We are driving along a road in the Northwoods. We’ve wound our way along Lake Superior, glassy at the edges with ice creeping towards its center. Now a vast expanse of pine trees frame us in on each side. I look out into the depths of the woods, and I wonder just how many there are. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, an eternity of trees all stretching tall and reaching for the sun. As we pass each one, they seem as a blur of pine needle and bark.
They play out before me like one of those flip books I played with as a child. The ones where you place your thumb across the edge of the pages, all stacked side by side, then slowly release them and watch as each page turned adds a tiny piece to the scene. These pines do the same. And if I look hard, I see the intricate, beautiful details making up their story. I see one felled pine, arching high like a bridge, dipping its tip into the blanket of snow below. And then a white-tailed doe, gently nosing at that same carpet of white, in search of breakfast buried beneath. The pines tell of time’s passing. For years they have stood here doing their job of drinking in the snow melt and sunshine, growing ever so methodically in tune with the passing of hours. They grow slow, we pass fast. And only when I stare deep and focus my attention do I see the beauty of their work, and the treasures lying within their forest.
I think of these things a week later, as my husband and I sit on our living room floor, surrounded by journals, notebooks, and mugs of hot tea. The steam dances above our mugs and we write, pausing every few moments to think and talk and dream. We do it every year, this planning and goal setting and dreaming of what 365 days can hold.
And although I love the excitement of looking ahead, my favorite part is actually found not at all in the New Year, but the Old Year. Before we look ahead, we first take time to look back. It is another sort of Time Counting, but in retrospect. We think back on twelve months and we pick them apart, searching hard around every corner of them for those treasures within. Just as on that day with snow flakes falling big and pine trees stretched out on either side of me. I had to look hard beyond the eclipsing trees to find the further beauty within them. And now I do the same, looking beyond time’s passing over 365 days, to discover just what they held for us. We start to write.
Moved to Colorado!
Vast mountain explorations
Gray’s smooth transition into a new job
Signed contract for 936 Pennies book
It begins slowly and then like an avalanche. And as we remember each of these gifts, our hearts lighten. The year behind us takes on a whole new look, one covered in grace and abundance, despite any heartache and struggle.
3 Family vacations
My family came out to Colorado
Paid off loan
Did fine owning only one vehicle, and had no issues with it
Gray built us a beautiful work desk where we can work side by side
Many family picnics
Met new friends
Found a church family
Sold a house
Bought a house
Spoke at a conference
Joined a wonderful Bible study
Good news from doctors
And of course, this list is one sided. It is supposed to be. It does not tell of the loneliness and struggle woven throughout our move to Colorado. It does not hint at the emotional, exhausting process that buying our house was. It does not tell of our fourth child, lost in a miscarriage. It does not tell of the fear wrapped up in those doctor’s tests, a year after they hinted at cancer. Some of those gifts on our list could have never come to be, had it not been for the hardship.
Three hundred and sixty-five days can hold a lot within them.
It is a peculiar thing, looking back and realizing that this was both the most difficult and most wonderful year of my life. Maybe you feel the same way today. Or maybe you look back, and you only see the hard, the hurt, the ugly, the disappointment. Maybe you see very little, and you wonder just what good your 365 days did. Whatever you feel looking back on last year, now is the time to count. Search long and hard and in between every crevice of those days, and find the beauty. Find those moments that redeem the hurt, heal the wounds, and shine brighter than the dark.
Look beyond time’s passing, and find the treasures within. If you struggle hard and come up with five things, cling hard to those five gifts. And give thanks for this New Year in which twelve months lay before us, promising of beauty to be found, if only we’ll open our eyes to it.
Before beginning our list of 2016 Thanks Givings, I looked back in my journal to find our 2015 list. It was good. But it was short. This year, as we wrote down gifts, the list was over twice as long. Perhaps the blessings were more abundant. God gave us a good year. But also I believe that the length of the list has something to do with our journey of Time Counting.
We are learning to look beyond the pines; beyond the ticking of the clock, and deep within to count those moments. The tree arching over white ground, the doe gracefully walking below the forest canopy. Our boys venturing into the forest in search of adventure, good news from doctors, friendships forged, picnic lunches between mountains towering. This is Time Counting. And perhaps it is the secret. Maybe our greatest chance at our best year yet in 2017 is not found in creating the perfect scenario, but in finding the beauty that is already waiting for us in these next 365 days. May we walk into this year with our eyes open wide to see it.