On the one hand, February is quite late to be posting our annual “Year in Review” video. But on the other hand, the calendar says it’s “Family Day”, so that seems like the perfect day for this video! Here in Manitoba, we’re supposed to be celebrating Louis Riel Day, but I really like the idea of Family Day, so this feels right to me. 🙂
It’s probably been eight years since we started this little video tradition, and it makes me so very happy every time! If you ever feel like life is kind of ordinary, and not much changes, make a video with your pictures of the last year, and stick some happy music with it. Your perspective might change completely!
Ben had a birthday at the end of January, so I’ve been trying to think of what I’d like to write for his annual birthday post. (I don’t give my family cards, I just write them blog posts! The kids love to go back and read old posts.❤️)
This last year was full of a ton of changes for Ben, because it was the year he decided to finally take the plunge, and start the business he’s been dreaming about for years.
He went to Chicago for training in fall, and has been delving into coaching and consulting, using the Strengthsfinder leadership assessment tool. I’m fascinated with everything he’s been learning, and I love to hear about how this tool is helpful and eye-opening for anyone he coaches.
It’s also been amazing to watch him move into a better understanding of himself and what his own strengths are. The Strengthsfinder assesment clarifies the top five strongest abilities a person has from a list of 34 options. It’s amazing how identifying a person’s strengths can be used to move into greater clarity for how to approach pretty much any area of life.
Although I don’t know nearly as much about this fascinating tool as Ben does, I thought it would be fun to share what I love most about his top five strengths, how I see them play out in Ben’s everyday life, and how they impact our family in really beautiful, life-giving ways.
Here are his top five strengths:
Ben turns my thinking upside down with his ability to see things from different angles and a cost/benefit perspective. He is always thinking about the most effective way to do things, and how to get from where we are to where we should be going.
He is the best Costco shopper around. I haven’t gone grocery shopping on my own in YEARS. Like, over a decade. It started out because of my back/neck issues and I couldn’t push a cart, but we soon discovered that Ben is 200 times better at shopping than I am. A strategic shopper makes a happy budget.
When we are driving anywhere or planning a route through anywhere, Ben always knows the best way to go. It is just the way his brain thinks. My brain tends to saunter along. He guides me where I need to go!
Ben is always the person I want to talk to when I have a problem. It started even before we were dating. He has this amazing way of listening patiently, and then cutting through all the extra fluff, emotions, etc, getting right to the heart of the issue, and then leading me gently to the best possible solution.
Ben has a deep integrity and desire for authenticity, which has shaped the core of our family. He has to be true to who he is and what he believes in.
He makes decisions slowly, because he sits with things for a long time, carefully determining how he feels about his options, and making sure they represent what is most important to him.
He always tries to say or do things that align with the deepest, truest part of who he is.
I’ve never thought about it specifically until now, but Ben’s self-assurance is a huge part of why things have just worked well in our marriage and family life. He gives great stability in new situations and provides a such a dependable solidity to everything, which serves as an anchor for our whole family.
As our kids figure out who they are and make sense of this world, I can see how Ben’s confidence and self-assurance gives them a sense of safety to draw from when they need it to come from somewhere outside themselves. He does the same for me all the time. When he is completely sure that everything will work out, and firmly believes we will have the strength to face whatever challenges arise, I start to believe it, too.
Even though Ben is a self-assured person, it never comes across as cocky or arrogant. It’s just a beautiful, solid, steadying force that grounds our family.
Futuristic and Ideation:
These are separate strengths, but Ben uses them together all the time, so I find it difficult to seperate them in my mind! Futuristic means visionary – Ben can see the end result clearly in his mind, and carries this positive, energetic force which propels him forward. Basically, I crave his energy. I live off it like a parasite.
Ideation is about getting a million ideas – Ben can come up with ideas for everything. When you combine his ability to see future outcomes with his endless amount of ideas, the result can be dizzying, in the best possible way. Ben could be the one prancing around singing “A Million Dreams” from the movie “The Greatest Showman”, because that is actually what his brain is like. And I am like Charity, along for the ride. It is always an adventure.
Starting his own business this last year has been such an important, significant step for him, because it combines every one of his strengths, all at the same time. I have loved watching him figure out how to draw on all his resources and put his dreams into action.
Wherever his dreams for this new venture will take us, I feel like this last year of his life will always be a significant one in our memories and in the direction we go moving forward. It has been an amazing experience to watch him push past obstacles holding him back, and draw on all of his strengths to rise up and make this happen.
I feel so proud of Ben for the ways in which he’s challenged himself and grown this last year, and for becoming a truer version of himself. It gives me joy to see him moving into greater freedom, and to have the opportunity and space to stretch out and use his greatest strengths and abilities. It’s been a year to remember, and I am excited to see what this next year of his life will hold!
*An offer from Ben:
When I told Ben that I was writing a Strengthsfinder post in honour of his birthday, he decided to offer any of my blog readers $100 off a coaching package! So if you or someone you know would enjoy exploring Strengthsfinder with Ben, check out his website over here, or email him at email@example.com.
At the end of each podcast episode, Jen Hatmaker asks her guests the same question: “What is saving your life right now?” And even though I know that coffee or good books are not literally saving anybody’s life, and I want to accuse her of being too dramatic with the way that question is worded, I have to acknowledge that something inside us can be saved, a little at a time, with small comforts and pleasures. That is nothing to be taken lightly.
I was thinking about this as I went for a walk the other day. It was late afternoon, the air was crisp and cold, and the sky was pink. As I walked along in that winter sunset, I saw a row of trees, their leafless branches silhouetted against the sky. And I thought to myself, “Winter sunsets are saving my life this winter.”
I felt overly dramatic myself, for a moment, and then I remembered all those winters I struggled with Seasonal Affected Disorder, and how horrible, dark, and heavy those winters felt. I looked at those trees against the pink sky, and felt the thrill of beauty and joy shoot right through me, and I decided to stick with my original thought – it is not too dramatic to say winter sunsets are saving my life this winter.
There are many ways to feel fully alive, and many ways to be saved from darkness, and I learned a long time ago that the secret often lies in learning to pay attention to the little things.
So I started to make a list of all the little things brightening up my winter – saving my life right now, if we want to lean into the drama. Here’s what I came up with:
Getting outside every day that I can. This can feel very hard on the extra cold days, but it is always, always worth it.
Good, warm, comfy boots. I used my birthday money to splurge on these boots, and we are living happily ever after. They are wonderful. I have foot issues, and these boots are incredibly comfortable. They keep my feet so toasty warm, my daily walks are so much more pleasurable with these boots in my life. I wish I had learned years ago that warm feet in winter make everything better.
Tea, in cute mugs. Both are important. I bought myself a mug I love, and it makes hot drinks even better. So we bought our kids their own special mugs too, and now they beg for tea every time they’ve been playing outside. Chocolate chai is their favourite.
Fiction. It’s been years since I’ve let myself read fiction, because I don’t have much self-control in that area. Reading fiction makes me want to avoid housework, cooking, parenting, sleeping at night – all the things I’m supposed to be doing, and it makes me grumpy when people disturb me. But I’ve found this winter that if I choose very carefully when to start a new book, and don’t read fiction very often, I can get away with enjoying one here and there. And it is so enjoyable.
Plants. I used to have a whole houseful of plants, but when we moved to camp, our house was so dark, they all died. It’s always felt like a frivolous expense to buy new plants, but when I thought about how much joy green, living things give me, I decided I needed to get some plants. We visited a greenhouse on Boxing Day, and all the plants were 50% off, so I got two – a China Doll and a Shady Lady, the choice based 90% on their names, and 10% on them being the prettiest plants I could find in my price range. They make me smile.
Twinkle lights around my kitchen window. I wanted lights that stayed up after Christmas, because it’s so empty and dark when all the decorations are put away. Turning these lights on every dark winter morning makes me feel warm inside.
Our new bird feeder. Kaylia is studying birds for science this year, and her science book recommended getting a bird feeder. I have never understood the thrill of birdwatching before, but I’m changing my mind this winter. It’s extremely interesting to see who shows up at our feeder, and how many birds stick around during the winter. I’ve never paid attention before! Now I’m seeing and hearing birds all over the place, and it is lovely.
These are little things, but each little thing makes this winter feel a little bit nicer, and a little bit brighter.
Ben and I had an amazing opportunity come our way this last fall – the kind we’ve often talked and dreamed about. There are lots of those dreams around here, so it wasn’t like this opportunity was everything to us, but it did get us excited as we talked about it.
We had a hard time discerning if it was actually the right fit, right time, and all that, but we decided to go through the steps to see where it would take us.
The whole process was full of twists, turns, and uncertainty, but it all fell apart in the end, and timing was the main cause.
It was exactly the type of situation which best showcases my ability to worry. I don’t like uncertainty or a long, drawn out decision making process. I usually work myself into a frenzy fairly quickly, but this time was different.
I was very tempted to follow my old pattern, but I kept feeling like this was a chance to do something different – to use the hold-ups, miscommunication, and uncertainty as a part of God’s process, instead of obstacles in the way of His will.
I kept choosing to believe that timing is part of how God unfolds His plans. His good and beautiful plans can’t be thwarted with something as small as timing! If He holds the whole world in His hands, that includes timing, and I can rest in it.
Because I’ve been thinking a lot about resting in God’s timing, I was delighted to come across this quote the other day:
“Much, much stress results from your wanting to make things happen before their times have come. One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events. If you want to stay close Me and do things My way, ask Me to show you the path forward moment by moment. Instead of dashing headlong toward your goal, let Me set the pace. Slow down, and enjoy the journey in My Presence.” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling)
God’s timing is perfect, and His way is perfect. When things seem to go wrong, He is not up in heaven, wringing his hands, saying “OH NO!!! I did not see that coming!! My whole plan is ruined!!! What will we do now????!!!” He uses the timing of events to bring about His will.
As I focus on that, a missed opportunity does not feel as disappointing. I don’t need to plan or scheme, trying to maneuver people and situations so that everything will work out the way I want it to. I can trust God completely, and know that He has good timing.
Have you ever had the same message come at you through so many sources, you finally throw your hands up in surrender, and say, “Fine! I’m listening!”?
That is how my goal for this new year came to be.
I read “The Artist’s Way” with a friend last year, and Julia Cameron promises that getting up early and writing three pages first thing every morning will grow your creativity.
I listened to a Typology podcast interview with a spiritual director, who said, “Write three pages every morning to discover your areas of pain and growth.”
I listened to an interview with Rebekah Lyons about her new book “Rhythms of Renewal”, and she said, “Journaling every morning lowers your stress level and grows emotional health.”
I discovered a website called “The Cure For Chronic Pain”, and read, “Journaling for 20 minutes every day will release the deep emotions you hold inside, which are causing your pain, and free you from tension and discomfort.”
After the fourth time of getting the message to start journaling, I finally said, “Alright!! I will set my alarm even earlier in the morning, and I will give this journaling thing a try. It’s free, it can’t hurt, and even if it doesn’t heal me of all stress and pain, it will still be a great thing to do.”
I’ve journaled every single day for a month, and I’m hooked. It has been completely amazing, and so my goal for 2020 is to begin every day with journaling.
I turn on my new twinkle lights in the kitchen window, set my timer for 20 minutes, and just write. Sometimes I don’t have a clue what to write about, but the words start coming. Thoughts and feelings rise to the surface from so far down, I had no idea I’ve kept them stuffed inside. But they pop up and out onto my page, and suddenly I am undone, because I can’t believe I’ve carried that deep, dark truth for so many years. I’m not miraculously healed from my pain (yet?!), but I feel lighter every day. How can that not eventually affect my physical body?
Thoughts and emotions are deeply connected to the physical body, and while I’m holding expectations lightly about how this will affect me, I can’t believe how different I feel about myself after a month. I’ve learned more about myself in the last month than I have in the past few years. It feels like purging pain, bitterness, unforgiveness, and every negative message I’ve taken in or spoken over myself for my whole life. I wake up to do battle with old demons, and it feels hard and painful and beautiful and healing.
Sometimes I write to God, sometimes I write letters which will never be sent, sometimes I just write fragments of thoughts, fast and furious, that don’t need to make sense to anyone but me.
I ignore margins, I don’t correct spelling mistakes (Gasp! How out of character!!), I spill it all out. And when I’m done, I tear up my pages into hundreds of little pieces, and I throw all that garbage into the garbage.
Then I go lie on my living room floor to do my daily stretches, and I pray it all out. I pray for healing and perspective. I pray for new thoughts to replace the old ones I’m shedding. I lie there and try to soak in the feeling of being light and free and forgiven.
Morning by morning, page by page, I am finding my way through. I have always tried very hard to be a Good Girl – to say and do the right thing, and not get mad or be mean. I’ve hidden all the “unacceptable” parts deep down inside, and I’ve labeled my feelings as “Good” or “Bad”. But what I know now is that my feelings are just my feelings.
It’s time to stop labeling them as “Good or Bad”, and I’m changing the labels to “Time and Place”. My time to get it all out with brutal honesty is each morning with my pen in hand. My family sleeps, and I sit there on my dark, quiet house, spilling it all out, because God sees it anyway, so let’s just be honest already.
I never knew journaling could bring freedom. I’ve written for years, but always for my blog, which meant it had to be neat and tidy, and appropriate for public consumption. I didn’t know how much I needed to write just for me.
But I love it, and I highly recommend it. Do you journal? Do you ever feel like you might benefit from journaling? Do you have other ways of working out emotions which feel right and good? I want to hear all about it!!
It took me a few years to understand the passion people had for choosing a word for the new year. (I tend to be long-winded, so I might have gotten on the bandwagon sooner if it had been a paragraph for the year!) Summing up meaning for the year in one word sounded too hard, and kind of pointless. Who knows what kind of year you’ll have? How can you choose one little word to sum it all up?
But then I read someone’s post on Instagram which changed my mind completely. It was described as something so different from goal setting that it caught my attention. It was framed as a spiritual exercise to do at the start of the year, a way to prayerfully consider what God might be speaking into your life, rather than a way to summarize goals and ambitions for the new year ahead.
So I decided to try it, and see what the result would be. What happened was something very beautiful and life-giving, and definitely a tradition I knew I wanted to continue.
A few weeks ago, I was doing my devotions and not thinking about a word for the new year at all. I was thinking about this last year, and how many good things had happened over the year, with my health, Ben’s new business, and parenting.
But it suddenly struck me how, looking back, I could see how hard it was for me to wait patiently for these good things to happen. I had trouble allowing things to unfold in my life in the right way, at the right time. I tried to make things happen by force and determination, which has at times been helpful, because I don’t give up on difficult circumstances, but has also caused pain. The expression “kicking at the goads” came to mind. I’ve tried to push too hard against difficult circumstances instead of letting things happen as they will. I’ve caused myself pain, and wasted energy by not trusting God to work everything out for my good.
I began to imagine how different my life would look if I would try to accept things the way they are, and trust that good things can happen, even with less energy expended on my part. In the past, I’ve felt that accepting something as it is would be like giving up and allowing things to stay negative. But I’ve been starting to see the difference between giving up, and allowing something to be, for now, trusting that by the grace of God, it will not always be that way.
As I tried to imagine my life with this change in mindset, I felt a sense of relaxing, letting go, and relief settling in. A quote I’d come across years ago suddenly came to mind:
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.” (Aldous Huxley)
I remembered the quote wrong, though – I thought it said “gently” instead of “lightly”, and in that moment I had my word for the year. “Gently” seemed to sum up what I was feeling a new pull towards. Gently approach the hard and painful things, instead of forcing change in an unnatural way.
Over the last few weeks, this word has settled into my mind and taken root. It keeps coming up again and again, reminding me to allow space for that which needs to change, but needs time and a light, gentle approach.
Sometimes it frustrates me to have to work at something other people seem to do naturally. I watch Ben easily choose to release things in his life without resisting, the way I have. But I try to remind myself that each of us have our own lessons to learn, and different strengths and weaknesses. (Another way for me to practice being gentle with myself!)
And so now, I enter the new year gently. I choose to make room for what is, even if it’s not what I want, remembering that nothing is finished or final. There is still room for hardships to change, room for growth, and room for something new to gently unfold, in this fresh, new year.
Do you choose a word for the new year? I’d love to hear what it is, and how you chose it!
I love fresh starts and new beginnings! This time of year is one of my favourites, because I love tying up the end of the year, and moving into the new year with great anticipation.There are so many amazing articles and podcasts that lead people through year end reflections and goal setting activities for the new year, and I love to make use of them this time of year!
If you’re like me, and this week after Christmas has you feeling ready for some intentional reflection, here are some of the resources I’ve been enjoying:
I’m trying not to go too crazy with goal setting – I tend to get a bit carried away, but I’ve learned that it’s easier to keep it simple, and only do one or two goals at a time!
For this year, I’ve decided to make daily journaling my goal. I started a couple of weeks ago already, and it feels like something I want to make a permanent part of my daily routine. There’s a lot to say about it, so I’ll write more in a future post. There are many benefits to journaling regularly, and I can’t wait to dig further in to this habit!
I’d love to here what goals you’re setting for the New Year! And let me know if there are any other great resources you’ve come across!