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While looking at my personal year in review and started writing down lessons to learn from each instance, I found most of them started with the same words I hear the Holy Spirit speaking to me about 2014: “Don’t Be Afraid.”

             One of my favorite things about the New Year’s festivities is watching the various “Year in Reviews”.     It always surprises me how many things I forgot as I find myself saying, “Oh yeah, I remember when that happened.”     It’s amazing how many things that seemed so important, so crucial at the time seem to get tucked into the storage vaults in our memories never to be heard from again---at least not until we decide to take a stroll down memory lane and visit them.   

 

            This year, as we kissed 2013 “goodbye” and welcomed in a New Year, I challenged myself to put together my own “Year in Review”.     Quoting an old saying,  I can see that 2013 was the best of times and the worst of times.   There were moments of extreme highs when I found myself thinking, “Pinch me and let me know this is real, because I just can’t believe something this amazing is actually happening to me.”    Of course, there were also days when I thought, “Pinch me and wake me up so this nightmare will end.”    Yes, it was definitely a year of extremes.   

 

            There were very, very good times and very, very bad times.   As I began to assemble my own “Year in Review” I found myself praying these words:

 

            Heavenly Father, I don’t want to drag any unnecessary emotional baggage from 2013 with me into 2014.  I also don’t want to forget any of the valuable lessons that I learned along the way.   So this year, when the clock strikes midnight, please help me to check all unnecessary baggage at the door.  Help me to take the lessons I learned and carry them like treasured souvenirs and leave the rest behind. 

 

            It was almost as if I could see myself returning from a trip loaded down with luggage that was filled with dirty laundry.   What’s the first thing I do when I get back from a trip?   Okay, first I usually plop it all on the laundry room floor and get a shower and a good night’s sleep---but first thing the next morning I wash the dirty clothes and put them away.   I throw away the things that managed to find their way into my bags that seem simply useless now.   I throw away any half-eaten food that may have made a round-trip, and put all of our ministry paraphernalia back in its usual place of storage.  

Within a few hours of returning home, pretty much everything is cleaned up and put away---except for a few things.   Those things are the souvenirs we picked up along the way.  Let’s face it, we don’t pick these things up to pack them away.  We buy them to display them and help us remember the good parts of our journey as we return to our everyday lives or prepare for another journey.

 

           What I realized as I was praying is that the journey of 2013 has come to an end.   All of its beauty, adventure, trials and turbulence can never be lived again.   Along the way, we’ve picked up a lot of dirty laundry and lots of junk made it into our bags.    Yet, hidden among all of this stinky stuff are treasures that shouldn’t be discarded---the lessons that we learned that should never be forgotten.   They are our souvenirs, and in a way, they are a solid foundation on which to continue building in 2014.  

 

          In my case, I found that as I started writing down my lessons and collecting my souvenirs from 2013, ironically, most of them started with the same words I hear the Holy Spirit speaking to me about 2014: “Don’t Be Afraid.” 

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Embrace the New.  

  2. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Who God Created You to Be and Do What He Called You to Do. 

  3. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Vulnerable and Share What God Has Done in Your Life.

  4. Don’t Be Controlled by Fear or Anything Else.  Only Be Controlled By God.

  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Go of Something Good, to Grasp Something Even Better.

  6. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Through the Open Door.

  7. Don’t Be Afraid to Trust Your Gut.

  8. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Up for What You Believe In.

  9. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No” if You Believe Something Isn’t God’s Will.

  10. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice or Accept Constructive Criticism---Listening to Wiser People Produces Better Results.  

  11. Get to Know People Before You Determine Who They Are—Good or Bad.  

  12. Praying for Enemies Really Does Heal Your Heart.

  13. Don’t Be Afraid of Outreach---The Church’s Purpose is Evangelism and Discipleship of the Lost.

  14. Look At Life Through the Eyes of Eternity---Ask Yourself, "Could I Stand Before Jesus and Defend My Choice?” 

  15. Don’t Be Afraid to Love.

  16. Don’t Be Afraid of Pain---Pain is a Part of Life.  Feeling No Pain Isn’t Really Living.

  17. Don’t Be Afraid to Trust Someone Just Because Someone Else Betrayed Your Trust.

  18. Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Off the Cliff Spiritually---Miracles Are Waiting On the Other Side.

          

         Wouldn’t you like to know the stories that go along with all of these lessons?   Like I said, it was an interesting year.  To be honest, each lesson came through a struggle.   Each one is like a medal that a soldier earns for successfully fighting a battle.   

Although I don’t care to repeat any of those spiritual skirmishes any time soon,   now that they are over, I am so grateful for the life lessons.  As I look forward to 2014, I can see that these lessons along with many more were all designed to prepare me to answer the Holy Spirit’s call in 2014 to “Follow God Fearlessly.”   After all, most of them start with “Do Not Fear.”

 

         That’s the amazing thing about our Heavenly Father---everything He does is a part of His plan.   In each one of our lives, He has a plan.   Every trial and struggle, victory or lesson learned happens for a purpose.    Just like you don’t know all of the stories behind the lessons that I learned in 2013, I don’t know what you experienced in 2013.   However, I know that whatever you experienced, whatever battles you encountered, victories you experienced, or trials you endured, if you will allow Him, God will use each of these things to mold you and shape you into the image of His Son and bring you one step closer to fulfilling your purpose in His kingdom.  

 

          Each life experience has the possibility to be a life lesson that will give you new insight and prepare you for the next step God has planned for you.    In the end, each battle, each struggle, and each encounter that you have with God becomes a part of your testimony.   It’s another chapter, another nugget of truth that you can share to help or encourage someone who is going through a similar struggle or difficulty.

 

         Nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom.   Whether it be your greatest moment or you deepest darkest valley, God can use it to make something beautiful and something good if you will allow Him.   Maybe right now, you can’t see all of the treasures hidden among the luggage in your life---still, it’s there.    It’s just waiting for you and the Holy Spirit to sort through it and begin separating the laundry from the souvenirs---to gather the treasures and lay the rest aside. 

 

       This truly is my heart’s desire.  As we go through January and the rest of 2014, I hope that it will be your heart’s desire, too.   I pray that you will make time to sort out the luggage of your life, checking anything that’s unnecessary, toxic, or unhealthy at the door and carrying with you only the souvenirs’ of lessons learned, character developed, and a victor’s testimony that you can share into the New Year.  

 

 

 

 

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