The year I learned to hold still

I am the world’s most reflective person. I really love to think about the things I’ve done and why I did them and figure out ways I can grow from the insights I find. I don’t always embrace my lessons learned the way I should, but that’s okay — I think there is still immense value that comes from the reflecting process. I figure since it’s the last day of the year, it’s a good time to do some reflecting. I found these questions (I took a few out because I not married and it felt too forced to work the spouse questions into something more meaningful for me!) for reflecting on the year from a post over at (in)courage — you can read others’ reflections but mine are here, something I think I’d like to do each NYE.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
Quitting my job at Ventura College. I wish I had done it sooner, but I knew it wasn’t the right time — I never felt peace about it until I did it. I don’t think we will always be happy in life and sometimes striving toward happiness isn’t the best thing we should be doing, but man… the day I left the campus for the last time I felt enormous weight lift off my shoulders!

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
Quitting my job at Ventura College. Haha. Even though I was relieved, it offered up so many unknowns, thinks that still aren’t clear for me. But even though it was challenging, it made me put my trust in God that something would come of my leaving, and so far, He’s taken care of me.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
Living with married friends for almost six months. I had joked about it with them before, but then it actually happened and it was such an awesome time of growth for me.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
Being temporarily unemployed. Now, I know that I did this to myself voluntarily, and I don’t regret it, nor do I want anyone’s sympathy because I know that there are so many people in my community whose work needs are so much dire than mine were or are. They would have killed to have that job. But it was something that I totally wasn’t planning on when the year started and it certainly was an obstacle.

5. Pick three words to describe 2012.
Joy
Worship
Love

6. What were the best books you read this year?
7 by Jen Hatmaker (probably my very favorite)
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (yeah… seems weird paired with 7!)
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

7. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
You know, I don’t think any of my relationships are invaluable, but it was a nice year for me because I really got to develop some strong new friendships with some of the girls in my home group, including my roommate Monica, Rachel, and of course my good friend Megan — she was a super important person for me this year in terms of leaning on friends and experiencing growth in the Lord. And as always, I am mystified and so thankful over the way God continues to strengthen my friendships with my long-time friends Steph, Kim, and Hillary, and how He has blessed the relationship with my friend Jaimie.

8. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
I know exactly what my answer would be as soon as I read this, but let’s see if I can put it into words! I wrote extensively about my red ruby necklace (see “The Mending” and “Knots“)and its significance to me — I think the biggest personal change I’ve made is that I began volunteering near the end of the year at a crisis pregnancy center and as the year drew to a close, picked up some additional leadership responsibility with a very big event the center hosts. For me, to come so far and to listen to God so intently means that my life and who I am and what I value is changing radically.

9. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
This has been a year of tears. I am a big crier. But I hate crying in front of people because I feel like it makes me look weepy and weak. Well, God has wanted me to be broken (in a good way) and has had me crying in front of people a lot this year. I’ve cried at church, praying at home group, at home group, asking for prayer at home group, at church some more, sitting in the dark in my bed while a friend prayed for me, alone in my room at night, on the way home from School of Ministry, more at church, during worship, and lots of other random places. I think I’ve learned to embrace the broken and the tears and let myself experiencing the emotions God has given me, but to not be ruled by them.

10. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
Jesus is my homeboy. Seriously, though, I feel like I have spent more intimate time with the Lord this year than in all of the previous years of my life combined, and it wasn’t enough. I want to spend more time in 2013 with Him as His feet and in His word because it has brought me such joy this year.

11. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
My body, it’s a little bigger this year. :)

12. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
I have worked on listening more and taking less from others. Not easy by any means, but I hope I have done that!

13. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
At the college, I really enjoyed spending more time with students in various ways, whether it was at student orientations or working with our student workers at the summer institute.

14. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
Revamping an entire program without shutting it down and fixing it. It is ridiculously hard to fix a broken program while still having to keep it up and running at the same time. I think this challenge brought me a lot of growth in the professional arena!

15. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
Hands down Gilmore Girls. But I have loved every moment of the show and would not unwatch it if I could.

16. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
Spending more time in the Word!

17. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
He is who He says He is, He doesn’t change, and He will honor and bless us so tremendously when we shut up and obey.

18. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2012 for you.
The year I learned to hold still.

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Choose Joy

Years and years ago, I found a blog written by a woman who went by the moniker (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!) Gitzen Girl, a nicknamed bestowed upon her by her family. I loved her writing and the pictures she shared of her super cute dog Riley. I never put the blog in my google reader and naturally I forgot about it until I offered to buy some books for the Bloom book club and Gitzen Girl (also known as Sara) was in charge of helping keep track of who was buying extra books and sending them out. Last September, I read a a prayer on Angie Smith’s twitter directed toward Sara, and then I saw a link to a post called “Looking Homeward.”

I felt totally sick and I started crying, in the middle of Starbucks, where I sat reading on my phone, before I even clicked the link — and even though my heart was already broken for what the link would tell me, I had to click it. You see, Sara had a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis which made her life so difficult and ultimately lead to her death. Basically, she had an autoimmune disease that caused her immune system to attack itself. She ached and was sick so easily that she was housebound for the last years of her life without being able to leave or even open a window. I can’t even imagine.

Yet Sara had so much joy. It overflowed from her, even in the midst of her very real pain. She had joy from a God who created her and used her despite the severe limitations of her body.

So I clicked, with the heaviest heart ever, over to Sara’s post, and read with tears streaming down my face, the words that were posted in black and white:

Sara is getting ready to head home to Him.

In fact, as I write this post I find myself choking up. I want to scream and beg God to bring her back. She was so much more deserving than me. Her faith was so much deeper. She challenged people to love Him and live their lives that way. On my old blog, which is no longer public, I wrote the following in a post called “Choose Joy”:

I am writing this from my phone, and with tears rolling down my face no less, so forgive any typos or other mistakes.

There’s a girl whose blog has inspired me over the years. I’ve never read her blog regularly, but every few weeks or months I go back and catch up on all that I’ve missed. Tonight I happened to see a tweet from someone that mentioned this girl’s blog and a posted entitles “Going Home.” My heart sunk because the girl, named Sara (or Gitzen Girl) has a very serious disease that negatively affects all of her body, and as she’s gotten older, the disease has gotten progressively worse. She is homebound and hasn’t been outside in several years due to her health. So a post about going home causes fear because when you’re homebound, there’s only one other place you can go, and that’s Home.

You know. The capital H kind.

The Home that Jesus paid the mortgage on thousands of years ago.

I made my way over to Sara’s blog reluctantly as I sat in Starbucks waiting to pick Charisse up from cheerleading practice. And to the great sadness of my heart, Sara IS making her way home. As her body shuts down, hospice has come in and is keeping her comfortable and at peace, and she will soon be with Jesus. Restored. Transformed. Whole and healthy, without the physical limitations this earth has put on her.

And still I cry.

I cry for many reasons. The first is that I don’t want to go Home young. I know that’s not very cool-Christian of me to admit and I have never really shared this before, but even though I know Heaven is so much more amazing than my mind can fathom, I want to be here to get married and have babies and she Charisse grow up and have babies. Just like Sara did.

But at the same time, I weep because, sick as she was, Sara always chose joy in her life. Sick and in pain, Sara worshiped God to her fullest ability and was able to turn a serious handicap into the work of God.

I pray that I can live my life like that: in joy and in honor to the extreme. and I pray that you’ll join in my prayer as Sara makes her way to her Home.

But then, just a few weeks later, my tears returned as I read a new post on 9/24/11:

Shannon here to let everyone know that at 11:14 pm tonight, Sara died peacefully with her mother and brother at her side.

It hardly seems fair. She had so much ahead of her. But she still does. She has eternity with Jesus and I love that truth. I love that I have the same truth to hold onto and that some day, dancing before our God, I will get to meet Sara face-to-face and tell her how her love for the Lord inspired me and touched me so deeply.

Life has been kind to me, but it’s also been terribly ugly. But you know what? I can’t choose all of the things that happen to me, but still: I can always choose joy.

That’s why I decided to get a tattoo on December 22. I wanted to remind myself quickly whenever I’m in need of an attitude adjustment — which is preeeeety often, if we’re being honest here! — that despite my circumstances and my own pain and discomfort, God has given me the choice to look to Him and find my joy. If my young, healthy body is pain-free and I am able to move comfortably, I have so much more than Sara knew in her final days and hours — yet she chose joy. If I can take walks and leave my home to work and run errands, I have so much more than Sara — yet she chose joy. Yet I often do not see that choice. I have a bad attitude and I take my anger and emotions out on others.

But with these words as a reminder, I am going forward and I play to do just this:

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What I’m Into (December 2012)

I feel like life just blows past me these days and one of my new blogosphere friends, Adele (hi from the US, Adele!) linked up to a blog she reads that has a monthly what-I’m-into wrap-up. Um, LOVE! So this will be something I do monthly… Let’s recap December, shall we?

Read and Reading
I’m pretty sure this will always be my longest category. Hah. I’m okay with that!

Collateral by Ellen Hopkins (a good transition to adult lit but not something I’d ever read again)
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (loved the concept, hated some/most of the characters)
Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury (typical cheesy Christian fiction)
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (really well-written but terribly dark)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Ethridge (not loving this but it’s okay)
The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen (historical fiction based on a true story — love love it so far!)

TV
Gilmore Girls. Won’t finish it before the new year as hoped but that’s okay. Have about a season and a half left.

Movies
The Hobit. It. was. so. long.

MusicMostly just listening to Christmas music. Nothing new, just a few new Christmas songs. Oh! I downloaded Babel, the new album by Mumford and Sons, and like it. My favorite track is their version of “The Boxer.” They nail it and I love listening to it! I’ve also downloaded a few new-to-me Christian songs.

And there you go! That’s what I’m into this final month of 2012. Check out more things people are into at What I’m Into at HopefulLeigh!

What a year, what a year

I keep taking time out of my day to write an end-of-the-year post, but every time I do I feel like like the task is so overwhelming that I leave a post in my drafts and then I abandon it (seriously, I just trashed four posts like this!). Then I get side tracked thinking about how I need to finish four or five posts for my review blog, and I entirely lose focus. So while I could recap a hundred things (and maybe I will…), I really want to focus on the goals I set for myself this year. Some I met, some I did not, and some I’d like to repeat.

Read through the New Testament/Grow in God
Bazinga! I totally met this goal, although it was a little later than I had anticipated. Honestly, I read most of the books of the New Testament previously, but this time my efforts were start-to-finish, and it was really exciting. My Bible was highlighted and covered in notes (I say was because I got a new Bible in November and am no longer using the Bible I had when I read through the New Testament, but I did spend hours transferring over my notes and highlights). There is something so amazing about reading through the story of Jesus and then following it up with other lessons that build on and highlights His teachings.

As for growing in God: I honestly look back at this year and I think that the one word I would use to characterize it is “growth.” If I had realized as I made this list last year how much my life would change if I was willing to give my life over to God, I would not have been able to imagine it. Between joining School of Ministry at my church and the reading we do as part of the class, the amazing study through the book of Luke that our church did for the last year and a half, living with some amazing, Godly friends, reading through the New Testament, being part of a great home group, and volunteering at the pregnancy center, God has really revealed Himself to me this year. But I know I’m not done yet… there is so much more that I can do and so much further I can go in my walk with Him. I want to live my life so boldly for Him that you can’t see me anymore… I want to make this life not about me anymore.

Read books sitting around my house
Um. This might be a fail. I need to quickly consult my list that I made last December to see if I read more than one or two… Yeah, no. I read two of the 14 I planned on reading: World Without End by Ken Follett and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Oh well. I still read/am finishing up reading 81 books. I consider this one a success, even if I have books that are waiting to be read.

Be healthier/drink less soda/caffeine
Yeah, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I didn’t really do very great at this one. My caffeine intake increased, my ability to run a 5K diminished, and I’m pretty sure I probably gained weight. I did run two 5Ks, though — one in February in freezing cold Carp and the Color Run in November (that was SO fun!)

I think that sums it up. Some other highlights include:

  • seeing Celine Dion for the second time in Vegas in January
  • serving as a bridesmaid in my friend Jaimie’s wedding (and just a month ago helping throw her baby shower!)
  • a fabulous 29th birthday party with friends at my apartment in April
  • moving in two a good friend, her husband, their kids, and their dogs the week after my birthday
  • driving to Idaho and spending a week there this summer
  • deleting my facebook accounts (what a wonderful break that was!)
  • taking my Charissie girl to school on the first day of 3rd grade (oh my word, I cannot believe it!)
  • quitting my job and getting a new one after four long years
  • getting more ink (this one just happened a week ago!)

It definitely was a year with hard parts, but honestly it’s been one of the best years. I turn 30 in 108 days and I am so excited to see where God takes me this year. I have some awesome possibilities in store for me at work, with my blog, with ministry… there is so much to do and so much to look forward to and I just can’t wait for it all to happen (and naturally I can’t wait to look back on the year when it’s done, but I’m ready to wrap this one up and live the next first!).

I’ll be back tomorrow with my goals for 2013!

Thoughts on turning 30

My birthday is still months away. Four months from this Friday, to be precise.

But it’s on my mind tonight. I was driving home this evening and stopped in Oxnard for some tasty Chick-fil-a. I decided I was going to do something nice and buy dinner for the person behind me. Except there was no one behind me. I was pretty bummed. While I was still a few cars away from paying, I saw headlights flash behind me and I got massive butterflies in my stomach. I felt so nervous but when I told the guy at the window I wanted to pay for the lady behind me, he said, “Cool. Pay it forward, right?” I told him yes and to tell her I said “Have a good night.”

It honestly was thrilling, I tell you, knowing she was going to pull up to the window and have the guy tell her that she was already paid for. I love to give people things and part of the excitement is to see their reaction. It was only five or so bucks, but I hope she felt loved on a busy Monday on her way home from (or on her way to!) work.

Anyhow, all of this to say that I started thinking about the Birthday Project, this great idea that I read about a while ago via Pinterest. I am so glad I did because I started following TBP’s founder, Robyn, on twitter and she has been such a great inspiration – not to mention very kind to me – as I’ve followed her. On her 38th birthday, she, her husband, and their three daughters did 38 ROAKs (random acts of kindness). It was such a neat thing to read and I sort of half-heartedly did it this year for my 29th.

But 30. That’s a big deal. I want to do something, not get something, this year. I mean, sure there are a ton of things I’d love to get. But I don’t need them. And for the most part, even the expensive ones, I can get on my own as long as I save up and spend wisely. I don’t have any real want or need.

So I am going to think of 30 things that have made a different or positive impact in my life and do something related to those ideas. I already have five or six things, but if you know me in real life (or even if you don’t — if you know me well enough online to know what brings me joy and makes me feel grateful!), I welcome any suggestions as to what I can do. Some of the ideas I have are big (there is one excited I am just over the moon about!), so I need to plan in advance — hence this blog post four months early.

I can’t wait! I’m so excited to share with you all!

Knots

Last night I dog sat for a friend of my parents and was so happy to see that they had a hot tub I could use. I forgot to bring my swim suit over, so I decided I’d just hop in in my underwear and the camisole I as wearing under my shirt. So in their kitchen, I shimmied off my boots and jeans and leggins (listen, the jeans have holes in them and until I get patches on them, I have to wear them with leggings or tights!) and a t-shirt until it was just me and my under garments. I piled everything on the kitchen counter, quickly taking out by big hoop earrings and unclasping my ruby necklace that my friend Megan gave me.

happy

This is technically me today. But use your imagination and pretend this was me about 17 hours ago.

The hot tub was nice and it felt good on my sore shoulder. After an hour or so, I went inside and poured myself some water. I noticed that I’d left my necklace on top of my jeans I made a mental note to move it before I threw that pile of clothes in the wash so I’d have clean clothes for church.

Guess what I forgot to do?

2

Please turn on the “danger is on its way” soundtrack.

I did my small load of laundry and as I was transferring it to the dryer, I heard a small clinking sound. Oh, that sound just happened to be my necklace sliding out of the wet pile of clothes in my hand into the basin of the washing machine.

Photo on 2012-12-09 at 13.00

The tears are starting…

CUE THE THEATRICS.

I’ve mentioned a few times how I can be a tad bit dramatic, but I was already all over the place emotionally yesterday for a few reasons and this sent me into a tailspin. I mean, seriously over. the edge. My first thought was that the necklace was ruined and I sent a panicked, whacked out text to Megan. Then I sat on the freezing floor in front of the washing machine and started unknotting some of the kinks.

Don't mind me, I'm just 29 years old & having a full-blown meltdown.

Don’t mind me, I’m just 29 years old and having a full-blown meltdown. If I had Photoshop, I’d add in streaky mascara and red eyes.

Yeah. Needless to say it was horrible. I know it’s just a chain. It is something that can be replaced so easily. But it’s not just a necklace. This necklace was a gift to me when I was in a very sad, dark place this summer. I have wondered each night as I put it in the spot it hangs on while I sleep how I would react if I ever broke it or if it was lost. I knew I’d be upset, but as upset as I was last night? I didn’t think it would go that far.

Anyhow, I got most of it done pretty easily with just my nails last night. Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice a lovely polish job to the chains as I twisted them (please note the index finger on my right hand in that above picture). So I have progressed from this:

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You can’t even tell how bad it looks.

To this:

photo2There are only three more knots to get out. Megan suggested as church today that I use a sewing needle to try to life the chain away from itself. I feel like I can get it done, but it’s going to take all day and a ton of patience — thanks, Lord. I was just praying yesterday for more patience. I didn’t expect to get it this way, however.

As I was sitting here a little while ago, jabbing myself with the sewing needle, I thought, “This must be exactly what hell is like.” Seriously. Sitting around trying to get tiny knots out of a rough chain, knowing that the chain is otherwise in perfect condition? Knowing that the only reason the knots are there in first place is because of a stupid decision I made without thinking?

Again. Thanks for the lesson, Lord.

I’m sitting with that today, this Sunday, as I slow down and spend time time trying to untangle the knots in my necklace and at the same time, the knots in my life.