How Maggie Pluim knew to ask that question, I’ll never know.
Grace has it’s unending ways.
True, I had told her straight up that I had no intention of showing up for the church’s annual New Year’s Eve party with Marian Brubacher’s caramel popcorn and Viola Gingerich’s raspberry punch and Mr. Vaness’ countless rounds of Dutch Blitz.
“So— you’re just not celebrating New Year’s Eve this year?”
Maggie just straight up asks me, and I’ve got the phone cradled like an awkward appendage between my shoulder and ear and I’m putting away the Farmer’s socks.
Maggie’s talking loud over kids on her end banging out “Go Tell it on the Mountain” on a sagging keyboard.
“Yeah.” I ball up matching grey socks with the obligatory Canadian red stripe, stuff them into that organizing shoe box in the Farmer’s top dresser drawer. “I’m not ready for a new year and moving forward. I want a do-over on the last year.”
I don’t tell her that sometimes it’s not the moving forward that is the hardest — it is to keep moving forward. Just ask Lot’s wife.
“You really wanna a do-over on this last year???” Maggie’s running water, crashing pots in her sink. Her kids are belting it out now — “…. over the hills and evvvverrryywhhhhereeee.”
“Beecauuse? …” Maggie cuts the water quiet.
I sink down on the edge of the bed, pile of holey socks in lap. The snow dusts the grey limbs of the apple trees in the orchard. The dog’s at the edge of the field barking like an incessant lunatic at some imagined shadows in the woods.
“Because…” I finger a threadbare hole in a sock I should have thrown out last year.
“Well…. do I tell you that this last year was the year I didn’t lose 10 pounds, forgot every morning for. a. year. to exercise, didn’t finish reading the Bible, failed to write what I really wanted, never got the basement backroom gutted, rammed about in the same ruts on rinse and repeat, only read half as many books to the kids as I’d planned, and missed living up to what I’d named this year?”
Regardless of how shiny any life looks like from the outside, the honest and the Lord look on the bare heart.
We all are failures — at least the honest of us are.
That dog could be barking at a lot more than imagined shadows out there.
How in the world do you step hopeful into the next year when you tripped messy through the last year? How do you stand brave with all the smiling rest and ring in the new year when the old year still feels a bit like a millstone around the neck?
What if this was the year not to make New Year’s resolutions — but to find New You solutions?
“Remember Hope-girl’s piano piece at the Music Festival back in the fall?” I’m saying it quiet now, more to me than to Maggie.
I can tell her this when I can’t bare my telling heart.
Our Hope-girl had sat in the front row like on death row, waiting for the piano adjudicator to call her name.
Beside her sat this wisp of a Mennonite girl in a long skirt and longer braids who had played her piece like a cheery lark. The girl smiled, swinging her sneakers back and forth blithely.
Hope wrung her hands.
Wrung her hands like a prayer that couldn’t find words. Wrung her hands like hope can be wrung out of nothing. She had said it just before we walked in here, as she’d slung open the van door with her music books, “Last chance to break my ankle and get rushed to the hospital and not. have. to. do. this.”
It doesn’t take much of a leap or rocket science to see how she’s my daughter.
In the adjudicating stillness after the Mennonite protege’s piece, and before Hope’s name was called, you could see Hope, sitting there in the front row, waiting there in her cowl-neck sweater, that patch of bare skin there below her neck, pounding — pounding like one caged, frantic sparrow — and there was no wringing that could set it free.
I sat there and watched it, a helpless witnessing, and I’d never seen terror so tangible — her bare, terrified heart pounding right out of her bare chest, and you could see it, throbbing and moving, fear pounding its wings right there in her.
I tried to catch her eye, to somehow cup her face sure with my eyes, but she couldn’t see me for the drumming of her heart in her ears.
When her name was called, she went to the piano bench.
She pushed it back to make room for the full length of her.
Her whole pounding heart filled the whole soundless space.
Her music was with the adjudicator. She must play the whole piece from memory.
She waits at the keys, not moving, waiting for her heart to calm, to hush. I close my eyes tight. Mothers know how to pray for the moving of mountains.
Hope waits. It always does.
But when the silence is so expansive it’s awkward and her fear hasn’t shrunk small, Hope does what she has to and she reaches out her hand for the piano and finds that first note. I can see — her fingers shaking.
The first few bars come from memory. Then steady, into the refrain. Then a stumble. Then a finding and high notes, trembling. Can she remember what comes next? I look up to the ceiling.
And then — a faltering, off-tuned and wincing. A silence. I can’t look down, only up, up, whence does our help come from.
Hope tries one note. No. Not that one. Quiet. Hanging. Heavy. Then this note? Haltingly, maybe.
Then the next string of notes, a few more, a high chord.
She finds her way again into the familiar refrain and I look down to see her close over keys, her body in the music, her shoulders and arms and back all feeling the song.
She is carrying the song and the song is carrying her and we are being carried forward, slow and certain and faster and surer, and then the finish, the flourish.
And she sits.
Sometimes you can hardly trust your legs, trust turning and taking the next step.
I can hear Maggie draining the sink.
“It was what the adjudicator said to Hope at the end.”
There’s a blue jay at the far end of the orchard. The dog’s still barking all pained…
At the end, the adjudicator had stood there with all of their marks in hand and she’d smiled at Hope and asked it gentle, “Do you know what you did so perfectly right, Hope?”
Um…. Right? Uh….no. Hope looks down at the floor, shakes her head.
Hope’s whole body is saying it: Right? What about any of this mess was perfectly right?
The adjudicator bends a bit to find Hope’s eyes, tries to pull her up with her smile.
“So you forgot some notes! Fear and old habits and people pressure and your own interior playlist can do that — to all of us. But! When the piece started to fall apart? You fell forward, Hope. You didn’t fret about the music behind you — you focused on the next bar.”
Hope had nodded slowly, like a dawning, smiling.
The adjudicator looked down the row of girls and budding pianists and said it with this steady beat.
“We are all going to botch it some days. We all sometimes get the notes wrong. But the song only goes wrong — when we keep thinking back to the wrong notes.”“When things starts to fall apart — fall forward. Fall forward into the next bar. Moving forward is what makes music.“
And I sit there at the end of the year, on the end of the bed before the sock drawer with a lapful of holey, mismatched socks, and I can hear it, these notes that I might wear like a habit —
Failing? What feels likes losing is really gaining experience.
Falling apart? Fall forward into whatever. comes. next.
Whenever you are lost, FORWARD is always the way Home.
And in a fallen world, I fall forward into a New Year, and I fall forward into Christ’s safe arms and it is safe to trust. He is safe to trust.
“Exactly.” Maggie’s still there on the other end of the line.
“Moving forward is what makes music. And that list that you’re running around in your head — 0f all that you got messed up and wrong in the last year? That ain’t the list to be playing.
Because I read this game-changer of a book all about joy right where you are ….”
I can hear the tease in Maggie’s voice.
“And the real list that you need on replay is that gratitude list — that list of all His gifts in the last year. Playing the list of God’s gifts is what makes music….” Maggie’s on a roll.
“And the truth is: Your New Year doesn’t need to-do lists like it needs to-God-be-the-glory lists!”
The dog stops barking at shadows in the woods.
I can hear her girls singing it in the background,
“GOOOOO teelll it on the Mountain!”
And Maggie hollers happy: “FORWARD!“
“But one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind
and straining FORWARD to what lies ahead…
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
And there on the phone with Maggie Pluim, I laugh yes to all this unending grace and leave it there on the dresser:
my 60 Day devotional journal and its pages to write out the best list — His love list —
there pressed forward to the new page —
the pen laying out for Day 1 and #1…
And there’s the utter release of it:
Be more grateful for what is — than you feel guilty over what isn’t.
The moving forward always happens in this relief that all our guilt is covered by His grace.
The clock up there on the wall keeps ticking forward.
And the heart keeps beating its brave yes to that one invitation:
Related: Moving FORWARD with this 60 Day Devotional with fresh numbered pages to write out 1000 thousand gifts, that writes His grace over our guilt… A life that counts blessing is yielding more than it seems.