Do birthdays ever make you look back and reflect on what the past year has been?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting in preparation for a  birthday tradition amongst my friends where the birthday person lists things they were grateful for from the last year of life. However old they are turning is how many things on their list. So as I celebrated another birthday, I started to think back to write out my list. I chose to look back at all I had experienced and felt. Yes, my list was a list of good things, but as I wrote those out I also reflected on the tough moments because they helped to define the last year as well.

As I looked through my list, I saw what the last year held for me. Joy? Yes. Frustration? Yes. Patience? More than I thought possible. Friendship? In abundance! Trials? You bet. Anxiety? Yup. Risks? Yeah, and some paid off and some didn’t. Peace? Yes, thanks to God.

As I started to look at how everything pieced together, personally, professionally, spiritually, emotionally, I kept coming back to one word…Growth. Now here’s the thing about growth. It’s not linear. In fact, sometimes growth looks like going backwards to go forwards. Over the last year I’ve made many transitions, one major one being professionally, leaving teaching after 10 years to step into vocational ministry. Let me tell you, 30-year-old me didn’t see any of that happening. There were days I was scared of the change (I mean, I spent 6 years in college and have a bachelors and masters in education, why would I think of leaving what I had put so much time, energy, and truthfully, money, into?). But I held onto the promise that God was not only with me through it, but he was guiding me to it.

In Philippians 3:12-14 it says,

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

One line sticks out to me, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (Philipians 3:13) I’m not looking back to hold onto all that I’ve done or not done, I’m looking back to see where I’ve been so that I can use that as encouragement towards the future.

So as I look back so that I can look ahead, I look at three areas, my physical growth, my spiritual growth, and my professional growth. Now each of these look a little different because they encompass different aspects of me, but they also are all connected and I can’t help but see how each one led and influenced the other.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:6-7

Just as a plant is rooted in soil and then grows, if my life is rooted in Christ, I too shall grow. And just as I’ve written out my list of 32 things I’m thankful for in the last year, I’m thanking God that He was in all of it. In the good moments I can see His hand working and in the low points, I can see where he held me.

Seeing how God provided in the past encourages me to keep fighting and pushing forward, to what He has ahead for me. When I’m in the middle of it, almost every bump can lead to anxiety and stress, wondering what’s coming next and how I’ll handle it. But when I look back at the last 365 days as a whole, I see blessing upon blessing, not just when I felt like I was on a mountaintop, but even more when I was in the valleys. And that brings me to a verse that reminds me to not be anxious during it all.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34

Jesus tells me to not be anxious about tomorrow. So in the next 365 days, that’s what I’m working towards. Only focus on the troubles of the day, or moment, I’m in and embracing the good and bad of that moment. I’m trusting God to hold me in those tough moments and walk through them with me.

If I go one verse before that one, I read,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33

So for this next year, I’m striving to seek His kingdom further, grow in love, and focus on what is true. Next year when I write out my list, I hope that I see further growth, not because I did better, but because He was more at the center of my life. I encourage you to join me, let’s focus on what God wants our focus to be, Him.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

Let’s keep all that is worthy of praise at the center of our lives, thanking God for what he’s done. Keeping close to God, who brings peace through it all.