What is it about the simple turn of a new year that brings hope?  I’m not really sure. Could it be that changing the page of a calendar brings with it some sense of victory, of survival?

Beginning in January I couldn’t wait for this year to be over.  Yep, January. That’s pretty much the whole year.  On January 6 my 25-year-old nephew took his life, a horror that even now seems surreal. Later in July,  I lost my mother.  In addition, we’ve endured a flooded basement, and broken communication with my sister who was in Puerto Rico during both horrific hurricanes. We also lost a dear college friend to ALS, and prayed from afar as two more lifelong friends endured chemo treatments for evil cancer.

I could just press forward with blinders into 2018. Yet, in these last days of 2017,  I need to reflect, to process. And, so here are my gifts to you, truths, that I’ve learned as I struggled and trudged through 2017.  Hopefully these will offer some form of advice in your year end reflection as well.

17.  Happiness is being open to new friendships.

This is our first full year in this new neighborhood and precious, yet unexpected, friends have walked into our lives.  We have seen the face of Jesus in their prayers and conversation.  You never know when a trusted ally will show up, literally, on your doorstep.  Vulnerability sometimes is a struggle when loss grips your heart.  And, honestly, I am more comfortable in the ‘Martha’ role of giving to others when a need arises. But, this year Jesus has taught me about how to be the ‘Mary’, and receiving the blessings from new friends.

16. Good neighbors are as valuable as gold.

We lived through 4 inches of water in our basement  only with the help of our neighbors. They helped us even while their own basements were flooding as well.  Did I mention there was 3 FEET of snow outside?  Since then, all have recovered, repaired, and replaced what needed replacing. Today, a foot of snow has nestled here in the valley. And, at a neighborhood party last night we laughed and remembered those awful days, though perhaps with a few clenched teeth.

15. Keep up with old friends, too.

My husband traveled for a reunion of his college buddies in April.  They arrived, both in person and by Skype, in Washington to reminisce and offer support to David, trapped within the ravages of ALS.  They laughed and cried and told of their lives since last they were together nearly 30 years ago.  One week later David was gone.  When that still, small voice in your head brings an old friend to mind for no apparent reason, make the call.

14.  Photos are precious.

We lost two family members this year and a dear old friend. Take photos.  Moms, take photos WITH your kids.  That means with you IN them.  Life is fragile, and your first instinct when a loved one dies is to find the photos. I have spent this week going through old snapshots taken before the digital age. Silly and blurry.  Old and new. Get them off your phone. Treasure them.  Preserve them.

13.  The world is a much darker place than I ever imagined.

With horrific mass shootings and sexual predators constantly in the newsfeed, my first response is to bury my head in the sand and keep to myself.  But, just remember, the darker the room, the brighter Jesus shines. There is more need than ever to share HIM, to let Him shine through you.

12. When the world is dark, the simple goodness of strangers shines.

The internet can be amazing. I tracked down my sister on the other side of the world, with the help of strangers.  After a scary week of no contact after hurricanes Irma and Maria, I frantically posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was looking for my sister and brother-in-law in Puerto Rico. Friends reposted and only hours later, a stranger let me know they were ok.  WOW!  The world is big, but the internet makes friends of nameless strangers, even with no electricity or internet.  I was blown away.

11. Plan for the future.

We live in an age of impatience and selfies, focused on the here and now.  Plan for retirement.  Plan for emergencies.  Plan for a worst case scenario.  Don’t leave hard decisions to your children, whatever your age.  It is your responsibility to make those decisions for your own life.  Make your wishes known to your loved ones.

10.  Family is everything.

Good and bad, God created a group of people that HE chose for you in order to shape you into who HE created you to be.  We must lean on each other in both hard and joyful times.  Deaths and births, celebrations and ceremonies, this rag-tag group gives to each other but each gets so much in return. We dropped everything to be with each other when the horror of suicide arrived on our doorstep. During my mother’s last days a simple continuous group text feed with my siblings and family saved me.  Literally.  Hard decisions about medication and care were discussed there.  Jokes are told there. It was and is my lifeline. We still walk through days together, though not together physically. I love my people.

9.  Listening is a learned art.

It requires skill and patience.  God is working on me with this one.  Listening without expression, either affirmative or negative, gives validation in a conversation. Listening requires stillness, and silence.  I’m a work in progress.

8.  God answers prayer.

Pure and simple. We have felt him walking beside us, and carrying us, through this year. Even when my life seems buried and I can’t see the light of day, His plan is always for me.  We have dealt with unimaginable grief and He really is the Comforter and…..

7. Keeping a prayer journal helps me see the hand of God.

Four kiddos and menopause have left my memory in tattered remnants.  Basically I can’t remember squat. (That’s a southern expression for those who don’t live there.) In the Old Testament God told his people to use stones to remember His acts. (That’s where gravestones come from, by the way.) When I write my prayers, it cements in my head what I’m asking for, then I’m more apt to LOOK for answers.  Then down the road, when I reread my prayer journals, I am reminded of what He did and how He came through, though sometimes months or years later.  Basically it helps me to see what He’s doing so I can thank Him.

6.  Gratefulness is the trait and attitude that changes your perspective and, really, your life.

Even in the midst of turmoil, grief and depression, there is always something to be grateful for. I started years ago literally keeping a numbered list. It changed my life.

5.  Your mother is your greatest cheerleader and model of perfect love on this earth.

She is the nearest expression of God’s unconditional love you will ever know.  She has suffered for you more than you can ever understand. My mama fell in a parking lot and sustained a brain injury in June, the second such accident for her in about 6 years.  She endured subsequent complications and passed a few weeks later. I was thrust into the world of neuroscience unexpectedly. We didn’t know those were her last days. Treasure your days with your mom.

4.   I must let my kids be adults, complete with all their mistakes.

I am a newer mother of adult children (an oxymoron at best).  Sometimes I think having adult offspring is more difficult than toddlers, simply because it requires more self discipline from me in the way of choosing words, and choosing silence. They need to skin their knees, so to speak.  And, I need to let them.

3.  Suicide doesn’t solve anything.

I have watched my brother’s family die in many ways this year with the death of my nephew.  But we’ve also seen the face of God over and over.  Lives will never be the same.  Grief is an endless journey that ebbs and flows and losing a child leaves an emptiness that is never filled.  But, Jesus came for the broken.  Those who come to Him already broken are all the more filled completely by His comfort and grace.

2.  I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

As I reflect on this year, I see with awe the way He carried me through one event after another.  I was thrust into roles I know nothing about, from medicine to civil engineering, and somehow, only with His help, I made it through.

1. The Bible alone is the perfect and true Word of God.

Now living in Utah, I have delved into the world of LDS teachings, researching their beliefs, to better understand my neighbors. My conviction that the Bible is the active and living Word has strengthened exponentially, and I didn’t know that I could be any more positive.  The Bible alone has been proven accurate in every way, historically, prophetically.  We can trust its contents.  It’s a guidebook to cling to when life doesn’t make sense. Or when 2017 doesn’t make sense.  My prayer is that my everyday words to my friends and neighbors will lead them to the Truth found only in the Bible.

In the Eiffel region of Germany where we lived a few years ago, if the locals wanted to wish you a ‘Happy New Year’ they would say, “Einen guten Rutsch (in  neue Jahr).” It means ‘have a good slide into the new year.  I feel like I’m definitely ‘sliding in’ to 2018.  Not walking in proudly, but kind of limping along, being dragged across the finish line.

But, we’re here!!  And we will be grateful for the miles walked and goal lines crossed.

Making it to the end of 2017 in one piece is indeed a victory.

We made it.

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