Straining for the Light

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For a long time the threat of a new year brought with it an onslaught of more darkness, more enervating melancholy, more long, gray days ahead to suffer through. It was nothing to celebrate. 

At the end of one of those especially difficult years I met Alece Ronzino online. She too had experienced a year (or more!) like that, punctuated by loss and betrayal and hopelessness. In 2009 she decided to find one word to focus on in the new year, instead of a list of resolutions that were quickly and quietly abandoned. One Word 365 was born. 

One word can change everything. Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap the long list of goals that you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live or what you want to achieve by the end of 2016. One word. 365 days. A changed life. ~Alece Ronzino

The last four years I’ve participated brought some incredible changes to my life. I became more focused, more hopeful, more inspired to hold fast, keep going, and expect good things. I’ve been challenged to be fearless. I have committed to believing. I have thrown myself into creativity. Most recently, I have spent a year contemplating possibility and what that looks like fleshed out in real life, and right now it looks like The Mudroom. I doubted it was possible a year ago, yet giving space for possibility to bloom made it a reality.

I’ve been brought low and robbed of energy by chronic pain. I’ve spiraled into dark depression. Anxiety has left me dizzy and breathless. I’ve been facing childhood sexual abuse head on and I have the bruises and scars to show for it. I’ve been humbled by my own darkness, my secret sins that cast a shadow over my heart and steal the light from my eyes. I’ve staggered under the weight of loneliness and grief and fear and despaired of ever feeling strong again.

My One Word for 2016 is restore.

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The locusts have ravaged me, leaving me bereft. I hardly know what plenty, abundance, fullness feels like. I find myself returning to that field of devastation, the locusts leaving nothing of worth behind. But there is a promise and I am claiming it.

Joel 2:25-32 (ESV)

25 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent among you.

26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.

In these verses God is not telling his people to buck up, man up, cowgirl up, grow up, deal with it, get over it, or pull yourself together. He is acknowledging that this is a straight-up disaster, a full-on calamity. He sees and validates the wreckage and the ruin that has devastated his people, who have been left desolate. He tells them that it was his great army, obeying his command, meting out justice, which caused this cataclysm.

But God.

God is a God of restoration, redemption, healing, and deliverance. He is a God of double portions and spacious places. He removes shame and exchanges it for radiance.

Jeremiah 30:17

For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord

Isaiah 61:7

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”

He will not leave us as orphans. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. He will not ignore our cries for mercy. There is no shadow of turning in him.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bohoeffer penned a paragraph that all of us should write on our mirrors. He was referring to the morning, but I have replaced day with year.

For Christians the beginning of the [year] should not be burdened and oppressed by besetting concerns for the [year’s] work. At the threshold of the new [year] stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the [year] let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him whom our whole life belongs.

My proclamation for 2016 is to not be oppressed by the besetting concerns for this year’s work, but to face it with excitement and expectation. I will remember that God stands at the threshold of this year, like a sentry, offering protection but also reminding me that every day is a battle, but one I don’t fight in vain or alone. Darkness and distraction are no match for the light of Jesus and his wakening Word. Restlessness, impurity, worry, and fear have no place in this year. My first thought and first word of this year, and every morning in it, belong to God who has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

The onset of a new year isn’t a threat to me anymore. It doesn’t hold the same bleakness and grim prospects as it did previously. I’m determined to wrestle until I’m limping. I’m done with ashes and mourning and shadows and death. I’ve had enough of despondency and gloom. I’m aching for the light.

Who’s aching with me?

Tammy Perlmutter
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Tammy Perlmutter

Writer at Raggle-Taggle
Tammy Perlmutter writes about unabridged life, fragmented faith, and investing in the mess. She is founder and curator of The Mudroom and co-founder of Deeply Rooted., a biannual worship and teaching gathering for women. Tammy is a member of Redbud Writers Guild; writing blog posts, personal essays, flash memoir, poetry, and even preaching sometimes. She's an urban beekeeper and lives in an intentional Christian community in Chicago with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Phoenix.
Tammy Perlmutter
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Latest posts by Tammy Perlmutter (see all)

  • I am with you, sister! Thank you for giving into the possibility in 2015, for living out that word and birthing this beautiful thing that has blessed us all. And for the hope that these words bring for another year. I have picked a word for the past few years but kind of in passing, on top of resolutions. This year I have asked God to give me a word that came slow and clear and I will be sharing it this week. Thank you for guiding the way in this and I will be praying for your restoration throughout this year. “But God…” Oh, the power of those words. No matter what comes.

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      It has blessed me so richly too. I can’t wait to read about this word of yours!

  • I’m aching with you, friend.
    I’m ever in admiration of your tenacity and courage. With a whole lotta love to you xx

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Tanya! Thank you for this. It means everything to me.

  • Terri

    “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,” I have read this passage over and over and every time I put the word “lost” in front of years. I know that we are not to add or subtract from Scripture, but I can’t find the last five years. I am aching with you, grateful to not be alone. Love Bonhoeffer, he makes me think like none other. I am writing the passage from Joel in my affirmation journal. It is hard to hope. I do have a word that has inserted itself in my brain, but it is an odd word. I will think on it more today. Thank you Tammy for your words, whatever this year may bring, there is comfort in having the Mudroom as a place to gather and share.

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      “I can’t find the last five years.” Terri, that is so heartbreaking. I know what you mean. There are huge parts of my life that are just gone, leaving only traces of memories and impressions. I feel the loss keenly since it gives my past a fog that seems impenetrable. But I think the fog also kept me from being terrified or discouraged about what was ahead. It was a mercy of sorts, losing what was behind and being blinded to what was coming, that gave me some respite from the heaviness of despair. Even if all you see when you look back is shadow and haze, you weren’t in it alone. Be assured that God was in there too, hovering, like before creation.

  • Rhiannon Hall

    “He is acknowledging that this is a straight-up disaster, a full-on calamity. He sees and validates the wreckage and the ruin that has devastated his people, who have been left desolate. He tells them that it was his great army, obeying his command, meting out justice, which caused this cataclysm.

    “But God.

    “God is a God of restoration, redemption, healing, and deliverance. He is a God of double portions and spacious places. He removes shame and exchanges it for radiance.”

    I woke up feeling off today. Not doubting that God was doing something in my life, but doubting that it made sense after what my past has been, and feeling foolish that He would want to do anything with my mess at all. I was also feeling like what I hope He was doing was a foolish thing to hope for since it was beyond my worth.

    For a moment, I guess I lost sight that He doesn’t just use our messes to bring us where He wants to use us, but it was “His army” sometimes that were bringing about the messes in the first place, without which the next step wouldn’t even happen. God wouldn’t restore if one was never lacking. God wouldn’t redeem and heal where there wasn’t loss and illness.

    I don’t know what His reasons are and it probably won’t make sense for a long time to come, but I love when He drops messages into our lives that help us put things into a little better perspective. 🙂

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      “doubting that it made sense after what my past has been” YES! I know exactly what you mean and I still struggle with this a lot, especially when I feel like victory is a distant hope and shame seems a constant companion. He loves your mess because He loves you and the mess means he gets to glorify himself through your life! And yes, you bring glory to God. He quiets you with his love. He rejoices over you with singing.

      This is beautiful: “God wouldn’t restore if one was never lacking. God wouldn’t redeem and heal where there wasn’t loss and illness.” Such deep truth. Thank you for commenting and sharing!

  • Rebecka

    I’m aching with you. Thank you for this beautiful and encouraging post. I think I just might copy that Bohoffer quote and tape it to my mirror…

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Isn’t that an amazing quote?! Have you read much Bonhoeffer?

      • Rebecka

        Not at all, just a few quotes here and there. Do you recommend reading him?

  • Such an encouraging post. Restore, yes. I feel that with you-the need to be made whole, to find peace with the doubt, to come back to a new joy in faith. Thank you.

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Making peace with doubt is a beautiful image. We often run from the doubt and fear it. Making peace with it, and with fear and depression, and all the other interlopers, is exactly what we need. Thank you for this insight!

  • Cambrea

    This was an amazing read! I am still praying for my word and will be thinking of you and yours <3

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Thank you, Cambrea! I am looking forward to hearing about it.

  • “But God…”

    Two small words that carry huge possibilities and unending hope. Even though I sit in the tension of doubt over faith these days — but God…

    Wrestling with words and looking for direction for this new year — feeling a lot lost. But God…

    Thanks for this today!

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      You may feel lost, but you’re not alone. We are all stumbling blindly one way or another. Are you writing something about looking for words or being lost? Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Trying to decide if I want to commit to a OneWord. Wrestling with several at the moment. Haven’t spent a lot of time writing this past year because of the doubt and the sense of being lost. Hope that changes this year.

        Thanks for creating this community!

        • Tammy Perlmutter

          You’re so welcome! Drop me a message on Facebook if you feel like talking about your lostness and doubt.

  • Gorgeous post friend and I just LOVE restore and the words of blessing that come after barrenness. It can feel too good to be true sometimes, huh? That we could be full after being empty. My word for this year is “delight.” I’ll write soon about it. 🙂

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Barrenness and blessing. I like that. Not being barren, but the thought of healing and fullness coming from it. I’m looking forward to reading about “delight!” Thanks for your support and encouragement.

  • Wow Tammy, what honest truths laid bare. This was a beautiful portrayal of surrendering the unknown tomorrows to God by clinging to His promises written down long ago. May this be a healing and restorative year for you.

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Thank you, Laura, for reading my post and commenting! It’s nice to meet you.

  • Tammy, I love the idea of “restore” as a #oneword for the year. My word is “open” because I want to be open to what God has in store for me. I, too, look for restoration in some areas. I want to be open to welcome others, to hear their stories, to encourage. Thank you, Tammy, for being such an inspiration! xo

  • Tammy, this was beautiful. I finally let myself read it after I wrote mine. I share your sentiment of feeling empty and wanting the Lord to fill me up, to make me into something beautiful again. Excited to share this journey with you and I *think* I’ll get to meet you at the FFW in April?

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Thank you, Heidi! I can’t wait to see how God uses our word this year! You’re already beautiful, rejoiced over, delighted in. And yes, I will be there!