My New Old Story

“We stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

We embrace New Years as a state of mind in which we attempt to fold up the past and define a new future. I like that idea. I like the idealistic notion of a well closed ending, a giant count-down and a ceremonious beginning after which everything is a new story.   Read More »

When You’re Heading Out

Sometimes the things they say on packaging can be hilarious in way-overkill fashion. Sometimes it can be spot on. The box of the cereal I’ve been munching on states, “What matters most is what’s inside.” It’s true for cereal boxes and people and it’s been making an impression on me lately.   Read More »

A Heart that Turns

It’s been one of those evenings. I have many different kinds of those evenings. This has been the kind of 3 books and a Bible and a guitar (accompanied with a giant brown blanket, some lingering Christmas lights, and a pumpkin muffin). I read a verse. “Ahh that’s so true!” I exclaimed and starting talking to Jesus about it. Then I cried. Then I told Him something I’m really needed to get off my chest. Then I opened a book. I didn’t make it far. More tears, comments, songs. Back and forth, reading, crying, praying, singing, exclaiming, asking. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not been a top-of-the-mountain, revelatory moment. It’s been a my-soul-cries-out kind of moment. I’ve been telling Him about some very particular heartbreaks. About some losses, some failures, some regrets and some disappointments. I’ve been pointing out to heaven those little corners in meRead More »

What Lies Behind

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“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” – Psalms 139:5-7

I have always taken comfort in times of uncertainty that He is the God who goes before me–that He prepares the way, and is in my future before I ever get there. It’s somewhat easy for me to trust Him with the things that have yet to happen, but recent history has challenged how well I trust Him with the things that lie behind. A few weeks ago as I was taking my 7 minute drive to school, I tuned into K-Love thinking, I bet there’s something playing right now I need to hear. Sometimes those 2 or 3 songs that carry me down the 44, give me just what I need to approach the day right. It’s almost my last ditch effort at perspective readjustment on days when there hasn’t been time for anything else!

Chris Tomlin was singing his new song, “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind…” I was struck. He stands behind me! How had half the impact of this reality never made its way home? I wasn’t scared about my future, I was scared about my past. I was scared of the things I couldn’t do anything about–the things that had already passed through that small window in which I have the chance to alter them. We are powerfully present in our lives in only a sliver of time. We don’t get to go backwards and forwards and make adjustments based on lessons learned and perspectives gained. When today comes, I greet it with today’s wisdom, today’s resources, and today’s state of mind and heart. And then today leaves me, and it goes into a part of my life I can’t pick up again. Tomorrow isn’t so scary because it still has so many chances. Yes, it’s unknown and uncertainty gives fear, but it also gives hope. Where is the hope in yesterday?

He stands behind. I got excited and relieved. Although it’s hard for a time-constrained brain to comprehend, I knew with sudden sureness that the comfort of trusting a God who stands in my future could be applied to a God who simultaneously stands in my past. He’s still there. He’s still working it out. He hasn’t let yesterday go. He’s not done with it yet. Though I can’t do anything, He can, and wherever He is, there is grace, and grace makes beautiful. Trust means not only that I move forward with confidence of a good future, but that I let go with surety that He will take care of the things I no longer can. The deepest beauty and freedom of a life surrendered is that nothing is beyond redemption for a God who stands behind.

Small Steps

In times when I feel behind and desperate to compensate with large leaps, I am gently reminded to find my way through small steps. I have a conviction that they are one of the best ways to get anywhere. There is nothing in this world that you could want to do that you can’t take a small step towards. Often the felt obligation to start out with a ceremonious leap prevents us from ever beginning. We become lost beneath ambitions we are yet incapable of. But when you focus on what you do have within your grasp, it makes for progress. Today I cannot write that book of mine, but I can write this post. I cannot disperse all of my fears and insecurities, but I can choose to seek truth.

I could psych myself up for six weeks to make a great movement, or I could just move a little each day as I can and find myself further along. Life and progress is found nestled between turkey samwiches, morning showers, and the picking up of a book. Oh but we are swooned by the big! Big movements look progressive and create the sensation of purpose. Simply completing the process of the here and now has a drab coating to it. But motion breeds motion, and the daily warms up engines for great enterprises. It’s not just that those journeys of thousands of miles start with one step. It’s that those journeys are completely comprised of, from beginning to end, small steps. That makes today so very important. So very possible.

What was Wonderful about September

Few books have impacted the way I live my daily life like Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I picked it up several summers back and it felt like she had composed an illusive song in my head. Appreciating the small things has always been a way of life for me, but Ann seemed to rub it into my soul till it really meant something. Her book is a journey to collect the ways in which He loves, documenting 1000 pieces of thankfulness. She shows us that joy is “always a function of gratitude, and gratitude is always a function of perspective.” The way she writes about thanksgiving is not as a quaint idea, but as an essential piece of life.

I dug into a journal the first day I cracked the spine of her book and began penning my own list of 1000 gifts that come into my life every day. By the end of the summer, my journal was fat:

18. Permission to not have to be good at everything
93. The smell of white toast and orange marmalade in the morning
101. The sound of gravel beneath my feet
143. Strolls at dusk with fresh apricots

I’ve had to fight for this celebration of life. In No Small Wonder, I wrote of losing the big picture:

I had let it become all hollowed out, all wrong way round. These little things will never give life. They are merely another way of seeing and appreciating the life everything is infused with because of Him… But when celebrating life becomes a part of celebrating and enjoying the God of all life, it is then that it becomes true gratitude. Then there is life and authenticity to it.

Now, 1556 pieces of thanksgiving later, it’s become a part of my daily life. Nothing makes for a moment of gratitude like starting a new month, so in celebration of October’s arrival, here is some of what I have loved in the past seasons, and a few of my photographs of what was wonderful about September:

copyright Amy Watson

copyright Amy Watson

148. The satisfaction of being able to put feelings and experiences to words and music
175. Wearing PJs to the breakfast table
186. The soggy, drenched inside bits of garlic bread
192. The crackling sound your ice makes when you pour water over it
195. The way cake gets better after a couple of days in the fridge
201. Counting down how many “sleeps”

copyright Amy Watson357. Relationships that are bigger than the mistakes you make
370. That first spoonful of Greek Honey yoghurt
430. People you are comfortable in simply being quiet with
460. The way commas allow you to extend your sentences
742. Watching golfers at the 10th hole outside our kitchen window
754. Filling the last page in a notebook
792. The feeling of a paintbrush on your cheek
808. The way a Dr. Seuss Book comes off your tongue
965. The echoes and acoustics of covered parking buildings
977. The sound of a teacup returning to its saucer
997. Three snuggled on a small red couch

copyright Amy Watson

1485. The way sweetened condensed milk in my coffee takes me back to mornings in Africa
1519. Remembering that people don’t have to change for me to forgive them

Enjoy October, and discover all that is wonderful about it!

Learning to See

There are some mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have somewhere I have to be. Then there are other mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have nowhere to be at all, and that makes getting out of bed far too irresistible. The lazier my morning, the more I want to get up and poach an egg, have a slice of sourdough, and deliberate about whether my tea is over brewed or not. I stick my nose in a recycled paper magazine, love its smell, and suddenly want Italian sausage to make its recipes. Not to mention, since buying my camera, I have had to add about half an hour to all of my morning preparation times, to accommodate for the shutter snapping between bites and sips and keystrokes.  I have a new, non-literal understanding of the phrase, “cooking time.” I will throw an egg shell into the garbage and be half way across the kitchen before I realize I need that egg shell for my photo. You have to tell the whole story. My camera is teaching me that… my canon and my 2H pencils.

The more I engage with art, the more I realize that so much of life is about seeing. Whether I’m looking through my viewfinder, or my subconscious train of thoughts, seeing is an art and a discipline. To see well is to live well. When you can see, you can make something beautiful. My art professor tells me almost every class period that drawing is not about becoming better at holding a pencil, but refining your ability to see. He comes along, puts a stroke on my Bristol pad where that stroke was supposed to go, and I exclaim, “oh! I see!” I get it. That’s what was wrong. How I wish the art of my life had a professor walking around saying, “no no, look here… you’re not seeing it right… see… it goes like this…” I am having to train my eye to see where the lines curve around a cello, or how light encases apples. More importantly, I have to train my eye to see where grace just gave me something I didn’t deserve, and where a difficult situation just helped to mold me into something more beautiful.

Change of Plans

I turned 25 yesterday and for the first time I feel that I am getting old. I had a scary moment when I thought, “oh no! I can’t start this now! Am I going to feel like this for the rest of my life!” Somehow at 25, every decision feels more risky as if it’s toying with uncertain time and resources. I want my decisions to feel more guaranteed in their outcome, but my life is still young and I am figuring out where to walk, and how best to get there.

Plans are changing. Big plans. Plans that for the past two years have played a role in where I have pointed my life and what side of the world I have lived on. Have you ever had a vision that pulled you forward, and gave you your sense of where you were going, suddenly end a few feet in front of you? Sometimes these visions change because we have grown to see differently. Sometimes they are changed by things outside of ourselves. But when change means that plans end, so much that is big and meaningful is unfulfilled.

For some time now, I have been chasing a train track until it has run out of rails and steel and I have become disillusioned to find it doesn’t go anywhere. The plan no longer continues, and so it seems that it was never valid. How does one not become stunned and disappointed? I look forward and I ask, “what was the purpose?” But then I look at where I am today, and I see that these plans, these rails that have ends, have brought me here. So much of what my life has come to look like, where I am and what I have to build from, would not exist if I hadn’t chased that dream. It gave me the security and the vision I needed. We need these–these evolving plans–to keep us moving into our future. We move forward through vision, and the visions I have had have helped me to carve out this world. God knows this. He knew I needed those big plans and all their meaning to bring me here and give me the security to make the decisions I have made. What if this track I have been walking on was to serve that end, to bring me forwards? Here I can see new plans and form new visions that perhaps I would not have embraced further back on the road.

On day two of being 25, I am scared of changing plans. I am scared of train tracks that end, and casting vision without guarantees. I want to make plans promise me that if I chase them, they’ll work out. But what if it’s not supposed to look like that? These unfilled plans of mine dare me to consider that perhaps they have met their purpose. Even as plans morph, change, or dead end, they fulfill a place of meaning in that they bring me forward.

The Promise of Frustration

Life has been very much an experience of the “inbetween” lately—those days that happen after one thing ends but before the next one starts. These days can be giant lulls of empty. Standing inside my life, I begin to feel as though it is slowly shrinking. I can’t stand these kinds of days. My ideal self would be filled with expectation of the unseen, but I’m not really. Not yet. I know that those things are there, but what I can see and what I can feel is pure frustration. It’s a low-lying drone that rubs against hope and purpose and wants to bury me inside of itself.

Something asks me whether frustration isn’t a promise of new life in the air.  Perhaps it is meant to lead us to expectancy. Like a growing pain, it can be the herald of change. Frustration is telling me that I have grown and that the old life no longer fits the new me. It is telling me that seasons have ended and new ones are beginning. It’s not that my world has shrunk, it’s that I have outgrown it. When things begin to feel empty it’s because I can feel the absence of something that is about to be. God awakens a longing in anticipation of fulfillment, and we ache because it’s coming. With these eyes to see, my frustration is a misperception. Frustration is the edge of a need without the hope of an answer. If I can let discomfort adjust my focus, frustration holds a promise of things to come.

My in-between days feel bare and struggling, but they are rich and purposeful. They hold all the emptiness of transformation, all the frustration of new birth. There is a promise to my frustration that is meant to point me on. It is a moment of expectancy that has been misperceived, and if I can turn it the right way, this lull might just become a celebration…