I'm a self-help book junkie. It's true. If you look at my Kindle list... you will see it! Most of my books are about marketing, relationships, building businesses, and living with people on the autistic spectrum. A look at my library ten years ago and you would have seen 500 plus ministry books on worship, prayer and spiritual warfare. Five years before that you would have noticed that I was searching for peace with a chronic illness and dietary direction. I knew everything about the standard american diet and why it's destroying the health of our people and I was determined not to go that route (which I held to for a few years at least). I was very near becoming a homeopathic healer. Before I married I read lots of books on "how to be single" (just in case). Yes, I have a long history of self-help books.
Have they helped? Good question. Some have, some haven't. I really think that they have probably made me the person that I am today; someone who questions life and weighs the cause and effects of my actions. They have made me more aware. That coupled with a few good stints of therapy have helped me view life from a broad perspective. I have learned how to look after my own needs, while I meet the needs of others. I have learned how not to lose myself and how to continue to march forward in the face of adversity. I have learned to give grace to others. I have learned how to take really good care of my body and although I've slipped in that regard, I'm trying to get back to that. Most recently I have learned how to make demands on my life and the world and to be very specific about what it is that I want and need. I used to be afraid to do that because I thought that God ordained my every day and action. It felt kind of futile to make plans if my almighty Father was just going to come in and change it all around anyway.
As a child, one of the many verses that I remember is James 4:13-15. I recall sitting on the stairs in the kitchen facing the back door while my father read that verse one day after a meal and it stuck.
"Now listen, you who say, "today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'"
If you read on the next verses are about boasting. This whole passage is about boasting NOT planning! Somewhere in my little young mind that day I decided that it was not 'godly' to plan. That my friends is a recipe for disaster in a life that needs direction and focus. My 25 year bout with chronic illness only secured the knowledge that I really didn't have a lot of control over my life.
Today I decided to balance that notion with a few other verses. (Ok, I was probably 12 when the first idea dawned on me and now almost 40 years later I'm 'getting a clue'). Proverbs 29:18. "Where there is no vision, the people perish". Or Habakkuk 2:2: "Write the vision, make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it".
Which leads me to my point. This morning, I sat down and planned. I didn't plan a general "where do I want to be in the next 5 or 10 years" plan like the books tell us to do. No. I planned out my life and the lives of my children too. I planned their marriages, graduations and grad schools. I speculated on timing of things I will not mention. Lest you think I've gone mad, rest assured I know I can't REALLY plan these things and I know my life really IS in the hands of God. However, I just needed some focus, some direction. The last time that I set goals it went like this: "Get married, have kids, do ministry". Then the goals changed to "make enough money to support the family, get healthy". Then it was "be a good photographer and teach". I think it's time for an update. In lieu of the fact that I have passed the half way marker of my life (maybe by quite a bit), I think it's time to get even MORE specific.
I started out by recounting the past five years. In thinking back on them, so many things have become a blur. Seems I may have been living on sheer adrenaline with little use of my brain. Systematically I mapped out my years broken up by summer and Christmas. I noted things like the death of my little dog Angel and the time I replaced her with my current fluffy family members. I thought back to the three year long attempt at selling our house in North Carolina and the years of redoing it by ourselves on a shoestring budget while my husband worked two jobs and I ran my busy photography business. I recorded two moves and a bunch of conferences, photography schools and projects. It was actually a tiring experience seeing all that I had done in the past five years and wondered where I found the energy.
Then I set my sights on the next five years. Two children in college, my husband and I each planning on going back to school, him for an MBA (he already has an Mdiv) and me for an MFA so that I can teach art/photography at a college level. I planned my weight loss goals and how much weight I could lose by a certain time if I'm really disciplined. This added 20 years of health to my life so now I was free to figure things out past the age of 60.
Before, my goals went something like this: "Some day I will get my MFA". Some day I will go to Europe. Some day I will make more money so that I can do what I want with my life (I didn't even set an amount)." By getting specific and laying it all out by the month and year, I now have a goal to reach for. It tells me that life will not always be the way it is now. I won't be paying school tuition for my kids forever. They will eventually move on and get jobs and hopefully marry and have fulfilling lives of their own. I will get to travel and see all the places in the world that I'm itching to visit before they have to wheel me around in a chair. I will meet my life's objectives (God willing). :)
Ok, it's your turn. This week sometime or maybe today as your creativity exercise, can you map out your life? Be specific. What are the things that are really important for you to do? What are the challenges that you face now and what is your plan to eradicate them or at least bring some sense of peace? Do you need a job or are you interested in starting your own business? Are you happy and fulfilled? When you look back at the end of your life what will you wish you had done? What regrets can you fend off now?
Life really does go fast! In your 20's you don't think it will, in your 30's you still feel pretty invincible. At 40 you feel like you've hit your stride but as you near your 50's, 60's and 70's, you realize that life passes in the blink of an eye. Don't let your days flitter by without purpose and determination. Be as deliberate about your life plan as you are about your career plans or about education for your children. Get that pen and paper out and start planning... if you want make it an art project... be creative about it! Look ahead to the future with hope and passion... it's good for the soul!