Truthfully, 2014 was a long year for me. In fact, there’s a Mac Davis song about our shared hometown in which he laments, “I thought happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rearview mirror . . . .” When I think about this past year, I feel like happiness is 2014 in my rearview mirror.
But, just as Davis concludes that “happiness is Lubbock, Texas growing nearer and dearer,” I suppose there are actually quite a few lessons I have learned along the bumpy road that was this past year that I should carry forward into 2015. For what the thoughts are worth, here they are:
Lesson 1: This isn’t a contest–life is hard for everybody.
I have been battling a lot of muscle pain that just keeps getting worse over the last several years. I take supplements, go to alternative therapies, and have even resorted to prescription medications. Finally, this year I ruled out everything except what it turned out to be, which is fibromyalgia. This diagnosis goes along nicely with my hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder, and clinical depression.
Despite facing physical and mental difficulties most of my life, I have always proceeded under the reality that I don’t have to look very far to find somebody who is facing something even more difficult. Two of my relatives are currently under treatment for cancer. A number of people in my Bible class lost loved ones after long illnesses and even unexpectedly this past year.
But this year, I had to learn to quit looking at life as a contest. In other words, I had to go ahead and admit that I had my own problems to face, and it was OK to feel a little sorry for myself about that every once in a while. I gave myself permission to have a bad day now and then instead of comparing myself to how other people seem to be handling their challenges and berating myself for not doing more.
I don’t mean that I took this lesson as an excuse to be lazy. After all, God wants us to take pleasure in the work that we do. He wants us to face life’s challenges to learn perseverance and build our character and relationship with Him. But I am learning to pay more attention to what I feel like, both physically and mentally, before I decide the next thing to do each day.
Lesson 2: Learning that cliches can be true hurts
Starting in June of 2013, my female Maine Coon began to have issues. After an expensive visit or two to the vet, we discovered that she was suffering from an enlarged colon, apparently a pretty common problem for a 14-year-old cat of her type.
We changed her diet, added probiotics and other supplements to her daily routine, put up with smells no one wants to know about, and started having to place adult diaper pads in special places all over the house. One evening in March, it became apparent that we were keeping our little darling alive for ourselves more than for the cat. The next morning, the vet agreed. I held her as the needle went in.
Now, if you know me, you know that I do a lot of complaining about the trouble it is to have my cats and how I was looking forward to not having to do all this work for such little payback (cats are not cuddlers, at least not mine). In my defense, I always qualified my grumbling by saying I loved my cats.
But, it wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to Mitzi, the one cat who actually would sit in my lap, that I realized what it means when people warn you not to take things for granted. I have taken the rest of this year to get over it. I’ve bought a half dozen stuffed animal “replacements.” I’m just a little ashamed to admit that I even take one of them with me on long drives. Somehow, holding the stuffed animal seems to help a little bit.
I still have one male cat to care for. He sometimes deigns to sleep between my legs at night so I can’t move. He will even sit in the middle of the living room floor to keep an eye on me during the evening hours. But he is my husband’s cat.
In case you want to tell me to just get it over with and go find another cat or dog, I am determined not to do so. It took a while for me to adjust to even having animals. Being an anxious person, I worried about the silliest things. What my cats have taught me is another post-worth of lessons. But, I do not intend to repeat the experience again for a long, long while.
Lesson 3: Even if it’s only a small thing that seems like nothing, still do something when it comes to your relationships with other people
As I mentioned earlier, a couple of my relatives have been in major battles against cancer this year. Both of them live far away, and I have quite a few responsibilities of my own, as well as my health issues, so there really wasn’t much that I could physically do for them.
Of course, I pray and also have added them to my Bible class and Life Group’s prayer lists. But another thing I knew I could do was send cards on a semi-regular basis. Since I am a writer, it is a fun challenge for me to write something entertaining, caring, or hopeful in a card and send it off.
Because I had decided to do this, I added my 91-year-old Grandma to my card list. (Being related to me, she isn’t much for talking on the phone.) While I was at it, I dropped cards in the mail to people from church who were having difficult times.
Maybe I’ve only sent out a little over a dozen cards in total (I haven’t kept count), but each person has thanked me. Being a post office kid, I know as well as anyone how much fun it can be to get a piece of mail that isn’t a bill or bad news.
My little something had another effect. It made me feel better about myself during a year when I wasn’t feeling too swift about much of anything.
Lesson 4: Learn when to say when
Especially now that I know I have fibromyalgia, I understand the importance of trying to pay attention to what my body is telling me. Some days, I may need to do less than I do on other days. If I get better at this, hopefully I will be in less pain.
Learning to say when will also help me get more control over my anxiety instead of having to rely on prescription medication. The when here is knowing when to stop the obsessive thinking about problems that are not problems, business that isn’t my business, and negative thoughts about myself and others that are incorrect or not my place to have.
Lesson 5: Everyone has a perspective
One of the good things that occurred this past year was the improvement in my ability to understand that everyone has a different perspective on what happens in their world. Trying to see things through the eyes of somebody else is one of my most difficult challenges.
Still, I think that I am getting better at just listening to what other people have to say without trying to think up an argument against their ideas. Hopefully, I am making more room in my brain for these different ways of looking at the world.
When you have to slow down because your body is refusing to cooperate with where your mind wants to go, it is surprising how many real possibilities finally get to stand out in your brain. There is room for God to get His message through to you when you give Him more silences in a day.
Lesson 6: Problems eventually work themselves out
Here’s the lesson I keep having to learn over and over and over again. Did I mention I am a natural at worrying? That means I am actively looking for problems that need solving all of the time. It is exhausting work, and a job that no one has given me except myself.
Even God doesn’t want this burden for me. Over and over in my life, He proves to me that He is in control. Over and over I go back to acting as if that somehow makes no difference. I will come up with a solution, even if it means I tie myself up in knots trying to think my way out of the box I have placed myself in!
This past year, I had a leak on a fairly new roof (one of my big fears). It got fixed. The year before that, I had a termite infestation. Again, it did no discernible damage, and I now have treatment baits all over my house to guard against future attacks. When I first moved into my house more than a dozen years ago, it took less than six months for the foundation to shift (another of my biggest fears). A dozen years later, the latest checks on the foundation show that it is still doing well.
In other words, just like my Dad has been telling me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper–85% of the things I worry about never happen, and the 15% that do are never as bad as I think they will be.
2014 was one of those years that proved that bad things could happen, and I could survive anyway–not because of anything special about me, but because God is on my side. Just as He gave His only begotten Son for me, He did the same for you.
And He is always there for ALL of us. We just need to ask.
Here’s to a less challenging 2015. I could do with a little fewer lessons in perseverance, but I will lean on God and accept, as always, that His will be done.