fire and ashes

I graded my last few final exams today and submitted my end-of-semester details to the registrar. I have a few summary tasks here and there, but it is a full four weeks until I have to tend to daily thoughts of grading and planning and prepping for class. I have lots of big hopes to complete neglected house tasks and do fun things with the kids – but mostly I just want to exhale from the mess that was 2016.

Perspective changes everything, and I am working hard to remind myself of that. There were some crazy moments and dismal details about my past year but also other things that were brighter than what I could have ever imagined and so far beyond my predictions.

There are things that have taken shape in my life this year that, simply put, I just didn’t feel ready for yet. Big things like time alone and my grandmother’s passing and less monumental things like a house renovation I didn’t ask for and publications I didn’t expect to come along. Sometimes you just want to put in an order to God to tell him to hold on a minute. I can do that later, but I am not ready. Not yet.

But we are never totally ready, I guess. Not for anything worthwhile. I know this to be true when I look back on the steps of my life that have brought me the most joy and delivered the greatest promise. The best details are always the ones I didn’t feel ready for. Life is all improv, isn’t it? I think that’s the thing none of us like to admit. We are all doing the best we can with any given set of challenges, and that is why, I’m realizing, it is so important to know yourself in a true and solid sense. Know your own limits and boundaries and priorities rather than checking things off some outside list and measuring yourself in someone else’s view. We make these decisions all the time, and one tiny turn leads to another, and you find yourself living in a reality you never could have predicted. When you make those decisions from a space of solid understanding and refined priorities, the results unfold beautifully. But when you make those decisions from a place of shaky ground or reflected sense of self, you will look around soon enough to wonder why your life feels so itchy and wrong. I thought 2015’s job was to get rid of all the itchy pieces, but as it turns out, 2016 kept doing that too. Refining, refining, refining all the time. Leaving only what is real.

Our little elf “brought” a board game from the North Pole today. (It helps to spread out the gifts with a couple of Advent surprises, I’ve found.) And we played a few rounds of Life Junior tonight after dinner dishes were put away and bath time was over. It’s the latest incarnation of the Life game I can remember playing growing up. This version has fun stops on the board like ice cream parlors and picnics and days at the beach. But the one I used to play had you check life milestones off the list. Remember that? Pass the university and collect your degree, get a job, pass the chapel and place a spouse in your tiny plastic car and ride off to get a mortgage and a baby with the next dial of the spinner.

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It’s what we’re told. Check the boxes and things will be perfect. But it doesn’t really work that way.

Here I am, two years out. And I am so grateful mine all burned down. I don’t see the same game board at all anymore. I see one with windy twists and turns and unforeseen corners, but not a specified beginning and end. And what a relief it is to see life like that, how it is meant to be. Poet David Whyte has a line I love that explains, “Sometimes with the bones of the black sticks left when the fire has gone out, someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.” How incredible it is when all we feel is fire and all we see is ashes, but then you find that the bones are left and they are writing something new.

I’m feeling the new emerge here at the end of what was once again a year of pain and grief and joy and transformation and space and air and warmth and darkness and light. All those nights of thinking I’m not ready yet have finally left room for the echo that tells me I’m ready for whatever is next. Open and able and willing for the next pieces to fall where they are meant to be.

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