Typically, when December 25th comes to a close, December 31st appears suddenly and far too quickly. Much like a junebug on a windshield.
I usually take that week to mull over the year, swoon over sweetness and sit in any sour. I like to remember and cherish and give a voice to all the parts of the year I can recall. I'm not really into setting big goals or themes or words for the coming year, because the truth is I forget about them quickly. If I want to do something, I will do it, and it doesn't need to be at the start of a new year.
2017 was an intense year in its entirety.
It held more hospital stays, more possible diagnoses, more school for Loren, Sage and Ira turning one (two one year olds!), more working from home for me, more eagerness to become foster parents...I wrote and self-published an entire book, I grew my photography business into our sole income (yikes this is still so scary), we put together a life-style documentary with Jeremiah Wilson, and all the other in between life things that were lived.
My routine of New Year reflection began earlier than is usual.
I spent much of 2017 in my head thinking through all the ways I was behind, all the things I needed to do, the podcasts I needed to pitch myself as a guest on, the blogs and websites I wanted to post on, growing my community here and there and everywhere. And of course the constant question of: how would I find more photography clients and continue bringing in money through the winter?
I consistently allowed my anxiety to play out, pulling me out of the present, withdrawing into either the past or the future, constantly stuck everywhere but here and now. I was rarely in the present, always replaying conversations that were had or that were to come, over-analyzing everything. Mistakes, conversations, to-do's, parenting, decisions.
Anxiety has been a thing I've struggled with through my life, and I like to think I have beaten it through gratitude...but the reality is I haven't completely beaten it.
I continue to battle the detachment dread and doubt and worry incites, but I am aware it exists in my life and I have tools to resist it.
Anxiety suffocates my present moments, stealing my joy and replacing it with fear of what was or what is to come.
Three months into my book launch, I was spending countless hours living out the days distracted by all the ways I was not doing—everything I "should" have been doing: getting on one podcast a week, guest posting on bigger websites once a week, pitching myself to speaking engagements, finding influencers to share my book, writing on my own blog, sending emails, responding to emails, growing all the places They tell you to grow.
But three months in when it was clear I was not as quickly making back the money I put into this book (listen, this isn't why I wrote the book...but I also didn't realize I'd only make less than $1/book), I knew in my gut I needed to reassess where I was putting the very little extra time I had.
The reality was, book writing and publishing and being an author was not and could not sustain us. At all. Not even close. It could buy me an extra session of counseling, maybe, but that was it. I was running the rat race and was missing out on so much of my quickly-growing-miracle boys. I was tired. I was too often tied up in my own thoughts, getting through the days with my boys halfway present, and anxious to get them to bed so I could work for the two hours before they woke back up.
And I hated that. But I felt so stuck.
I knew I needed to shift my focus and time and little energy to my photography business. I needed to keep our bills paid and food on our table, while Loren went to night school + had a full time non-paid internship. You know?
Presence. I craved it.
The word was whispered into my soul on multiple occasions, month after month, making itself known that my posture needed to be one of purposeful presence.
The end of 2017 turned itself into nearly our greatest nightmare. With my knees bent and my head bowed on the hospital bed, my priorities shifted entirely as I witnessed my son escape the grip of death.
His life was saved solely by the grace of God, and what a mercy to meet this miracle. The medical professionals agreed: his life lived was mercy and grace.
As 2017 prepared to cross into 2018, I continued to want to do all the things: I want to write books every other year, to be a blogger and share great resources. I want to live a life worth sharing, learning more about and lending myself as support to refugees. I want to work at being a piece of the bridge of social and racial justice. I crave to be a huge adoption advocate and even educator. Adopt again? Yes please, and as soon as possible. Be foster parents and respite care providers? I'm in. I want to learn and share what I am learning about transracial adoption, justice, Jesus, grace, and all the things. My table...I want it widened and deepened with new faces and different-from-me experiences, I want to be an activist, active in our community and nation. I want to travel for my photography and speaking engagements. I want to encourage you. To serve you. To bring you along with me on this wild journey of chasing grace and letting it transform us into who we were made to be.
It's painful knowing how much there is to do, wanting all of these important things to be my main priorities.
But as I watched my son lay on a hospital bed in a cold room overlooking the great city of Portland, with tubes and needles coming out of every space of him, cords connected to machines beeping and letting us know where his body was at...I was reminded of my limitedness.
I likely won't share the details of what happened with Sage, and in the end...I don't have to share. What I do want to share is that I don't live by the mantra "God is in control." Instead, I live by the truth and cling to the reality that "God is with me." And when we were stuck in the longest week of our lives—our very dark and traumatic event—God was absolutely with me. His presence rang through the hospital like none other, through community.
I was forced to reprioritize presence, because presence was all that mattered. If I am running in a million and one directions, prioritizing everything...I am prioritizing nothing and forsaking my people.
In attempting to being limitless in all that I do and all the things I pour my heart into, I was finding myself limited in every aspect of my life.
Colossians 3:23 was my absolute favorite verse in high school and college: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for humans..."
In running the rat race and chasing the tiny bit of cheese, I continuously found myself craving the approval of The Man, whoever he even is. I wanted to do it all right, I wanted to launch a great book, I wanted to be an advocate in so many ways and so many good things, I wanted to be sharing His grace and mercy and wisdom in every way possible....but I ended up empty because I was never fully present with the people He put in my presence.
I don't want another year to go by where I find myself drowning by the dread of anxiety, constantly caught in the past or the future. I want to fight to be present, especially when I am with my littles, my husband, my Imago Dei community, my Barber Home Community, my foster/adoptive parent friends, my family.
This means I may not get to that book proposal I've been chatting with a publisher about. I may not sell as many copes of This Undeserved Life as I had hoped. I may not be on as many podcasts. I may not have a fast growing community, or create a free adoption resource course, or create different resources as I had been planning.
Whatever I am doing, whoever I am with, I want to work at being present in the very moment as though I was with Jesus in the flesh.
It's hard work, destroying the habit of allowing anxiety to rule.
But I can do it. I can fight to remain present in any given moment, because we do not get today back. Once today passes, it is gone, and all that is left is the memory of yesterday.
For 2018, may we be more present with whoever we are with and whatever task is before us in any given moment.
May we resist anxiety by remaining here and now, not withdrawing into the past or the future.
And may we continuously find the reasons, both big and minute, to give genuine thanks.
It's always an honor to have you here with me.
It has taken me about two weeks since our family's traumatic week to feel the ground beneath me, to breathe a bit easier, to not break down multiple times a day.
Now that we are back home and settling into our routine for the next few months as Loren finishes out his graduate program and we continue to live off of Natalie Brenner Photography, LLC, I thought I would celebrate by doing a giveaway!
Entering is SUPER SIMPLE, all you do is enter your email. The giveaway will run for a week :) You will receive an email next Thursday letting you know whether or not you've won.
Happy Thursday, friends!