Seven or eight years ago, EA started giving me these journals as encouragement to write and just get my thoughts out. A few years later she quilted a slip case to hold the present active journal. Green and with a pattern of stained glass windows, it is with me nearly every day. In these journals have been lines on which I have written devotional reflections, prayers, and weak stabs at poetry. They are littered with doodles and sketches and brainstorms for everything from games to worship services. As time has gone on, there have been an increasing number of sermons taped within its pages.
By mere coincidence, I hit the end of a journal at the close of last year, which means that I am starting this year with a book full of blank pages. Poetically speaking, it’s a bit on the nose. I have a natural inclination to resist the idea that fresh starts can only happen when the calendar flips to January. Time keeps things ordered, but I am increasingly finding that it doesn’t really play into how we mature. We grow up non-linearally; in fits and starts, in quantum leaps and circling back around. I look at my grandfather ahead of me and desire for his hard-earned wisdom. I look at my sons behind me and yearn for their childlike wonder and hope.
I wonder sometimes if all of this is what Thoreau meant when he wrote, “Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” In life, it seems like we dip in and out of time. It seems big, but also fairly small. Regardless, the point is a new journal in a new year does not necessarily hold any greater meaning than a new journal in the middle of the year or a partially filled journal at some other time.
Yet I sit here with a new journal in a new year. This is where I am. And as I have filled up these first pages I remembered the lyrics from a song that I held so close to my heart seemingly a lifetime ago:
Everyday is a journal page
Every man holds a quill and ink
And there’s plenty of room for writing in
All we do and believe and think
So will you compose a curse
Or will today bring the blessing?
Fill the page with a rhyming verse
Or some random sketching?
(from “Life Means So Much” by Chris Rice)
And, yeah, it may seem a bit on the nose, but when I was a teenager on the cusp of leaving home I would hear those words and tears would flood my eyes. I want to go back and rescue a remnant of that kid and go forward. I am realizing that I don’t want a new me in this new journal in a new year. I want that kid and the college student and the dad who was also in seminary and the awkward middle schooler and the child full of life. And, yes, I shed the things that are not life-giving, that are not of God, or however you want to put it. But I still remember those things were a part of me. Even more I need to rediscover the things that made my heart beat, the things that help me write compositions full of blessing and conviction and the random weird sketching.
In this new year, in this new journal, I don’t want to be new. That will happen as time comes at me. But I want to be grounded in the root of who God made me to be. Not afraid of the past or the future. Not embarrassed by what makes me cry or sing. Not ashamed of my convictions and hopes. And embracing all of these thoughts and hopes and struggles that I have gathered in these journals and on every formerly blank page of my life.
So I close this opening that I wrote in my new journal with a prayer from that same song. Words that, if I am being honest, still make me tear up today because it embodies a place that I truly want to be. Happy New Year.
Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Cause somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much