Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PROVIDE

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PROVIDE.

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners, "Do not worry." He encourages them to look at the birds and flowers, who don't spend time worrying about where their next meal will come from or whether they'll have warm clothes to get them through the winter. Be like them, Jesus says. "Your heavenly Father knows you need these things." He will provide.

Those are easy words for me to accept. I live in a warm, comfortable house. We have enough money to pay for heating and food and clothing -- and plenty left over for luxuries. I have never worried about whether I'll have enough food or clothing or whether my gas supply will be cut off in the middle of winter, leaving our family in the cold. But the people Jesus was speaking to must have had reason to worry about these things.

Jesus goes on to say, "Seek God's kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." It sounds like a simple equation: "Put God first, and all your material needs will be provided." 

But it doesn't seem to work that way in real life. Millions of people in the world still do worry about food and clothing and shelter -- and those needs are not met. They will go to bed hungry and cold tonight, whether or not they've tried their best to put God and his kingdom first.

Some Christians, faced with the undeniable reality that God doesn't always provide, reach for simplistic cliches that attempt to get God off the hook, like

  • "If you don't have something, that means God knew you didn't really need it." (Uh, well ... we need food to survive.)

  • "God sometimes tests our faith by making us wait for what we need." (Imagine God making a starving baby wait just a bit longer for milk in order to test its faith.)

  • "Doesn't the Bible say 'You have not because you ask not'?" (This is a classic example of snatching a phrase we remember hearing somewhere in Scripture and applying it completely out of context, while also implying that those in need are probably doing something wrong.)

Using these pat statements is something only the privileged can afford to do (and I include myself in that). Privilege allows us to keep the poor at arm's length and makes us feel entitled to counsel them from a place of superiority.

But Jesus is not preaching from that place of privileged superiority. He comes down to our level to stand in solidarity with the poorest and meekest among us and invites us to a new life with him. Those of us who are privileged and well-provided-for should be part of helping to provide for others' needs and seeing their well-being and ours as a common cause.

I have a long way to go to even get close to this radical way of thinking and living. I find it way too easy to feel comfortable and complacent about what I've been provided with. No wonder Jesus commented on how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March 2018 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm joining in with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. I read one novel and four nonfiction books since my last Quick Lit post.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. This novel by Canadian native author Richard Wagamese (who died in 2017) tells the story of a native boy, Franklin Starlight, who has been raised in seclusion by a non-native man referred to only as "the old man." When Franklin is sixteen, his father Eldon, a dying alcoholic who has been in and out of Franklin's life only sporadically, asks him to take him out on the land so that Eldon can die like a warrior -- and so that he can tell Franklin his own story of war, love, and shame, achieve some measure of reconciliation with his son, and be free of the demons that have haunted him all his life. A beautiful, haunting book about the cost of forgiveness, the meaning of family, and the power of story. (By the way, I just learned that Wagamese wrote a sequel to this book before his death; it is entitled Starlight and will be published this summer.)

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. In this book Taylor tells of her time as Episcopal priest in a small-town church in northern Georgia: how the joys and demands of pastoral ministry changed her, revealed her own brokenness and need, and gave her a new appreciation for the church, for the reasons people do and do not gather in Christian community, and for God's presence in the people and places where God is least expected. I just loved this memoir.

Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. This book by the comedian and TV host chronicles his life as a boy growing up in South Africa as it emerged from apartheid. Noah was born to a white father and black mother, so his very existence was a "crime," as indicated in the title. He tells hilarious, shocking, and heartbreaking stories of his isolation as a mixed-race child, his life of petty (and not so petty) crime, his strong Christian influence and upbringing (particularly by way of his mother, who is the central figure in his life), and his relationships with his father, stepfather, extended family, and friends. I enjoyed this book, but (although I recognize by the subtitle that it is meant to focus on his younger years) I found myself wishing it had covered Noah's entry into acting, comedy, and broadcasting.

Self to Lose, Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil is one of two books I read recently about the Enneagram system of personality types. This would be a great book for anyone seeking an introduction to the Enneagram that focuses on Christian growth. Vancil is clear and accessible as she explains the types and centers of intelligence; connects the Enneagram to Jesus' invitation to disown ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him; and explores the contrast between our Authentic and Adapted Selves.

(A note re the above picture of the book cover: the book does not have a barn on the front, but I noticed I had a coaster with a barn on it with the exact same colours as the book cover -- so I put the coaster on top to create this effect.)

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher Heuertz. This book is a deeper, more complex exploration of the Enneagram: besides describing the types, centers, and triads, it also addresses the Enneagram's role in helping us engage in contemplative practices of (depending on our type) silence, solitude, or stillness. I appreciated Heuertz's thoughtful, pastoral style. One helpful feature at the end of the book is a chart listing contrasting characteristics of all pairings of types; these succinct descriptions (e.g. Five seeks knowledge while Six seeks security, or One focuses on means while Three focuses on ends) could be very helpful to someone who is not quite sure which of two or three types they might be. I should add, too, that the book is very visually appealing, with its deckle-edged pages and soft watercolour drawings throughout.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Five Minute Friday: TIRED

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is TIRED.


The picture below shows a plaque that I made when I was a teenager, and that I still have.

At the time, my dad was sawing wood, and this thin slice of a log ended up on the woodpile. I took it inside, dried it, and then simply used a pencil to draw a picture of a pathway and mountain and write these (now faded) words:

"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary,
and they shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31 (King James Version)

This was my favourite Bible verse in those days, and I still consider it one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible.

Two of the verses before it say,

"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak."
Isaiah 40:28-29 (New International Version)
Tired ... weary ... weak. These are familiar words. I often get tired of the demands of parenting. I get weary of repetitive words and activities. I feel weak when I stop and think about the overwhelming prospect of a lifetime of caregiving.

But in this Bible passage, God seems to be speaking directly to me -- saying, "Yes, I know you get tired and weary and weak ... but I do not. I understand what you are going through. I never sleep. I made this world, and I will help you. I will strengthen you and give you what you need to keep going."

When I made the plaque 40-some years ago, I didn't know what challenges the coming years would bring -- and maybe it's just as well. But I think I had a sense even then that reliance on God to renew my strength was going to be an important theme in my life. Today, I draw encouragement from the One who never grows tired or weary.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Five Minute Friday: REGRET

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

I thought I'd try a poem in response to this week's word: REGRET.

The gray cat trotting past my house
purposeful yet unhurried
the black squirrel leaping
from my roof and swinging 
like Tarzan from a thin branch
before scrabbling up the maple's trunk
 the cardinal flitting through
my back yard in a flash of scarlet

they know nothing of regret
subtract no hours 
from their lives by ruminating 
on tasks done or undone
roads taken or not taken
words spoken or unspoken

Jesus said consider the lilies 
because they teach us 
about living fully and freely
in the Now of the Father's grace
unworried and unregretful

Friday, February 23, 2018

Five Minute Friday: BEAUTY

As I do most Fridays, I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: BEAUTY.

Many years ago a friend of mine made a cake for a church event. I don't even remember what the event was now -- an anniversary or ordination or something -- but I know she had put a lot of time into the design and lettering, so it was really special. 

The plan was that after the church service everyone was going to come downstairs and the cake would be cut and served. But while the service was going on, the church ladies went ahead and cut the cake and put it on plates so it would be more convenient when everybody came downstairs.

Nobody saw the cake before it was cut except them -- yet they didn't stop and say, "Wait a minute, this is so pretty, we want to be sure everyone sees it before we start cutting it up." And they didn't take a picture of the cake, so no one else got to see it either.

My friend was crushed. Yes, it was "only" a cake -- and I am sure it tasted great and everyone enjoyed it. But it was beautiful too ... yet nobody else got to enjoy the beauty.

Sometimes, like in that instance, beauty goes unseen because someone is thoughtless. But there is also a lot of beauty in the world that goes unseen just because of the way things are.

In his poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,"  Thomas Gray wrote,

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Plants of all colours and types bloom year after year in unreachable mountain crevices ... thousands of species of fish and plant life, complex and colourful, dwell at the bottom of the sea ... gorgeous mineral crystals form on the insides of caves, in total darkness ... and none of these beautiful things is ever seen by human eyes.

If beauty always has to have a function and a purpose, then none of that makes sense. Why would something unseen have to be beautiful? Flowers and crystals might as well be ugly if no one's going to see them.

But beauty is its own reward. It doesn't have to have a function beyond itself. God created beautiful things, so God must love beauty. (I admit he must have a sense of humour, too, because there are also some pretty weird-looking creatures out there...) 

It's sad that my friend's cake went unseen. But I hope she thinks it was still worthwhile to make it look beautiful. Even if no one ever sees it, beauty is worthwhile. Beauty makes the world a better place.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Five Minute Friday: WHY

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: WHY.

Another school shooting in the US (this week in Parkland, Florida) has left the world wondering why.
  • Why did the shooter unleash violence on his fellow students and teachers in such a horrific way?
  • Why was a person about whom there had been many ominous warnings still allowed to purchase an AR-15 rifle?
  • Why has the endless series of shootings (in schools, theatres, concerts, churches) not led to legislative change?
  • Why do terrible things happen?
  • Why does God let them happen?
It doesn't take us long to move from questions about the actual circumstances to bigger questions about God's role in tragedy. 

One of my online friends said on Twitter yesterday that when he tried to put the Florida shooting in the context of God's total sovereignty (i.e. Calvin's insistence that all events are orchestrated by God), he started crying because it was such a depressing prospect. 

I understood what he meant. The idea that God caused this event for some inscrutable reason "that we'll never know on this side of eternity" can actually feel more horrifying than the belief that there's no God and everything is random and meaningless. If our hearts are broken by the tragedy of this event, how can we possibly believe that God's is not -- that instead, He is satisfied that things turned out just the way He intended?

I think as people of faith, the biggest Why questions always bring us face-to-face with paradox:
  • God is good ... Terrible things happen.
  • God is compassionate ... People suffer.
  • God is with us ... Things feel random. 
  • Jesus has won the victory ... Evil is rampant.
  • This situation is beyond my control ... I have some responsibility.
Without acknowledging these difficult tensions, either we'll remain in apathy or despair or we'll self-medicate with simplistic cliches and excuses ... and we'll never let Why take us to a deeper, more creative, and ultimately more hopeful place.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

My teenage fashion fail: a re-post up at The Perennial Gen today

The Perennial Gen, a site for people in midlife and beyond, has a "Fashion and Beauty" theme this month, and today they're running a post of mine from a few years back.

Click here to read "My Teenage Fashion Fail" -- and enjoy reliving with me my moment of youthful humiliation!


Photo by Jonas Svidras on Unsplash.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PRIVILEGE

 Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PRIVILEGE.


A couple of days ago I saw this meme on Facebook: 

It's a play on Bonnie Tyler's popular 1980's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which starts with a man's voice singing hauntingly "Turn around..." between Tyler's lines.

The joke is, imagine if a cop told you to "Turn around" and you responded that way? They'd get so annoyed with you, they might taser you!

My first response was to laugh. It's the kind of "groaner" joke that I like -- and of course I always enjoy anything that pokes fun at the days of big hair and overly emotive power ballads.

But my second response was different: If I were a person of colour, I might not find that so funny.
There have been so many examples of people of colour (usually men) being killed in confrontations with police when it appeared that deadly force was unnecessary. So the idea of responding flippantly to a police officer's command really isn't funny at all -- you might get killed if you did that. You might get killed even if you responded obediently.

It's privilege that allows my first response to that meme to be laughter. I don't have to go about my days worrying that a seemingly innocuous encounter with police will end with my death. I can feel reassured by those who say "But most police officers are good people," because I've never known any different.

Acknowledging our privilege, whether in terms of race, or sex, or wealth, or many other often-intersecting areas, is kind of like putting on glasses for the first time. We start seeing things in a different way than before. It's not always comfortable. Even mentioning to other people that we're starting to notice things differently may elicit complaints about what a drag it is that now we're not even allowed to laugh at a little joke without (ahem) "turning around" to see how other people might interpret it. The words "politically correct" -- and boy, do I hate that expression! -- may be wielded.

Actually, now that I think of it, acknowledging our privilege is more like reversing the selfie mode on our cell-phone camera. Instead of focusing everything on ourselves and assuming the entire world is a mirror of our own experiences, we click that little icon so that the camera swivels and faces outward. We're no longer the focal point, but we can see so much more than we could before.

Are there areas in your life where you recognize your privilege? And if you've recognized it, what are you going to do about it? What am I going to do about it?

Friday, February 02, 2018

Five Minute Friday: AGREE

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is AGREE.

This week I disagreed with someone on Facebook. That is, I didn't just have a different opinion, but I stated it. The person who had put up the post expressing their opinion was someone I like and respect, and the post (which was about something important, not just something trivial like whether smooth or crunchy peanut butter is better) received many replies of affirmation from other people I like and respect. 

But I had a different view of  the issue, so I went against the tide and expressed that view. (I was the glass of Coke in the image above, coming up against all the lattes!)

Afterward I talked with a friend who is not involved in the situation, just about how challenging it can be to disagree publicly and do it in an appropriate way. She said in similar situations she asks herself questions like 

"What is my motivation in speaking up? Do I want to change others' minds?"

"Am I ready to do more than just say 'I disagree' and drop it -- do I want to get into this discussion at more length?" 

"Do I need to have the last word, or can I let it go?"

I thought these were wise questions. In the particular instance I'm referring to, I had additional thoughts that shaped my decision to speak: "Maybe someone else is reading this right now and holds a contrary view, but they're afraid to speak out. Maybe I can make that person feel encouraged or less alone. And really -- what do I have to lose?"

I don't find it easy to express disagreement with others, especially publicly. I dislike conflict, and I don't want to be disapproved of. But sometimes we need to have the courage to speak out our disagreement. We shouldn't demean or dehumanize others in the process, and we should constantly examine our own motives -- but we should remember that we are free to speak up honestly on things that matter to us, and give others the same freedom.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Five Minute Friday: SURRENDER

Last night during the Five Minute Friday Twitter chat that happens every Thursday evening, our leader, Kate, asked which of two words we'd prefer to write on this week: SACRIFICE or SURRENDER.

I voted for sacrifice -- but I lost, as this post shows!

To me, surrender sounds so "Christian-y": 

"All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give ... I surrender all ..."

"If only he'd surrender his life to Jesus, everything would change."

"We just have to surrender our own will and accept God's will."

It just seems like such a cliche. And because last week in my "intentional" post I'd written about writing my plans in pencil instead of pen -- which was kind of about surrendering my plans and intentions if circumstances change -- it seemed like it would be same-old-same-old to write about surrender this week.

Now, as for the word being too "Christian-y," Kate pointed out later that she actually thinks the word sacrifice is a more "Christian-y" word than surrender. So there you go.

In fact, while the word surrender does appear in the Bible, it's used almost exclusively in the sense of surrendering to an opposing power or surrendering a person up to the authorities. It only appears once in the New Testament: when Pilate releases Barabbas and surrenders Jesus to the will of the people (Luke 23:25). 

It's never used in terms of surrendering our lives to Jesus or surrendering our will and desires.

Maybe I squirm at the word because it carries a sense of resignation or reluctance -- like when you ask a kid to do a chore and they respond with a big sigh that says, "OK fine, I'll do it; you're not exactly giving me a choice here." I want the concept to be more positive, more willing -- not just a grumpy "OK FINE, THEN."

But I suppose, in the example of Jesus being surrendered to the people, he wasn't just a passive, reluctant victim. Luke 22:42 records him saying, in the midst of his anguished prayer, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 

This is really the ultimate surrender: Jesus isn't grudging or resentful, not heaving a self-pitying sigh and saying, "Well, I guess I don't have any say here, do I?" Instead, he's honest, realistic, willing, and determined. In his humanity, he is fearful and desolate -- but beneath that is a trust and a readiness to do whatever love requires.

Jesus shows us the truest, deepest meaning of surrender. Which, I guess, is pretty "Christian-y" after all.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Five Minute Friday (or is it Monday?): INTENTIONAL

There's a kind of irony in the fact that I'm writing my Five Minute Friday post (about the word INTENTIONAL) three days late. I intended to do it earlier; really I did. But somehow it just didn't happen. The nice thing is, the FMF linkup stays up for several days, so there's almost always time to join in even if you're late.

Today school buses were cancelled because freezing rain was forecast to begin in the afternoon. This is the third no-bus day so far this school year. Last year, there were about a half dozen no-bus days -- most of them Tuesdays, for some odd reason.

Sometimes, as happened today, Jonathan's Educational Assistant will contact us and suggest that we drive Jonathan to school instead so that they can still do something together. Today, they went to the Y for a swim. Other times, if the weather is really bad or the EA isn't coming in, we just keep Jonathan home all day. 

I remember last year the entire month of January felt very provisional: anything I might have planned was subject to whether Jonathan would have school. And this January feels much the same. I didn't have much on my agenda today, so driving him to school, picking him up at noon, and keeping him home for the rest of the day wasn't a big deal. 

But sometimes I've made plans for the day and a change in the school schedule forces me to rearrange them. I suppose this is true for many parents of school-aged kids. (Jonathan's 15, but he can't be home on his own if there's no school.) In winter in particular, there's never any guarantee that the buses will run. Bad weather or an ominous forecast or sickness can mean I have to cancel a coffee date, reschedule an appointment, or whatever. It's like I'm writing my life in pencil instead of in pen because I know I may suddenly have to change direction, in spite of my intentions.

As I thought about this, I recalled a passage from the book of James in the Bible. I memorized James in the King James Version way back when I was in my teens, and while I've forgotten some of the exact wording, I remember the gist of the verses: they're reminding us not to get too arrogant about our plans to do such-and-such, because we never know what tomorrow's going to bring. The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

"And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, 'Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.' You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, 'If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.' " (James 4:13-15)

"Nothing but a wisp of fog" -- ouch. It's humbling to realize that in spite of all our intentions, we really don't know what's going to happen. There are so many things we can't control. 

So I guess I'd better keep writing my plans in pencil and try to accept changes graciously, because I can only see a short distance ahead on the path of life.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Five Minute Friday: SIMPLIFY

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is SIMPLIFY.

In my job as a writing instructor, I often advise students to simplify their sentences.

Sometimes inexperienced writers think that they have to sound formal and sophisticated, so they write sentences like this:

The intimidation felt by the students results in a tendency toward expressing ideas in overly flowery prose.

So I ask them to look at the basic core of the sentence -- its subject and its verb -- and ask themselves, "Who is doing what in this sentence?"

In the sentence above, INTIMIDATION (the subject) RESULTS (the verb) in a tendency toward expressing. Uh ... that's kind of confusing and abstract. Have you ever seen intimidation result in a tendency toward expressing? Kind of hard to visualize, isn't it?

So I suggest that they rewrite the sentence by focusing on who is actually doing something in the sentence. The revision might look like this:

When students lack confidence, they often write in overly flowery prose.

Ah... that's better! Who's doing something? Students. And what are they doing? They're lacking confidence and writing in flowery prose. I can visualize that: an intimidated student sitting hesitantly at her desk, thesaurus at her side, trying to make her writing sound sophisticated.

The second sentence is simpler, clearer, and more direct. The reader doesn't have to wade through a lot of abstract words to find that core idea.

Maybe it might be a good idea, now and then, to step back and ask ourselves what our simplified sentences are. What are our core ideas: the things that, when we get rid of all the extraneous padding, remain true and fundamental to our lives? Here are just a few that come to mind immediately for me:

"God made me and loves me."

"I'm called to be a wife and a mom of two special-needs kids."

"God's mercies are new every morning."

Sounds pretty simple, but maybe it's enough to keep me going for a while.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Five Minute Friday: MOTIVATE

I'm starting 2018 with another Five Minute Friday post: we are given a one-word prompt and write about it for five minutes. This week's word is MOTIVATE.

I  love reading about the Enneagram. It's a kind of psychological/spiritual model based on nine interconnected personality types. I'm currently reading Chris Heuertz's book The Sacred Enneagram; after that I'll read a new book I got recently, Marilyn Vancil's Self to Lose, Self to Find. Both of these books look at the Enneagram from a Christian perspective.(Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile's The Road Back to You is another great resource on the Enneagram, especially for those who aren't familiar with it and want to learn the basics.)

One of the Enneagram's main focal points is the core motivation of each type. I am a Six on the Enneagram; the Six's core motivation is fear or anxiety. When I read descriptions of the Six, I get an uncomfortable, slightly embarrassed feeling: Yes, that's me all right.

I'm the child who was afraid to go outside in case the Apollo spaceship fell on my head. 

I'm the person who reads something in the newspaper about (let's say) bedbugs and thinks, "Oh, no, bedbugs. I wonder if we have bedbugs. OMG, LOOK, A BEDBUG! No, wait, that's a flax seed..."

I'm the person who sees a freezing-rain warning and thinks, "OK, we're going to have freezing rain and the power's going to go off and the sump pump won't work and the basement will flood..."

Someone I follow on Twitter is creating Enneagram mugs, and the mug for type Six says "I'm a 6, and I saw this coming." That rings true to me. Sixes are so good at anticipating the worst. And while the dreaded thing often doesn't happen at all, when it does the Six faces it with calm resolve. There's almost a sense of relief that finally it's happened, just as we knew it would.

I can laugh about it, but being driven by fear can be kind of exhausting. And my little examples don't even come close to the kind of fear some people experience on a daily basis.

God never meant for us to live motivated by fear. According to the Enneagram, the antidote to fear is faith. I need more faith in 2018.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." - Mark 9:24

Monday, January 01, 2018

Following the path into the New Year

In the late afternoon last Saturday, I decided to go for a walk. Supper plans were under control; Richard and Jonathan had gone for a drive; Allison was doing her own thing at home. I put on my lined pants, doubled up on mittens, and headed out.

We had had about 40cm of snow during the week before and including Christmas, so the snowbanks were piled high. But the sidewalk plows had been out, so most of the major streets seemed to have walkable sidewalks.

It was a nice time of day to walk. Although it was cloudy, darkness hadn't fallen yet, so I didn't feel unsafe; but it was dim enough that the Christmas lights outside and inside various houses were bright and sparkling against the snowy backdrop. I could even see through some windows and observe what people were doing.

As I turned off a main street and started up a side one, I had a strange visual sensation. The flat late-afternoon light made the path up ahead of me look solid white. Because the sun wasn't shining and the streetlights hadn't come on yet, there were no shadows to distinguish plowed banks from the flat path -- it was just a white expanse. I couldn't tell whether the sidewalk was plowed or completely filled with snow. 

There was only one way to find out: keep walking. And a few steps along, I saw the plow had been through. The banks on either side took shape as I got closer to them, and the tread marks from the plow became distinct. What had looked shapeless and indistinct from a distance was in fact clearly marked and plain -- a fact I'd have missed if I'd relied on my eyes alone and assumed, "This sidewalk isn't plowed yet."

Maybe you're not sure about the path you need to walk in 2018. It may look as if no one's gone that way before, and you wonder if you'll be on your own. There may even seem to be no path at all -- just an indistinct expanse without markers or signposts.

But if you just set out and take those first steps, you may find that -- as the Quakers say -- "way will open" in front of you. 

You may discover that a path, whether fresh or well-marked, lies ahead of your feet -- just waiting for you to follow it to whatever adventures the New Year holds.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

image: pixabay