Will Your Last Year Affect Your New One?

It’s that time of year again when Facebook promotes it’s “Your Year in Review” algorithm as well as everyone starting to talk about what resolutions they’ll be making. “Christmas is over, and now, now it’s time to get back to reality and change things that we never got around to changing this past year.” I’ve done this may times before. In years past, I’ve spent a few days around this time of year to pray through and plan out what I’d like to do in the coming year. It could be new opportunities, fitness goals, family goals, or areas I’d like to grow in.

But I’ve noticed a problem. The problem isn’t planning for the coming year, it’s planning without taking an honest look at what just happened in the past 365 days. If I don’t have a clear handle on what has gone on in these past 52 weeks, what makes me think that what I plan will actually happen without being affected by the patterns and habits in my life that are positive and/or negative? The truth is no matter how much I plan, I can’t control everything nor everyone around me. The second truth is if there are things in my past, even this past year, that I haven’t fully dealt with/explored/grieved/understood/acknowledged or reflected on, those things will haunt me in all of my future plans.

I’m not suggesting that my hurts,  hang ups and habits won’t affect me negatively at all if I take the time to examine the past year. I am suggesting that if I don’t take the time to examine, they will have a far greater affect on me this coming year. And it’s not just thinking about and focusing on the bad, it’s also taking the time to celebrate the good that has come about. Perhaps it’s cultural, but it seems we in the West, don’t take time to celebrate the good, no matter how small, that comes into our lives. Especially if that good comes via a path of great pain and difficulty.

Earlier today, I finished going through a set of questions a friend of mine posted to help reflect on this past year. Dr. Steve Brown sent a list of questions as a way to help to navigate the past. He encouraged us to take 60 minutes to do so. Mine took a few hours (it’s been an incredibly hard but formational year for me), and this was just a good start to process what has really gone on. If you don’t have that kind of time, I really encourage you to take 2-3 questions and that 60 minutes and reflect on your year. Even if you think it was the same, mundane year as always, you might be surprised by what has actually gone on under the surface.

I also encourage you to lean into your community/support circle and process through some of this. God designed us for community. Having those around us who can speak truth and an outside perspective is more valuable than the purest gold.

Start by simply writing down things that happened. Think of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Then prayerfully think through these questions and journal your answers. Here are the questions:

  • What’s been hardest?
  • What surprised you most?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • Where did you fail? What did you learn?
  • What’s been disappointing?
  • Who or what do you need to grieve?
  • Where have you been stretched? Where have you grown? What have you learned?
  • What have you been encouraged by? What should you celebrate?
  • Where do you see blessings from waiting? From struggle?
  • Who or what have you invested in?
  • How have you seen God at work?  What have your learned about Him?
  • What’s on God’s heart for you this next year?
  • What are your big priorities for the year ahead?

-For more subscribe to Sharpening Leaders

 

For me, I noticed patterns of feeling as though I was in the wilderness and God was silent, lots of time simply waiting and the difficulty of waiting for a guy like me. But through that hardship, I have a greater understanding of peace and trust in Him. This isn’t exhaustive as to what I wrote down, but a good start to the conversation.

     So, what about you? What were things that you noticed? Where was God in all of this? And in what areas did you grow? Sharing our stories and experiences helps us to know we are not alone on the journey!

Waiting, Part 3

This thought, idea, theme of waiting has stuck with me all advent season. The idea that the world was waiting on a Savior. Though as followers of Jesus we await His coming again, there are many around us that are still waiting on a Savior. Many may not even know or realize it. Perhaps even those that follow Jesus are in need of a Savior to save them from the emotional pain, hurt, habits that they are entangled with.

There are those around us that await a Savior in the very physical sense of providing food, shelter, pain or the end to the shelling that is going on around them.

Some in the spiritual sense as they feel completely lost, abandoned, unworthy of anyone or anything…..we are all waiting, aren’t we?

The Annunciation

     by Malcolm Guite

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

          We calculate the outsides of all things,

          Preoccupied with our own purposes

          We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings

          They coruscate around us in their own joy,

          A whirl of wheels, and eyes and wings unfurled

          They guard the good we purpose to destroy; 

          A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world. 

         But on this day, a young girl stopped to see,

         With open eyes and heart, she heard the voice,

          The promise of His Glory yet to be;

          And time stood still for her to make a choice.

          Gabriel knelt, and not a feathered stirred.

          The Word Himself was waiting on her word.

Perhaps it is my own perspective of growing up in the country I did, the color of skin I have- none of it by choice, all in accordance with God’s design-either way, we see so little at times. We don’t take the time to stop and look. We don’t take the time to stop and….breathe in what is around us.

We wait for Christmas-be it for presents, the magic of Christmas morning, the snow fall coming, traditions being relived again, family that is coming or we’re going to, that certain dish that is only prepared on this day, the celebration of Jesus’ birth or the special service we always attend, we are waiting. As we wait with baited breath on this coming Christmas day may we take a moment to simply wait, see where God is in that moment and be thankful.

May, this Christmas, we not miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings and the blaze of God’s Glory. Instead, I pray, that we all see God and His presence with us that day. Be blessed this Christmas.

What have you experienced, seen or heard duriing your own time of waiting?

Is The Goal To “Be Awesome”?

At our children’s school, they have after school activities. Among soccer(football), chess club, tennis, and math athletes there is the “Be More Awesome Club.” The purpose is to do things and learn things to become more awesome. The premise is cool-do cool interactive experiments, make fire, mix chemicals together, learn how an airplane can fly so fast, etc. I like it. The idea to “Be Awesome” is a coming trend the past couple years.

Last week, a friend of mine posted this quote:

Be Awesome, Be Extraordinary, You’re Exceptional…All false statements the world wants us to believe and we wonder why so many people are unhappy today. Today I want to be an ordinary guy , with an ordinary marriage, have ordinary kids, work an ordinary job and live an ordinary life…I’ll let Jesus be extraordinary.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days. In the past, followers of Christ whom I greatly respect have spoken things over me. I’ve seen this in the church and have experienced my friends being spoken over. Usually those who are speaking will simply say “I see this and this, but, pray over this and filter this through other wise followers of Christ to see if this is something God is saying or not.” For me, often these words are encouraging, edifying, and are Truth. Filtering this through other people you respect in the Word and deed is wise and is the biblical model for taking such prophecies.

In my own life I have done this. My struggle, and I do mean struggle, is that I begin to focus on those things spoken over me and less and less on Christ. This feeds my addiction/dysfunction of control. “If I’m more awesome,” my logic goes, “then I will get more attention, which means more opportunity, which means more credibility, which means a more comfortable, accepting life,” and on it goes. Again, my dysfunctional logic at times.

The problem is that to “be awesome”  all the time in the world’s eyes requires nothing short of living as God every single moment of every single breath of every single day. Simply. Not. Possible. If this was the case and we could really do this, we’re no longer earthen jars holding a great treasure. We are no longer having weaknesses where God can show Himself strong. We are no longer fallen beings in a fallen world requiring a Savior.

We are a royal priesthood. We’re told that. We are also to be like Christ in being servants in our roles and positions here. My kids are awesome. Not because they do anything that the world may look at them and think they are. They’re awesome because, in my eyes, they are. I tell them that everyday. In fact, my daughter has an “awesome quota” where I’m only allowed to tell her she is awesome 3 times a day..max. We are awesome because we are God’s children. Not because we are doing anything to earn it. Not because we are trying to “be awesome.” He simply believes we are because we are His creation. We are His children.

I hope I’m still looked at as cool (at lest by my kids) for a few more years. And, perhaps do some “awesome” things (which Iris others may look at as reckless :). But, I do know that I can not try to attain to be awesome. For someone who is driven, constantly trying to move myself and others forward, being “ordinary” is incredibly hard. Harder than my fallen self can do. I need supernatural strength to not only do the impossible God asks of me, but also the difficult task of being ordinary. Being a person who is dependent on God…..and lives as such. Simply be His, be ordinary…that’s being awesome.

 

What about you, what do you think about that quote? Is ordianry considered “bad” or “negative”? Os Guinness and Brother Lawrence both, along with many others, remind us that it is in the ordinary/mundane moments we often have a hard time seeing/hearing God’s presence. Yet most of our lives are lived in these moments. Does that resonate with you? In what way or why would you disagree? When we share we help grow each other, I’d love to hear your experience!

Let me share the prayer that folds the petals of the rose…

Simply listen….imagine and replay….

Let me share the prayer that folds the petals of the rose….

To simply have a conversation with Mary, thanking her…the child of the child she bore. What an incredible conversation to imagine as the day approaches.

I invite you to reflect on this wonderful image in prose. What did it say to you? What is God speaking to you through this? What are you  being invited into?

Waiting, Part 2

So, what if we took the Advent season as a time of becoming more aware of God’s presence in the waiting? It’s an interesting thought.

When I was young, I would put together plastic models. Mainly classic cars. I never wanted to do it as a serious hobby, just a way to pass the time. I would be all excited as I opened the $6 box of plastic parts, some covered in chrome others were the rubber tires. It didn’t take long to figure out that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make them look exactly like they were on the box cover. In order to do that you needed a hobby knife, special paints and an expensive airbrush system. It just wasn’t going to happen.

The other reason why they would never be featured in a museum was because instead of waiting an hour for the glue to dry and take hold, I would wait…five minutes. My fingers would get glue on them and then I would have glue fingerprints all over the model. Of course, I wouldn’t wait for the paint to dry either, so it would be glue and colored paint fingerprints on the windows, the sides and on the shiny chrome parts.

I’ve noticed for me that when I think life is moving too slow, when the waiting is longer then it “should” be, that is when I start to fall back into the habits that can be destructive. Controlling, manipulation, passive aggressive behavior..it all comes back. Sometimes subtly, sometimes pretty strongly. Some things really do need to be moved faster, but others don’t. I know especially when I start falling back into those habits, that I need to go back into the waiting. It comes down to a lack of control.

What else requires waiting….ah, great waiting. There is great waiting in pregnancy. We don’t want to rush it as some major damage could come to the baby as well as the mother. Pregnancy is meant to take nine months. It is the way God designed it. If we tried to rush it, took some super pill and the next day had a baby, that could have some serious implications. And, would that baby be as cherished if it was instant gratification? In the past few years, several of my friends have adopted. Based on their experiences, it seems that adoption processes take a long time. Most take longer than a pregnancy, especially international adoptions. But as each day goes by during that process, for those parents, the longing for their future child grows by leaps and bounds. There is a determination and longing that grows by the moment.

And, let’s be honest, if the pregnancy part was instant, then we would want to find a way for the baby to grow from infant to adult overnight, right? Skip the diaper stage, maybe skip past the spilling, clumsy stage. Oh, and while we’re at it, we might as well skip the 13 going on 30 attitude stage, and just have them go straight off to college—-check that, we don’t want to pay for it, it is expensive, let’s just move them onto their first career.

If we did that, where would the memories of watching their first footsteps come from? Where would the memories be of standing before the court as they declared you the rightful parent from this point forward? Where would the memories of learning to ride a bike, walking through the pain of a friend hurting them, their first day of school, or the first time they read a book, when they learned to drive, walking through the pain of their first breakup?

There is great purpose in the waiting. We learn. We grow. We learn about ourselves, about others. There is also great pain in the waiting. Pain is just that, painful. At times we may chose to run from the pain and that only causes us to fall back into habits and hangups that we have suffered or been addicted to in the past. When we try to avoid the waiting that we need to go through, it only ends up hurting us, costing us more. Even if the waiting is painful, through it we will grow. Think about Jesus. Especially the week leading up to the crucifixion, there was great pain in knowing that He would be crucified. There was pain in the three days after his death. There was pain in the days He was on the earth before he ascended into heaven. And there is much pain now as we wait on His coming again.

But in that pain is where trust in God comes from. In the waiting is where dependence upon Him comes. In the anticipation is where we are emptied of the fallenness and layers of things put on us wrongly begin to be stripped away, albeit painfully, and become the person God is calling us to be, more and more.

Perhaps this Advent is a time where we we simply sit in the waiting. Maybe this is a time where He is inviting us into where He is working right now, in the Land of the Living among the chaos and destruction happening around us. What a joyous Christmas present-realizing and seeing where He is at this very moment! Will you join me?

I would love to hear of your experiences in the waiting-the pain and the joy, the lessons learned. Us sharing our experiences with others encourages us and grows us all. I know I would love to hear your story, please comment below. And, would you be willing to join me in the waiting?

Waiting, Part 1

This past weekend, we celebrated the birth of our daughter. She turned six and spent the whole day in the costume from a blockbuster children’s movie. We spent the day singing the soundtrack from the movie in the car going to preschool and on the way home…and at her party…and while she went to sleep that night. She has brought a massive amount of peace, laughter and sensitivity to our family. I am so thankful for her.

I was sitting here remembering the months leading up to her birth. Iris’ baby bump started to show, then there were the several stages of maternity wear and as the days got closer there was the anticipation of seeing her little body wrapped up in blanket. She was the first girl on Iris’ side of the family after four boys. So, our daughter, Emmi, had an entire closet full of clothes before she was born. From cheerleader onesies to footie pajamas to cute little skirts, she had them all.

There was a ton of anticipation for this little girl. And, of course, as any pregnancy goes on, it becomes more painful (from what I’ve been told). Though Iris loved carrying this little girl, she was ready for her to come and meet the world, too!

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.-Psalm 27:14

I’m going through a pamphlet with meditations for Advent that I purchased online and had sent to me. I just got it (the excitement of a real book-paper and all was almost too much to handle!). Simply some reflections as we walk through the advent season up to the birth of Christ in our celebration of Christmas. On Emmi’s birthday,  it had this verse from Psalm 27 written at the top. “Be strong and take courage.” Those are good words, great words to be exact. But….waiting on the Lord…….ya, not so much.

I know that I rush things. I know that I try to get things done quickly to move onto the next step, level, next adventure or project. It happens with work, it happens with my family time and it happens with the time I have set aside to meditate on Christ. Waiting is a part of life. Some things I hate waiting for like standing in line to pay a bill. Or, ugh, sitting in traffic. But there are other things that are worth the wait, like the birth of our children.

It’s almost as if the waiting was creating more excitement, creating more desire and longing, building a deep a treasure to be cherished, becoming more valuable by the day. They were worth the wait.

I have grown to become more aware of God’s presence in the waiting moments of life. Not always (I am only human after all), but I try to be more aware of His presence around me. Right before verse 14, David writes this-

“I would have despaired unless I had believed
that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

In actively  becoming more aware of God’s presence, I have been able to see the goodness of the Lord. I’ve been able to see the land of the living unlike any other time in my life before. I can see that He is here, in the waiting, in the anticipation. I have seen Him here, therefore, the despair is no longer the first thing I go to. Peace, often times, is now what I go to first when I’m in that time of waiting. Even when that waiting comes pain.

It is the Advent season. What is that? It’s simply a season of waiting. Anticipation of when the Savior came to this earth. When He came in the form of a baby, not an adult. Not only was there waiting in his birth, there was waiting until His anointing when He began his ministry. There was pain in that waiting, but it was worth the wait.

What if we looked at Christmas with such anticipation? What if we looked at this waiting through the lens of the land of the living? What would change? What has been wroth the wait to you? Let’s commit to doing this together…

 

A Book About Coming Clean…

We’ve all run from some sort of pain; we’ve all turned our backs and shrinking taillights on something.

A few friends of mine had posted on social media about a new book that had just come out written by another friend of theirs. Reading the title and a small blurb about how this was really a journal, a journey of the first 90 days of their sobriety; how pain and fear left him in a spot where to escape, he, the author, Seth, turned to the bottle. I knew I must read this book as I am also continuing down my journey of recovery. The words of others stories of walking that road inspires and encourages me to continue to reach out when I start to sense I’m falling back into old habits. This is not an exhaustive book review, but simply a recommendation.

Pain, whether great or small, is the reminder that we are not inanimate, plastic things. We are not machines meant to go about in numb, metallic, programmed action. We are not fungible goods, items that when broken can be replaced with other unbroken items. We are meant to feel the pain of our un-thingness. Pain is inevitable; it’s the irrefutable evidence of life.

Pain does allow us to realize we are living things. Pain is not enjoyable. It’s easy, we think, to run from pain. But, when we run, it seems that pain only begets pain. Recovery to me, is living in the purest form of community. Where we lay ourselves open to those who have walked are walking the journey and road of recovery from our hurts, habits and hangups.

Seth is honest and raw. He is honest about how his faith in God began crumbling as the result of another follower of Jesus claiming false witness. How those around him, not knowing what to say, said false truths out of ignorance. Who claimed things that were out of context wanting to fill the  void of uncertainty with hollow words as if they would soothe him somehow, but really it was just to soothe them in their uncomforatbility.

But this is also a story of redemptive hope.

I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe.

What Seth shares is not easy though it sounds simple. It is hard turning into the pain. But Jesus turned into the pain. Coming Clean is something more than just becoming a sober addict. It’s about becoming clean in the act of true forgiveness the best we as humans can.

If you have never faced your pain, why you drink too much, struggle with control, grief, pride, sexual addiction, over eating or whatever your escape from pain might be, I encourage you to simply pick up this book and read through it. It is the story of one person turning into the pain, facing the pain, walking through the pain and the freedom on the other side. He has done/is doing it. I have done/am doing it. Perhaps there is hope for you as well.

Please check out Seth Haines book “Coming Clean: A Story of Faith.” Also, you can find Seth on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites!

If you are walking that road of recovery, I would love to hear your story by commenting below. I know there are others who would love to hear your story as well. We can overcome by the power of sharing our secrets with others.