Reflecting On A Life Once Lived

I have this really old looking journal. It’s new, well, at least it was new when I bought it a few years ago, but it looks really old. Like antique old, which gives it character. Not sure what I’ll buy to replace it when it gets full…maybe I can find something that is actually old. One thing I’ve never been good at is going back through what I’ve written before. I’ve never gone back and read to see what has changed since I penned those words weeks, months are years before. It’s the same with books, sadly. I am always looking for books I haven’t read before, trying to find out what new things I can glean. And often times, it’s nothing earth shatteringly new…it’s just stated in a way that speaks to me at the moment. I never take time to go back and read books or articles that were meeting me at moments where I most needed them. Just like my journal.

A friend of mine told me the other day that though he also loves to read new books, this year might be a year of going back and rereading books he already had before. And, I thought this was also a good idea. When I read the Bible now a days, it’s nothing earth shattering, but there are things, truths, that I either don’t remember from before, or that are hitting me in a way that speaks to me more than any other time….perhaps when I  need the most.

So I decided to flip through the pages. This one starts on September 5th, 2014. The months that would follow would be the worst 9 months of my adult life. I’ve written about being formed in the fire and cauldron before. I’ve shared about living in complete fog and uncertainty and feeling like the world was against me. And though not all of what I shared has come from this period of time, a lot has.

As I flipped through the pages, the words leaped from lament to praise, to lament again. It could have been similar to reading in the Psalms like David going from a wonderful song of praise to God, to the doleful and dispiriting lyrics of feeling as if death would be better than what he was experiencing. “May you bring me to a point of humility and brokenness,” I wrote. “I desire to live righteously,” a paragraph later. “I feel as though there is a war rising against me, give me victory.” And a moment later, “My desire is to lead my family in ways that are true, wise, gracious, empathetic, merciful.” “I’m feeling alone and wandering again…Afraid….Lord, calm my heart, calm my mind, let me be an agent of Peace….I don’t like what I’m feeling and I don’t like the situation we’re in, but I accept it for now as this is where you are leading us.”

And then there was a point in time when the praises became louder. They were penned more and more. The laments have never ceased, but the praises became more so, many times more than the laments and woes. It also didn’t happen overnight. There was a gradual increase of praise, adoration and thankfulness among the cries for help.

So, why share all of this? I’ll admit, there is some fear in writing this as it is a pretty vulnerable thing to do. Journaling is writing the real autobiography. The one where you write your deepest thoughts that not even a ghost writer would have the privilege of knowing. So ya, it’s a little scary. But I share it because it is a story of a life once lived. A life that was lived and survived. One that I learned from and I hope others can as well.

Chances are this same scenario will happen again. The place, situation, even people may be different, but a complete loss of navigation will happen again. A dense fog will settle and my dependence on God will be challenged again. Why? Because we are human and because this is life. Growth comes when standing in the sunshine but growth also needs the rain and darkness of night.  And, my hopes are that in this small bit of vulnerability others will be empowered to share their stories as well. I also share it as a word of encouragement to journal and then go back and reflect on what you wrote…a life once lived and survived. Sharing our stories helps us each grow.

So, what is your story? What storms have you lived through? As you reflect, what surprises you?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Ryan Couldrey-here

One Way to Work Through Your Fear…Especially Today

So, today is election day in America. I debated back and forth as to whether or not to even post today. My assumption was that no one will read this, eyes will be glued to the tv screen or scouring the interwebs for the latest updates and numbers as to who will be in the position to lead my passport country for the foreseeable future. Why? Because Wednesday will be a different place, a different world, a different day for many. A day untraveled nor experienced, of course, but one that may be much different than we would have expected a year ago. That can cause fear, concern and worry. None of which will add an hour to our lives…at least that’s what’s written in scripture.

I have learned these past few years that when I am in a place of worry and concern, there is something I can do that helps to take that fear away. More or less, the answer is Jesus. Ya, I know, that’s the answer for almost everything in this life. It sounds cliche. But, he’s not a cliche, but many use him as one. “Jesus”-not on ly does it sound cliche, it can also seem a distant, disconnected answer. Yes, also true, he is the God that we can interact with, engage with, and speak to in a personal way, but when we speak of him in these cliche ways, he becomes disconnected and “powerless.” Meaning, we view him not really able to do anything. But, I’m rabbit trailing.

Part of making him personal or perhaps acknowledging his presence and the fact that he is real, is showing gratitude. There are a lot of the things that go on in our lives on a daily basis. No matter whether we are living in our normal routine that we’ve done a thousand times or a new adventure, there are still several things a day to be grateful for. As we begin as a family to transition from Mongolia back to our passport country after 12 years of living overseas, we have had many things to be thankful for these recent days.

I was chatting with a friend of mine last week. When I began sharing about all the things and in all the ways we’ve seen God’s provision the past few weeks, he suggested that I start keeping a gratitude journal-simply writing down the things that have happened and why I’m grateful for it. I did this while in my 12 step groups, but haven’t kept up the practice.

I decided to give it a try, and guess what….this simple act of worship released a lot of stress, fear and worry. Being thankful for what we have amidst the fear and concern about the unknown future, releases a lot of our desire for control. Seeing on paper, or just vocalizing what God has done and is doing, helps us to see that God really will bring about his goodness no matter what. And come hell or high water, he is there. He has been there. And, he will be there right alongside us. Which is another thing we can write down in our gratitude journal.

As we Americans head into today’s voting booths and spend time praying about the future of our country (or as any of us head into today), we need to hold our “freedoms”  loosely knowing that if every one of them is gone and taken away, we still have much to be grateful for. This simple-in-theory-act holds no power, but acknowledges the power that God already possesses and releases to him any power we may think we have. In that, we have more to be thankful for-we don’t have to keep the world spinning, that’s his job, and we don’t have to worry about tomorrow, he’s got it.  May we all be blessed in acknowledging the fear that we sometimes live in, who we are and who he is. Acknowledging reality…living in true freedom.

be blessed today

 

Photo credit: discoveringfatherhood.com

 

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!