Saturday, February 7, 2015

snow, reflection, and a Nicaraguan new year.

I’m not a big New Year’s celebrator, per say, but I appreciate the “new” part of it.  It’s been a built in part of my yearly rhythm to end the year in some reflection.  “What happened this year?” “Where did I grow?”  Where did I struggle?”  “What did I accomplish?”  “What do I need to focus or refocus on?”
I’m a firm believer that only when experience is combined with honest reflection, is it the best teacher.  We can experience much without learning much if the time and space to reflect and learn is forsaken.

I missed that this year.  I was in Nicaragua for the last day of 2014 and celebrated “Año Nuevo” in a whole different culture.  The celebration included lots of fireworks and the burning of 2014 scarecrow dolls that marked the passing of the old year.  However, because the trip went well into 2015, shortly followed by the start of the spring semester, and some work travel mixed in, I only recently realized that I missed my new year reflection and refocus.

I’ve loved being back in Minnesota this winter.  Sometimes the cold literally makes me cry, but the snow is so entrancing and magical.  I walk to work each morning and the journey takes me across a small park.  My adventurous side likes off-roading a little bit through the deeper snow, where a path hasn’t been cleared and tracks have not yet tattled on the recent passers through.

The second day after a good snow, I started out in my walk to work, thinking about my overlooked new year.  I was once again captured by the snow, but this time it wasn’t the sparkle or the purity that grabbed me.  It was the tracks; my footprints from the day before.  The snowy tracks taught me that morning about how a life of health and growth demands reflection.

We can walk the same path day after day, year after year, with little mind to where, why, and how we walk.  We can bid the past “good riddance” and burn last year’s scarecrow, but without intention, how can we be sure that this year’s scarecrow won’t be a carbon copy of the last?  As I walked that morning, seeing yesterday’s steps, I remembered the places where my boot sank a bit too deep and my sock was surprised by a puff of wet flakes.  To my amusement, I observed that my steps didn’t go in the most direct path, but wandered a few feet this way and that.  In the snow, yesterday’s journey was recorded and it presented me with a choice.  “Will you go the same way and simply follow the tracks in front of you?  Or will you read the tracks, learn, and do something different?”

That’s the richness of the new year, new month, new week, or new day to me.  This is the value of reflection and the health of being intentional with the time we’ve been given.  Will I step in deep again?  Will I forge a completely new path?  If I simply keep doing the same things, I cannot expect something different to occur.  If I don’t make intentional changes in my spiritual practices, growth will not be seen.  If I don’t challenge myself relationally and emotionally, 2015 will end up looking regrettably familiar.

This year, for me, it’s about walking generally the same path, but doing so with intention; more than just "getting to work each day."  This year it's continuing to include the best parts of the walk, but cutting out steps that lack purpose, trying a couple of variations in the route, and learning from danger spots.  Life is too short to walk unquestioningly in the tracks of yesterday.  I observe the prints of others and they inspire me to sojourn better.  One different step can begin to alter the whole journey.  It doesn’t take a new year to take a new step.  It does take honesty, courage, and grace, though, to ask “are my steps being transformed as my mind is renewed?”

Today, I wrestle with the fear of failure.  “What if the new steps I take this year are worse than the last?” Oh, well.  At least I tried something and will inevitably learn something new from that experience.  And then I say back to my cautious, skeptical self: “But what if it’s way better?”  Life is too short not to be better if it can be.

So I put on my boots and take a deep breath through the scarf around my face.  And with goals in my hand and heart, I take a new step into the snow.

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