New Years Eve, we opened the Joys and Good Times box.
Slips of paper, the back of receipts and a shred of napkin, far more than we might have thought, dumped out on the coffee table.
I was apprehensive, afraid they would seem feel-good and ridiculous in hindsight.
It was actually kind of wonderful.
Something about the smallness of the things we found time to write about. Something about the record of a first bird at the bird feeder, beans and brown bread for supper, catching up on work for the first time in awhile, a dance. A pair of new red shoes.
Kind of like happiness distilled. All the sorrows and tears and disappointments that might also have been, forgotten for the moment. Swallowed up in gratitude.
Maybe if only that gratitude extends to, 'well that year wasn't as bad as I thought it might be..." It's still giving thanks.
Sometimes, we think thanksgiving has to be a big deal. And for lack of the big things to mention, we let it slide.
But you know what's a big deal?
Not thanksgiving at all.
The preacher mentioned it yesterday as the worst offence.
So despite where you are and what you feel... Despite what pale face looks back at you in the mirror and you just wish it wasn't you. Despite everything...open your lips and say thank you for one thing. And remember what that scrap of loose-leaf said.
Do you remember how we drove there piled in the car? Baby's first road trip; across the flat spaces and towards the blue haze of mountains.
Do you remember craning necks as we looked for Ha Ling's peak? And I was getting so confused as we twisted and turned.
Do you remember walking along the streets in spitting raindrops? Millie and I would grin every time we turned and looked, because the scene above the rooftops seemed for all the world like a low budget Western backdrop.
Do you remember how it was my annoying habit to dally in quilt shops, and you all waited by the door with patience while I hemmed and hawed?
And on the way home, you guys held hands and we peaked beneath the blanket at her eyes and let the sleepy roll over us.
And you. Do you remember when you saw a dear friend loving her first baby and the wonder of it made you smile?
It's all over. The whirl of Christmas, the daring resolutions of the New Year. It's Day 6. And our courage, perseverance, excitement is lagging, if not nonexistent. Things are going back to the way they were in mid-December and we find ourselves doing the same old things, making the same old mistakes, being the same old people that we ever were. A feeling is beginning to loom over us like a rain cloud.
It's monotony. It's the telling of children every day to pick up their coats, put the books away, don't touch, chew and swallow, don't yell. You say those things until you feel like a broken record spinning off the same words into oblivion.
Perhaps Paul felt that way: "Rejoice! Again I will say rejoice." Maybe he felt the monotony of always answering the same questions, dealing with the same objections, doling out the same warnings, talking, talking, talking until I'm sure he wanted to throw down his pen, shut his mouth and throw his cloak over his head.
Maybe Paul felt that way sometimes, but this is what he says in Philippians 3: 16: "It is not trouble for me to write the same things to you again and it is a safeguard for you." It's not bother for me to repeat myself multiple times. It's not bother. Indeed it is a joy.
Maybe there are two ways of looking at everything. The marriage of fifty years. The same worn out bodies, intimately known. The same old jokes, the freckle on her cheek, the scar on his arm. The same annoying habits and eccentricities. Or maybe it's the familiar smiles and laughs - every experience drawing closer together. The way they work as a team. The trust, the loyalty. The bodies so well explored. The way she fits just perfectly in his arms. The way his chin rests on her head. Nothing jarring. Comfort.
The artist struggling over and over again to get his piece of work just right. The drawing of lines over and over again built with mounting frustration.
Back space, then type. Back space, then type. Or maybe artists feel the joy of merely practicing their craft and every try is a little closer to "just right."
Monotonous to till the same plot of acreage every year, or fulfilling. Annoying to repeat directions to a child, or a loving safeguard.
Perhaps we need less of man's tired attitude towards repeated activities and more of God's diversity and also "sameness" in nature. Perhaps God is younger than we are: "It may be that He (God) has the eternal appetitie of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." (G.K. Chesterton) We've all seen how often a child can laugh over the same silly rhyme or joke. They don't tire of the same good things, like grownups do.
Remember how Jesus repeated "Truly" when what he was about to say was particularly important? Maybe every repetition is like Chesterton says: "The repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again...For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony."
Perhaps the child's silly little rhymes are more important than we think. Maybe we should take greater note of the grass in the field. Is God weaker because he seems to delight in "monotony?" Maybe we are the weaker ones because we can't delight in it. I am surrounded by people who have lived their whole lives in this little place. They've married, kept jobs, went to church, had kids. We tend to applaud the ones who "break out;" who go away, maybe following their dreams, maybe fearing to become as "dull" as their parents. We say those adventurers are the strong ones. Maybe that's sometimes the easy way, though. Maybe the strong ones are the ones who stay.
The strong ones who follow God: not afraid of one day like another, who know the important work they do, every repetition an emphasis of this - the moms, the plumbers, the school teachers, the gardeners, the housecleaners, the child wranglers, the Pauls, the Christ like ones.
Maybe monotony isn't boring. Maybe it's frighteningly glorious.
(Bible Quotes from the NIV)
(Quotes by G. K. Chesterton from"Orthodoxy")
It's been a jolly old year with Spurgeon in 2013. But perhaps the best quote, for this time, is near the end of the Morning and Evening devotional.
"...and if we keep close to his heels we will not drift, but will be led by a right way to our eternal dwelling. There are no dilemmas out of which you will not be delivered if you live near to God and your heart is kept warm with holy love."
Not that dilemmas will be resolved, or situations changed, but that He will deliver our hearts.
And so it is.
Let the things matter less and obedience matter more. And His love be the precious gift that matters most.
1. Pick a BBC period drama (ANY BBC period drama) and it is like old home week. The same familiar faces every time!
2. I am no doubt remarkably behind the times discovering J. Peterman (a trend from the ninety's, I believe.) And I can't say I would ever wear the clothing...but the artistry and write ups are brilliant. Do read a few...and please say you chuckled too.