Another friend who doesn't have a blog wrote a New Year's letter I asked to share with you. Deb Snell and her husband, Greg, are missionaries in leadership training in East Africa.
Dear Friends and Family,
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ending of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. Everybody is saying “Happy New Year!” but it’s become somewhat of a cliché, I think. People really don’t even think about it, they just say it. Kind of like “Hi. How are you?” EVERYBODY says it. It’s true…we want everyone to have a happy new year. It’s a new chance at life, a new chance at being happy, usually meaning happier than last year.
But guess what? We sometimes aren’t. It MAY be a better year (we certainly hope so), but it may not. So what does that say? Well, for me it says that struggle and stress, pain and endings share a bed with peace, joy and new beginnings all through our lives. Regardless of your faith walk (or lack of it), wise spiritual leaders all have thoughts along those lines – from Kalihl Gibran to the Dalai Lama to Gandhi and Jesus Christ. New years are only new chances at making changes. We see them as times to make resolutions for the new year. But those resolutions can be like diets… they are like “giving things up for Lent”. How many of them are brought to fruition? Not many I bet.
So I have been focusing on my new year being an opportunity for me to make choices – choices that involve mind over matter. Wikipedia says “mind over matter” is the belief that the mind is more powerful than the body. You might apply that to New Year’s resolutions of things like “dieting”.
But I am changing the phrase to “mind (choice) and heart (reaction) over circumstances”. I am going to try to choose to be happy or at least optimistic in the face of difficult times, recognizing the reality of pain but knowing I can seek the joy. I will choose to focus on my attitude, always remembering how very much I have to be grateful for. Making it personal. Remembering that it is far easier (or should be) to be kind than not. Remembering to look to other’s circumstances and try to understand them. Remembering to be a friend and not an enemy. Remembering to step outside my comfort zone footsteps into the footsteps where others live. Remembering most of all how fragile life is – my life – your life – my families lives – Greg’s life – and that life is too short to carry grudges, to not care. Greg said one time that when we get to heaven we are going to be asked “why did you make such a big deal out of the little things and why didn’t you make a bigger deal of the big things?”
I suppose I have been on this journey for some time. Probably since I hit the curve in my life (popularly called “over the hill”) – I doubt that I’m still on the ascent, since I’m pretty sure I won’t live until I’m 134! I (Greg and I) have begun to lose dear friends. The Christmas season this year was particularly hard. Our good friend Steve died on the 23rd very unexpectedly. Steve and his wife Connie have been here to visit us three times and now I will think of him every time I look at the bright sunshine and the moon shining through his skylights at Eagles Wings. Michael Wikman, another friend, particularly of Greg, also tragically died last week, far too young. A young woman who visited our home in Karen with her team for an American Hamburger and fries dinner, was murdered last week. This season we heard of 3 friends newly struggling with recently diagnosed or reappearing cancer and chemo. It is hard to be so far away, even as I am grateful for their lives and their blessing to me. And closer to home, here in Green Park our neighbor, already suffering with osteoarthritis, fell and broke his femur. It will be a long and painful recovery. Throughout the year there are many more stories like this, but I was particularly struck by the fragility of life this Christmas season. Here in Africa, we have lost more “family” almost every month. Life is hard here. And finally, (I hope), although it was “just a dog”, we lost our beautiful German Shepherd to tick fever (very deadly here) within 48 hours – just months after giving us a beautiful litter of puppies.
But in the middle of all this there is also great joy in what I have been given. Nobody teaches me this more than our African family. Their reality is harsh. But their gratitude for all they have, and for praising God for it, is unrelenting. It humbles me. Especially when it reminds me of who I am and whose I am and who loves me and cares for me and walks with me, and I realize that I am not alone. Nothing should be taken for granted and everything should be accepted as a gift. So my motto for the year… life is short… reminds me to live each day with acceptance of life’s curve balls, the reality of loss¸ but also with gratitude, kindness and joy (as much as I can muster). It is a choice. And I choose it.
Which brings me to my final thought. No, my final “knowing”. I cannot do all this alone. It would be a miracle. And I depend on my faith and Jesus to keep me on the right track. How else could I do it? He is much more likely to be with me than against me with such a lofty goal! And is much more likely to roll his eyes at resolutions of lesser meaning, knowing they will be shallow attempts.
So what choices can you make this new year? Who do you depend on? Who do you look to for guidance and support? Who do you look to for the unconditional love and comfort when you need it? It may not be Jesus – but I pray it is someone who will not fail you or let you down. We all need each other and we all need to be unconditionally loved when we fail.
Loving you all from way too far away, but sending hugs anyway.
May your new year be blessed beyond belief!
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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