It seems Christmas is about bringing as much happiness and light into the world as we can, and then we immediately turn to Valentine’s Day where love reigns supreme, and then we immediately skip to swimsuit season. Unless we enjoy winter sports, we try our best to ignore the short, gray days, and the sadness that can often accompany them. When Sting gave interviews about his winter music, he discussed the importance of diving into winter and embracing what it means spiritually. When we just try to survive it – to skitter through in anticipation of bright, sunny days – then we miss an important aspect of life.

In the past couple decades, our society seems to have become more and more obsessed with being happy. The pursuit of happiness appears to take precedence over anything else in our lives. We don’t see the value in things which don’t make us happy. Many years ago I met with my wise spiritual director, Susan, and I can remember telling her that I just wanted to be happy. She responded, “Perhaps wanting to be peaceful might be a better option. Happiness can be superficial, and doesn’t really speak to your soul.”

Peace can only come when we really face the gray days of winter. If we try to ignore those times in our lives, we will not truly know peace. I invite you this winter to observe a full winter. Find times of quiet. Reflect on the purpose of your life. Embrace the darkness, knowing that it will shed light on the easier days. Dive into winter – the cold, the lack of light, the isolation – and look into what your soul says to you. We will definitely appreciate the warmth more fully when it comes, and be able to grasp the deep peace which truly does bring joy into our lives.

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What I Learned in 2015

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(inspired by Barbara Sostaita)

In early June of 1993, I recall clearly a conversation with a colleague of mine, Sandra. We had both just finished our first year in full-time ministry serving local churches. While I was a green 26 year old, Sandra could easily have been my mother (or perhaps a young grandmother). Her deceased husband had been a minister for many years, and following his death, she had entered seminary. Even though she was still a “new minister,” she had many years of life experience with churches.
When she asked about my church, I told her it was the church from hell, and I wasn’t sure how I could handle one more year there. She sympathized (as did my other friends from seminary), and then told me her husband always said he learned the most at his truly challenging churches. 22 years later, I still find that I am learning things from that fragile, dysfunctional community I tried so desperately to pastor.
Sandra’s advice never left me.

This past year was certainly been one of the most challenging of my life. If not the most painful, it ties with some other painful years of my existence. It stands to reason that I must have learned a great deal during this past year. I already knew a number of these things, but we always need reminders for some things we learned a while ago. One of my beloved former students wrote a Facebook post about what she had learned this year, so I thought it might be helpful for me to do the same.

What I learned in 2015 –
*My British heritage runs strong, because each day I tell myself to Keep Plodding On. (Or in the words of my dad, Press on Regardless)
*Kids are resilient.
*Every relationship always takes two.
*Close friends don’t always remain close.
*Don’t be afraid to lean on the friends who stick around.
*Charlaine Harris is the best author to read when trying to persevere (well, Diana Gabaldon ties) – and can easily be reread.
*Exercise helps everything.
*Chocolate only helps to a certain extent.
*Age really is just a number.
*Meditation is the key to counteracting worry and fear.
*Invest in waterproof mascara.
*Read every post on www.gofugyourself.com – every day; or find something else that brings a smile to your face at least once a day.
*Sleep 9 hours a night.
*As tough as things are, they really can always be worse.
*Give thanks for the small things throughout the day.
*Spend time at least 4 days a week working towards a dream – even if it’s just 15 minutes.
*Limit time on social media; unfollow people who don’t bring you joy.
*Get rid of items that don’t bring joy (thanks Marie Kondo).
*Listen to your gut.
*Don’t be afraid to be alone.
*Life’s too short to waste time on things or people who don’t bring you joy.
*Be confident – especially when you are uncertain – this goes along with never let them see you sweat.
*Always have the number of a good hairdresser.
*Take fashion advice from your best dressed friend (thanks, Jaqueline).
*Take chances – especially if it puts your stomach in knots.
*Be patient.
*Be open to the possibilities.