During my husband’s journey with cancer, we decided that taking life “one day at a time” was too much for us. Instead, we learned to plan just half a day at a time.
On treatment days, it was a half day for chemo, and then if he was feeling up to it, we would treat ourselves to take out and spend the other half day together relaxing with a movie. On other days, my husband might spend a half day on his hockey pool and developing his Learning New Testament Greek video series, then a half day resting.
I still find it helpful to think in half-days. A half day finishing a sermon and speaking and co-hosting our Zoom worship, a half day to rest. A half day dealing with just one piece of paperwork related to my husband’s death—and really, I’m not kidding, as one morning I was literally on the phone for over two and a half hours, much of that time on hold, and still had to call back two weeks later before the issue was finally resolved. I needed a half day just to recover from the frustration of that one thing!
But over the last year, I’ve also been learning to think seasonally—my season of grief and gratitude over my husband’s passing, my season of finding a new way forward, my season now of re-entry as I begin speaking in person again later this spring. These seasons continue to overlap of course. I don’t know that I’ll ever be completely done with grief and gratitude—and I don’t know that I ever want to be. In some ways I think I will always be finding a new way forward, and that’s a good sign.
So this year, as I continue to take life a half day at a time, I will also be thinking seasonally of the big picture. I’m helped in this by a new year’s poem written by Ana Lisa De Jong. Here is a brief excerpt, but I encourage you to read her whole poem on Godspace: A New Year’s Prayer:
There are moments
it might seem inconquerable.
The new year looming large
Perhaps we are to take it
leaf by leaf,
like the trees,
who only stand there . . .
allowing the seasons to dictate.
And one task today,
might be to practice considering
all the things to be done:
The jobs and responsibilities,
and the dreams even,
the ideas, half formed.
And to hold these up to the light.
See which ones crystallise,
take on a gold-rimmed edge,
with a tender potential . . .
And see which ones fade out,
become in the vision
a little brittle around their periphery,
insubstantial even . . .
like the last of the season’s leaves
left upon the Pin Oak. . . .
The poem goes on to references some wisdom from Rainer Maria Rilke. This is how Ana Lisa does that, and after her poem she includes a quote from Rilke’s Book of Hours. I keep returning to these words again and again:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear. . . .
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
For 2022, my word of the year was a phrase: choose the better part. In the midst of the challenges of this last year, especially on those days when I felt overwhelmed, choosing the better part helped me focus.
For 2023, my word of the year is again a phrase: living leaf by leaf.
Thank you, Ana Lisa for your inspiring poem. As I live moment by moment, a half day at a time, in whatever season I’m in, I’ll be living leaf by leaf—knowing that God walks with me, and “nearby there is a country they call life.”
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What is your word or phrase of the year? Or have you started the new year in some other way?
For more on writing and other acts of faith,