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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reflections on 2018

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's. I love the thought of "new" opportunities. I love the idea of wiping the slate clean and starting over, because most days I'm a hot mess full of mistakes and I'd need more than a Mr. Clean eraser to wipe up my disaster...

Except if 2018 has taught me anything, it's that everybody is their own kind of crazy.

And while I may feel like I'm a mess, I'm no more of a mess than the Pinterest perfect Mom in line behind me at Starbucks... and the lady behind me pulling on two crying kids in Walmart who honestly looks like she just wants to crawl under a rock and die? Well, sister... I'm no better than you.

As I said before, we all have our own kind of crazy...

And while 2018 has been tough (more than tough. A disaster, even though if you're on the outside looking in you might not realize it has been so bad, really... but it's all about perspective, and just like a patient you're assessing for pain is the authority, we are all the authority of how messed up our lives are) I've come through it alive.

And dare I say it? A better person.

I chose 2018 as my year of being fruitful, and I can't say I really achieved that. This hasn't been a great year for me to show the fruits of the spirit to anyone. I've struggled with kindness, gentleness, patience, and self-control. I've had to choose to love even when I really wanted to claw somebody's eyes out. I've not had a lot of joy and I sure haven't had a lot of peace...

But I've been reminded time and again this year of God's faithfulness. I've been reminded that in order to be fruitful, a tree must undergo pruning... a lot of dead stuff has to be cut away and that's what I feel like has happened to me in so many facets of my life. We get caught up in the status quo, and get complacent, and if we are complacent we grow stagnant... and we all know what lives in stagnant water.

Mosquitos that carry deadly viruses...

As I reflect back on my year, and look ahead to the next, I refuse to paint a pretty picture of change like I did at the beginning of last year.

You see, I can't change myself.

I can't change my circumstances.

I can, however, look to God to use those circumstances to change me. I can allow Him to complete His perfect work in my life.

This year, if I was checking off boxes to determine if it was a success or not, would probably be considered by most as a failure. As I go through my list of 18 "goals", I fell short in so many ways.

But as I said, I'm standing on the other side. I can look back and see growth potential... maybe in small increments, but it's there.

So I'm counting it as a win.

I didn't lose the weight I set out to lose... if anything, I put on a few more pounds. I didn't exercise near as much as I said I would... but I did "run" a 5K (mostly ran. But finished in a record time... of course, I had only finished one other one, so it didn't take much to beat my record).

I didn't memorize Scripture like I wanted. I am 50 pages away from reading my Chronological Bible all the way through (a goal which I think I will meet by this time tomorrow). However,  I didn't study His Word like I wanted. I didn't pray as much as I would have liked, and too often instead of turning to God when situations turned upside down, I decided to vent to others or at others.

I fell short on my goal of reading 150 books... but beat my last year total. 130 books isn't that bad =)

I didn't hike nearly as much as I wanted to. I did Explore Ky, though... visiting 30 new counties this year!

I didn't learn a new language. I did, however, learn more about the art of communication in relationships.

I didn't laugh every day, wasn't kind every day, and didn't always live in the present. I spent a lot of time worrying about the future... but I can honestly say that these last few months have found me appreciating the people around me much more.

My car is still a mess. My house isn't organized. My socks are in the drawer but aren't necessarily matched...

But I am happier. I am thankful. And those fruits of the Spirit?

I think they are budding a little more each day.

So, a blazing success? No...

but who cares about success? I'm choosing to live...

Thanks for the lessons, 2018. I can't say I'm sad to see you go... but I know that eventually I'll look back on you and the hard times won't be as prominent.

And the seeds that were planted will one day blossom into a fruitful tree...

because God's good like that.



Friday, December 7, 2018

What I'm Reading: Christmas edition

Over the past couple of weeks we've had a recurring conversation in my family. As Caleb has started to work and has been buckling down these past few weeks at school, we've been talking about purpose and calling and work.

It's hard to know at the age of sixteen what you want to do with your life.

I'm almost 40 and I still struggle somedays.

I made the comment to him that we each have something that we are good at, and we should figure out our strengths and focus on them. It's important to work on our weaknesses and try to develop them, but we should also key in on strengths and capitalize on them.

Sometimes it's hard to know what we are good at.

Caleb really boosted my self-esteem when he said, "You're really good at reading."

And I am. I love to read...

Always have.

I think it can be a positive thing, but it can also be a negative coping strategy. I try to hide from my problems by getting lost in a story line.

I can also get lost in planning what I'm going to read.

I can lose hours at a time scrolling on Amazon...

There's two times a year that I can allow myself to do that.

One of them is when we go on vacation if we go to the beach.

The other is Christmas vacation.

I've always been the kind of reader who reads more than one book at a time. I read biographies and history books and books focusing on medical issues. I read literature and contemporary fiction. I'm always reading more than on Bible study at a time...

But in December, all those books go on pause, and I indulge...

in sappy Christmas stories. In advent books about the coming of the Messiah. In devotional books about how to not lose yourself in the rush of the holidays.

I'm not a Hallmark movie gal, but I sure am a sucker for a Christmas love story.

After all, Christmas miracles are all about happily ever afters, right?

What I'm reading now (Christmas wise):

1. Behold the Lamb of God- The True Tall Tell of the Coming of Christ- daily devotions that begin in the Old Testament and show the story of Christ throughout the Bible
2. Dearest Dorothy: Merry Everything- A charming series of books focused on aging Dorothy and her small-town host of friends. This is the 5th book in the series and I thoroughly enjoyed the first 4.
3. Christmas in Smallville- Another charming book set in small-town America.
4. 40 Days of Christmas- another devotional book
5. Unwrapping the Names of Jesus- a devotional book that focuses on the four weeks of Advent and brings out a different name of Jesus each day

I'd love to hear your Christmas reads!!

Monday, December 3, 2018

True Success

As we enter into the Holiday season, it often feels as though we are suspended in between the past and the future.

Christmas is a time of waiting and anticipation, of laughter and joy, but it seems each year I rush through Thanksgiving and rush through Christmas and start looking ahead to new beginnings...

Even though each day is technically a new beginning.

This year hasn't been a the best. My end of the reflection probably won't be what I want it to be.

but that's ok, because I'm still alive. Y'all, sometimes putting one foot in front of the other deserves a prize.

Caleb and I were talking the other day about being a failure in life. It's easy to do. It's easy to see everyone else's "success" and think of all the ways we don't stack up.

Chances are, though, somebody is doing the same thing with us. There's that quote that talks about how somebody else would love to have what you are complaining about... and that's so true.

As I'm finishing up this semester, I'm reflecting on what true success is.

I love this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "What is success? To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

So, as I'm finishing up these last few days of 2018, I'm vowing not to get too focused on 2019. I'm going to think of this quote, and try to live it...

Laugh everyday.

Play with the kiddos at church and try to win the respect of intelligent people.

Live so that I can't be criticized... or that the criticism is a growth opportunity.

Forgive those who have betrayed me through falsehood.

Appreciate the beauty of the season.

Always look for the best in others, and hope they are doing the same for me.

Leave the world a little better...

Live so that others breathe easier.

Because that is true success...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hope

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

every year it seems to come a little earlier.

The lights, the trees, the decorations... the Black Friday shopping that creeps into Thanksgiving. The Christmas specials and the Christmas movies.

Tis' the season...whatever that means.

Today marks the beginning of Advent, the waiting period. I never remember observing Advent in my Pentecostal church. My cousin Jennifer did have an Advent calendar, where day had a box to open with a unique picture. Something about checking off a box on a calendar...

clicking through the days.

The story of our life, right?

We live for Friday evening (unless we work on the weekend).

Waiting for life to happen...

That's what Advent is. A waiting for life to happen period...

Life in the form of the way to an abundant life... The Way...

Waiting for Jesus.

This first week of Advent focuses on that anticipation of waiting; not the negative, will it ever come to an end, but the positive- hope.

Hope.

So much packed into those four letters.

Christmas is about the gift of hope to the hopeless.

It's about the arrival of hope to a nation, and then extended to the world.

Hope for our life here... but also hope that there is something else. Something more. Something meaningful.

And just like little kids who anxiously pen their letters to Santa and gaze into the sparkling Christmas lights, hope shines bright in us.

Until that light is distinguished, because life has a way of knocking the hope right out of you.

The bills add up. You mess up at work. You yell at your kids. The mistakes, the shame, the doubt, it builds up...

until it smothers out the hope.

You start believing there isn't hope for anything better. You've asked yourself "Is there more than life to this", hoping it's true, but you've been so stagnant that you can't see how anything could ever be any different.

I've been there.

It's a familiar place.

And in that pit, it's hard to see the light of hope there...

but He came, a light in the darkness, so that hope will not be deferred.

Sometimes, it's in the waiting that we discover the true beauty of the moment.

Christmas gives us the opportunity to focus on that hope. As kids, we dreamed of a doll or a train or a bike...

but as adults, we are dreaming of love, peace, joy...

dreaming of the better life.

And we can have it, because He came to dwell among us, to give us joy and ensure we could live the abundant life.

We just have to keep looking for Him.

Keep clinging to that hope.

Christmas time's a'coming...