Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Choosing Our Legacy: Why a Look Back at 2017 Matters for 2018




A few years ago, I started a new tradition of an annual belated Christmas letter. I meant to write it yesterday, but Ryan and I were having too much fun to stop. This morning, I've paused long enough to look over the past year, remember the good things, learn from the hard, and look ahead to 2018.

2017 was a good, but kick-in-the-gut hard, year. 

One of my most important tasks was caregiving.

Sam (my beloved employee, neighbor, and friend) grew increasingly frail and moved out of his home of 60 years into mine. I worked from home to care for him. The most difficult thing I've ever done was stay in place 6,500 miles away as his body failed us. I'm grateful I could be back home with him at the end.

I learned how the body of Christ is supposed to function.  

Caregiving was one of the hardest tasks I've ever done, and would've been impossible if not for the incredible help of the body of Christ. Friends from a variety of denominations and communities helped in sacrificial ways. We worked, wept, grieved, and rejoiced together, just as Christ said we would, and it was beautiful.

Ministry began to feel like home.

Decades of medical practice were an odd preparation for a prayer-and-outreach missionary, but I began to find my rhythm. For years, my contacts on LinkedIn endorsed me as an event planner. Their endorsement didn't make sense to me, until this year. Four Whisper Gatherings, a Blessing Bag party, and a Jordan brunch later, I've begun to understand. 

I love big-impact events, as well as small, intimate ones.

I stopped apologizing for being a writer and a blogger.

For the first time ever, I said these words, "I'm not through writing this morning, so I'll be later coming to the office." They made sense to me but, to my surprise, they made sense to everyone else, too. I started describing myself as a writer, even before I signed with a literary agency and won a national writing competition.

I stopped apologizing for down time and rest.

There's a time to work and a time to rest. The long stretch of caregiving nearly defeated me until I learned to find rest where I could. A friend came to my house many Sunday afternoons and taught me a skill I'd long needed. She'd declare a two-hour moratorium on care-taking. We spent the time chatting, laughing, painting rocks, and having fun. Even Sam knew how important those few minutes were, and encouraged them. My friend trained me to snatch rest in a way mere words never could. 

Because of caregiving, I didn't have as much time with friends and family as I wanted, but I'm making up for lost time now.

My son, Ryan, had less mama-guidance through the hard loss of this past year, but he loved well and grieved well. While I was in the Middle East, Ryan took time off work to spend with Sam, and I was never more proud. Ryan dressed him, fed him, laughed and reminisced with him. He stuck it out, even when Sam was too drowsy to respond. The eulogy Ryan gave at the memorial service was full of wisdom and respect for the man who helped me raise my boy.

I saw persecution because of Christ up close for the first time. 

"We've counted the cost..." Two people I love looked persecution in it's ugly face and chose continued obedience to the call of God. They're now preparing to flee for their lives because of that choice. 

I'm more concerned about the persecuted church than ever before, partly because I believe our turn is coming. I'll be more involved in this area in 2018 than ever before and, probably, more involved with the refugees in our area.

The love lavished on Sam (and others) was more important than the list of accomplishments, even though that list was long. 

The first prayer retreat, then the first Whisper Gathering, were followed by three more Gatherings abroad. Hundreds of blog posts were rewarded with hundreds of thousands of views. I started learning a new language, spent more than six weeks in the Middle East, embraced a new culture, spoke countless times, and served hundreds of Saturday lunches to the homeless and needy. More than 500 blessing bags were packed and distributed by Outreach Ministry volunteers. Daily prayer and emails for missionaries continued. While I was working from home, I wrote a daily "update" and prayer email for my co-workers at Home Office. 

None of my accomplishments would've mattered if I'd failed to love my neighbor as my self. 

Loving God and loving others are the two laws Jesus considered most important, and they should be most important to me, as well. This past year, they were. I wasn't perfect at loving, but I tried hard and repented when I failed.

Hindsight is a valuable tool, if used correctly. My 2017 was informed by the successes and failures of the years past. 2018 will be, too. A careful look back allows us to see our joys and our regrets more clearly, and plan accordingly. What activities and attitudes should we keep? Which should we remove?

Today, let's take a few minutes to consider the past year. Where were our successes, our failures? In what ways did we love God and our neighbor? How can we improve in 2018? 

Our days on earth are numbered, and considerably shorter than we realize. If our legacy in 2018 is to be different than 2017, we'll need to choose that difference from the start. How can we love more, forgive more, serve more? 

Set a goal, make a plan of action, and get started. Change the world, one act of love at a time.  

"But now abide faith, faith, hope, these three, but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 nasb
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