My “by 50” list

I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer and a goal setter at heart.

As a young musician, I wanted to meet Prince. And I did, at 22 years old, while living in the Uptown district of Minneapolis. He was wearing a blue jumpsuit. (“I’m goin’ down to Alphabet Street…” Y’all don’t know nothing about that, do ya?)

A few troubled years later, as a recovering AFDC recipient and a developing sales director in North Carolina, I set goals to earn company prizes, awards, and even cars. And I did. I wanted to own a house in which to raise my two young children before I turned 30. And I did. With two weeks to spare.

When my former husband and I first got (back) together (long, semi-sweet story), I wanted to get married and have a child together before I turned 40. And we did, when I was 39. I still have my precious child. The marriage, however, was short-lived.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be squarely in my late forties. You know, early forties, mid forties, late forties. Ok, late-mid forties. I don’t have any specific goals I want to achieve within the next two weeks – although it would be great if I could choose paint for my bedroom and finally have just one wall color – but there are a few things I’d like to see happen in my life before I hit 5-0.

It’s a short list of things, not entirely unlike a bucket list. I won’t necessarily “die happy” when these things are accomplished. I just need for them to happen to help me cope with the mental baggage of turning 50. By then, I hope to have some actual fruit growing on my tree. A legacy, I suppose. Something that connects me to others in a life-affirming, loving way, and that proves that I’ve been here and did something worthwhile for somebody beyond myself.

So, here are two of the major items I can share, in order:
– Publish The Addict Magnet
– Establish a related conferencing ministry

Truth is, I have done a lot of preparatory work toward these goals, from as far back as six years ago. I wrote the book in 2007, and had a publishing offer, but not the kind I’d like to get. I’ve been in graduate school for the past five years, studying toward a Master of Divinity degree from Campbell Divinity School, to train as a counselor and as a minister. With the book and training under my belt, I should have more of what I need to develop an effective and meaningful ministry.

Of course, if I’ve learned anything in Div School, it’s this: I don’t know much.

I can barely make sense of any of the things that have already happened in my lifetime. I have even less of a chance of accurately predicting what’s going to happen in the next few days, weeks, months, or years.

Still, I’m grateful to the God who continues to plant dreams in the human soul. Those dreams are the only link we have, really, to any notion of “future.”

God gives dreamsI believe in dreams, not in the self-helpers’ “believe it and achieve it” way, but as God’s way of communicating to me through the wild ride of my transformation into the Sandy I’ll eventually become while I’m still the Sandy I am.

Maybe I should add in some more intentional dreaming time over these next three years before I reach 50 … Who knows what might be on the next list!

The thing is . . .

Well, the thing is, most of us don’t have just one “thing” any more.

This idea was triggered by a quote I read from D. L. Moody: “Give me a man who says, ‘This one thing I do’ and not,’These fifty things I dabble in.'” I might be one of the most hopeless cases of “these fifty things” in the land. I confess my own frustration with being such a multi-tasker – out loud. I suppose I could focus well into just one thing, but I like to do different things. Obviously. Or else I am the biggest ADHD person in my family and, to me, this is absolutely normal.

In the course of any hour of any day, my mind is juggling thoughts and work in my “day job”, my ministry, my school assignments, my daughter’s upcoming wedding and all that must be prepared for that special event, care plans for my youngest child, any and all of my mothering and household duties . . . Man, I feel frustrated just by writing that list! Is it even possible to have “this one thing I do”?! Perhaps it is my womanhood that answers, “No,” and explains why Moody said, “Give me a man . . .”

Surely women are used to wearing multiple hats, but I think our current environment has led all of us – men and women – into this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none pattern of working. Technology is available to the masses and moves us at warp speed. Specialists find themselves in danger of losing jobs they have enjoyed for years, requiring new training and career paths or long periods of unemployment, or the resignation to accept under-employment. We feel an insane amount of pressure to keep up with the world and our own marketability.

Moody’s quote made me feel badly about myself for being so “one thing”-challenged, but I believe his key phrase is a reference to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which, in context, really means something entirely different. In 3:13, Paul indicates “this one thing I do” as forgetting what is behind and focusing on what is ahead. It is a message to focus on our ministry-calling and where it leads.

Have you ever written your life’s mission statement before? I have tried it – once or twice – but I failed to keep it handy. I’m going to find my last statement and see how well it states my life mission as I perceive it now. Pondering and developing a personal mission statement will take some time and some real soul-searching. Having a statement will also lead to a need to spend time goal-setting based on the mission. Then, of course, there is the continuous work of turning away things that don’t fit the mission. The thing is, that “one thing” drives all my other things. So . . . this one thing I do!

Making the most of Week 52

The last week of the year is awkward. It’s hard to plan anything since so many people are still traveling. For working folks, it’s often a “wish-I-was-anywhere-else” week since little can be accomplished due to the absence of so many others. Should be a great week for thinking back on a good year, right? Maybe.

For someone who claims to love to reflect, I risk conveying a sense of contradiction or else the after-Christmas blues with the picture I’ve painted of this week. Perhaps it seems awkward precisely because it is only one week. With all the focus on Christmas festivities through December 25th, we really only leave ourselves that one week-between-the-big-holidays to think about the year – and surely we need more time than that to process where we have been over the past 365 days and where we would like to go from here.

Perhaps it isn’t the week itself that is awkward, but is instead the things we Americans tend to hold in focus. Inevitably, the media will spend the week rehashing the best songs, the best movies, top videos, and best gadgets of 2011. We will also assuredly be reminded of those beloved stars and otherwise-famous people who died this past year. I suppose all of those things are suitable ways to reflect on a passing year. I, however, (predictably) would prefer to focus on other things in assessing the year.

The first obstacle in any act of remembering for me is the most obvious: my memory. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, so how could I possibly remember the year without some reliable support? Perhaps the new Facebook Timeline could serve as a way to track the year. Of course, I would have to read between the lines and somehow remember the things that were not published – you know, the things that were not happy enough, witty enough, or interesting enough to use as status updates. Helpful, but not entirely sufficient.

There are a few reliable gauges in determining how well I have spent the past year, which is how I prefer to spend this week. In using the metaphor of time being “spent”, I suppose I would first want to look closely at my bank statements and checking account register. Those lines will tell a tale in great detail (been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss lately) of where my particular treasures lie. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Luke 12:34]

The next gauge would probably be one of quality time spent with family and friends. How many memories (hopefully documented in pictures or other keepsakes) were made this year? More than ever, I am beginning to value pictures that capture special days or moments. While it is not possible to document every special moment with digital photography, every special time deserves some sort of keepsake or marker. To add interest to your measuring efforts, try asking your family and friends what they remember the most. You may discover that what they remember and value the most is not what you remember or value!

The next thing that I would want to consider is how well I spent my creative energy. Have I made steps toward God’s calling in my life? Have I produced anything to benefit others beyond my self or my immediate family? Have I even worked at all toward some specific mission or goal that is Kingdom-focused and altogether bigger than me?

Of course, it couldn’t hurt to consider these things more often than once each year – particularly the goals/creative energy aspect. We would do well to keep that one on a daily prayer cycle and quarterly assessment! Can you imagine how effective we could be with that kind of focus?!?

With this process in mind, I challenge you to create your own “best of” lists for 2011 and make a supporting list of goals for 2012. Let’s all set aside extra time to pray and write down what we hear God saying about this new year, then turn those leading words into our personal gameplan for 2012!

This could be the most important week of 2011.