September: On being a beginner

There’s a television commercial that begins airing in mid-August where I live. A mother, beyond excitement, racing through the aisles of a stationary store, gleefully tossing school supplies into her cart. Her children follow sullenly behind. Imagine the scene accompanied by the familiar Christmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” and you’ll get the full picture.

While you won’t find me dancing through the aisles as we pick up new pencils and pens for the upcoming school year, I do thrill for September. Not because I’m anxious for my kids to be out of the house or for the summer to end. But because, for me, September is my second chance at a New Year.

For most people, January 1st gets all the love. It holds all the promise of new beginnings as we bid adieu to the old and usher in the new: A new year. A new calendar. Maybe a new journal. Certainly some new resolutions. Fresh starts and blank pages waiting to be filled.

But, to be honest, by September, these shiny things have grown dull. My nature as a strong starter and a poor finisher is on full and glorious display nine months in. By this point in the year, I’ve likely abandoned most—if not all—of my resolutions and am limping towards the finish line still three months away. It’s not pretty.

And so September seems like the perfect time to begin again. It signifies a clean slate marked by blank notebooks and journals and freshly sharpened pencils. Not to mention squeaky-clean runners, a few new outfits, and a frisson of anticipation of the new and unknown that lies just around the corner.

September is my New Year’s mulligan.

In golf terms, when you take a poor shot you can call mulligan. While not formally in the rules of golf, if you’re in gracious company, it allows you to take the shot again and it doesn’t show up on your scorecard. It’s like a re-set on the hole. You get to begin again.

Oh how I need that re-set by the time September rolls around!

 The beautiful thing is that God doesn’t just offer us a re-set twice a year. He’s not waiting for January 1st or a new school year. Fortunately for us, his mercies are new every morning:

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends,
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
His mercies begin afresh each morning.”

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

Not only does our merciful God NOT add our failures to a scorecard, he doesn’t even keep a scorecard. In his eyes, our slates are wiped clean. So the myriad ways you may have failed yesterday don’t get carried over to today. They’re gone. Forgotten. You’ve got a daily mulligan without even having to ask for it.

And, if you’re anything like me and need a re-set multiple times in a day, He’s got that covered too.

Always we begin again.

In her book, Begin Again: the brave practice of releasing hurt and receiving rest, Leeana Tankersley talks about how this small line from the Rule of Saint Benedict became a lifeline for her during a time in which she felt completely overwhelmed with life. She felt like a complete beginner in the task set before her and it was an uncomfortable place to sit.

Always we begin again.

She writes that those words provided a grace that saved her over and over again during those days. “Because that’s all those days were: one beginning after another. And, let’s be honest, that’s what so much of life is—learning how and learning how again, over and over. Each day is brand new after all. We’ve never lived this day before.”

Isn’t that a little bit like New Years? The flip of the calendar page gives us permission to be beginners again.

We get to let go of baggage that’s been weighing us down.

We get to change the way we do things.

We get to break old habits and patterns and establish new ones.

Whatever your circumstances look like on December 31, January 1st provides an opportunity to look at them with new eyes.

And so, why wouldn’t we give ourselves permission to do that more than once a year? Why wouldn’t we give ourselves permission to do this every day?

I suspect that most of us don’t actually relish the notion of being a beginner. It requires us to be vulnerable, which doesn’t always sit comfortably. We’d all much rather feel competent than vulnerable. Emily P. Freeman addresses this so eloquently in a recent episode of her podcast, The Next Right Thing.

She says, “New beginnings are usually welcome. But being a beginner? Not so much. We want our circumstances to change, to start again, to be brand new. But when they change, we often don’t give ourselves permission to be new within them. Instead, we want to rush ahead to mastery. We think we ought to know how to navigate the newness, especially if it’s something we wanted, something we prayed for, waited for, asked for, or planned.”

When we start over we always return to some beginning. And we need to allow ourselves to be beginners within that. God certainly does.

Our mindset is a huge part of how we view our fresh start. The attitude with which we approach our circumstances will determine how successful we are in implementing change. Beginning again is not a penalty, like the Return to Start card in a game of Monopoly… Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200. Rather, it’s a gift, an opportunity. In essence, it’s freedom to walk away from those things that aren’t working and try some new ones on for size.

Tankersley asserts God’s story in our lives is a narrative of emancipation. “Here’s the heart of it,” she writes. “What we thought was an ending may very well be a beginning. When the hissing in our ear tells us it’s over, God whispers an opportunity: Here’s a place we could start from, He says. Here’s a rock bottom. Let’s see this for what it is: a possibility.”

Embracing Possibility

As we welcome a new season, a new school year, a new quarter, new activities, new Bible studies, new classes, new programs and all September has to offer… perhaps now is the time to embrace the possibility of the fresh start before us?

The year will continue its relentless march toward the end, but you don’t have to march relentlessly with it. You don’t need to wait until January 1st for that fresh start you’re hoping for.

You can choose to lean into a fresh start today. And tomorrow. And again the day after that, if that’s what you need.

You don’t need to hide behind the shame of past mistakes.

You don’t need to be hindered by today’s failures.

You don’t need to abandon your dreams because you feel like you’ve gotten lost along the way.

“You do not need to do more, fix yourself, or hold anything together. You just need to fall back into my grace, trade your trying for trust,” Tankersley writes from the perspective of our loving God. “Where you are broken and bruised is exactly the place—not in spite of that place—that I want to show you you’re beautiful.”

Always we begin again.


This September holds some new beginnings for our family.

Many of you know that I have a form of blood cancer called Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL). Diagnosed almost four years ago, I’ve been on what is called “Watch and Wait”, as my doctors monitor my lab results regularly while I live my life relatively symptom-free.

My white blood cell count (thanks to some crazy, mutant lymphocytes) steadily climbs with each lab test. Correspondingly, my platelet count declines as the cancerous lymphocytes crowd out the healthy cells in my blood.

And we’ve now reached the point where watching and waiting is no longer an option and we’ve decided to act. Which means that on Monday, September 17, I begin chemotherapy treatments.

But wait! Here’s the good news!

While chemo sounds like a terrible thing (I’m not gonna lie, not really looking forward to it) I absolutely know that it is a gift to live in a place that funds research and provides treatment options that will extend my life.

The prognosis for CLL with the treatment I’m undergoing is excellent. Ninety-seven per cent of patients get full remission for up to seven or eight years. And the life expectancy is growing thanks to new research and targeted therapies. Personally, I plan to be around for a good, long while.

I’m going into this with a great deal of hope and peace. So with this in mind, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d do me a couple of favours.

First, rather than feeling sorry for me (because I would seriously hate that) I would hope that you would be encouraged with me. This treatment is not an end. It’s a beginning. It’s the first step on the road to healing. How appropriate then, that it should come to me at this time of year when I’m embracing fresh starts and new beginnings.

Second, I’d love it if we could talk about what’s going on with YOU. This is a big thing in my life and I probably give it more airtime in my head than I should, but it’s certainly not the ONLY thing going on in my life and I’d love nothing more than to talk and chat about other things.

For those of you who wonder what it will look like, at this point I can only tell you what I’ve been told: My treatment will unfold once a month for the next six months; chemo drugs for three days, a few days down, and then three full weeks of recovery. There will be fatigue and there will be a compromised immune system. (So, if you’re sick, please don’t come breathe on me) but by all accounts, I’ll be up and around and living my best life during those recovery weeks. (How’s that for optimism?)

My plan is to keep people updated here in this space (but, let’s be honest, we all know how consistent I can be here.) In any case, if you’re optimistic like me, submit your email address and you’ll get updates straight to your inbox as they come. I promise never to give out your information and try to be respectful of your inbox. (Case in point, zero emails from me over the summer, am I right?)

If you find I’m too quiet here, check out my Instagram page. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, one photo and a caption can be considerably less daunting than full-on words. Most of my Instagram posts also go to my Facebook page, so if we’re Facebook friends, you can get updates there too.

In the meantime, I am completely humbled by the outpouring of love by our family and friends these last few weeks as I run around to last-minute lab appointments and check-ups, filling both prescriptions and the freezer. We have such a great support network around us and I don’t take it for granted one bit. My heart is overflowing.

God’s mercies are new every morning. Don’t forget that in the midst of whatever your new beginning looks like.


Sidenote

I’ve provided links above to both Leeana Tankersley’s book, Begin Again: the brave practice of releasing hurt and receiving rest and Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, The Next Right Thing, for you.

I’m a big reader, so book recommendations are easy for me. But I’m only just wading into the world of podcasts. As one who values and cherishes silence, I’m not inclined to fill my quiet spaces with more noise and so even though I know there are so.many good podcasts out there, I’m not quite on board with all of it yet. I’m slowly getting there.

But, I find Emily’s podcast different. Her episodes are relatively short–usually less than 20 minutes and I find them to be a deep breath in the middle of the hectic pace of a day. If you’re looking for a little space for your soul to breathe, I highly recommend it.


If you’ve enjoyed this little musing, it would mean the world to me if you subscribe to receive future blog posts. On the sidebar of my homepage, you’ll find a Subscribe button. Feel free to enter your email and use it! Thank you to those of you who’ve trusted me with your inbox.

I’m doing my best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. I’d be so honoured to share the journey with you. Putting one foot in front of the other, and—hopefully—not in my mouth.

Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent, but I’ll try for amusing. At the very least, I hope you’ll come away encouraged and feeling a little better about yourself.

Thanks so much for visiting,

 

 

 

P.S. The gorgeous photo accompanying this post is by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “September: On being a beginner

  1. Did you know my camp name (assigned just last summer) is “Mulligan”? Yep. And my bday is in September (the 17th to be exact). Every September I feel very melancholy for a number of reasons and always turning another year older during this month doesn’t help. Your blog today is indeed encouraging to me and reminds me to reframe my thinking and be thankful for new beginnings and a chance to re-dos…. not waste my mulligan!!

    1. Hellen, I LOVE THIS! I believe that God ordains people and circumstances exactly when we need them and that you came into my life when you did and offered me comfort and encouragement then–and now these observations–confirms what I already knew about you (and God.) He is good. Thanks for sharing this. I will be thinking of you on Monday – hopefully the weather will allow you to get some good golf in, no mulligans necessary. x J.

  2. What a timely message. Thanks for beginning again and being so encouraging. You are a blessing. Will continue in prayer for you.

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