7 Lessons Learned in 2017

"Time flies." So cliche, yet so true. How is it 2018 already?

As I've been reflecting on 2017, my heart has been so overwhelmed and full. Back in 2014, I had a dream communicating the importance of the number 7 in 2017. Seven in the Bible is the number of perfection and completion. Look up synonyms or it's Biblical usage, and you'll see the word perfect as also meaning "wholeness" and "maturity." What's crazy is, that completely came true. 

2017 was all about maturing (somewhat intentionally and unintentionally at the same time). These are the 7 lessons that stick out the most from this year. Some are lessons I knew and just hadn't applied wholeheartedly. Some are lessons I may have mastered, while others are lessons I need to continue working on 2018.

1) Time doesn't heal all wounds- You do. Do the work to heal.
If we adopt the mantra that time alone heals wounds, we carry the baggage longer than expected, and our past mistakes will continue to rear their ugly heads over and over. Prior to this year, I'd identified many of my past mistakes but hadn't assessed what remnants in my present life were rooted in those mistakes. This year, different events and people gave me "wake up calls" to do the internal work to address my baggage and be freed from it.

Oftentimes, our stunted growth is rooted in not acknowledging our dirt.We become so enslaved to shame and guilt, trying to avoid what we did that caused us or others pain, that we miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. The past is done. Jesus died to remove the need for shame and guilt. What I've become even more content in doing this year is being unashamed of my truth. I refuse to continue to allow it to be a stumblingblock for my healing.

  • Acknowledge your past. 
  • Recognize your freedom through Christ. 
  • Do the work to cut off the root of your mistakes. Outward actions are only symptoms.
  • Then remember, free people free people. Use your voice to help others like you heal.

2) You don't have to be a slave to your emotions.
This was monumental for me. Growing up I struggled with insecurities, low self-worth, being validation-seeking & attention-seeking. I filled internal voids with anything external that could help me avoid feeling the pain of characteristics only God could fix. Stress was masked by promiscuity. Disappointment masked by alcohol and partying. Unwillingness to use my gifts or walk in purpose was disguised by vicariously living through fake friendships for popularity. I pretended to be who I wasn't because that was easier than being who I knew God expected me to be. Much of my damage in my teen and early adult life was from letting my emotions drive my actions. The strongholds and soul ties I've struggled with as an adult come from poor decisions based on impulsivity and feelings [Read my ebook: "Recovering After a Bad Breakup" for my personal testimony and lessons learned]

This year, God really awakened me to the fact that I've lacked strength to be freed from this habit. The mindset the world sells is "Follow your heart." Nah, Bruh. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9 , "The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick;who can understand it?" All the time Following your heart will have you out here looking crazy, Sis. Don't do it. Pray for discernment and wisdom- that's at the top of my prayer list. Know this- Being led by your feelings will typically contradict what's best for you and a simple "My Bad' or "Sorry" won't always make up for the damage you'll do from being emotionally-reactive.

 I really came into the realization that as a child of God, I'm no longer bound by the grasp my sin has on me, but I have to do the work. It's one thing to let go of external dirt in your life, but it's another to drag every skeleton out of your closet and burn them one-by-one. Doing so is so freeing, and the devil knows the effect you'll have when he can no longer torment you by your past. That's why I chose to tackle these void-filling habits of mine. I have such an awareness of what God wants me to accomplish for Him, and I don't have time to be a detriment to Christianity because I was destroyed by the very things God sent His Son to redeem me from.

I've learned to recognize triggers that make me more susceptible to filling voids and have become more intentional in rebuking them or pushing past them. I've been unashamed to send texts like, "Hey Sis. ____ just happened, and TBH I'm pretty discouraged. Make sure I don't ______ or talk to _____." Knowing your triggers makes you more aware not to let emotions push you to destructive actions. For some of the first times in my life, at age 28, I had to feel my pain, like literally sit in bed crying because I couldn't hide the feeling with a vice. How crazy is that? But every time I did it, prayed about it, and didn't actually run to something or someone to mask the pain, I felt a sense of accomplishment. My heart skipped a beat knowing that God was pleased, and that the devil was not.

3) The process is more important than the product.

All year long, my personal devotions and podcasts I listened to were somehow centered around Joshua, the children of Israsel, and/or the Promised Land. Sometimes, we oversimplify Bible stories, especially to children. This coming from the Children's Church teacher LOL. We minimize details in stories, and that causes so many of us to grow up, unfortunately, viewing Bible stories like they're magical fairy tales. Like, don't judge me- but I thought the Promised Land was literally a place with like, milk waterfalls and honey-filled oceans. SMH.

So I took time to really study through the Israelites journey, starting with Genesis 12 when God tells Abram that his descendants would be blessed and inherit the land of Canaan, all the way to when it actually happened. The biggest AH-HA for me was that it was never really about the land-it was about the work God did to mature the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. Before they could go into Canaan, mindsets had to be changed and old habits had to be abandoned. God was ambiguous at times to push them to just rely on Him. He's the same today. If they went straight from bondage to receiving their blessing, they would've missed opportunities to develop a dependence on God. They wouldn't have had an appreciation for what He promised to His children, nor seen the miracles He would do to ensure it.

Oftentimes, we become so consumed with chasing the end-result, that we miss out on how God wants to mature us in the process. I'm still working on it, but this year, God forced me to surrender to being pruned and prodded for maturity, instead of having my hand out waiting for my blessing. I'm forever grateful for this season.

4) God is the greatest life and accountability partner.
Realizing lesson 3 will exponentially grow your relationship with God. That's the point. Become dependent on God. Develop your relationship with Him. He is a Friend.

Every day when I pray, I start off by describing who God is and who He is specifically to me. "God, You are my Savior. My Master. My Lord. You're Sovereign. You're All-knowing..." One day, I was going through my daily list and paused. I had really been struggling with a little discontentment that everyone around me seemed to be engaged, newly married, and having kids. I started reflecting on the growth of my relationship with God and said, "God, You're my life partner."

It came out of nowhere, but it was then that I realized He truly is. Through all of my ups and downs in life, the times when I felt the lowest and couldn't verbalize it anyone, He was there as a Comforter. My darkest secrets I never communicated, He knows. I want Him to be at the forefront of everything I do. Spouses fail. They're humans. They aren't intended to be your god. They come with their own baggage to tend to, but not God. He's 100% available to do life with me, flaws and all.

Also, for lesson 1 and 2, God keeps me accountable. I write my struggle areas on my prayer list and pray about them daily. My list keeps me accountable to God, and I'm learning that when I struggle with different things, I feel prompted to communicate them to God in prayer. It makes me more conscious of the work I need to do and He helps me do it.

5) Personality characteristics aren't an excuse to run from what God has said to do.
I'm ever-aware of some of my introverted personality characteristics like preferring to be alone a lot, being drained by small talk, etc. For awhile, I flaunted these characteristics as excuses not to be social, but God is repeatedly reminding me this year that my awareness of my personality characteristics doesn't give me a pass to run from what He's told me to do. God has specifically told me to be relational on my job, pour into the lives of my colleagues, mentor young girls, etc. but in the past, I used my introvertedness as a means to hide behind not doing these things. Anyone ever felt God told you to do something that's completely opposite of your preference? Like, "God, you know I don't like that." LOL. Like, introverts get drained by having to be social non-stop, especially in large groups, but in my new job, I have days where I work with each and every grade level team nonstop. 😆

This year, God pushed me to let my awareness of being an introverted be a tool to help me plan better. Yes- I do hate small talk, so some days at work, I think of the 3 small talk questions I'm going to ask everyone, and I go for it LOL (Tomorrow's will be: 1) How was your Winter Break? 2) Do anything special?  and 3) Do anything for New Year's?) I do get drained by being out in large groups all the time, so I plan my calendar intentionally so that I don't have too many outtings in one weekend. Now, I feel like I'm making my way closer to being an extroverted introvert. LOL. Baby steps.

6) Work-life balance isn't a detriment to your success. It propels it.

Being an educator in the public school system, the mantra is pretty much "Overtime is an expectation." I prided myself on this for years, but really, my quality of life wasn't what it needed to be. It wasn't until God stripped me of working in a school for a few months that I realized #thisisntit. Seriously, I didn't know it was possible to be an educator and have work-life balance.

This summer, I became overwhelmed at all the things I had going on, including 5 grad school classes running simulataneously. I also was just, discouraged because there were selfish things I wanted to do that weren't working out for me. Praying for some clarity, during my devotional time, on post-its, I wrote down what God has communicated as purposeful priorities in my life. I also wrote down what my life was being consumed by. Seeing it written down helped me to see that my energy had been exhausted by the wrong things. There were 7 things God had told me were a part of my purpose. At that time, I was doing 3. How many of you know that partial purpose isn't purpose at all? 80% of my time was devoted to the non-purposeful things.

Our society, especially for millennials, will have you thinking that you must work 2 full-time jobs, have 3 side hustles, be starting your own business, and running off 2 hours of sleep. Unintentionally, that was pretty much what I was doing, and there was little fruit from it because many of the things didn't have purpose. This forced me to drop some college classes, end my part-time jobs (I learned to trust God for my finances instead of thinking I needed to cling to side hustles for sustenance), and commit to guiltylessly using the word "NO" at work so I wouldn't over-commit myself. I learned to leave work while it's still light outside LOL. Doing this, I feel, has greatly increased my happiness because I'm not as stressed. YES- I probably could function with multiple jobs, extra side hustles, and little sleep, but I'm learning that not having balance or boundaries limits my ability to be flexible. Being used by God requires flexibility- check the Bible. People's plans were constantly changed with no heads up. You plan for being flexible by giving your calendar room to be filled, rather than filling it to capacity from day 1.

7) You can be successful without saying everything nor being in control of everything.
My mouth has always gotten me in trouble. Writing this now, I can so vividly hear my mom yelling saying, "... YOU AND THAT SMART ALECK MOUTH!" Growing up, I didn't have the humility to understand that my intelligence wasn't a license to say whatever, however.You CAN have the answer but communicate it tactfully. My clapback game was and is real strong, especially when I feel attacked or wronged. This year, I became more aware of my clapback spirit. I once prided myself on it (I also aced the "How Petty Are You" quiz SMH), but this year, the Lord told me to put it on my prayer list LOL.

Our generation applauds clapbacks and disrespect. Respect for authority is barely evident, so it's easy to be unbothered by saying whatever to whoever. When I first started my new job, my supervisor said, "Understand that you are a safe target. You will be on the receiving end of many people's frustration." I replied, "OH, absolutely not. I'm not finna be talked to any kind of way." I've had moments when I had no temperance and unleashed a verbal attack on people. I've even had moments where I was so frustrated with what was going on, that I refused to put any effort into my job because I didn't agree with the direction headed (typically because it wasn't what I wanted to do).

It was then that the Holy Spirit tapped me on my shoulder to really reveal that I struggle with not being in control, and sometimes it makes me not work well with others. I was a successful classroom teacher, led my team to success, so in my new position, I was subconsciously communicating that it was my way or the highway. One day, I went back to my post-its (lesson 6) and looked at the PURPOSE side. There, it said, "Pour into the lives of those at your schools. Show Christ." Instant. conviction. Such wasted energy into things God didn't tell me to do. These last few months, I've shifted, allowing my way to take a backseat and learning that I don't have to say everything I think. My time has been better spent encouraging others and being an example, instead of forcing them to do what I want because I have a need for control.

I'm so grateful for 2017. It was a year of pulling out some weeds from my Life's Garden, while planting seeds of what God wants to be reaped in the next season. I'm walking into 2018 ready to see a harvest.

What lessons did you learn in 2017?

Learning and maturing,

Dear God, You.are.awesome. Wow. When I look back on this year, I'm amazed at how You pushed me to do the work I needed to do, but wasn't aware needed to be done. While it wasn't pretty at times because You've showed me the ugliest parts of me, You've been there through it all to guide me. What a Friend You are. Tonight, I pray for anyone rading this. Let them gleam from it what they need. Use my transparency to encourage someone to do the work that further propels them on the path You have for them. Help us understand that walking closesly with You is a privilege. Helps us not take advantage of it. God, freed people free people. Use our testimonies for glory. Every piece of baggage and wrongdoing can be used to glorify You if we surrender. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.