On this first day of 2024, I am sitting in my favorite place, looking at the beach. I see little waves meeting the shoreline from a seemingly calm gulf; a small but dark and slanted rainstorm on my left, and a sunny scene with pale golden sand and fluffy clouds on my right. As I write this sentence, the clouds are moving away from the sun, bringing out a starker contrast in this picture of calm and chaos and storm and sun.
The holiday season can be a bit like this view, with bright sun and laughter right next to a brewing storm. Parties, shopping, charitable giving, volunteering, cooking, cleaning, gathering, cooking, cleaning, worshipping, cooking, cleaning, cooking, cleaning… it’s a lot! I spent a lot of the last month (and maybe the last year) feeling a bit disconnected from my own body, watching myself run around to meet commitments without stopping to consider the need, impact, or importance. When you get caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle, you can miss the sweeter moments of a season that asks us to celebrate and look for moments of hope in trying times.
I celebrate Christmas, and a few key moments in the advent season helped me reflect and recalibrate. I want to remember them when I start reacting instead of proacting.
Be still: The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the pastor at the church here on the island focused on a well-known scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). She said, “Be still and know that I am God,” and paused, still and knowing. She said, “Be still and know,” and paused, still and knowing. She said, “Be still,” and paused, still and knowing. She said “Be.” Just… be. Where would we be if we just were? What would we notice if we were still? What would we learn if we were so meaningfully, intentionally still that we knew. When we are in constant motion, we stay distracted and disconnected from the present moment. We are choppy, little waves on an otherwise smooth ocean. When we are always busy, we cannot find peace. When we are always chasing the urgent, we might miss what’s most important. In 2024, I resolve to be still, to be present, to be intentional, to be thoughtful, and to really know myself.
A lesson in misheard lyrics: I start listening to Christmas music the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the song I listened to the most this year was “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I’d heard this song before, but it had never resonated as deeply. The carol is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War. The singer hears the cheerful, familiar tune, then questions whether there can really be divine joy and peace in a world full of despair and suffering: “And in despair I bowed my head; / ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; / ‘For hate is strong, / And mocks the song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’” (Longfellow, 1863). Still, the bells keep ringing, and the singer understands that, even when things seem their worst, faith is still possible. In the version I played on repeat, the song ends with “Till ringing, singing on its way, / The world revolved from night to day, / A voice, a chime, / A chant sublime / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” (Longfellow, 1863). But I, perhaps hearing what I wanted to hear, replaced “a chant sublime” with “a chance of mine.” A chance of mine. In a reactive state, I often wondered how much what I did all day mattered, but accepting that I have a chance to “bring peace on earth, good-will to men” is powerful. In 2024, I resolve to take the chances I have to make things better, even in small ways, and to keep my faith in humanity in the hard times.
Everyone needs help, and everyone can help: Matthew Road Baptist Church opened their doors to Grand Prairie Homeless Outreach Organization (GPHOO) for several days over the Christmas holidays to provide shelter, food, and fellowship to people experiencing homelessness. Over these days, people without homes were able to sleep safely indoors, take warm showers with fresh toiletries, and put on new clothes and shoes. I was blessed to spend Christmas Eve with them handing out hygiene supplies, doing puzzles, watching football, sharing a meal, and enjoying the Christmas Eve service. While looking through items in the hygiene shop, one young woman said, “I feel like you’re helping me too much.” For many of us, it is not a great burden to buy travel-sized toiletries for people in need and spend a few hours handing them out and making conversation. We are not helping her too much. Not on Christmas Eve, as we hand out gifts and eat our fill with our families, nor on any other day. In another room, I got to watch Mr. Francisco test out his new vision after recent eye surgery. He has not been able to see for years. He diligently tended to his healing eye, precisely following the doctor’s orders. When he struggled to administer his eye drops, two other men staying at the Christmas sleepover gently and lovingly provided assistance. Caring for each other in times of need is a gift we can give all year. In 2024, I resolve to ask for help, receive help, and give help humbly and freely.
I’m planning for a more intentional, proactive 2024. Instead of rushing and reacting, I will pause, listen, and respond. I will plan. I will take considered action. I will see presence as a present I give to myself and others. When their is a storm to my left, I will remember the serenity to my right. The waves tumbling to the shore are a temporary distraction from the deep, calm waters beyond the sandbar. We have some very exciting things on the horizon at Hope 4 All! One of our first big actions will be seeing time to intentionally, strategically plan for future. As you think about your own resolutions for 2024 and beyond, we wish you peace of mind, hopeful joy, and time to reflect on your own journeys. Enjoy this photo of the first morning of 2024 in my favorite place!