As much as I love the start of a new year, I don’t mind waving bye-bye to January. It’s cold. It’s dreary. It’s too soon to think about digging in the dirt. The fun holidays have passed. However, I do like sitting by the fire with a book on a winter’s night so it’s not all bad.
Here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) in January.
1. Spending a whole week in isolation wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. One morning in January I tested positive, so I packed up a boxful of books and left PB at the parsonage and went to the house in the woods. After four days of feeling miserable, I perked up and expected to relish hours of quiet. What a surprise to find I missed people, especially PB. He seemed to fair much better, enjoying control of the TV remote way too much. Never again. Next time, we get sick together.
2. We’ve given away the same $75 nine times. Back in 2014, PB and I loaned Costa Rican Juan Vicente $75 through Kiva, a nonprofit organization that helps people in underprivileged areas get a business going through crowd funding. Juan needed fertilizer for his coffee crop. When he paid his loan back, we sent it out again — this time to Soelia in Columbia. She needed a cow. The same $75 keeps making the rounds: Farilia in Haiti, Yesinia in Nicaragua, Grace in Kenya, Reynaldo in Peru, Tigran in Armenia, Nelly in Kenya. Nelly is a single mom who needs to buy some milk cans so she can sell the milk from her cow. Best $75 I’ve ever spent.
3. Trees can live without people, but people can’t live without trees. I’ve been reading a lot about trees this month. They are much more amazing than I ever imagined. Author Matthew Sleeth points out that trees provide the oxygen our lungs need to breath. What we didn’t know until recently, is that God created our lungs to look like trees.
“Have you ever looked at an image of the bronchial tubes and branches of a lung? A cast of our respiratory ‘tree’ is indistinguishable from the shape of a bare oak tree. Yet for almost all of human history, we hadn’t a clue that we are actually breathing trees.” (Reforesting Faith, Matthew Sleeth)
4. Green velvet is not my style. We are storing a couch for our son in our living room. It is mid-century modern and did I mention it is covered in green velvet? Nothing about this piece of furniture appeals to me. I tried to cover it with a white blanket, but the green still showed. Lately, I’ve been looking at it a little differently as I’ve had two people walk into our house and offer big money for the “awesome” sofa.
5. I can paint. Back in 7th grade, we had the choice to either go to art class or skip it and go to study hall. I chose study hall. Mrs. Z was relieved. My stick men didn’t even look like sticks. It was clear I didn’t have the gift. Fifty some years later, I’m rethinking that snap judgment. A group of ladies gathered for a fun afternoon with canvas and paint. I surprised myself. My moon looked like a moon. My hill looked like a hill. My trees even looked kind of like trees, with sticks. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.
6. My word for the year is a doozy. “Hesed” is a Hebrew word that is basically inexpressible and untranslatable. The best we can do in English is “lovingkindness”, but that doesn’t really come close. Tim Keller says hesed is “the steadfast love of a covenant God who cares for us, not because we are perfect but because He is.” Michael Card spent ten years studying this word and this is his definition: “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing, gives me everything.” Gotta think about that for a while — like maybe a year.
7. Speaking of Michael Card, he has an album called “To the Kindness of God”. After writing a book about hesed, he wrote nine songs about hesed. Go listen to “That Kind of Love”. I mean it. Go do it.
8. Losing hurts worse than winning feels good. The Packers lost yet another playoff game to the 49ers. This was supposed to be “the” year. Oh well. I refuse to allow 11 men who make millions of dollars running around on a field affect my level of happiness. I choose to focus on the 11 little people who run around in my house from time to time. That’s a whole other level of happiness.
9. The word “retirement” feels weird coming out of my mouth. PB announced his coming retirement to our congregation and he only choked up a few times. The process has begun. It’s the right decision but it feels monumental, scary and a little exciting.
10. Jesus used the word “love” 29 times in His final message to the disciples, as recorded in John’s gospel. I think they got the point. I hope we do, too.