We are officially one week into 2017!
By internet standards, this blog post is a day late and a dollar short. I must admit, though, that while the New Year is already old news to the blogosphere, I am barely finding the quiet moments needed to tread into that deeper place of my heart, dust off the cobwebs, and reflect on this past year as I also contemplate a new beginning. A fresh start. Another year.
My mom, sister, and I have a tradition that we enjoy at the end of each year. We choose a morning where we can all sneak away from the kids, our husbands, and the hustle and bustle of my parent’s home (although Alisa got to tag along this year). We go to breakfast, and during our time away, we reflect on all that God has done in the previous year. We also write out big prayers for our families in the upcoming year.
I always find it interesting how certain themes tend to emerge after a little reflection. Every year has a mixture of good, bad, easy, and difficult, but the weight of those experiences is never perfectly balanced. The end of some years is met with joy and relief as we are glad to say goodbye to that difficult year and to embrace another chance. Other years are sent off with a sweet fondness and tearful goodbye as we hold dearly to precious treasures from that year’s blessings and growth. And always, at the beginning of each new year, we look forward with hopeful expectation to the goodness and blessing and joy that we dream might become a reality for our next year on earth.
As I was reflecting over 2016 with my mom and sister, I was surprised at how different our versions of 2016 were. My sister had a very difficult year. Health complications, motherhood, and a growing business all crashed together in a very humbling and painful manner. Because our mom has always been a source of strength and support to us, her year was also colored by the difficult journey Gretchen faced.
2016 was a bit different for me. Whereas 2015 ticked by with slow and painful anticipation as we navigated a high-risk pregnancy and a life-changing diagnosis, 2016 flew by in a hasty flurry of activity and change. We began 2016 with our 4-year old Kate and her newborn sister, Alisa. Barely two months postpartum at that point, I found my heart overwhelmed with joy in the children God had blessed us with even as I continued to navigate my personal grief and coming to terms with Alisa’s diagnosis. Just a few months into 2016, we welcomed another new family member into our home in the form of little J, our foster son who will soon become our forever son.
In what seemed like the twinkling of an eye, I went from being a mom of one child to a mom of three children under five. If you haven’t noticed, my blog posts slowed down as the year went by, and I’m sure you can imagine why. My time this year has been filled with a mixture of doctor and therapy appointments, interrupted sleep, and nurturing and managing the hearts of three small children. To add to the craziness, in the middle of the year we picked up and moved our small family from the only home our children had ever known to another city and another job.
For us, transition was the theme of 2016.
Whatever your story is, I know that each of us comes to 2017 with our own expectations, dreams, and plans for this coming year. Perhaps, like me, you hope for a slower or a less medically-involved year. Perhaps, like my sister, you hope for better health and greater peace that prevails all circumstances. Maybe 2016 was a year of grief and loss for you, or maybe it was a year with many wonderful changes and additions. We all look back on the same year with different reflections, but we all look forward to this new year with hopeful expectations.
One question I've pondered lately is this: How should our faith in Christ impact our expectations for the future? We all have written down or at least thought through big plans for this year. How will we handle circumstances that don't go our way? How will we face unexpected seasons or painful experiences, even in light of our most carefully thought-through plans?
My search has brought me to one of my most favorite scripture passages, Lamentations 3:22-23:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Today, as we move one more day into 2017, we write onto our hearts the reminder that we serve a God who had the wisdom and foresight to build into the natural ebb and flow of our lives many new beginnings. That we would need fresh starts and new beginnings is evident even in the very makeup of our world. The sun rises and sets, and a new day dawns. The seasons come and go, and a new year begins. This mom who once grieved a diagnosis now sees those days with a much richer understanding of life.
As Christ followers, we offer our desires and plans for the future up to the Lord, and we forge bravely into the unknown with hope in Him. We sober our plans with the reality that God’s sovereign plan is greater than our own (Prov. 19:21). We look back even further than the brief stories of our lives to remind ourselves that God’s goodness and faithfulness are time-tested and unchanging (Psalm 136).
Never are we stuck in the darkest of nights, for morning will always dawn on the horizon. Never does He leave us in the deepest of valleys, for we will always arrive at the foot of the mountain, if we only keep going. And, as we read in Lamentations 3, the Lord greets us at the start of each new beginning with fresh and abundant mercy that will carry us on in the next leg of our journey. Life has cycles and fresh starts throughout, and it is God's new mercy that brings us to each new beginning.
I pound these words onto the keyboard even as I etch them onto my heart. In 12 months time, another chapter will have been written in our personal stories. What will this year hold for each of us? Of course only time will tell. But no matter what may come in this new year, we can already know for certain Who will sustain us. His mercies are new, and there is always hope in the endless mercies of God.