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January 1, 2017

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces: one looking backward, the other looking forward.  The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year.  We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

As a teenager, I remember that the last week of the year was the time to take inventory at our family’s lumberyard. Out of school for the holidays, I was available to help count fir and pine framing stacked on the yard, plywood in a warehouse, and molding and trim in the dark bins of a lumber shed.

The concept of a year-end inventory has stuck with me through the years. What have been some of the blessings of the past year? My personal list is always lengthy and includes family and friends. Every year has times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those present opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate.  This year a new calendar presents us with 365 new leaves and 365 clean slates.

Several years ago, I was headed out the door to a New Year’s Eve Watch Night communion service at church.  We had entertained a houseful of teenagers in our home earlier in the evening. We had filled two large plastic trash bags with empty pizza boxes and discarded paper products. Clare asked if I would take the accumulated debris out of the house.  I stuffed the black bags into the trunk of my car and dashed to church in time for the service, delaying the dumping of the refuse.

Following the service, which ended past midnight, I drove home, completely forgetting about the unsavory cargo in the trunk of my vehicle.  New Year’s Day and the day after came and went.

On January 3, I opened my car door for the first time since very early New Year’s morning.  The three-day-old garbage made my vehicle smell like a sanitation truck. I had made a mistake that many of us make in our own personal lives. I had literally carried last year’s garbage into the New Year! 

A new beginning calls for focusing on the blessings rather than on the difficulties of a year now past. We have the opportunity to dispose of last year’s emotional and spiritual garbage, leaving behind past hurts and grudges.

The beginning of the New Year also brings with it a flurry of resolutions, ranging from the impossible to the foolish. Many pledges and promises will be short-lived and will meet with mixed results.

A man in Georgia resolved to win the lottery. He spent so much money on tickets that his exasperated wife left him.

A woman in New York resolved to adopt a new pet every month. Her landlord soon evicted her from her apartment.

Most of us have had the unhappy experience of making resolutions we could not keep. Failure to honor our goals has often left us feeling guilty.

The Sacramento Bee carried an interesting article for New Year’s Day. Keith Severin and his seven-year-old son, Adrien, agreed that they would search for treasure together at least fifteen minutes every day during the coming year.

The father and son kept their promise. The best value was the hours of companionship and fun Keith and Adrien enjoyed together. Each day they spent time walking and just looking to see what they could find.

At the end of the year, they proudly displayed their collection of coins, golf balls, tennis balls, and bottles and cans.  In all, their year-long search yielded, serendipitously, more than $1,000 worth of finds.

The treasure hunt is an apt metaphor for life. Some people buy a lottery ticket every day. Others make a habit of shopping every bargain that comes along. Some folks spend most Saturdays driving from one yard sale to another. Still others visit every flea market they can find. Many fill out entry forms for Reader’s Digest or Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Some travel miles to have heirlooms appraised on “Antiques Road Show.” Though only a small minority will glean extraordinary value from these endeavors, all of us can discover treasures in the New Year.

We’ll have to look in the right places.

In his book Acres of Diamonds, Russell Conwell tells a parable about a man who searched the world over looking for a precious jewel. Finally, he returned to his home weary and discouraged. There he discovered acres of diamonds in his own backyard.

One of the places we will find treasure is in our own family and among our own friends. At the beginning of a new year, Clare reminds me to mark my new calendar with birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions so I won’t forget them. Spending time with the people we cherish will enrich us with love and acceptance.

A second is in the pages of a book.  I am a firm believer in Benjamin Franklin’s concept of a free public library. Reading is always an adventure that yields treasure. I recommend good books, among them the scriptures. You will discover nuggets of truth in every chapter.

A third is in times of solitude. Holding still and being silent has become increasingly difficult for most people. In our hurried life in the fast lane we have neglected, as the old railroad crossing signs encouraged, to stop, look, and listen,. In our world of cell phones, i-pods, and e-mail, taking time for quietness to pay attention to our own soul is a lost art.

These three suggestions require no financial expense. All call for a change of pace.  2017 promises to be a rewarding year, a year of treasure, but we must look in the right place – our own backyard.

The New Year is both a time for looking back and for anticipating the year ahead. It’s a time to reflect on the changes that might improve our lives and to resolve to make those changes.

In my personal experience with New Year’s resolutions, I am more likely to be successful if the goal is not simply self-improvement. A higher goal is to make life better for others, as well as for ourselves. A few examples may prompt a similar sense of resolve for you. This is a list I have honed over the years.

  1. Express more appreciation to others.
  2. Perform random acts of kindness. These gifts of grace ease the way for others.
  3. Plant a tree or a few flowers to brighten a corner of the world.
  4. Doing so helps the environment and raises our awareness.
  5. Give a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. Kneel when you speak with a child. Call a person by name and look them in the eye. Personal contact enhances life.
  6. Obey the law, especially when driving. Everybody benefits.
  7. Pray beyond your own circle of concern. Impart hope to others.

The best resolutions are not so much the ones that make us better individuals, but those that make the world a better place for us all.

Clare joins me in wishing for all of you a New Year filled with the blessings of God.

Out with the old! In with the new!

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