I don’t know about you, but I’m not really good at reflection. I tend to my keep my life, not to mention the lives of everyone else I’m in charge of, moving with forward momentum. I could be the poster child for that passage in Luke about putting one’s hand to the plow and not looking back…except I’m fairly certain my sort of “plowing forward” is not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he uttered the words.
I’m not sure where that trait comes from, though I have a strong hunch. Part of it can be blamed on my good solid German heritage that is too practical for such romancing. But that’s a cheap excuse, for really, it’s a habit I’ve developed over the years of hard times. I remember when Superman and I were first married, I loved writing those long annual letters (not necessarily at the end of the year–one year I sent out a St. Patrick’s Day letter) that only parents enjoy reading. I would tell elaborate stories of our moving adventures, or life in yet a new state outside the Midwest, or parenting mishaps with my little boys. Sometimes the letters would be several pages long, all full of stories and little reminiscings. I thought they were fabulous. I’m sure my recipients were less enthusiastic.
Somewhere along the way, however, I lost my zeal for the letter writing—and reminiscing in general. I could easily use the “throe’s of motherhood” as my excuse. It’s legitimate. But it was more than motherhood. Life, in almost every way, became like a constant blizzard; the only way for me to get through was to keep my head down and continue straining forward against the blow.
All those many years of blizzard-like conditions have certainly strengthened me—and maybe hardened me a little as well. Maybe this is why it’s hard for me to look back. Healthy looking back requires a soft heart. One that can see the hard times in a gentle way; without judgment, condemnation, or regret (at least not the kind of regret that shames). It sees the past wrongs—either done by oneself or to oneself—as opportunities for grace and growth, rather than notches on a stick, offenses by the numbers.
Also, I think—maybe—healthy looking back needs space (lots of space) between the person and her looking. Recently, I’ve been able to look back and remember with deep affection our first years in Maryland, when Superman was thick in his anesthesia residency and I was thick in parenting three boys under the age of five. That was more than ten years ago and I can tell you that even three years ago, I couldn’t look back on that time with any sort of sweet wanderlust! But now, I miss those moments of snotty boy noses, and hipping the toddler while coaxing the preschooler as I pushed the baby in his stroller with my only free hand, that usually had grocery bags hanging from the wrist.
I say that healthy looking back needs lots of space, but as I stand here at the precipice of another year with all its unknowns swirling around me and this innate desire to commit to some new goals that are neither stupid nor sentimental, I find that I must look back to the near past, not the far. How can I hope to consider what 2015 could be if I am unwilling to examine what 2014 has been?
Sure, it’s the old practicality that you have to understand the mistakes of the past or you will be doomed to repeat them in the future. Or, you have to know from where you come if you are to know to where you are going. But I need to slow down and look back for a different reason. I need to spend some time wandering through these last few years, so I can find—as my sister calls them—my stones of remembrance.
This is not my phrasing, and I think I may have even shared the idea before. It is a practice as ancient as the days of Abraham. Recounting and retelling of all the ways the Lord has been faithful. The Israelites marked their lives and their worship by their stones of remembrance—adding to their pile as the years passed and God’s mercies increased, in spite of their frailties and constant struggles with faithfulness.
Thankfully His mercies to me have also increased, in spite of my loathsomeness to remember and recount some of those painful seasons of life. But He’s not asking me to recall these times for a tromp through the muck. Rather, He’s asking me to pause and consider the many—and specific—ways He carried me through those times. Only when I am able to mark my past by my stones of remembrance, will I be able to truly consider my 2015 and all its possibilities with any sort of terrific hope.
So, despite my reluctance I’m going to make a good old fashioned ‘atta-girl’ attempt all this month; turning over memories, adding to my alter the many and uniquely colored rocks of His faithfulness to me and to this family.
I hope you are inspired to do the same. Happy New Year!
A special thank you to my sister for helping me lift my chin, and reminding me to pause from my plowing. I love you!!
Copyright 2015 by Shari Dragovich