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Hello everyone! What are some of your favorite things to do on Sabbath? I like to watch nature shows, listen to music, and read! :)

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Live Versus Living

by Melissa Howell

Sleeping on the streets was how the new year began for me. In fact, it was how almost every new year began: huddled under a blanket on the ice-cold concrete, shivering and wishing for warmth. No, I wasn’t homeless—I was a southern Californian; you see, we do this on purpose. Other people across the country wake up New Year’s morning to watch the annual Tournament of Roses parade on television, but that’s not good enough for us. We actually drive down to Pasadena, park blocks away from the parade route, walk for miles dragging blankets and belongings, fight for sidewalk space to set up our lawn chairs, and then we camp out on the street all night long for the sheer thrill of seeing the parade pass by us live!

For many people it’s an all-night party. There’s music and confetti and horns blowing intermittently, hot dog stands and street vendors, and the celebratory calls of “Happy New Year!” ring throughout the night. If sleeping isn’t your thing, you can walk down the parade route instead to where the floats are lined up under high-powered night lamps. Even after midnight, devoted decorating teams will still be applying flowers, gluing seeds, and putting their last-minute finishing touches on these botanical works of art. The scent of fresh flowers hangs heavy in the January night air. Discarded roses, daisies, and lilies line the boulevard, and happy people pick them up by the armfuls.

I guess this is why the Rose Parade continued to draw me, year after year: the promise of such local festivity. I wanted to be a part of all the action; I wanted to see the sights before the rest of America witnessed them in the morning. I wanted to walk the famous route with thousands of other parade-goers and ring in the new year in a way that felt significant. Honestly, it was the quest for significance that motivated me most. I wanted to start the year right—to do something big that really mattered. When people asked me later, “What did you do for New Year’s?” I wanted to have a story to share.

But New Year’s downtown on the Rose Parade route never quite worked out for me. No matter how many layers I dressed in, I always spent the better part of the night shivering. It was hard to stay awake all night, and the other alternative, sleeping on the sidewalk, was painful—even for a teenager. The horn blowing got very old about 4:30 in the morning. Bathrooms were spaced miles apart, never anywhere close to me. People around me got drunk and dangerous, old beer stuck to my shoes, and the music became unbearable. One year I even woke up next to a discarded dirty diaper. By the time the long-awaited parade finally rolled by—about 10:00 a.m.—I hardly even cared about it anymore . . . all I could think of was getting home to some hot food and my warm bed.

So one year I finally did the unthinkable. When everyone else trekked down to Pasadena for the parade, I just stayed home instead. I woke up rested, watched the parade from the comfort of my own living room, and began the new year refreshed instead of exhausted. No, it didn’t make a very significant or festive story to retell later. I didn’t bring home any fresh flowers. But it was the best New Year’s I ever had. I’ve never been back to the Rose Parade since.

We all have practices and tendencies in our lives that we fight to hold on to, even when they stop making sense or start becoming downright damaging to us. It’s hard to let some of these things go. We are afraid of what their absence entails: how will we cope; what will fill their place; how will we muster the self-control needed in order to stay away from these vices permanently? We become prisoners in a cage, afraid of what it would look like to be let out.

But what we can’t see from our places of bondage and sin-saturation is how amazing it really does feel to leave these things behind. The taste of freedom is far more satisfying than the sin ever could be. Victory rings powerfully. Living unhindered and fully alive is so satisfying that often we look back and wonder why . . . why did we wait so long to break free?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle Paul writes, in Galatians 5:1. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (NIV).*  Many people think that Jesus’ death on the cross frees us to live in sin as we please because grace abounds more abundantly, but that’s missing the point entirely. Christ died not to set us free someday; He died to set us free now. He died so that we don’t have to live in slavery to sin. So that we no longer have to drag things around that steal our joy and compromise the purposes we were designed for.

New Year’s will always be a time we stop and take stock of our lives. We make mental inventories of what worked last year, what didn’t, and how we’d like to live differently next year. We set personal goals and join gyms and resolve to be better versions of ourselves than we were in the past. Sometimes we are successful. Often we are not. But I know that those who work with the power of the Holy Spirit inside them produce tremendously different results than those who labor in weakness on their own.

As you seek to write your own story of significance and meaning this year, take time to evaluate what’s keeping you from being truly free, and decide what you need to let go of. Take a chance on the fact that sometimes saying “No more!” is a better way to live. Cling to Jesus for the victory and power He promises, and trust that His way is always the best route to joy.

Writer, singer, and songwriter Michael Card wrote, “It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind.” Leaving sin and self behind and trading them for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Jesus is the best thing you can do for yourself this year. So as this new year rolls around, I hope you’ll decide to give God your all; after all, He did it for you to give you, not just a new year—but a new life.

* Scripture quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Melissa Howell is a speaker and author in the Seattle area with an M.Div. from Andrews University. She used to love traveling, backpacking, writing, and reading, but now that she has four kids (including 1-year-old twins), all she wants is a full night’s sleep!

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