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2016: A Reflection

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

[2015: A Reflection]

After the wonderful mayhem known as Christmas has faded, I am left sitting in the quiet (well, quiet may be the wrong word as an ice storm is raging outside). I sit here in reflection. A grateful reflection of the last few days I have spent with my family. And an even bigger reflection over the past year… the good moments, the crazy moments, the rough moments, and all of the little memories I will carry with me into 2016.

I think we should all sit in reflection, even just briefly, during the final days of December. For most, it’s the final push of polishing those New Year’s resolutions, the statements we may only work towards until January 2nd. (Or maybe that’s just me…) Perhaps, we should reflect on the year behind us instead… rather than rushing towards the New Year. Slow down. Sit down. Reflect.

What are you grateful for? What did you learn? Are there moments you wish you could just stop time and relive? Or maybe there is a moment you want to forget forever? Whatever moments shaped your 2015, I challenge you to reflect on them. How can they transform you into an even better person as 2016 soon unfolds?

My 22nd year of life has proven to be a pretty big year. Let me share my reflections… a keyword to represent the moments that built my months that then constructed my year.

January: Courage

January led me through a transformation, a process I am still working through most days. At the end of 2014, after weeks of agonizing debate, I made the decision to pursue student teaching as part of my undergraduate degree in education. I started January with determination to move forward with courage even though I was trembling internally. (You could say the armed intruder training on the first day of in-service also required courage…)

I student taught for about four or five days before making another courageous choice: stop student teaching and pursue a research project. I am not too open about the internal turmoil I faced throughout the first few weeks of January. Fear, shame, guilt, and torment are just a few words to describe my emotional state during that time. I cannot thank my college roommate, parents, and a few close friends who walked down that miserable path with me.

I also celebrated my 22nd birthday on January 7th.

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Feelin’ 22

For the second year in a row, I celebrated in the middle of a polar vortex… Mother Nature even celebrated my special day by giving me a steady -22 wind chill temp. However, along with a few great friends, I found the courage to venture outside and enjoy Buffalo Wild Wings.

All jokes aside, January was an incredible month of growth. My courage within the moments of this month paved the way for the rest of 2015.

February: Growth

Wow, what a month February was. I began my research project, and I worked with an amazing supervisor. She looked past my flaws and found my strengths. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. With her guidance, I created an amazing research project about intergenerational learning. I can still remember how chaotic the first few weeks of planning were… my final project was nowhere near my original thinking but it was one hundred times better.

I started my first few sessions of my intergenerational program towards the end of February. I remember shaking uncontrollably on my drive to the program. I was panicking, I was doubting myself, and I almost didn’t go inside. What an awful decision that would have been… I remember introducing myself, the program and its goals, and leading my participants (a handful of seniors and teenagers) through the first activity. I was SO comfortable. I remember telling my supervisor afterwards that I felt like this was where I belonged. Holy cow, did I ever grow from that miserable student teacher to this new, confident research student!

While my academic growth was tremendously impacted, I also learned about sacrifice in February.

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Chauffeuring the coolest 3 year old around 🙂

 

I let go of a lot of selfishness as my oldest sister faced complications from surgery. She was so sick during that month… unable to get out of bed due to weakness which didn’t mix well with her rambunctious three year old. I spent a lot of time with my niece that month… and her older sister who was a few months shy of having a license. I played taxi driver, dinner maker, and crazy cool Auntie (who am I kidding, I play this role everyday!). And I would do it all again if I had to… I learned so much about family and taking care of each other during this time.

I grew up so much in the short 28 days of February.

March: Perspective

I’ve never been a big fan of March. The majority of the trees are still dead from the harsh ways of winter, and the ground is soggy and gross. Everything is messy and the weather is so unpredictable. But March 2015 seemed to thaw my heart as well as the ground. Instead of the dead trees, I saw the tiny buds of new life. The soggy ground was a reminder that the grass would soon grow thick and green. Perspective.

March wasn’t a month of “big” moments so I scrolled through my Facebook posts to try to remember what happened day to day. Like I thought, nothing “big.” But my posts were filled with positive quotes and daily reminders to find the good in every situation. Perspective.

Here’s an example: Senior year, spring break. It should be big, crazy, and endless fun, right? Well, when my intergenerational program was scheduled throughout spring break, any sort of long distance trip was ruled out. Rather than being upset about a potentially missed opportunity, I took my best friend on a day trip to Springfield. (I love Abraham Lincoln, don’t forget.) We created a day of crazy memories, ones I will hold on to for a lifetime. Perspective.

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Hangin’ with Abe!

 

April: Milestone

April 3, 2013 is a day I never forget. I woke up to the news that my biggest fan, supportive mentor, and wonderful friend had passed away. I would never see her contagious smile or infectious laugh again in this lifetime. I had never experienced genuine heartbreak until that day.

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So, April 3, 2015 marked two years since her death. However, it was a day of celebration for me. I remembered our funny memories and crazy conversations. I felt this shift deep in my soul from sadness to joy. I had finally grown through my grief to find a way to be joyful in remembering her life and sharing her legacy with those who never had the chance to meet her.

April 8th: my mom’s 60th birthday. What a wonderful day that was… I planned out her special day for weeks. (I had to be careful not to say “60” too many times… this is the same woman who didn’t get out of bed for three days when she turned 30!)

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I loved celebrating someone so selfless, loving, and kind-hearted. I even pulled off a surprise party… I think I loved it as much as she did. (I’m a huge fan of birthdays.) Seeing my mom laugh and enjoy the company of some of her closest friends and family was such a gift to me… it was such a reminder to celebrate the people that mean the most to us. Let them know how much they mean to you… don’t just tell them, show them.

 

The end of April also marked the end of my research project as I presented a poster of my findings at Scholar’s Day. Sharing my passion for the two generations involved in my project with so many professors, students, and community members was an incredible experience. I took a large step outside of my comfort zone, but my preparation and growth in the previous months, allowed me to remain calm and confident. Of course, the support from my research supervisor and friends helped tremendously.

Such big moments. Wow.

May: Joy

May was a whirlwind. But it also contained my favorite day of 2015: May 17th. All other days in this month are irrelevant (well, Jigsaw celebrated being alive an entire decade on the 28th… that was pretty cool.).

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I graduated from Monmouth College with my Bachelor’s degree even accumulating a few academic honors along the way. On top of that big moment, my parents planned an amazing graduation party. May 17th was truly “all about me,” a feeling I normally avoid but I really soaked it up on this day. So many of my closest friends and family attended my party and celebrated my accomplishment. I got to share my special day with the people that mean the most to me. I am still speechless when I reflect on the amount of people, who at one time had a huge impact on my life, that paused their daily lives to come congratulate me. It literally blows my mind. Still.

Joy. Endless joy.

June: Perseverance

Throughout college, I only worked a part-time job. It was enough to put a little cash in my pocket, and it was an easy job. After graduation, I had to find a “big girl” job. I decided to pursue a term of service with AmeriCorps. It was just for the summer, and I was able to stay local. It was described to me as the ideal job, but I quickly realized how far from “ideal” it was. I had thought I was working with seniors… I ended up working with 5 to 13 year old kids. I had thought I was continuing my work with intergenerational programs… I spent my afternoons sweating in a community garden. I wanted to quit after my first day… I even told (read: complained) several friends that I wasn’t going back.

I went back… every week day for 8 weeks. And I kept my part-time job on the weekends. I worked close to 50 hours every week, and I learned a lesson in perseverance. I developed skills I didn’t even know I would be using at this job. I learned how to effectively lead people towards a common goal. I learned how to put one foot in front of the other… persevering and thriving no matter the circumstances around me.

July: Sunshine

The end of June, and even early July, were rainy and cloudy. Dropping the weather metaphor, those few weeks sucked. I said “see you later” to two of the most important people in my life as they moved hours away. These two got me through some of my darkest moments, they believed in me, and they offered me so much advice. While they were simply relocating, it felt to me as if they were permanently leaving my life. It was a tough adjustment, but, back to the weather metaphor, rainbows are only seen after a storm. By hanging on and facing each new day, I was greeted with so much sunshine (aka good moments) in July.

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Just a couple pyro’s 😉

 

My brother and his family made it home for the Fourth of July. It had been almost a year since they were home last and their visit brought me so much joy. (It was also a lot of fun to have my fellow pyromaniac (thanks for teaching me the ways of that lifestyle, bro!) home for a holiday filled with fireworks.

My sister and brother-in-law welcomed their baby girl into the world towards the end of July. I already had 7 nieces and nephews, but her arrival brought back all of those feelings of love at first sight. I had forgotten how much love my heart can have for someone so small.

“See You Again” was one of my favorite songs in 2015, and the lyrics are so true:

“How can we not talk about family when family is all we got?”

August: Reward

August was life’s way of reminding me that hard work pays off. After four years of working hard throughout undergrad and then 8 weeks of a full-time and part-time job, I was able to take a month off work… I completed my term of service with AmeriCorps and I left my part-time job. I knew I could job search during my time off, and I had saved the majority of my earnings from the summer. Oh, did I mention I had a newborn niece that needed lots of Auntie snuggles??

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Meet Audrey Alexis 🙂

 

I spent my month making a few trips to visit my niece (and her parents). There isn’t a better way to ponder about future plans than gazing at a sleeping baby while she curls her tiny hand around your finger. I took a trip to the State Fair with my oldest niece… we made it a day of screaming on the rides, making friends with carnies, and eating a lot of junk food. I had my two year heart check-up which came back with positive news… everything is still looking good.

All of my hard work and long hours were rewarded during August. It was like one giant breath of relief… I let my hair down (so to speak… it was very much in a messy pony tail most days) and enjoyed a break from the madness of life. We all need a breather from time to time… I was blessed that mine could last an entire month.

September: Begin

September was a month of baby steps towards my future. Almost every job in my past had literally fallen in my lap at the exact moment it needed to land. (I was a slacker, and I didn’t actively pursue too many jobs as planned in August.) I was just waiting for that next opportunity to land…

It landed. The perfect job… with opportunities to incorporate my intergenerational research. I called, I applied, I emailed. The job had already been filled. I was offered another job but declined as it wasn’t anything that was going to grow and challenge me. I decided to send out a cover letter and resume… waiting wasn’t working. I contacted one of my references to okay using her on my updated resume… and she offered me a job. It wasn’t a super challenging job, but it would at least provide me with experience in a field I would like to pursue in graduate school.

After passing my certifications, I accepted the job. I then started to worry about the lack of hours. Would a part-time job really be enough to get me by? Then, splat. Another opportunity landed right in my lap. This time, a coaching job. A PAID coaching job… I make that emphasis because my previous coaching experiences had been strictly volunteer. It would fit around my job schedule, and I would be able to get back on the basketball floor teaching the game I love to sixth grade girls.

Baby steps. Trusting that what’s meant to be will find its way.

October: Remember

This was a cool month because nothing “big” happened. I was hustling from job to coaching to bed… it was chaotic and crazy but 100% worth it. October was filled with these little moments that reminded me where I came from and allowed me to remember the people who helped me get to the present day.

My baby niece was baptized at the beginning of October.

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I was asked to be her godmother… what a reminder that we belong to God and He is so much greater than the things of this world. It was such a blessing to be part of her special day.

There were also fun moments… I took a new dogsitting job (2 greyhounds!) that reminded me of the couple who first asked me to dogsit several years ago. They have both been huge blessings in my life… Godly role models and advice givers. (I also blame them for getting me started on the dogsitting lifestyle… 5 clients later..) I participated in a 5k with my college roommate… the money raised benefited Relay for Life. I was reminded of my mentor that passed away in 2013 after a battle with breast cancer. I wore my pink shirt during that race and simply remembered. image I celebrated the birthdays of two good friends and my brother… it was a reminder of their impact on my life and how dull my life would be without their presence.

September was like the sneak peak of my new jobs while October unfolded their chaos… but it reminded me why I was doing these things. I was serving others because I am here to serve God and follow his plan for my life. I was running (okay, walking… but really fast walking) a 5k to remember my mentor and her impact on my life. I was sending birthday wishes because I wanted to celebrate those people in my life. Yes, October was chaos, but it was a beautiful chaos.

November: Gratitude

I know, I know. November… gratitude? Cliché, right? With Thanksgiving being celebrated this month, it seems like we make this big push of sharing what we are thankful for. While this is great, shouldn’t we be sharing those thoughts every day of the year? I wanted to move away from gratitude to avoid falling into that trap, but November gave me two big memories and gratitude is the only word that can convey my feelings.

I went to Canada in November. How cool is that?! Remember how two of my favorite people moved away during the summer? Well, the cool part about people moving away is that it gives you somewhere to travel. I visited my research supervisor from MC, but I just call her a wonderful friend now. I spent almost a week in Toronto… exploring downtown, buying way too many souvenirs, and making memories that will last for many years. I also got to check out a potential graduate school. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking to myself how lucky I was… I was so thankful for the opportunity to take the trip, for my best friend that travelled with me, for my friend in Toronto allowing us to stay and looking out for us, and for my coworkers that covered my shifts so I could go.

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A couple days after flying back to the States, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. I love all holidays, but Thanksgiving is one of my favorites because there’s so much emphasis on family (and food). For the first time since my high school graduation (2011), all three of my siblings were home. It was so fantastic… I got to see seven of my eight nieces and nephews. I’m not sure I could ask for a better day… my heart was so full.

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Swigert Fam 2k15

 

The older I get, the more appreciation I have for my family. My siblings are all 10 or more years older than I am, and I find myself growing closer to them as I get older. I also have a new appreciation for my Auntie role as my nieces and nephews grow older… I want to be someone they can look up to and count on.

So much gratitude. Such a happy heart.

December: Reflection

Okay, I know this whole post (all 873 paragraphs) is about reflection. But I have been writing this post in my head for several weeks. I have been reflecting over the past year and my choices. I’ve been evaluating the cause and effect of the events in 2015. I have found myself smiling and laughing as I remember all the fun I have had, and I have even shed a few tears when remembering the tougher moments. But as I reflect, I find myself asking more questions setting new goals for my future. I find myself being nervous, excited, anxious, and motivated as I get ready to welcome 2016 and all that lies ahead.

Also, I got some really cool Abraham Lincoln socks for Christmas that made December pretty rad.

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The Best Is Yet To Come

 

-rs

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