My New Years Plan: {The Discipline of Looking Back}

A few weeks ago I wrote about that journal. The one I call my “When He Speaks Journal”.

Another thing that journal holds is my end of year reflection and upcoming year’s goals.

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Last year, I skipped it. We had just taken the first step in what would prove to be a year long journey of pain, healing, brokenness, growth, and heartache. I felt so lost in life at that point last year that I couldn’t bring myself to look back too much or forward too far. In fact, it felt impossible.

Now, a year later, I’m still broken and still healing in many ways, but I’m also feeling a new strength. A deep and quiet strength. A firm bottom under all the unknown. Or perhaps, what I am really feeling is a firmer faith in the Strength Who was there all along.

So this year, even though in some ways life feels just as uncertain as it did a year ago, I’m going back to the habits of reflection, intention, and hope.

For several years now I’ve been using Lara Casey’s method of reflection, evaluation and goal setting. Each year, in blog post format, she has tenderly guided me through this challenging process, this deep work in my heart and soul.

It’s not easy or fun, this reflecting. This looking back and evaluating. This digging deep and getting really, truly honest with myself and with God.

I know that for my looking back to truly guide my moving forward to growth, I must wipe away of all the little pretenses I set up around my own heart so that I can see clearly who I am and the habits that shape me.

This process of reflection and evaluation can be quite painful if it is not surrounded in immense amounts of gospel truth. God’s truth. Even then, it can feel hard. And vulnerable. And uncomfortable. And too much. And discouraging. And shameful. And not worth it. And…painful.

But I have seen the value in it in my life and soul.

So I can detach myself from the painful emotions connected to looking back in honesty, because I am held by a God Who loves me fully, although He knows me fully. I can step back and ask God to show me what He sees in me, the good and the bad, then in humility I can ask Him to show me how to walk forward in righteousness and faithfulness.

This week I’m slowly going over the past and present to evaluate and pray and reflect. Soon I’ll start the planning and dreaming and praying for the future. Seeking to uncover what God is guiding me toward. What He is calling me to.

I wouldn’t have done this on my own. I’m too impatient to look back. Too prone to questioning myself and obsessing over the past and it’s mistakes to reflect.

So I’m incredibly thankful for those who have forged a path before me. Those who have wrestled out the truths and patterns and methods that produce to healthy introspection and reflection, planning and intending.

If you need a gentle, grace-filled push to spend the time and do the work of reflection and planning, join me. I’m writing these steps and my own answers out in that same journal. Well, a fresh one, intended for the same purpose as before: to make note and take note of when He speaks to me, so that I won’t forget.

What better way to start 2019 than with reflection, intention, hope, and the awareness that I am held by a God Who loves me fully, although He knows me fully, and Who will lead me into righteousness and faithfulness as I seek His heart.

He Answers: [The Prayer I Forgot]

He Answers: [The Prayer I Forgot]

A few weeks ago, over an emotional conversation, I told a friend, "I'm surprised I'm not crying right now. I've cried, or at least teared up, pretty much every day for the past few months."

And it’s true.
The hard of the past year has brought me to a place where tears seem as though they are ready and waiting at any moment. I never was that person: a crier. I never was her.
But now, maybe I am.

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The next day, sitting on my couch, reading a book about how God does what He says He will do, about how God always answers prayers, I teared up again. That all too familiar burning behind my eyelids and simultaneous hardening in my throat. I closed my eyes and let the emotion rise. And fall.

It often happens that way. The saddness rising, full and intense, and then, nearly as quickly, it begins to fade leaving only a dampness in my eyes and ache in my heart.

I sighed.
There it was for today.
Would I ever again make it through I day without tears?

But at the same time this thought sighed its way through my tired brain, I turned my focus to noticing.
Noticing the tears.
Noticing the sudden surge of emotion.
Noticing the when and the how and knowing that if I noticed and waited, just maybe the Holy Spirit would whisper the why into my heart.

And in this moment, He did.

I don’t remember quite when, so maybe it was just always this way, but I learned to be pretty good at holding my tears. Holding on to them till a more appropriate time. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that the problem with tears is that they don’t work like this.

Emotions surge at times I often expect them the least and if I don’t allow myself to feel them in the moment, they often never come at all.

I held in tears over my grandfathers death so many times, that when the funeral finally came, and it was “time” to cry, I couldn’t. I still have never cried over his death.

As years have passed, I’ve grown to hate this part of myself. And more than a few times, I’ve found myself pleading with God that He teach me to cry. That He would allow me to release the emotions bottled up inside me at the right times.

I’ve begged Him to grant my heart the release and relief of tears.

I want to cry in joy and in pain. I want to cry for myself and I want to cry with others. I want tears to come and I want them to mean that I’m letting down my walls, the ones I’ve built so high and strong.

I noticed and I waited. And He answered.

”This is what you prayed for.” He whispered. I’m answering.”

The tears filled my eyes again.

And once again, I knew that He answers. That He really, truly, absolutely, completely, for sure answers prayers.

I used to think that if I felt nothing, saw no answer, heard no voice during prayer or immediately after, then it meant the prayer was answered no. Maybe I didn’t consciously think that, but I felt it deep down, and I often lived like it was true.

The tearing of this past year and the chronicling of when He speaks has shown me a truth I never really saw before.

He answers.

God answers prayer.
He does.
He really truly does.

The reason we miss it so often is that by the time our answer does come, we’ve forgotten that we prayed for it in the first place. And so we don’t notice.

But if we take the time to make note and take note and notice, we will find that God answers prayers all the time.
He really does.

I think I first prayed for tears in high school, over ten years ago. And once again, I’m tearing up just writing these words, because the realization that He answers is simply so overwhelming.

It’s not often immediate.
It’s sometimes different than how I imagine.
But it is real. He answers.

And on a random Tuesday, early in the Christmas season, the Holy Spirit whispered into my heart to remind me that my tears were an answered prayer.

Be blessed

When He Speaks: {A Journal for Remembering}

Somewhere in the past two years, I started writing down the things God spoke to me.

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The single word whispered into the stillness of my heart.

The song lyrics that seemed suddenly, unexpectedly profound.

The words texted by a friend to say that while praying for me God had given her a message for me.

The verses that kept popping up everywhere like I just couldn’t get away from them.

The truths that weighed deeply on my heart while studying God’s Word.

The stories from friends and strangers alike that encouraged and challenged me to my core.

The words of conviction and rebuke spoken into my life by trusted counselors.

The promises God wrote into His word that I needed to remember.

I wrote it all.
Anything that stirred my soul or burned in my heart or would not stop showing up in the unexpected places.

And as I began to write these things, I began to change.

I began to remember more. I began to hang onto truth and courage in a whole new way. I began to remind myself of the truth in a way I hadn’t been able to before, because honestly, before I couldn’t always remember the truth when I needed it most.

As I wrote down when He speaks, and looked back at it when I needed reminding, I began to learn to notice and discern His voice more clearly than ever before.

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When the day wore long and overwhelming, I flipped that journal ragged, going back to remember what He had spoken that morning from His word.

When pain stayed open and raw for days and weeks and months on end, I found myself hurrying back to worn pages to reread and reremember what He had said in the past.

When I lost hope of feeling joyful and free and full again, I opened the journal to remind myself of the ways He had been enough for me.

When dark lies clouded my reason, I turned to the places I had recorded how He had come through in the past, the places I’d written His goodness to me before.

When I kept trying to take situations into my own hands, to control and manipulate, I turned to the words He had spoken directly to me, the challenge to let Him be God.

When the guest preacher taught from that one book of the Bible and it reminded me of something, I dug through to find the words I’d hesitantly written a year before.

I’d written down what I thought He was saying. I’d told my husband. But I’d also hesitated. Did He really say what I thought? Did it mean what I’d thought?

So I wrote it down and left it. Waiting. Testing. Unsure if I’d heard correctly. But there it was. Him speaking again through this same book of the Bible, adding clarity and confirmation to words from a year ago that I surely would have forgotten had they not been written down, but that I surely could not have fully understood when they were spoken into my heart.

I would cry if I ever lost this journal. It feels weighty and precious and so very important.
And it is.

This one small journal contains over a year of all the things God has spoken into my heart and life.

All the promises. All the encouragements. All the truth. All the corrections. All the moments that have stirred my heart and brought tears to my eyes and ushered peace into my soul.

I call it my When He Speaks journal.

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Maybe you should start one too. A log of all the ways He has spoken. A place to help us remember that He is good, He loves us, and He speaks. If you do, I hope it changes you like its changed me. I hope we can be changed together to be more aware of God’s voice, more sensitive to His Spirit, and more trusting of His goodness.

Be blessed

It’s Easy: {Doing, Not Just Knowing}

It’s easy to sit in church on Sunday and believe.
It’s the going home and wrestling that belief out into our hearts, actions and our everyday lives throughout the week that is the challenge.

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It’s easy to hear truth preached loud and shout our amens with passion.
It’s the painful and broken amen required of us that is the challenge.

It’s easy to sing the words proclaiming desire for God to build our faith.
It’s the actual taking those steps of faith when everything feels unsure and unstable and unsafe and unseen that is the challenge.

It’s easy to love God in the moment of blessing and rescue.
It’s loving God in the moments right after your world has crumbled to pieces, after God’s promises seem to have come up short, after all hope seems lost, that is the challenge.

It’s easy to plan and prepare for some hard obedience, full of faith in God’s care and call.
It’s the crushing moments of isolation and discouragement as you walk in your obedience day after day after day that are the challenge.

It’s easy to live out our faith in our heads.
It’s the actual speaking of words and reaching out of hands and committing to actually following through that is the challenge.

It’s easy to see a problem from a safe distance.
It’s the going all in with your heart, the letting yourself be broken over sin, the actual confession and repentance and change that is a challenge.

It’s often easy see and feel.
It’s the doing, the living, the walking out the truth day after day after week after month after year and
never
giving
up…

that is the challenge.

And that is the goal.

So often we make our goal the moments of feeling or seeing or hearing the truth, instead of the long work of living and doing the truth.

I’m guilty of this kind of thinking.
So are you.
We all are.

Will we read these words and nod our amens and move on with our lives? Or will we do the work to press these truths deep into our soul?

Will we do the work to put reminders in front of our hearts and our eyes day after day?
Reminders to keep on.
Reminders of the what and the why.
Reminders of the Who.
Reminders to dig in and press in with our whole hearts, not just with our ears.

It’s easy to hear and plan and think and know.
It’s the doing and the living that’s the challenge.

Be blessed

We Don’t Get to Decide: {The Battle of Comparison}

There is a drum beating on my heart, pounding in my ears, and slowly, slowly growing in force. With each thrumming beat, the message becomes a little clearer, a little stronger.

We don’t get to decide for others.
We don’t get to decide for others.
We don’t get to decide for others.

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We don’t get to decide for others.

We don’t get to decide what is hard.

We don’t get to decide what is painful.

We don’t get to decide what is heartbreaking.

We don’t get to decide what is loss.

We don’t get to decide what is sacrifice.

We don’t get to decide what is discouraging.

We don’t get to decide what is overwhelming.

We don’t get to decide what is too much.

We don’t get to decide what is exhausting.

We don’t get to decide what is max capacity.

We don’t get to decide when the breaking point comes or the overwhelm is too great or the weight is too heavy or the hurt is too much.

We don’t get to decide for anyone other than ourselves.

And that can be hard. Because sometimes you can put numbers to people’s pain and struggle and sacrifice. The problem is, you can’t put numbers on the impact those pains and struggles will have on an individual’s heart.

But we try.

Oh we try.

We add up dollars and hours and days and years and life circumstances to try to put individual pain and suffering and hurt and capacity on a scale. Neat and tidy so that we can know how to think about others.

Are they justified in their reaction? Are they hurting as bad as I am? Do they need to suck it up? Do I need to feel sorry for them?

Am I better than they?

Am I stronger than they?

Have I given as much as they?

Have I done as much as they?

Have I done more?

Are they living up to my standard?

Am I living up to their standard?

Are they good enough?

Am I good enough?

And the questions we ask and the measurements we take all come down to selfishness. We want to justify our pain and our struggle and our ability. We want to justify ourselves. We want to parade ourselves. We want to be seen as more…more hurt, more needy, more enduring, more sacrificial, more capable of handling life in all its pain.

We want validation.

We want praise.

We want sympathy.

We want honor.

We want recognition.

We want awe.

We want to be seen.

And probably, we don’t want any of these things outright. But we want them quietly. We want them known quietly in peoples hearts and minds, and maybe, we want to hear them spoken in private or written in a card.

We want to hear or maybe just see in others eyes…

“It’s worse for you.”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“If that was me I think I’d have gone crazy by now.”

“You are so much more patient than me.”

“You amaze me with how you handle all this.”

We want to know that we are better. Because deep down we are desperately insecure. I know, because I am too.

The antidote for all of this is knowing who we are and who God is.

We are desperately broken, living in a desperately broken world.

We are completely loved and provided for in Jesus.

We are wholly flawed.

We are made completely whole in Jesus.

We are worse than we could imagine.

We are perfect and complete in Jesus.

“We are nothing. God is everything.”
Jason Sanchez

God is everything and so He is where we must turn to when we find ourselves trying to determine how others should feel. How we should feel.

We don’t get to decide how others feel, what others need. But we can turn to Jesus and be empowered to love and serve them whether we understand them or not.

Be blessed

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