One of my favorite things to do the week between Christmas and New Years Eve is to take time to reflect on the previous year. I love looking back to see the progress I made on goals, recognize areas that didn’t bear fruit, and consider what changes I’d like to make for the next year. But this year, I never got around to looking back on 2018. A chaotic holiday season, piggy backed by a week crushed beneath the stomach flu, left me feeling behind before the year had even begun.
As it is now April, I debated letting this post go by the wayside – to chalk it up as a loss and say “better luck reflecting next year.” But then as I was listening to the Go + Tell Gals podcast (one of my favorites as of late), the guest speaker, Jami Nato said, “Reflecting on your experiences is the greatest teacher.” With an audible, mmmhmmm, and a visible head nod, I agreed wholeheartedly and was convicted to do my diligence of reflecting on last year.
So without further ado, here are a few of my takeaways from 2018 - a year of growth and witnessing the Lord’s protection.
2018 was an extremely full year in my writing career. I was published again on (in)courage, created printable scripture cards to combat anxiety, wrote A Restful Advent devotional series, grew my email list (which is an important component publishers look for), and was a guest speaker talking about anxiety on the Unaltered Grace Podcast. But the biggest accomplishment was completing a book proposal and presenting it to an editor at the Writing with Grace Retreat.
I have been dreaming about writing a book since I was a little girl, and my topic about how learning to make Jesus supreme in our lives changes how we live has been heavy on my heart for over 10 years. It is no small feat to have finished a book proposal – which is basically a giant outline including marketing details, chapter outlines, sample chapters, and possible endorsers. I am so proud of myself for beginning the process of book writing and look forward to what the Lord has for me in 2019.
Life as I knew it changed on April 5th, when my niece, Lola Marleen Koester, entered the world. I knew things would be different once we added the first baby of the family to the mix, but I had no idea how largely I would be impacted.
There have been growing pains—I’ve wrestled with the question of whether I want to have kids or not, and have experienced the impact of being one of few couples without kids. But much much greater than the growing pains is the immense blessing of watching Lola grow (just check out my Instagram feed – clearly I’m a little obsessed).
Living so close in proximity, and getting to take care of Lola one day a week, I have been given an incredible opportunity to build a special bond with my niece. My brother-in-law told me that our bond is visibly evident in the squinty, cheesy, teethy grin that she reserves just for when she sees me. I love her more than I thought I could and cannot wait to continue to be a special person in her life as she grows.
While 2018 was in some ways the best of years, it was hands down the hardest of years. In July, I suffered the heaviest anxiety attack I have ever experienced; one that shook me physically and mentally, and set me on a downward spiral into months controlled by inner chaos and debilitating fears. However, a line in a novel I read recently said, “A well managed breakdown can turn out to be a good thing… Try to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow and learn about yourself.” As much as I truly wish the pain of that attack never touched my body, I am thankful as it set me on a new venture of learning about my anxiety.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to start seeing a Christian counselor. With grace, truth, and the beautiful world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my counselor has led me to dig deep into discovering catastrophic thinking that triggers my anxiety and learn methods to correct it with truth.
The anxiety attack in July may have happened seemingly out of the blue, but the reality is, it was the demon child of years and years of unhealthy thinking. As painful as digging into the depths of my anxiety may be, it’s 1000% worth it. I’ve already experienced great freedom as I’ve spoken truth to lies I didn’t even know had power, and I am hopeful that as I continue down this path, the voice of anxiety will diminish into a whisper.
Witnessing the Lord’s protection
Last January, I declared expectant as my word of the year. With a working definition of “watchfulness based in confidence” I set out with a goal of looking specifically for the ways that God was at work in my life. I had no idea what the fruit of this intention would be – but now I can say that, choosing this focus helped me see the way God constantly protects me.
By looking at my circumstances through the lens of knowing that God was at work, and searching for evidence of Him, I developed a greater sensitivity and stronger awareness of how He was not just providing or teaching me about who He was, but how He was protecting me even in the small things.
I saw God’s hand in the way he used one anxious episode to give me confidence that I could persevere through another.
I was mad when a trip didn’t pan out, but then amazed at God’s protection when it became clear that we were meant to be home for our good friend whose father passed away that very week.
I experienced His provision through a friendship born through Instagram. This friend understands my struggle with anxiety like no one else; she speaks truth, points me to Christ, and encourages me that I am alone. This friendship is a beautiful combination of God’s provision and protection as He knew I needed someone to walk with me in this season.
When we look at our lives, it’s easy to point out the fruit but it’s even more important to look at the hard situations and see how God protected us in them and through them. By constantly searching for God’s goodness, no matter how deep my struggle, I was not consumed because I could always see evidence of His hand at work - that is the fruit of being expectant.
why reflecting is important
In some ways I feel as if I have merely skimmed the surface of lessons that were born in 2018 – but I know that if I continue to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, and ask Him to teach me through my present and my past, He will bring the fruit to the forefront.
If you’ve yet to reflect on 2018, or even on the month behind you, don’t be discouraged; set aside a little time this week to look back, celebrate growth, count the fruit, and ask the Lord to show you His hand in all of it.
Let’s not underestimate the power of reflection; for it is through looking back that we not only see the ways we've grown, but we can tangibly take note of God's hand in our lives.
I’m with you in this friend, and cannot wait to see what the Lord does in our lives in 2019.