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September 1st as the real New Year

Happy New Year! I hope that wherever you are, you are warm. Across Canada, it seems like everywhere is under a deep freeze. I am thankful that our windchills, while bitter, aren't as bad as they could be. My husband and I stayed in. Who wants to go out when it's so cold?

I wish that the New Year could be observed on September 1st. It is a far more meaningful date when it comes to change than January 1st is; for me, anyway. That date when summer is drawing to a close and the school year is upon us has been a marker for me since I was five years old. Even when I grew to adulthood, it was still a feature as I attended school myself and as I homeschooled my children. It is still a factor now that I'm in seminary. When I grew up, the significant changes in my life were observed in the summer months. When my father as inevitably transferred, it usually occurred in the summer months in order to make it easier for us as a family. Goodbye old city and school in June; hello new city and school in September. If the New Year was in September, it would be more enjoyable to celebrate here in Canada, anyway.

On December 31st, there is always the typical look back upon the year at events both in the news and personally. Of course, real life doesn't observe markers with such precision, and often when I'm encouraged to look back on the year, I can pick out a few significant things, but there are still things that are unfinished that will come to a conclusion later this year. Ask me in a few months to look back, and I may have a better answer for "how was your year?"

One of the most significant events in my life happened on a day in September: my first child left home. That event was a bigger adjustment than even becoming a parent for the first tiime. Looking back on that time, I think it actually took me about eight years to really adjust. I thought I had adjusted pretty well, but it turned out it had been more difficult than I realized. That day, as we watched our daughter walk across the football field at her new school, toward the student dorms, I had no idea of what change I was experiencing. The significance of dates and times often don't manifest themselves until long after the changes have happened. We never know what will be a watershed until well aftter it's happened. For some, another random date may feel like the first day of a new year.

Perhaps I like September 1st better because there is more of a build-up. I don't feel like I've been out of school that long. I've already begun reading for my history class and I've reviewed Greek every day since I finished classes, so I don't feel that sense of anticipation. My anticipation lies more in the hope for good weather every Tuesday and Thursday when I drive to school. What I do find interesting is that in September, we are often encouraged to reflect back on our summer, not the whole year; as if summer brings with it more scope for change or significant events. The fact that we often anticipate significant things happening in the summer kind of implies that September 1 is a significant date.

It is good to take time to reflect on our lives, but one doesn't have to do so on December 31st. Pick a day of the month every month. Even better, write about the significant things that happen. It is especially valuable to keep track of what we've read in our Bibles and the spiritual lessons we've learned. Paper journals are still a big business. I was at Indigo on Saturday, and the selection of journals was impressive. I guess the point is to be pro-active about looking back. It's a good way to see where we've come from, and help us as we look ahead.


Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder

Let us love and sing and wonder;
Let us praise the Saviour's name!
He has hushed the law's loud thunder,
He has quenced Mount Sinai's flame:
He has washed us with his blood,
He has washed us with his blood,
He has washed us with his blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

Let us love the Lord who bought us,
Pitied us when enemies,
Called us by his grace and taught us,
Gave us ears and gave us eyes:
He has washed us with his blood,
He has washed us with his blood,
He has washed us with his blood.
He presents our souls to God.

Let us sing, though fierce temptations
Threaten hard to bear us down!
For the Lord, our strong salvation
Holds in view the the conqu'or's crown:
He who washed us with his blood,
He who washed us with his blood,
He who washed us with his blood
Soon will bring us home to God.

Let us wonder! Grace and justice 
Join and point to mercy's store;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more.
He who washed us with his blood,
He who washed us with his blood,
He who washed us with his blood,
Has secured our way to God.

Let us praise, and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high;
Here they trusted him before us;
Now their praises fill the sky.
"Thou has washed us with thy blood,
Thou has washed us with thy blood,
Thou has washed us with thy blood,
Thou are worthy, Lamb of God!"

 - John Newton


The beauty of sleep

On Thursday afternoon, I was feeling a little tired, so I lay down on the couch. It wasn't long before I had two Beagles with me, and I slept for more than two hours. Upon waking, I initially felt a little guilty. Should I have been doing something more productive? Guilty feelings aside, I felt great.

During the first two weeks of December, my time was dedicated to school. I woke early to study, and even though I was in bed early, I often did not sleep well because I had Greek and Hildegard running around in my head. I have trouble shutting my mind off when I'm busy. Once school ended, I had to rush to prepare for Christmas, so I didn't sleep well then, either. Busy days of visiting and cooking meant I continued to function while feeling that lack of sleep. It was a relief to rest.

It truly is amazing how getting enough rest is crucial to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. I feel bad for people who struggle with insomnia on a regular basis. If I don't sleep enough, it shows, and not just through baggy eyes. If I know rest is good for me, why do I feel like it isn't productive?

Being busy is often viewed as a virture. The more we do, the more valuable we feel. At least, that is the common mindset. As Christians, we remember that we are created beings, and with that comes limitations, including the need for sleep. Though we may not like to feel limited, we are. Humans die; they get sick; they have physical weaknesses. Humans can accomplish a lot, but there is so much more we cannot do. We cannot do without sleep.

The sleep God gives us is a gift; for some, that recognition is more profound than for others. Sometimes, we overlook our limits by living without the right amount of rest. It is a victory to pull an all-nighter in school. But in the end, we must sleep. Even night owls need sleep.

Psalm 127 comments on the matter:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

This is said in the context of recognizing that we ought to let the Lord be the ultimate builder of our lives. Just as we recognize that we labour in vain if we don't recognize that, thinking we can live outside of how God designed us is vain. There are times while we must forsake sleep to get something done, but that is not the ideal. We may think we're accomplishing a lot by forsaking rest, but in the end, we will feel it. 

Going without proper rest can have negative cumulative effects. My husband's job has been extremely demanding over the past few months. He isn't one to take sick days or slack off, so when he came home early he said it was because he was getting nothing done due to being exhausted. Those weeks of not getting proper rest had caught up with him. Fatigue makes us less able to meet stress and struggle. It can make us less effective as we serve God. And it can make us downright cranky.

The guilt I felt didn't last long. I knew I needed that rest. I did accomplish something on Thursday afternoon: I recharged so that I'm ready to serve.


Take up, and read

I'm always thankful to see others encouraging the reading of Scripture. And in this last week of 2017, there are plenty of articles to encourage and provide practical helps for reading the Bible in a year. In the 32 years I have been a Christian, I have read through the Bible in a year several times, but in all honesty, it isn't my favourite way to read the Bible. I do find it helpful to always be mindful of the overarching story of Scripture, but some reading plans, especially ones that have me reading in more than one place daily have not been as helpful as other ways of reading.

Though some find the prospect intimidating, I really loved  reading through the Bible in 90 daysAfter having done that in 2015, I retained a lot more than times I read over a year. Reading larger chunks really emphasized the repetition of words and themes. That shorter, more concentrated time really solidified the overall narrative of the Bible. I'd like to do it again sometime. If we can find  find time to read another kind book for an hour a day we shouldn't have much trouble with an hour a day in the Bible. Taking a break from social media or television can give us the time we need, and those things are always there when we're finished our reading plans.

There is no perfect reading plan, and it's not the plan that will give us the success in accomplishing the goal. We simply have to be consistent with whatever way we read. The goal of a finishing in a year isn't necessarily more virtuous than other time frames. There are seasons in our lives when we are stretched, and perhaps it takes us two years to finish. There's nothing wrong with that. One thing that can really help is accountability. Having someone reading along with us is a great way to give and receive encouragement as well as someone to talk with about what we've read.

If somone were to ask me how to start a habit of Bible reading, I would tell her to set aside a specific time and just start reading without feeling pressured. When I first became a Christian and I wanted to read the Bible, the thought of reading it in a year would have scared me. I just picked a gospel and read slowly. The important thing is to read Scripture and think about it.


A year of reading

I have not often kept a list of books read in a year, but this year I tried to do so. I don't know as if my list is complete because I had to look at two different journals to figure it out. From what I gather, I read 37 books this year. By some standards, 37 books means I'm not a serious reader. That standard is twaddle. I'm a serious reader. 

The first book I finished this year was The Break by Katherena Vermette. It was an excellent book. Vermette is Métis, and from Winnipeg. She is also a poet. It was a book that left me with very vivid mental pictures. I lived in Winnipeg (where the book is set) and her descriptions of the winter took me back to those years.

Unless I finish Re-thinking Baptism before next week, the last book I will finish in 2017 is The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. It was an excellent story. It had lots of surprises, and it was set in Ireland, which I always enjoy.

My favourite fiction book of the year was Barometer Rising by Hugh Maclennan. I can't believe I hadn't read it before. It was suspenseful, and I always enjoy books based on real events. This was set during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

For favourite theological book, I think I would have to say it was a tie between two J.I. Packer books, 18 Words and Re-discovering Holiness. Packer is always astute, witty, and profound.

The saddest book I read was The Education of Augie Merasty. It is the memoir of an First Nations man who was in a residential school. The co-writer tried to stay as close to the words of Merasty himself, and it makes for a very but stark but compelling read. 

I don't have a list for 2018. I just read what I want to at the moment. As always, my first priority is to read what I have unread on my shelves. In addition to that, my goal is to avoid purchasing books just because everyone says I should read them. I fell prey to that this past year and ended up with a few half completed books. My goals is to enjoy what I read and benefit from it, not be able to say I read x-number of books. Reading takes time, and I like to enjoy a variety of entertainments. I also like a clean house and home cooked food, which also takes time.

Reading is a daily thing for me. I can't remember the last time I went a day without reading (aside from my morning devotions). I'm thankful for a house with books.