10 Things I Learned in January

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.

10 Things I Learned in January

1.  Healing takes time. PB and his new knee are trying to get used to each other. I think they will become good friends, soon. I guess you can’t expect to make an 8″ incision, pull a joint apart and insert a piece of hardware without some pain and suffering.

2.  Lazarus had a lot to teach me. I didn’t have high hopes for a 5 week Bible study on “The Life and Death (and Life) of Lazarus”. It was simply something to fill in the weeks between Christmas and Lent. But wow. There was a gold mine in John 11 and 12.

3.  If you chase down the garbage truck and tell the driver you’re very sorry you forgot to take out your garbage bins, but your husband just had knee surgery and he usually takes out the garbage and besides that, your grandchildren were visiting and there is some very stinky garbage in your bins, the driver of the truck will have mercy on you and go back down your street to pick up your garbage.  (Thank you, whoever you are.)

4.  I still get excited when school is cancelled because of cold or snow. We don’t even have kids in school anymore, but it doesn’t matter. Seeing our school on the list of cancellations conjures up good memories of going into my teenagers’ rooms and whispering, “No school today.”

5.  “Downton Abbey” is pure delight. Maybe because it’s the last season so I’m soaking in every minute, but it seems extra good this year. I’m predicting happy endings for all.

6. Abraham Wright is my newest favorite old dead guy. He was a Puritan minister in the 1600s who said this: “I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty, and strengthened by my weakness… What fools are we, then, to frown upon our afflictions. They are our best friends. They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit.”

7. The legalism of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time doesn’t look much different today. When rules are more important that relationships then love has been replaced with law. It’s tricky, but I must deal with people graciously even if I disagree with them.

8. I can’t read the Genesis story of Joseph without breaking out into song from the Broadway musical – “Go, go, go, Joseph, you’re doing fine; you and your dreamcoat ahead of your time.” What I didn’t know until this month’s re-reading of Joseph’s account, is that he sat in an Egyptian prison for 14 years after being falsely accused. Yet Joseph didn’t become bitter or hopeless. There was no documentary filmed on Joseph’s life and no petition was circulated on Facebook to release him from prison. But “the Lord was with Joseph” at every turn.

9. Recommending a good book is one of my greatest pleasures. I finished “Peace Like A River” by Leif Enger on New Year’s Day and turned right back to the first page and started reading it out loud to PB. It’s my new favorite novel – read it. Please. (Sorry, I can get bossy about books.)

10. Going through a painful time makes us more compassionate towards other people’s pain. PB will be able to minister well to those who go through knee replacement surgery and rehab. Our pain is never wasted.