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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

3 Words in Retrospect on 2016

This is what I wrote just a week ago, on Dad's 77th birthday.

Tuesday, 3rd January, 2017

Today Dad would've been 77 years old - and he would tell me that he had attained perfection eleven times over (7 being the number of perfection)!  The grief and missing him comes in waves - tears cannot be restrained and emerge when I'm alone, driving to pick up kids or wishing I could watch him blow out candles on the traditional Crutchfield birthday cake.

Last year I decided to form my year around 3 words - to orient me, to clarify where I was at or what was/were going to be my theme(s).  I found myself with an uncanny (and unusual, for me) drive to clean - toothpick clean - and found cleaning to be both therapeutic and frustrating at the same time.  The word "CLEANING" emerged for me as a picture of much needed backlog of internal soul-work that had been left untouched. I had prayed for God to lead me to the three words I needed for the year.  And on the threshold of last year I entered a cleaning-binge-phase and was given a clue.  Because in scrubbing and bending and stretching and moving in uncomfortable (even unnatural) ways (to reach hard to clean places) I discovered more dirt and dust-bunnies needing attention.  And the work and progress seem so hidden - not tangible or provable.  And I meditate and see with new eyes how much dedication it takes to clean - how much grit, strength, determination and flexibility it will take - and I am defeated.  I quit, complain, give up, brawl in bed and declare my own lazy nature to myself.  Cleaning of soul and house takes far more than I've got to give.  So often I literally (in the proper use of the term) want to throw in the towel.  And in the non-literal, metaphorical sense, the same applies.

  Cleaning seems absolutely pointless - you can never stay on top of it.  It feels like trying to wash a mud-caked elephant with a toothbrush - a monumental and daunting task only the fool-hardy, ridiculously ambitious types would dare to tackle.  But cleaning has been my calling - and though I've no real evidence to show for it (our house too often resembles a pig sty!), I will continue to work towards physical and emotional cleanliness - heart-hygiene that becomes a habit.

My second word for 2016 was knitting.  I wasn't looking for great profundities here.  Just concepts to help me identify myself - what I do, think, and am - in essence.  My inner self escapes me at times.  She runs off to hide and I feel only a shell of a person.  Knitting is repetitive, pointless, boring, cathartic and forgiving (all what I need).  It is hypnotic - can lull me into a trance where I see, know, feel and think absolutely nothing - and everything - at the same time.  It is mind-emptying (not in the dangerous, mystical sense, but in the 'leave room to hear God's voice' sense) - a great pause - "mental-margin," I call it.   I have had a great backlog of need for mental-margin.  Mental-margin is where as a child Id gaze out the window on a bus ride and see trees and rocks and people and cars and clouds and sunshine and children in school jogging-suit uniforms with Filipina maids hustling them along.  Mental-margin is watching sparrows flock to crumbs fallen on the pavement and pick a fight over them.  It is day-dreaming in the rain and welcoming the endless hours of downpour - yearning for the sky to release its weight of liquid cleansing so the soul can be both glad, sad and free of the tumult churning within.  I have missed mental-margin.  You don't get it when kids bicker in the car or when one of them has his umpteenth meltdown of the week.  There is no mental-margin in days taxed with the needs of heel-nippers all around.  I had been depleted - lost any sense of grounding - couldn't tell who I was, or what I cared about.  Knitting forces and creates mental-margin.  It seems like an utter waste of time - any item could be gotten far cheaper at a thrift store I suppose.  But the point is not in what is made.  The point, for me, is creating mental space for rest, catharsis, imaginings and reflection.  God made me to have busy hands, for that is where my mind becomes free.  So He gave me the word "KNITTING" to shape my year.

  The third word took much time to come to.  It wasn't until halfway through the year that I saw it  emerging on the landscape of my life.  'Cleaning' and 'Knitting' came quickly, and obviously and were so simple I almost discarded them.  "Surely not, Lord," I thought - "Don't you have something more profound, biblical, theological or purposeful than these?"  But these kept echoing in my thoughts, habits and heart.  So I just said, "Okay, whatever. Makes no sense to me... But what's my third word?  What about 'hope' or 'joy' or 'peace' or some virtue I can grow in?"  (Couldn't He lead me to one of these words to somehow redeem the mundane and ordinary words of 'cleaning' and 'knitting'?)

  In March I experienced the most awful, gut-wrenching event of my life.  My Dad was suddenly gone from this world to his eternal home.  My heart was torn in two - I could not take it in.  I kept waiting to wake up from the nightmare.  I was introduced to a kind of grief and loss I'd never before encountered.

  As the weeks and months unfolded I entered an unfamiliar realm: the descent into the desert of grief.  Only now is the reality setting in - the dull, pulsing ache of sorrow.  Each month takes me farther from when I last saw him, hugged him, heard his voice.  Each change is clouded with missing his involvement - a birthday, an achievement, a kid playing in a recital, a performance at Christmas - all of these feel sad because I won't be reporting to Dad how they went.

  Grief is like a river - sometimes slow, sometimes turbulent, sometimes dangerous and scary.  But it always moves.  It is always carrying me along to somewhere.  At times the movement is imperceptible, but beneath are steady currents that are strong and powerful.  The stillness on the surface is deceptive because deep down torrents are raging and moving to a place of explosive power.

  And my third word for 2016 crashed onto my life, an unwanted guest whose imposing presence intruded on me without permission.  This guest, "GRIEF" has come to stay - not as a guest, or even an unwanted intruder - but as a companion, a counselor and an invitation to communion with the Divine.

Cleaning.
          Knitting.
                      Grieving.

All take time.  All can be frustrating.  All require strength, grit, patience and reflection.

In 2016 God invited me to reflect and re-acquaint myself with Him in His work - in me - patiently stretching me to find pockets of unreached, untouched junk, giving me space and time to weave pointless projects (a hat, a scarf, a blanket - though it wasn't the thing that was the point of it), but mostly to re-discover mental-margin and His voice that is heard in such stillness.  And He drew me into the work of grieving, to engage with Him in my sorrow and loss and journey into the reality that He binds up the brokenhearted.

  He gave me my 3 words in 2016.  And as I open the book on another year, I wonder what 3 words will anchor, define and clarify life for me this year.  I'll ask God to show me, and open my ears for His response.  I am confident He'll show me His words for me.  How can I be so bold, so confident?  Because He defines Himself as the WORD - and has said He will never leave me nor forsake me.  The living WORD gave that promise to His own.  So I will boldly trust that He will walk with me into this New Year.