Sunday, December 30, 2018

Word of the Year 2018

Over the last few years I've seen people adopting a word; their personal focus or theme for the upcoming year. I never participated, not because I didn't find it interesting but because I found it too interesting.

Had I adopted a word for myself I would have had it tattooed on my body, stenciled on my walls, made it the screen saver AND wallpaper on ALL my devices. I would have made a totally unrealistic and unachievable list of goals and tasks which would embed and reinforce said theme in to my psyche for the rest of my days.

When I see articles on choosing a word, I hide.

Well, I used to until last year.

In the final months of 2017 I kept seeing a certain word pop up. I'd see it in books, articles, and posts. I'd hear it in sermons, interviews, and conversations It showed up in a crossword puzzle! This word came up enough that I finally took notice. I felt the Spirit's prompt that it was going to be my theme for the year.

The word? Vulnerable.

Now when I think of the word vulnerable, it's on an emotional level - accessible, open and even exposed to possible hurt. In fact, I began 2018 with a CS Lewis quote "To love is to be vulnerable".

God had other ideas.

At 12:01 am on January 1, 2018 I crawled in to bed to read. I looked up and saw a wet spot above my bedroom closet and window frame. Apparently there was an ice dam on the roof that caused a leak in my attic which worked it's way down to my bedroom. This wasn't a total surprise since this was happening all over town, caused by the massive snowfall (4 feet) that occurred Christmas day.

And so I began 2018 calling the insurance company and finding contractors to remove the ice dam and dry out my walls. Large loud heated fans were set up in my bedroom and attic, where a large portion of the plaster wall was removed to allow better access. Did I mention that the fans were loud? I like to sleep with the droning sound of a fan, but not these fans, so I slept on the recliner for a few days.

Then there was a bit of a thaw where all the ice on the roofs started to fell. This brought down electrical wires all over town. And gutters, too. And the gutters broke things on their trip down. Things like branches, and my fence, and my back porch window. And naturally, power was lost.

Within a few hours the electric company was putting wires back up and restoring power all over my neighborhood.

Except my house.

When they got to my wires they said they couldn't put them back up because they were worn and they appeared to be original to the house.

 My house was built in 1916.

Now I had to find an electrician to update the wires from the pole to the house, and replace the electrical box, which was also dreadfully outdated. I was without power for five days. With temperatures below freezing, the dogs and I had to relocate - me to my friend, Brenda's, and the dogs to a local kennel. I live in a row house so I get some residual heat from the neighbors on either side of me so there was no additional damage from the cold. I did, however, lose all the food in my refrigerator.

Then, my dryer and microwave stopped working, and I smelled gas from my stove. It took a few days, but I was able to track down a repairman who was able to repair the dryer, but the microwave and stove needed replaced.

My definition of vulnerable started to grow.

In April, Erie had a not so freek-ish but not all that common ice storm. The evening of April 14 I let the dogs out in the yard for "last call". After they performed the required tasks I opened the screen door to let them back in, only Lucy wanted to continue dancing in the freezing rain. I, dressed in pajamas and slippers, had to go out in to the dark yard to drag her back in. As Lucy entered the house, I slipped on the icy steps and fell backwards on to the cement walkway, landing on my
hand first, and then my butt.

I quickly assessed myself for damage and noted some pain in my left wrist and a bend that hadn't been there before. After a few moments of denial  ("It's just badly bruised. I'll ice it. No, it's probably dislocated. I'll find someone to help me get it back in place.") the painful truth hit me like....well, a hand coming in to hard contact with a piece of cement! My wrist was broken. After a circuitous call for assistance (thank you Brenda & Jim, Bekah & Jeff, and finally Fran) I was transported to the Emergency Room where they confirmed my diagnosis.

I sported this bright pink cast for four weeks, followed by a rigid brace (in basic black) for another four weeks. I was fortunate it was my non-dominant left hand that was affected, but I was surprised by how much I actually needed my left hand. I had neither the grip or strength to perform basic tasks like squeezing toothpaste on to my toothbrush, or blow dry my hair. One needs two hands to pull up one's pants or put on a bra (thank you Laura D for the handy hint on how to accomplish this one-handed). Cooking was physically challenging (the orthopedic surgeon's advice - ditch the cast iron and get aluminum pans).

 Everything took longer to do, if I could do it all. I was physically vulnerable.

 Once my wrist was freed from two months' confinement, I was looking forward to resuming my old life only to discover I'd lost a lot of strength and flexibility from the immobility and disuse. I faced three months of twice a week physical therapy which I had to fit in to my already tight schedule. Life was exhausting.

In June, on my way home from work one night, I zoned out at the wheel as I was turning in to a gas station. I hit a curb, blew a tire,  and bent a rim. Car repairs make me feel especially vulnerable.

The remainder of 2018 was (thankfully) uneventful, though there is still one day remaining! Before looking ahead to 2019 and putting My Year of Living Vulnerably behind me, I've been reflecting on the events of 2018.

First, I was wondering why I'd limited my definition of vulnerable to the emotional in the first place. I've concluded it's because I've always been relatively safe and protected. I've always had a warm home, ample food, supportive and loving family and friends. Even during times of unemployment I had some income that covered my expenses. I just presumed these would always be there. But as these events demonstrate, none of what we have can be taken for granted. We live as we do by the grace of God. Our homes, our health, our constitutional rights and form of government can all disappear at His will. As Job said (and he had some pretty extensive experience with vulnerability) "the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away" (Job 1:21).

Then I wondered what was the result of all this? What was accomplished through all these events? I recalled a FB discussion I had back in May about the "power of positive thinking". The other party had posted a meme quoting someone saying we make our own heaven and hell by our attitude. When I disagreed, she said my good reaction to my broken wrist supported her thoughts. Here is part of my response:

My broken arm is a good example. I’ve mentioned to you my many serious bouts with depression. I’m an emotional person. This broken wrist along with everything else that’s happened this year should have sent me in a downward spiral. It hasn’t. Not because of a “good attitude” or saccharin affirmations or the power of positive thinking but because of the power of God through the Gospel.

Joy and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Joy is not a peppy “joy joy joy joy down in my heart” camp tune. Joy is faithful optimism that God will make all things right some day, even if that day doesn’t come until the day I die. Joy is what Paul prison. Joy is what Jesus Gethsemane as he cried and sweated blood. Joy is what I’m feeling now...with an ice pack on my hurting hand wondering how I’m going to get laundry done.

Joy is not a choice. Obedience is the choice I made even when it’s made no sense or meant denying my own desires. Joy is fruit of the Spirit.

What was accomplished was a greater sense of God's sovereignty and a deeper joy; genuine joy. Joy comes from submitting to God, trusting His plans are good and perfect. Submitting makes one vulnerable, exposed.

All things considered, I feel the year was a good one, but I'm looking forward to putting it behind me! And I've chosen a word for 2019. That word is prayerful. Because when you're in a vulnerable position, you tend to cry out to God more. I won't have it tattooed on my body, though. I hope by the end of the year it's tattooed on my heart and soul.

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