Happy New Year!

I’m a sucker for the sky.

In my new house, I have a nearly complete view of the entire expanse of the southern sky. Standing on my deck, I can watch the sun both rise and set. I can’t even begin to tell you how many mornings I’ve stolen a moment and walked out to the deck in my pajamas, holding my cup of coffee, to admire the orange, blue, and yellow of a sunrise. And on the flip side, I’ve spent so many evenings sitting on the deck with a book in the late summer as the last light lingers in the sky to the west.

It’s been way too long since we’ve been on a beach vacation, but one of my favorite moments is the sunset; that moment when you quietly whisper “thanks” for a day spent frolicking in the waves, playing in the sand, reading, napping, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. A “thanks” whispered simply for the joy of living.

All sunrises and sunsets are good to me. But here’s what I’ve learned – the most beautiful ones, the ones that have me taking thoroughly inadequate pictures on my iPhone – always include clouds. The most beautiful sunrises require the clouds to reflect the sunlight before it emerges on the horizon. It’s the contrast of the orange clouds against the dark night of sky slowly turning to blue, that causes me to gasp in wonder.

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I’ve tried to be as honest as appropriate here on this blog, so it should be no secret that 2015 was a difficult year for me, dark and stormy at its worst moments, cloudy at the best of times. It was a year during which I drove myself to exhaustion building our house while still trying to do my job well. It was a year during which I experienced dark times of deep loneliness. It was a year of friendships shifting and changing, and a year when we said goodbye to Jennifer’s grandma (who probably prayed more faithfully for us than anyone in the world). It was a year during which I rumbled with my own stories, and I stared down shattered hopes, expectations and bitter disappointments, both with myself and with others.

Many people are worse off than I, and I’m culpable in my own demise. But that sentence is a load of crap, too. While the voice in my head says “you got what you deserve,” and “other people have such bigger problems than you,” I wouldn’t say those unkind words to anyone else. Rather, to someone sitting in my office I would say, “It doesn’t matter how you got here, and it’s not a comparison game. When you feel darkness in your soul, when you feel alone, it’s real to you and so you have to rumble with it.”

And so, this year, I’ve let the clouds be clouds. I’ve stopped trying to wish them away or pretend they aren’t real.

But here’s the thing about clouds: they provide a great canvas for the sun as it emerges on the horizon.

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A woman grabbed me at church the last week of Advent and said, “You seem so focused and strong since you’ve come back from Sabbatical.”

Thank you. And yes, I’m getting there.

I wrote earlier this year about hope rising. And as I think back across the year, as I see the sun rising in the morning, it’s the interplay of light and clouds that is beautiful to me.

I used to think that some years are good, some are bad. I used to think that when we said goodbye to the past year and cheered in the New Year, we could start over with a hope that this year will be better than the last. But I don’t think life actually works like that. Instead, life is always sun and clouds. Every year is full of goodness and pain at the same time.

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Over the past five or six years, I’ve had a New Year’s Eve practice of reminiscing over the past year — naming the highest highs and the lowest lows — and toasting those whom have chosen to take front row seats in my dramas, and I in theirs.

Who know what this year holds — at the time of writing, my New Year’s Eve plans are still undetermined — so I will do my practice here, toasting us all (but without having to face you all and cry all the way through it as I’m prone to do).

Here’s to us, in the coming year. Here’s to the clouds that will inevitably come our way – may we face them with courage, strength and good people at our sides. May we get to the other side where we see the beauty of the clouds and how they so magnificently reflect the sun. May we rumble with our stories, say the hard truths about ourselves and arrive at deeper truths for all the hard work. May we discover the beautiful imago dei that each of us uniquely reflects. May each of us in the coming year get to be the sun in someone else’s life, gently holding space for them and then reminding them over and over that their clouds are beautiful. May we be fully alive, may we capture more moments and live in the now.

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Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing, for commenting, for writing me encouraging emails, for following up with coffee and beer. Thank you for the kindness you’ve shown, in words, in hugs, and in “me too’s.”

Happy New Year!

(oh, and the photo…from my deck 7:02am, December 10.)

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