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2019: The Year of Wonder

“Wonder” was my theme word of the year for 2019. But I had no idea exactly what I was getting myself into when I chose it.

Comic strip of an ice cube laying in the grass then melting to make the grass grow - CubeMelt by Peng Ven Wong WpVen

I didn’t realize when I chose my word of the year back in January that “wonder” is a double-edged sword.

The word came to me out of nowhere during a quiet moment, and I immediately got goosebumps. The kind that rise up as the overflow of a heart brimming with excitement.

Yes! I thought. 2019 will be all about opening up fully to experiencing the joy and magic in life, in God, and in myself. I was aglow with eagerness to receive the blessings God clearly had for me with a powerful word like that as the theme for my year.

But I gotta tell ya, friends: This year of wonder has been one of the hardest of my entire life.

This year I:

But this year I also:

  • Renewed my marriage vows
  • Created and ran a successful writing community
  • Facilitated an incredible women’s workshop
  • Discovered new strengths and abilities as an artist
  • Embraced a call to a different kind of ministry
  • Was provisioned from unexpected corners
  • Pushed ahead with immigration despite doubts
  • Invested myself deeper in the church
  • Trusted God when I couldn’t trust myself
  • Experienced true soul-freedom
  • Was melted down and reformed
  • Got stronger
  • Kept going

What I failed to remember at the start of this year is that there’s more than one way to experience wonder. It’s not always spine-tingling, goosebump-raising joy at the marvelousness of life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes it’s gut-wrenching “why”s or stupefied shock.

Because wonder isn’t safe. It’s not chaste or elegant. It’s not demure or neat. It doesn’t mind its manners.

Wonder is wild. It’s passionate and messy. It’s brash and bold. It’s hilarious and still, curious and awed. It’s licking sticky fingers and weeping openly in public. It’s falling apart and fusing together. It’s just a little further, a little deeper, a little closer.

It’s God—in all His fullness.

That’s what I signed up for back in January. And it’s definitely what I got in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over into my lap.

I’m not sure what my word of the year will be going into 2020. Starting a new decade means it’ll probably be something grand. I am sure, though, that despite the pain of the year of wonder, the fruit I’ve harvested from it has been so sweet that I’ll plant those seeds again if I can.

And so, as I close out this year and look into the one to come, I’m choosing to reaffirm the dangerous prayer I tattooed on my arms for my 35th birthday:

For all that has been: thanks
To all that shall be: yes

Army of bun

A legendary bunny preps his troops for a raid on the most notoriously guarded vegetable patch in the world.

Bunny rabbits in military outfits - Rabbit Army detail by Fatemeh Kashfi via Art Station

“Listen up, you sorry crew of kits! This ain’t your momma’s vegetable raid, so pay attention or you’ll catch the business end of MacGreggor’s hoe in that fluffy butt of yours!

“Operations begin at 0500, half an hour before the old man walks out the door of that rundown heap of thatch he calls a house. Five minutes in, five minutes out gives us exactly twenny minutes—you hear me, Muffins?! TWENNY—to fill those double-extra-large potato sacks you’ve got slung over your miserable backs with anything BUT potatoes. We’re talking lettuce, cabbage, gooseberries, blackberries, carrots, but if you bring any gawdfersaken parsley back to HQ you WILL be on woodchip-clearing duty for the the rest of your hitch!”

A quivering paw in the back row shot up.

“By the great thundering gawds of the sky and sea, seriously, Huggy?! You got something to add? This better be good or it’s another turn in the pellet pit!”

It dropped again.

“That’s what I thought.”

The huge brown buck surveyed the tactical retrieval unit in front of him, then took a huge bite off the end of the carrot he’d been gesturing with and grinned at his men.

“Follow my lead, boys, and that son of a jackalope will never know what hit him—or my name ain’t Sargent Major Peter Rabbit.”

My 2019 in Books

Come see which books I loved and which ones I wished I had thrown out a window in 2019, then share your recommendations for 2020!

Ellie Di Julio's Goodreads book challenge 2019 23/12 books read

Every year, I set a goal on Goodreads. I used to get super ambitious with it (one year I read 100 books!), but since having a baby, I’ve had to adjust my expectations. It’s hard to concentrate on those little black caterpillars when someone’s screaming in your face.

For 2019, I set a now-standard goal of reading 12 books. One per month. I figured that’s my minimum while at home with a toddler—anything above that is gravy. But since it appears that I read 6,347 pages across 24 books this year (counting my in-progress which I’ll finish shortly), it might be time to aim higher.

I will admit that a large chunk of the books I read this year were graphic novels, and YA/children’s ones at that. My inner bookworm feels a mite embarrassed at counting those, simply because they’re so easy to read (and often quite short). But then I remind it that I also read an entire Bible and it shuts right up.

My favourite read this year was Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, followed closely by the Hilda comics by Luke Pearson. I’ve followed Kleon for years and finally reading his masterpiece on being a working artist was a balm to my frustrated creativity. Buy it now. And if you haven’t read (or watched) Hilda yet, you’re seriously missing out, especially if you have a girlchild in your home.

My least favourite was a tie between Tree and Leaf by JRR Tolkien and The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. Both took ages for me to get through; the only reason I didn’t throw them out a window was a stubborn refusal to let them beat me. The Tolkien is obstructively dense despite the fascinating subject; the Murakami is downright boring despite me having loved hearing “The Second Bakery Attack” on LeVar Burton Reads.

Next year is the also the start of a new decade, so it seems appropriate to up the ante. 20 Books in 2020 does have a nice ring to it. I’m also hoping to read a better balance of fiction and non, as well as intentionally folding in non-cishetwhite authors. But no promises on cutting the number of comics. That stuff is gold, Jerry, gold.

What were your favourite reads for 2019?

What are your recommendations for me in 2020 (and what should I avoid like a flesh-eating fungus)?

Probable cause

You think it’s a standard B&E gone wrong, except the perp didn’t take anything. Or did he?

Blue LED light strip light trail slow motion

“Wait ‘til tomorrow if you want to see the place for yourself. Forensics just left, so the evidence is headed your way, but the smell isn’t quite as past as the victim.”

You hang up without saying goodbye. Eight years working homicide has squeezed all the niceties out of you to make room for other skills. The kind that catch killers.

Whatever happened here happened quick. Started as a B&E. Ended in blood. The guy must’ve had bad intel. He didn’t expect to be met at the door with a bat. You tiptoe around two dotted brown lines into the kitchen where the victim’s knifeblock turned against him. Struggle over, the perp’s trail heads right past a couple grand in electronics and doodads and out the fire escape window. Pretty straightforward.

What you can’t get out of your head is why. What was this guy after that he’d kill for, then leave without? Seems pointless.

Your heart shrivels up and drops into your colon.

Unless whatever it was was on the victim.

Unless those wounds were intentional.

Unless this wasn’t a break-in gone wrong.

You close your eyes and replay the crime. You open your eyes. You open them again.

The third trail accuses you with its brightness. The glittering blue of a severed magical soul slides from the door to the kitchen, skips a few feet, then bleeds over the windowsill. You don’t know why you didn’t turn on your second sight right away. Overconfident.

You follow the trail to the fire escape, down the alley, into the bustling city beyond where it pools and disappears at the curb.

You stare down 59th Street headed towards the goblin farmer’s market. A thin smile creases your face. It’s been a while since you’ve been Down-Downtown.

Weatherwatching

Sometimes. it’s too late to get to safety. Sometimes, all you can do is watch.

A woman touching a lavender field - image via Pixabay

It was the sound that finally got her attention. The swaying of the lavender as she harvested the dewy stalks didn’t register as suspicious; the light changed too gradually to notice; and by the time she heard the freight train thunder over the music in her headphones, she was too far out in the field to make it anywhere near safety.

Her basket slid off her back and spilled onto the ground as she turned to see a funnel of grim fury whipping itself toward the barn. Toward the house. Toward her.

She watched boards explode into splinters that disappeared into tangible wind. A table leg flew past her head so close the whistle surpassed the roar. But she didn’t flinch. She just stood and watched, hands held low to let the flowers caress her fingertips.

It was the scent of lavender that finally overwhelmed her. Billions of petals saturated the air with soothing perfume to muzzle the bite of petrichor and churned earth, the haze of purple confetti buffeting her suddenly light body until it simply floated away.