Friday, December 30, 2016

Keep Running

I feel like every time I sign on to Facebook (because I'm a terrible news-watcher) I see bad news.  Whether it's the death of someone famous, or the family member of a friend, a beloved pet, or just bad news, I am becoming apprehensive about looking beyond the four walls of my home.

I saw a Facebook post (I told you, I'm a terrible news-watcher) with a listing of all the "bad things" that happened in 2016.  This entire article was based on the negative news that made headlines this past year.  

Looking at this list of all the "bad things" that happened in 2016, I initially thought, "yeah! 2016 can take itself off a cliff!"  I'm currently sitting in my bed, well beyond midnight, having just finished looking through hundreds of photos of my husband...again.  I do this every night.  I miss his ear-to-ear grin, his broad shoulders, and those strong arms that used to hold me.

The wonderful thing about looking through all these photos are the memories that come alive with each picture.  One of two things can happen when I look at these photos:

1) I can look at these photos and smile with each memory.
2) I can look at these photos and curse the fact that it's just a memory.

Several years ago (I won't say how many), my girlfriends and I took a trip to New York.  It was a first for the four of husbands, no kids, nobody but four girls celebrating our 30th birthdays in a city that was new to each of us.  We had the BEST time.  And when I say the BEST time, I mean the.  best. time. EVER.  Four whole days of exploring an incredible city, eating the best food, and creating the most amazing memories (and did I mention no husbands and no kids?).  The trip has made me ache to return to the Big Apple, but it has also made me hesitant because I know that the next time I visit New York it just won't be the same.  How can anything be better than that trip?!  I have spent so much time looking at those photos and reliving that trip in my mind; I know that I will never be able relive or redo that trip.

The most amazing trip EVER
What if you saw me looking through those New York photos, scowling at each picture, and angrily closing the photo book because this trip was so amazing?  What if you heard me say that I'm never going to go back to New York because I know it won't be the same experience?  Would seem a little ridiculous, don't you think?

But how often do we do that when looking back?  How often to we sit in anger or sorrow because we focus on what will never be the same rather than focusing on the incredible things that happened?

Here we are at the end of 2016.  It seems to have been a tough year for many people.  What are you choosing to reflect upon?

It's very easy for me to focus on the last 3 months of 2016.  But if all I focus on is the void in my family, I will forget everything else that I witnessed and experienced this year.  

I witnessed two incredible couples who struggled with fertility welcome two beautiful, healthy baby girls this year.  I watched my daughter overcome her great struggle with anxiety.  I witnessed the answering of bold and specific prayers I laid on God!  I watched the dream between my cousin and I come to fruition with  I went on so many fun dates with my husband!  We had an incredible week-long vacation at the beach!  I watched an entire community come together to love and support my family!  I saw kindness and compassion poured onto my family from people all over the country! 

When I scroll through the thousands (yes, thousands) of photos from this past year, I choose to focus on the smiles.  I choose to remember the laughter.  I choose to view these memories as the gifts that God gave to me because He knew how my year would end.  

My heart will never be the same.  My life will never be the same.  I will never be able to relive those memories or redo those moments.  Like my trip to New York, nothing will ever compare.  

So does that mean I'll never revisit New York?  Does that mean I stay focused on the heartache living in my heart?  Does that mean I shouldn't look forward?

It most certainly does not.  

"... But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

Is Paul suggesting that I forget my beloved?  Is he telling us to just forget those whom we love so dearly and disregard memories?  Not at all!  

Paul's focus was on the goal to complete the race for God, it was the only goal he kept at the forefront of his mind.  Paul's past, his trials, and his difficulties were a part of him and, in my opinion, what made him great.    

When Paul came to know God, he endured many heartbreaking trials - trials that would definitely test my own faith and cause me to wonder why I chose to follow God.  Just a quick peek into some of Paul's suffering: repeated imprisonment, flogging, lashings, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, continual danger, weary and in pain, sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)  Not only those struggles, but Paul also struggled with a sinful nature, just like the rest of us (Romans 7:15-25).

With everything that Paul endured physically and emotionally, if he stopped for even a moment to focus on his past, he would lose sight of the goal: the crown of victory and the joys of heaven.  How easily would it have been for Paul to look at what he has endured and say, "forget this. I'm done." But he didn't.  He used those hardships and his past to push him towards the goal.

Our past shapes us into who we are meant to be.  Paul doesn't want us to forget our past; he's not suggesting that we live as though nothing ever happened.  But he doesn't want us to stay there.  

Memories are a wonderful thing.  I think God allows our hearts and minds to carry particular moments of time with us always.  I love to look back on the memories made with my husband; I love to revisit those memories made in New York with my girlfriends.  God wants us to have those memories.  But He does not want us to live there.

When we stay focused on our trials, our heartache, and our sufferings, all we see are the things that cause us to stumble and fall.  It's impossible to run towards the goal while continually looking behind.

Have you ever watched the Olympic runners during a race?  They are focused.  They are looking for that finish line.  They have imaginary horse-blinders on and they don't dare lose focus on what's in front of them.  One look to the left, and they will stumble.  One look to the right, and they will lose focus.  One glance behind them and they will fall.  

2016 may have been a difficult year for you.  You may feel the temptation to focus on all the hurtful things that took place.  Don't look to the left of you.  Don't look to the right of you.  Don't look behind you.  In the forefront of your mind look at the wonderful things that happened (I can promise there are good things that happened this year), and focus on the goal set before you.  I'm not talking about resolutions (I never make those because I fail every time).

I'm talking about the goal God placed in your sight.  The crown of victory.  The promise of heaven.  The gift of your salvation.  

The hardships endured in 2016 are shaping you into the person God designed you to be.
You are an athlete for God!  You are running the race!  Keep your focus on the prize set before you!
Be like Paul - let the trials push you forward.  Don't let the hardships hold you back.   

You have cheerleaders all around you. You have a God who is pushing you forward.  You have angels carrying your feet.  Go ahead and glance back when you need the reminder that you can conquer anything.  Glance back when you need to see how far you have come.

Glance.  Don't focus.  Don't stare.  Don't stop.  
Push forward.  Finish the race.
I am running with you.

"I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.  Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward - to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back." (Philippians 3:12-14; the Message translation)

May 2017 strengthen your faith, build your character, and bring God the glory He deserves!

From us to you, Happy New Year!