I can’t believe we are already in the final hours of 2014. This year has had plenty of ups and downs, highs and lows, roses and thorns…and whatever other little phrase you may have. We have experienced great joy at the births of babies, trips to Disneyland, and wonderful times with friends and family. We have also met great sorrow at the loss of babies, friends, and family, with illness, and struggle emotionally, relationally, financially, and otherwise. We have lived…and we have learned.
So, I thought it would be fun to think about 10 things I’ve learned this year…so, here goes nothin’…
1. I’ve often heard it said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I have found that to be true in many cases…but even more true, I’ve found that struggle can make us stronger…relationally, I mean. When storms come you can either choose to come together and take it on together or you can choose to become angry, bitter and distant. As for Josh and me, this year has been full of struggles. We had to actively remind each other that we are on the same team here. We are a partnership. We go hand-in-hand and need to work in tandem. A canoe can steer a lot better when it has two oars. With just one, you’ll just spin in circles. We are better together and there’s nothing like high winds and rocky seas to give us a real workout so we can come out victorious.
2. My problem is me. Yep. I said it. My problem is ME. It isn’t where I live, how much money I make, my parents, kids, friends, or boss. My problem is me. Just like in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, “the chains aren’t what’s holding you back, Quasimodo.” Financially, we make more money now than we have ever made…and we are also in more debt than we’ve ever been. How is that even possible, right? Me. It’s me. It’s my attitude and my choices. My issues living in California were me. Sure, I’m not a fan of hot weather or traffic, and those things can’t be changed, but it’s all about my attitude. What do I choose to focus on? The good? The bad? When I was a little girl my mom would say, “Make it a good day…” It wasn’t “have a good day” as if it would be handed to me. “MAKE it a good day,” implies some control over my circumstances.
3. I’ve learned that relationships mean more than anything else. I could not have gotten through this year without the people I care about…and who care about me. Getting notes of encouragement or a hug on a bad day can change everything. Having a simple game night with friends can be better than going out to a fancy dinner or a movie. The time spent laughing and enjoying each other’s company is life bringing…and it isn’t worth it to trade it in for any other worldly convenience or comfort.
4. You don’t know until you know. Plain and simple. There is so much I don’t know…and I don’t even know I don’t know until I am made aware by someone who does know…or until I’m forced into learning. I’ve watched people struggle through chronic illness and, while I had compassion on them, I could not really understand what they were going through and the exhaustion of the day-to-day struggles. Likewise, you can’t know the loss of a child until you’ve experienced it for yourself. You can’t know the pain of losing a loved one until you walk in those shoes. You can’t know the weight of debt until you find yourself under it. This applies to joyful things as well, of course, but I think we are all far more inclined to offer advice or chime in with our opinions when someone is struggling. We like to tell the mother who has just found out that there’s no longer a heartbeat in her womb that “everything happens for a reason…” We like to tell a daughter who has just lost her father, “Things will get back to normal soon.” We like to tell a friend who is struggling with addiction, “just stop. You need to just stop.” We love to offer up suggestions for diet, exercise, medicine (or lack thereof). We know all the answers…except we don’t. Even if I was qualified to offer advice or answer a question about why these things happen, it isn’t helpful…and people don’t want advice…unless they ask for it and even then they will rarely follow it. It’s better to approach suffering with a listening ear, a humble heart, and sincere love.
5. God created me because He loved me. (And you too!). I’ve often wondered why God would even bother making people if He knew that we would be so destructive. If He knew we would suffer, then why not just skip over humanity in the first place? But it occurred to me one day that I did the same thing. When we chose to have our children I was fully aware that they would hate me at some point (or many points) in their lives. I was fully aware that they would get sick, get hurt, experience pain. I chose to have them, though. I chose them because I love them. I loved them before they were born. I knew they wouldn’t be able to support me or help me or contribute to our family for quite some time…and that they would be a lot of work…but I loved them. So it was worth it. Likewise, God loves me. He knew I would suffer. He knew that things would be difficult and that I would make bad choices. He chose to create me anyway because He could see the big picture…and he decided it was worth it.
6. There are a lot of hurting people…and you can make a difference for them. The next time you go out to the store, the park, church, or work look around you. Chances are that you’re interacting with someone who is hurting. Your smile, extra tip, or random act of kindness can mean the world to someone who is in pain. I was listening to the radio this Christmas and was so happy to hear about people going into Toys R Us and paying off layaway bills for complete strangers. You know, a lot of those moms and dads were working hard to make Christmas special for their children. And in a world of Santa Claus and Elves bringing the rich kids computers and bicycles…and the poor kids a book or a used jacket, I applaud those who go out of their way to help those who need an extra nudge. We were the recipients of wonderful kindness and generosity this year…and we also gave random gifts to unsuspecting individuals. It brought us great joy to give…and it restored something inside of us when we received.
7. I can do this. Every time I approach a new mountain that I think I cannot possibly climb, I find myself on the other side and am surprised at how I was able to overcome. I remember when middle-man was a baby and I just wasn’t sure I could survive those first few months. I was so tired, worn, and felt like I was surely going to die. I was broken. Here I am 3 years later and I survived (middle-man did too). Heck. We even decided at some point it was worth the risk of possibly going through postpartum depression again and had another! So, now I’m facing a new mountain. There are days when I tell myself, “I can’t live like this! How long can I endure?!” And dawn always comes. I make it another day. God sustains me. I can do this with Him by my side.
8. People change. Thank God, right? I mean, I am so thankful that I’m not who I was ten years ago. And I have many downfalls that I’ve thought I would be stuck with forever…but then I remember that I’ve changed before…and I can change again. I’m not stuck with my flaws. It takes work. But I can change. So can you. Of course, sometimes people don’t change for the better…or they don’t change as quickly as you’d like. But, while people do change, it isn’t YOUR responsibility to change them. Just don’t give up on them…and don’t give up on yourself.
9. Time changes everything. Time can heal wounds. Time can bring people closer together. Time changes your perspective…provides a better vantage point. We need time to grow up and to learn more about ourselves and others. Even with the struggles I’m facing now, I can feel confident that this struggle will be different in 10 years.
10. God has my back. Through thick and thin. God is FOR me. He knows me better than I know myself. He know what I need and He provides it all. The world may crumble down around me. My friends and family may turn their backs on me…but God will be there. His love is perfect and enduring. I can keep my confidence that He will not leave me… He won’t leave me when I make horrible decisions. Instead, He will teach me through it and provide a safety net to catch me when I fall.
So, there ya have it. 10 things I learned this year. Of course, I learned more than that, but I can’t fit it all in…that would be silly. I’ll save it for next year.
Here is to a new year! 2015, here we come!