Learning when you look back

The end of the year is a time when everyone starts looking back over the weeks and months that have passed. At least, it is for me. I think about where I started at the beginning of the year. I think about all the great things that have happened, but I also think about all the bad stuff too.

I love life. I love following Jesus. I love doing what God has called me to do, but it’s a foregone conclusion that life isn’t always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and they often happen to good people. But the world isn’t perfect, and we’re all just doing the best we can to get by in it. That being said, I screw things up. I make decisions in fear or insecurity or anger. I hide when I ought to speak up. I speak up when I ought to shut up.

But no matter how many times I mess up, one thing is certain–I learn something.

PTJNJ5LZLAToday’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:9.

But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

I don’t like making mistakes, and I don’t like difficult situations. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like it when people are unhappy with me or with others. But many times I end up in a circumstance where I’m facing one or all of those things, and many times it’s because of something I did or said (or because I failed to do or say something I needed to).

I noticed that gasoline was really low the other day. Like less than $1.50 per gallon, and I should have filled up. But I didn’t. I decided to put it off. And the next day, it was up around $1.75, and I had to fill up because I was almost out. When you make a judgment call about anything, you have to face the consequences. And whether the consequences are good or bad, you can still walk away with a lesson learned.

God cautioned the Children of Israel to remember what they had been through in the wilderness, how He’d taken care of them, how He’d guided them and provided for them. He wanted them to remember so that they’re children wouldn’t forget. And that hasn’t changed today. It might be thousands of years later and we may be living in a different culture, but the concept is still the same.

When God brings you through something, remember it. Remember what you learned. Remember how you got into it. Remember how God got you out of it. And take steps to keep remembering it. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell anyone who will listen. Write it down, because you will forget, and you shouldn’t.

So take stock of where you are and how you got there. Take a moment and look back on your life and the choices you’ve made that brought you to where you are today. Then learn from it. If you made a choice and good consequences followed, remember it. If you made a choice and bad consequences followed, remember that too and don’t do it again.

The New Year is approaching with more speed than any of us realize, and many of us will try starting over. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t remember how you got here to begin with, you are destined to make the same mistakes all over again.

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Waking up thankful and your outlook for today

I woke up Saturday morning with the most amazing sense of gratitude. I was just thankful. And it might have had something to do with the cool weather. It probably had more to do with getting about ten hours of sleep in a night, which only happened because of the cool weather.

I don’t remember the last time I rolled out of bed and the first thought I had was gratitude. And that bothers me. Not that I woke up thankful–but that I can’t remember the last time I woke up thankful before then.

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:20.

And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I get so buried in life sometimes that I forget to focus on the things that matter. It’s good to be engaged in life, that’s true. God has given us our lives and our talents and our abilities for a reason, but we shouldn’t become so absorbed in the petty things of life that we forget the important things.

The important things are the things that will matter when life is over.

How often do I roll out of bed and thank God I’m still breathing? As someone who grew up with a fairly severe respiratory problem, breathing means something a little different to me than it does to other people. But when was the last time I thanked God for my breath?

When was the last time I thanked God for my coffee? That sounds small and insignificant, but you know what? God made coffee. He created coffee plants, He created brilliant people who thought up the idea to grind up beans and boil them in water, and He gave me the financial stability to buy a pound of it at the store. So God gives me my coffee in the morning. But how often do I remember to thank Him for it?

I focus on the day-to-day goals I need to accomplish. I focus on the problems I need to overcome. I focus on what has to be done, what shouldn’t be done, and how I’m going to get it done. And I usually ask God for help, but at the same time, I neglect to thank Him for what He’s already done.

And that’s not how we’re supposed to live.

We are to be thankful for everything. Thankful for the big things. Thankful for the small things. Thankful for the good things. And, yes, thankful for the bad things. Thankful for everything.

How different would our lives be if we woke up every morning thankful? How different would our perspectives be if–instead of waking up and immediately thinking about all of our problems–we thanked God for everything we’ve seen Him do already?

True, I think it’s far easier to be thankful first thing in the morning after I’ve slept well and had a nice, strong cup of coffee and stood outside in the cool morning air. It’s easy to be thankful for that.

But can I be thankful after a night of only four hours of sleep? When I’ve run out of coffee filters and have to improvise with paper towels? When the air is so thick you can wear it and you can’t stop sweating? It’s those days I don’t want to be thankful. Those days I don’t want to focus on the good things that God has done because for some reason it’s just easier to be miserable.

But easier is rarely better.

Life is too short, too precious, and too important to waste it by focusing on everything that’s wrong. Because once you start focusing on everything that’s wrong, you’ll never stop. There’s no end to wrong in this world. There’s no end to the brokenness. But thanks to Jesus, broken doesn’t have to stay broken.

No matter what’s wrong in your life, if you know Jesus, you have something good you can focus on. No matter how broken your life may be, if you know Jesus, you don’t have to focus on all the things that you’ve done wrong or that people have done to hurt you.

You can watch the sun rise and know that God did that. You can feel the wind blow and know that God made it. You can watch birds fly or listen to music or smell flowers blooming and know that none of it is an accident.

And if He’s big enough to do all that, He’s enough to walk beside you and take care of your problems. So stop focusing on them, and pay attention to what He’s doing. He’s always up to something, and He never stops working.

Wake up. Get your thoughts out of the darkness. Grab your wonderful cup of coffee and take a few moments just to think about what God’s already done for you this morning. It just might improve your entire day.