Living Leaf by Leaf

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
and long.
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,
become defined,
take on a gold-rimmed edge,
carry themselves
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. . . .


Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

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?


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19 thoughts on “Living Leaf by Leaf

    1. So good to see you here, Brenton Dickieson! Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I hope to see you again on Twitter as I re-engage there. Best wishes to you also for 2023!

  1. Thanks April My father died when I was 11, and someone sent a card to my mother that she fastened his photo to and left on the window sill for decades. The line was simply ‘He is not dead, he is just gone away’. Dad worked away from home for a significant number of years in my childhood. That one thought was a fixed point for me and still comes to mind. It’s not a ‘deep thought’, but it hit me deeply.

    Thanks for reminding us of your journey so we can be with you in prayer.


    1. I appreciate this word of encouragement, Sherah-Leigh. That’s echoed in Ana Lisa De Jong’s lovely poem and the “tender potential” of this season. May you also be gentle with yourself in this new year.

  2. Thank you, April! You quoted my favourite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. In the original German his words are like music. I don’t believe one is ever done with grief. Not that throbbing, heart wrenching grief one encounters at first, but the grief that brings your loved one to mind at unexpected moments. I lost a preemie after only one day. He still comes to visit me and never announces his visits! He is my child, after all, my first born!

    1. Oh to read Rilke in German must be wonderful, Elfrieda! And thank you for sharing your loss and ongoing visits of your first born–those are precious experiences. The other day I saw something and immediately thought, “This is exactly the kind of thing I would want to tell you that no one else would understand,” and my husband seemed to answer back just as immediately. “I know. I get it.”

  3. Thank you for this inspirational post, April. I absolutely love the idea of a half day at a time!! This makes perfect sense to me. It is certainly the way I looked at things as a teacher as did my students….the morning and the afternoon, separated by lunch with colleagues (for my students, lunch with their friends), a fun break. I am going to try this!!!

    1. Thank you for sharing your post, Melodie. I love the quote you share from John Updike: “Ancient religion and modern science agree: we are here to give praise. Or to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention.” Blessings to you for 2023!

  4. May your half days become filled with joy even in the memories.
    You are an inspiration, April.
    Many prayers for comfort, peace and strength as you navigate the coming seasons.
    You are never alone!

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