I’ve always been introspective. Sometimes this translates into a healthy self-awareness; other times it looks a bit more like narcissism. But this time of year, I think it’s appropriate to take stock of one’s accomplishments and failures, to reflect on lessons learned, and to set new goals for the future. I’ll give everyone the opportunity to weigh in on their New Year’s resolutions next week. This week, I want to focus on 2008—the highlights, the low moments, the things we learned about ourselves, God, each other, and the world.
By all accounts, it has been a really good year for me. I transitioned into a full-time writing career and nabbed my first book deal. This has been a goal of mine since I was ten-years-old, and I simply cannot articulate how thankful and delighted I am to get up every morning, sit down at my desk with a cup of coffee, and write. I still can’t believe someone is paying me to do this.
However, as I told Dan the other day, despite accomplishing this major goal, I’m still just as insecure and self-conscious as ever. I still hate the shape of my nose. I still get stressed out about dirty dishes in my sink. I still feel guilty for having so much stuff while others around the world suffer. I still feel depressed sometimes for no reason. I still blurt out my opinion without being asked. I still want desperately to be liked. On top of all of this, I’ve already started worrying about how my book will be received by friends and family, how many copies I will sell, and how soon I can start the next one.
It is a strangely freeing moment when you realize that having everything you thought you wanted doesn’t make you happy. It’s freeing because, in a way, it takes the pressure off. I’m more convinced than ever that happiness is a choice, and that I can be miserable with or without a book deal, joyful with or without high sales numbers. I don’t have to sit around waiting for someone to approve. I don’t have to fight so frantically for success. There is so much freedom in knowing I’ve always had this kind of power. I’ve always possessed the ability to be content. I just have to learn to harness it.
That might be the most important thing I learned this year. Here are some other highlights:
- Picking up the phone to hear my agent say, “This is the call you’ve been waiting for.”
- Watching Dan successfully flip a house during the worst real estate market of our lifetime.
- When Wolf Blitzer announced that “Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.”
- Finding California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart.
- Almost peeing in my pants as Alabama squeaked by LSU.
- Writing “11-0” on my “Bama Football” whiteboard.
- Checking my e-mail to find my inbox crowded with e-mails from people who have struggled with doubts about their faith, who understand where I am coming from, and who offer their input and ideas without judgment. (You know who you are!)
- Reconnecting with old friends in new ways. (You know who you are too!)
- Beating the boys at poker three times in a row.
- Floating in a big, yellow inner tube down the lazy river at a fancy resort in Gulf Shores where Dan and I took a long-awaited vacation.
- Getting launched into the blogosphere, where I’ve met all kinds of interesting people
- Reading “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
- Discovering Stephen Colbert.
- Getting an ISBN number.
- Hanging out with my sister for a weekend in Birmingham
- Laughing until I cried with my best friend from childhood
- Playing with my nieces and nephews at the annual Evans Family reunion
- Waking up next to Dan and being as happy about being married to him as I was the day after our wedding...maybe even happier.
- Reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month and realizing that the gospel still means something to me.
- Crying for hours after getting rejected by one of the first publishers to seriously consider my book. (Note to other writers: You get used to it after a while!)
- The Florida game. Enough said.
- When I watched a church full of evangelical Christians at the Saddleback Forum cheer at the mention of “defeating evil” by military force. I’ve never felt so alienated from my own religious community.
- Not knowing where to go to church on Sunday mornings.
- Constantly being asked, “How can you call yourself a Christian and vote for Obama?”
- Hearing friends who I respect refer to Hillary Clinton as a “bitch” and Obama as a “terrorist.”
- Watching the violence unfold in the Congo, in India, and in Myanmar.
- Anytime Dan was sad or didn't feel well.
- Reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month and coming face to face with my own hypocrisy.
Things I learned about myself, the world, and spirituality:
- When I really set my mind to something and work hard, I can accomplish it. I am much more capable than I’ve given myself credit for.
- I desperately long for authentic relationships and community. Whether I like to admit it or not, I need other people in my life.
- Apparently, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.
- My opinions aren't nearly as important to other people as they are to me. The world isn't waiting with baited breath to hear what I have to say about it.
- I have a fear of silence.
- I am judgmental of people who are judgmental.
- Music and exercise are as effective as chocolate in lifting my mood.
- It is always within my power to be happy. Happiness is not dependent on changing circumstances. It is not dependent on success.
- Everyone else is just as insecure and frightened as I am.
- Salvation isn't just about the afterlife.
- Faith has little to do with intellectual ascent to a set of propositional truths.
- Most of us are guilty of making God into glorified images of ourselves.
- Following the teachings of Jesus Christ has the power to free me from my ugliest sins—my selfishness, my materialism, my greed, my jealousy, my desire for revenge, my hypocrisy, my judgments, my lack of compassion. Despite all that has changed over the past few years, I still believe this to be true.
So, what about you? It’s kind of a loaded question, but what are some of the most important things you learned this year?