Like the majority of people on my social media sites, I am ready for 2016 to come to an end. What. A. Year. As many terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days comprised 2016, I refuse to let the year close without pausing for reflection. It’s often in the darkest moments that the greatest lessons are taught.

A few years ago, I started a tradition of selecting one “focus word” for the year ahead rather than planning out multiple resolutions that I would (most definitely) give up on by January 2nd.

For 2016, my word was intention. As I wrote last year around this time, I want my choices, relationships, and daily decisions to grow me towards the future I want to live. As I reread my blog post from last year, I found myself reflecting on 2016. Let me share a bit.

“I want to intentionally choose the job that will grow me towards the future I envision.”

  • In early February, I sat down with my boss and had a difficult conversation. While my job at that time was meeting some of my goals, there were so many areas I was gaining zero experience for the future. And there were the adult responsibilities I was struggling to manage- bills, student loans, daily expenses, etc. I was going to have to leave for a different job. I had spent all of December 2015 and January 2016 job searching and even submitted some applications. But when my boss presented me with additional hours, including experience in many of the areas I wanted to work in, I made the choice to stay. My focus went back to intention. I couldn’t select a job simply for more hours or better wages- I needed to be intentional. I knew my boss could grow me, and my coworkers could challenge me to become a better person. I knew my new job description would grow me in many areas- working with seniors, grant writing, program development, etc. I was intentional in my job decision, and I couldn’t be happier.
  • Furthermore, I picked up an additional job in July 2016. I was still facing some struggles with my bills (I mean, who doesn’t understand that struggle??), and my friend sent me a promising text about a job opening through Lutheran Social Services. Knowing social work was a field I wanted more experience in and the high wages for this job, I accepted the mentoring position when it was offered. I spend anywhere from 6 to 12 hours per month with a young girl doing things like shopping, playing games, going to the park, eating, etc. In so many ways, this job has been a saving grace. It never fails that I am always scheduled to mentor after a long, stressful day at my main job, but as soon as I hang out with this girl, she helps me embrace my inner child and find the joy in simple things. Often, she sings along to the worship music playing in my car and it brings such comfort to my heart on the days I’m struggling. I am so glad I was intentional with this job choice.
  • And lastly, I accepted not one, not two, but THREE coaching positions this fall. After losing a former basketball player in August 2016, I decided I needed to be back on the court. It seemed like every door shut as soon as I knocked until I received three offers within a couple of weeks. My first offer was within a local program, and I said “yes” only to hear nothing back. Assuming that offer was gone, I immediately said “yes” to a position coaching a travel team, including many former players. In so many ways, those girls and that season healed the pain in my heart. My former player, Riley, should have been in the team huddles with us and when I looked at the bench for her and my heart broke again remembering she wasn’t here, one of my girls would say or do something funny and bring me back to reality. Their crazy joy for life was refreshing to my soul, and being back on the basketball court allowed me to work out my grief through the game. Shortly after I agreed to this positon, I was offered a position through an area school district I’ve coached for in the past. Not wanting these girls to forfeit a season due to no coach, I said “yes.” They were such a sweet group of girls that reminded me why I got into coaching in the first place. Remember that first offer? While I was in full-swing with these two groups, I was approached again with that original offer. Having a terrible problem of not being able to say “no,” I became a coach in that program, too. The last part of October 2016 and the first part of November 2016 were CHAOS as I was coaching all three teams. But, now, down to one team, I find myself reflecting on my choices. In the moment, I didn’t find myself intentionally choosing coaching jobs for healing- I mostly said “yes” because I love the game and I love helping young players find their potential. But, as it worked out, I did find healing in the game. I was so grief-stricken after Riley’s death, as well as other losses in 2016, that I didn’t even want to pick up a basketball. I was depressed. I was angry. I was overwhelmed with emotions. However, picking up a basketball and interacting with these groups of girls proved to be the healing my heart needed.

“I want to be intentional with who I choose to be around and who I let go.”

I had no idea how big this statement would be. I have always liked the quote, “It’s better to have 4 quarters than 100 pennies.” I found out this year the importance of quality over quantity in terms of my relationships. For so long, I had been the person to make the plans, to invite my friends, and to show up when others needed me. Without making myself sound like a selfish person, I wanted to see who would show up and invest in our relationships without any nudging. I stopped being the planner and waited for the invitations. It was so rough at first- I was (and most days, still am) guilt-ridden. I feel like I gave up on these relationships- I constantly have to remind myself I just took a step back and only a few people made the choice to take those extra steps to come after me.

On the good days, I am so thankful for my intentional decision with my relationships. I have deepened my existing relationships- my friendships are so much more authentic. I have also created new relationships with people who have reached out and embraced me from the beginning. After my first mentor passed away in 2013 and the lady I developed such a special friendship with in 2015 moved away last summer, I have been at a loss. While I am still in frequent contact with my friend that moved, I needed someone local that I can vent to and seek advice from in person. After keeping my heart open through most of the year, I can confidently say I have found that person. I am so thankful for this relationship, because I know she will help me grow and challenge me to be the best version of myself.

“I want to be intentional with my daily decisions that create my lifestyle.”

This was a vague statement that I could apply to literally any situation. I’ve found myself being intentional with daily decisions in the form of becoming more of a morning person and managing my stress. I’ve worked on making daily choices to handle my anxiety, too. And, most importantly, I’ve made a dedicated effort to growing in my relationship with God.

While all of these habits are still major works in progress, I never would have started working on them had I not sought out what areas of my life needed intentional action. I’ve taken small steps within these different areas that, with time, will lead to powerful results in my life.


 

So, I think 2016 was pretty intentional. There were some big decisions that were made with a precise intention in mind, and there were so many small, daily choices that were made because of my commitment to living an intentional life. I refused to fall into the same old habits and didn’t want to become comfortable living life in a rut. I am proud to say that most of my decisions in 2016 were made to get me closer to the future I want to have.

Now, before I wrap up this post and this year, I have spent several weeks reflecting back on the events of 2016 and I have chosen a word to sum it all up: loss. Heart breaking, soul crushing loss.

Cancer has stolen too many people from my life- my grandmother passed away in February, a high school classmate passed away in August as well as my former basketball player, who was only 12 years old. 2016 marked three years since my mentor and best friend passed away after her battle with cancer. Many, many other community members have ended their battles with cancer by earning their Heavenly angel wings this year. Other community members have lost their good health, and they are now in the fight with cancer. Another high school classmate lost his battle with remission, and he inspires me every single day as he continues his fight with cancer. Loss- terrible, horrible loss.

On a smaller scale, I’ve lost some pretty important friendships. Like I’ve already mentioned, it’s not easy to let go of relationships you’ve spent years investing your time and love in. It feels like quitting on the other person, and some days it can quite literally defeat my spirit. Loss- terrible, horrible loss.

However, shifting my focus back to intention, I have spent time reflecting on these losses and how I can turn something painful into a life lesson.

The brokenness created through these losses can be replaced with a new kind of beauty if I make the intentional choice to grow upward rather than sink downward.

I picked three of the losses of 2016 that have broken me the most:

  • My Grandma: She was healthy one day, and she was gone the next day. For as long as I live, I will never forget her final hours and how quickly she faded. Her loss has taught me that nothing is guaranteed. Love your family- even when they drive you crazy.
  • Riley, my former basketball player: Riley courageously fought cancer for months before earning her wings. Throughout her battle, she was a reminder of strength and determination. Her loss has taught me how fragile life can be. Life is short, but we should be brave anyways. Live your life with courage, embrace every single day. Most importantly, share your smile with everyone you encounter. Riley certainly did, and her legacy will now last forever.
  • Aaron, my high school classmate: Aaron earned his wings after a brief battle with cancer. I wrote about him in a previous post (To My Soul Friend), but, in summary, I regret not reaching out to him in this lifetime. His loss has taught me not to hesitate. Reach out and tell people what they mean to you. A brief word of kindness could change someone’s entire day. And make sure you share your gift with the world- Aaron was a talented musician that shared his talent with others.

2016 has sucked. It’s been painful, and it lies behind me as a pile of broken pieces. As it comes to an end, I have spent time carefully picking up those pieces and analyzing their sharp edges and rough corners. They’ve hurt me, and they’ve caused me great heartache. But, as I welcome 2017, I refuse to leave the pieces in a pile. I am going to pick up those pieces and fit them together, creating a beautiful mosaic of brokenness. When I look back at this chapter of my life, I don’t want to see the individual pieces scattered like the chaos I felt within my heart, but rather, I want to see how the pieces came together to change me and grow me into a better person.

This is why my word for 2017 will be growth.

More on that later.

-rs

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