One of the ways I prepare for the New Year is to read my journal from the previous year. I like to sit down over the course of a couple days and read my life like a story book. It’s fun to look back and remember stuff. What went right. What went wrong. What made me crazy and what surprised me. I see tendencies, patterns and habits, good and bad. I identify areas of personal growth and areas where I feel stunted and crave change. It’s almost like plotting the events of my year on a timeline and stepping back and seeing them all at once.
Doing this helps me set relevant goals for the upcoming year.
2015 was a year of extremes. If you were looking at it on a timeline, you’d see high-highs and low-lows, sometimes on the exact same event. For starters, we designed our dream home, and moved from the house we lived in for almost eleven years. On the one hand, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (high-high). On the other hand, it brought forth a level of stress, the likes of which extracted the absolute worst in me (low-low).
I’m not exaggerating—I just read the whole story in my 2015 journal, so I can prove it. I was like, “Whoa, Sandy, you were a mess.” Jon and I had one of our worst fights in twenty-two years of marriage, and I sunk into my worst bout of depression since 2008.
But Jon and I recovered better and stronger, I emerged from the pit, we have this really pretty house and no one died this year, so, holla!
It was also an extreme year of parenting. I have two teenagers. I could stop explaining right there. But for those of you who have yet to navigate the teen years, or who already did, but tend to romanticize the past, allow me to paint you a picture: Remember when you were in high school? Remember all the stupid/dangerous things you and your friends tried because you thought you were so grown up? Remember your first year of driving and all the life-threatening maneuvers you made? Remember falling in love and thinking you found your forever soul mate only to have your soul mate make out with your so-called friend? Remember how you felt like you didn’t fit in and everyone was judging you and it was most definitely your parents’ fault for not understanding your need for independence? Now, add to all that the craziness of a sexually crazed society that projects a digitally skewed version of reality, and also, 24/7 access to social media and cell phones and the internet, so the drama is exaggerated and public and never-ending.
That, right there, sums up my year of parenting.
(I’m beginning to think my current season of parenting challenges is a direct result of my mom praying, “Just let her understand half of what she put me through when she was a teen.”)
(I don’t know if my mom actually prayed that. But I find myself uttering that prayer from time to time. So, I’m going with yes.)
(I GET IT NOW, MOM! AND I’M SORRY!!!!!)
But 2015 was also the year I determined to Go Deep with God. When I first decided that, I wasn’t sure what it meant, if it would make a difference, or if I’d even finish out the challenge. I just started digging. Not only did it make a difference, but it turned out to be the most extreme twelve months of spiritual growth I’ve ever experienced in nearly thirty years of walking with God. It was year of radical inner transformation for me. I am not the same woman I was a year ago. I mean that. I’m better. I think differently. My go-to reactions are different. It’s crazy.
So, my 2015 journal was this ridiculous, often humorous, dichotomy of trudging through the hardest stuff, but simultaneously extracting these nuggets of beauty along the way, and enjoying more intimacy with God than I have ever experienced.
My conclusion: 2015 was a great year. Not because circumstances were always great. But because God is great. And He led me to make some great decisions.
Here are a few of them:
1. Changing the way I journal: I started out every day by asking myself, “What do I want to remember about yesterday, forever and ever?” There were some days that were just stupid-hard. But, even on those days, I forced myself to extract at least three nuggets of beauty I wanted to remember. Sometimes they were as simple as sitting on the edge of Elliana’s bed and scratching her back. Or watching a beautiful sunset. Or noticing the color of Elijah’s eyes. Or having a two-minute conversation with a friend. A delicious meal, a good night’s sleep, a thought-provoking chapter of a book. Only after I’d write those beautiful things would I work through all the hard stuff of the previous day. It wasn’t until I went back and read all the way through my year that I saw the benefit of this. There they were, side-by-side, every day: The beautiful and the hard. This single practice changed the way I remembered an entire year of my life.
2. Setting only three goals. I love setting goals. It motivates me and keeps me focused. The problem usually comes when I get carried away. I set fitness goals, financial goals, spiritual goals, relational goals, work goals. I have goals for the kids and goals for my house and goals for my cat. Goals are good. But too many goals mean I abandon all but two or three of them by mid-year. So, I wised up! Last year, I set only three major goals from the get-go, and let all the other stuff happen more naturally. I let these goals guide how I spent my time and what I committed to. As opportunities arose, I’d ask myself if they aligned with one of these major goals. If they didn’t, then I said no. If they did, then I said yes. It’s amazing how simple (and guilt-free!) decision-making became when I used this as a litmus test.
3. Breaking each goal into a smaller, monthly focus. (I know, Goal-Setting 101, right? But am I the only one who knows I am supposed to do this, but never, ever does it?) Sometimes I fear setting annual goals because, it’s like a WHOLE YEAR. What if I commit to something that isn’t relevant six or eight months from now? But last year, I looked at my three main goals each month, asked myself if the goal was still relevant, and decided what I’d do that month to achieve my goal. By revisiting my goals every thirty days, I kept my goals fresh and fluid, and I continued to make progress until the end of the year.
4. Deciding to Go Deep. I already mentioned this, but I think the Depth Through Discipline goal was one of the most rewarding and beneficial things I’ve ever done. Like, ever. I don’t even know how to describe the growth I experienced last year. My prayer life has evolved into a whole new thing, my sensitivity to God’s voice has increased, worship time is my favorite time of the day, and I’m free from things I’ve struggled with most of my adult life (more on this later). I just can’t even begin to describe how working toward this one goal has permeated every other area of my life. Hopefully, the fruit of this will spill into everything I do in 2016.
5. Getting rid of half our stuff. I don’t know if I qualify as an official Minimalist or anything, but I know I’m thoroughly enjoying well-organized storage areas, nearly-empty closets and uncluttered walls, surfaces, drawers and cupboards. The stuff I kept, I like a lot. The stuff I donated/threw away I do not miss at all. Not one bit. I, Sandy Cooper, hereby vow, to never accumulate a bunch of stuff, ever again. Till death do us part.
6. Eliminating sugar from my coffee. I used to drink two large cups of coffee a day and add 1-2 tablespoons of honey to each cup. I don’t do that any more. This is how much honey I did NOT consume in 2015 that I had previously consumed annually.
Taking my youngest daughter on a weekend get-away.
Serving the homeless on Thanksgiving as a family.
Attending the Storyline Conference and my pastor’s class on sermon preparation.
This is Donald Miller, not my pastor.
Yes, I was sitting that close to the stage.
Actually, my feet were propped ON the stage.
Meeting weekly with a fellow writer/speaker/friend to talk shop and share our goals and struggles. (She also attended Storyline with me and sat next to me at my pastor’s class…she’s awesome and hilarious and I’m pretty sure we laugh more than we talk.)
And last, but not least…this very good hair day.
Are you setting goals this year?
Do you choose a word or do you make a resolution?
Do you have any advice for surviving the teen years? (for me, not them)
Tell me one good decision you made in 2015.
Oh, and how was Christmas? I missed you!!!!