Here in Minnesota we just had another beautiful fall season share its magnificence. It lasted about four days. If you’re not from the northland it might be hard to comprehend how the weather can be pleasantly in the upper 60’s and low 70’s for a week (always with one day that tops out in the 80’s) while the trees work their magic to transform everything around you into an incredible and brilliant blaze of color. It’s seriously beautiful. Then very suddenly the temperatures drop to almost the point of freezing, colors fade to muted shades of brown and rust, and one night you realize you are buried under five inches of snow. Is it fall? Is it winter? For most people it’s still too early to break out the holiday decorations and for everyone it means figuring out how to fit that adorable short sleeved Halloween costume that turns your child into their favorite character over top of a snowsuit. This year fall came and went super fast and now winter is here to stay. It’s no wonder that the changing of our seasons has so many times metaphorically been linked with the changes in general life.
I try not to look to the future too much. If nothing else, because of the basic truth that if you look fixedly at a point far in front of you then you’ll miss out on seeing the many wonderful things immediately around you. It’s advice you hear over and over and over again: Live in the moment. But let’s be honest, sometimes this moment sucks. Sometimes the next moment is going to suck too. But oftentimes the one after that doesn’t. Life is this crazy blend of sad and happy, mundane and exciting, routine and spontaneity, loss and love, struggle and joy. As this year draws nearer to a close I find myself feeling a bit reflective and I’ve found that I certainly hit up most of the full range of emotions available this year. Just like how a particular season can be harsh or mild in a given year, so can our seasons of life. Sometimes calendars are full, the kids are constantly sick, there are many unexpected bills to be paid, and the chaos throws you forward. Other times the measure is slow, everyone is healthy, and you find yourself in a state of abundance. This year was a strange year. It wasn’t really “bad”, but it wasn’t all good either. For me, this year was one that left me looking forward to the next one having a change in pace. Mostly because the big events that we experienced this year weren’t exactly on the level of joyous and I feel like we pushed forward through the year in a rushed and frenzied way. Sometimes good intentions aren’t enough, and even though we want to simplify our lives, circumstances forced us into some complex situations this year. We traveled the path of loss, saying goodbye to a very good friend and grieving in a way that we had not known before. We walked through the valley of stress so intense it became a health concern. We rode through the highs and lows of employment change that brought us all closer together. We stared at the scariest moment life has shown us yet and drove away relieved. We chased commitments and priorities that somehow had become overdue, using up our stores of energy. Yes, for me at least, this was a strange year. But, next year has some exciting things already in store for me. There will be some big changes for our family, changes that come with quite a bit of work, but exciting changes nonetheless. It does seem to make sense to me that next year already holds some promising events. Thinking about it reminds me of a memory that is now twenty years old. The year 1997 was another one of the strangest years of my life (incidentally, 2007 was also a very strange year, the strange years seem to run on a ten year cycle for me). I attended more funerals that year than any teenager should ever have to witness. I got really sick and made a big change to the direction of my education. But, probably the hardest part of 1997 was watching a dear friend reach the end of her battle with cancer. We shared the same first name and last name initial, but that was only the beginning of our similarities and the tiny seed that became the roots of our bond. Twenty years later my memory still holds a perfect picture of her smiling face. She was the kind of person who was so full of life that other people envied her gregarious nature. Even toward the very end of her life when she suffered the process of her body shutting down, she welcomed every moment knowing that she was blessed to have wonderful people around her and knowing that they found joy in having known her presence in their lives. Seeing a friend approach death in the way she did is a life changing experience as a teenager. It makes the reality of death seem almost gentle. It didn’t make her passing any less sad and devastating for those who knew her, but her grace in recognizing her fate allowed everyone to smile through their tears. In the days following her memorial service her family had to learn how to adjust to daily life without her in it. On a particularly hard day her nephew looked at her mom and said: “I know you are very sad right now, Grandma. But don’t worry, next year will be a much better year. This year ends in a ‘7’ and when you write the number seven you end it going down. But next year ends with an ‘8’ and when you write the number eight you end it going up.”
Goose Lake has now been frozen over for three days. I’ve given in to my desire for holiday cheer by getting out our collection of Christmas movies. With the change in season and the idea of big changes ahead I felt the need for an immediate transformation, so on a whim I rearranged furniture in my living room and bedroom, much to the satisfaction of my kids who love a good nook for building forts. Knowing this was a strange year hasn’t made me feel strange as a result. Instead, I’m finding lessons in my experiences and adjusting my approach to newfound understandings. I’m pairing rest with exhaustion and continuing to remember that each new dawn brings with it unique opportunities. Mostly though, as the days become even shorter and the calendar has fewer pages to turn, I’m looking forward to the upswing promised with 2018.