It Doesn’t Always Get Worse: Thoughts at New Year’s

Happy New Year’s from Shasta’s Fog!

This New Year’s I’m celebrating in the best way, brilliant sunshine bursting through floor-to-ceiling windows at my favorite coffee hotspot downtown, a buzzing atmosphere for family and friends enjoying embarrassingly late brunches. (Travel tip: there’s free parking in downtown Lancaster on federal holidays!)

On the first day of the year, I’m taking a few moments to breathe in the newness, and as I open my planner, I notice a new scent.

I smell violent adventure.

In many ways, the year ahead looks very hard, full of change, decision-making, exploring new opportunities, meeting new people, networking.

It all sounds adventure-y, yes. But also terrifying for this self-proclaimed introvert.

Despite the fact that it’s easy to writhe under the day-to-day grind of vocational service, sometimes it’s easier knowing exactly what the next twelve months hold, vocationally.

If you find that you don’t have that luxury this New Year’s Day, I offer you this observation gleaned from the endless stream of running podcasts I listened to driving back and forth from Ohio for the holidays. #midwest #roadtrips

Lindsey Hein, interviewing ultramarathoner Jessica Goldman, asked her about mental fortitude on the trail: “How do you navigate the ultramarathon mentally? What makes a person able to conquer distances of 100 miles or more?

Goldman responded, “One thing I repeat to myself is, ‘It doesn’t always get worse.’”

When you’re in mile 20 of a 100-mile race, you may be feeling awful, your legs screaming at you. When you look ahead to the fact that you have 80 miles left to go, there are two options. You may be tempted to think that you don’t have enough in you, and that if this is how things are going now, there’s absolutely no way that you can finish, because you cannot handle it if things continue to go downhill. (Heh heh.) Or, you have this option: you can glean from the experience of Goldman and others who know that sometimes it doesn’t always get worse. Sometimes life-giving running rhythms develop in the back half of the race, and it’s only in those first 20 miles that you experience mind-numbing distress.

Take this as a running tip and also as a booster for your New Year’s day. Perhaps this is the year in which your lived experience collides with never-before-experienced wellness.

Because that, my dear readers, is hope.

Hope is flexible. Hope is open to new experiences. (Truly, hope believes that new experiences are in fact possible.) Hope trusts that God gives wisdom for navigating new places and people. Hope believes that the power of Jesus gives us everything we need for a godly life. Hope is humble and ignores the awkward feeling of trying to do things differently. Hope is ambidextrous, employing multiple modalities for seeking spiritual and mental health.

J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote: “The world indeed is full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

I think Tolkien points to a hopefulness much needed in our world. (Even though as I’m blogging, I’m at the same time reading at Peter Hitchens article over at First Things called “Vice and Fire” that questions the religious ambivalence of Tolkien’s work and also prophesies the cultural effects of religious indifference promoted by George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Hitchens brings clarity to the way in which Tolkien and Martin create nonreligious fictional worlds which have no need nor vision for the spiritual; indeed Hitchens writes that Martin’s “fantasy greatly disturbs me, because it helps to normalize the indifference to Christianity which is a far greater threat to it than active atheism.” So on second thought, perhaps Tolkien’s hopefulness doesn’t go far enough. What fair-ness, for example? And what, really, is its undergirding? Human wistfulness? Sentimentality? That is the last thing we need.)

As you step forward into growth this new year, I pray that the hope you encounter is real and true, creational and cosmic, impossibly larger than human sentiment.

In 2019, perhaps Isaiah is the prophet we need:

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
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.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

A Hipster New Years

Riddle: What do you get when you cross a speech pathologist, a musician, a respiratory therapist, and an English major? Answer: An incredibly fun, creative, and meaningful New Years vacation.

This week I drank deep of convivial friendship. I am so blessed by these girls who are iron to me. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Sometimes you have totally average experiences and take totally average trips with totally average people. But when totally average people are dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the fellowship that happens (on trips like this one which I will entitle “Small-town Indiana/Chicago”) make all the frivolities of life a little more bearable, make the Italian coffee taste sweeter, and make the frigid Lake Michigan winds a little warmer. For me, the fellowship of believers is an embodiment of the kingdom of heaven; it realizes our longing for God, and it makes God more personable.

And boy, did we have fun!

We decided to throw a Hipster New Years Eve party.
1. Costumes: nerd glasses, skinny jeans, scarves indigenous turbans, and Apple products.
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2. Organic Menu: noodles, sushi, and goat cheese salad
3. Soundtrack of Bands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of: Beautiful Eulogy and Andolino. (We also included “mainstream” hipster music on our playlist: The Vespers and Paper Route).
4. Activities: hand-made crafts, knitting, and discussing really meaningful life issues. Like my giraffe socks, which I wear because “I care about the animals.” And taking as many Instagram pictures of our food as possible.

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“If you shake it like this, it looks antique.”

But we kind of failed as hipsters, because we kept wanting to take happy, smiling pictures of ourselves instead of bad-postured, sulking ones. Our hipster-ness started fading. We had planned to watch a foreign film, but we just ended up playing speed Blokus until early in the morning.

We enjoyed sleeping in on New Years morning, and our host Camille rose to the occasion and prepared us an authentic, New York-style brunch.

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Camille, who recently moved to New York City, on brunch: “People are so serious about brunch here. Like they dress up and go out. They take it very seriously. It’s a thing.” (Camille is turning into quite the little New Yorker. On our drive to Chicago, she missed a road and had to take a different route. She’s like, “It will be okay, but it’s like taking the local instead of the express.” The train metaphors give her away.)

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Serious and severe.

Brunch in heels.

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“Stop being sterile! Happy friend thoughts!”

New Years Day was for relaxing. We watched My Family and Other Animals, a semi-true story about a 1930s British family who visits (invades) the Greek island of Corfu. Stunning location and videography, yet as quotable and as awkward as Napoleon Dynamite.

January 2nd dawned bright and clear, and we found ourselves driving to the city. Our hipster party, exclusive in the extreme, was set in an obscure small town, but we shed our anonymity for the Big City. Chicago, here we come!

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The Aqua Building

The Aqua is one of my favorite sky-scrapers. It is the tallest building in the world designed by a female architect (Jeanne Gang). It is also very sustainable and an aesthetic masterpiece! The wavy exterior suggests natural limestone outcroppings common to the Great Lakes region.

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Photo credit: Camille

We had lattes and breakfast at Café Rom, a modern Italian coffee shop. Best latte I’ve had in a long time. I think I recognized the barista from when I was there two years ago. She at least remembered Camille, who had stopped in two weeks before. “What’s your name again?” she said. “Camille.” “Oh, that’s right.”
And people think cities are impersonable.

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Our museum for the day: The Shedd Aquarium. So many happy fishies! We even saw some hipster fish; they had mustaches.

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These guys looked a little surprised to see us.
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Slut puff hairstyles.

Our paparazzi photos from Lake Michigan. Lol.

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Delora, the celebrity, caught on film!

I should note here that I have a really bad habit of visiting cities in extreme weather conditions. When I went to New York City several years ago, it was over 90 degrees (in the morning)! I endured total body chafing as I walked the entire city.
On the other end of the thermometer, the last time I went to Chicago, it was 20 degrees and windy.
This time? 13 degrees.
By the time we walked to Café Rom, our faces were unmoving, literally frozen from the cold. (Basically…) I mean, we were dressed for the cold, but these extreme conditions have to stop! Does anybody know of some more temperate cities where I can vacation?

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Photo Credit: Allison’s iphone

We chose world-famous Chicago-stuffed pizza for dinner: Giordano’s! Best pizza one can ever have! (Though some day I would like to try authentic Italian pizza, like Delora will get to do in Europe this summer!)

Next we embarked on a thoroughly successful (for me, at least) shopping trip. We conquered Michigan Avenue, recharging with coffee, Italian gelato, and Ghirardelli ice cream. Evening deepened, and the city lights began to flicker on, and after even more shopping, we finished our day at Starbucks, with more coffee. Tired, wind-blown, and giggling, we continued redemptive conversation threads that had been woven into our time together.

And it was not surprising that our trip together ended with prayer.
You can take trips, drink coffee, and be cool together, but those things in and of themselves are shallow. Our fellowship had such higher significance than I think any of us even planned. It was not that we explicitly planned to admonish, rebuke, and encourage one another, but that is what these dear friends did for me. And it is possible because as believers, we are “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” I thank God for Friendship, and for these specific friendships, and for these friends who have been friendly to me when I needed friends desperately. God truly supplies for our needs.

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Happy New Year to each of you! I hope and pray that in this new year you might find Christ’s joy to be richer and sweeter than any of the best and worst of 2012. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

One more New Year thought: “There are far better things ahead than anything we left behind.” C.S. Lewis