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Reflections for a New Year: Regret, hope, and legacy.

| Posted by Harlan

I usually do a lot of editing to my writing. I try to be very clear and very precise about what I say and how I say it. This time around, I didn’t. What follows is a stream-of-consciousness rant that I think more adequately expresses the winding and messy journey life can be sometimes. It gets pretty personal and pretty real from here on out…for better and worse. It’s gritty because life is gritty. If you can handle that…read on.

I’ve written posts like this before. The twilight of another year invites reflection on the past and consideration toward the future. There’s the feeling that life is gradually slipping through your fingertips and at any moment you’ll look up and life as you know it will be over. It will be too late to do take that trip to Machu Picchu or to write the next great American novel. I’m not intending to be gloomy, it’s simply a fact. You and I are running out of time.

People take that feeling a few different ways. Some board up the windows to their souls and prepare for the storms of life and death to wash them away. Others put on that raincoat and power through, and live their days in a reckless abandon to fulfill all their goals. I think most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle. We want the abandon but fear the storm. Maybe I’m the only one. I’m going to go out on a limb here and get deeply personal for a moment, if you’ll allow it. I want to share with you my greatest fear; the one that keeps me up at night and messes with my entire universe.

I want to share with you my greatest fear; the one that keeps me up at night and messes with my entire universe.

I’m afraid I won’t leave a lasting legacy. One that my kids and grandkids can be proud of. But let me tell you the worst part. Instead of that being the fuel that pushes me on toward the abandon I desire, it is the looking glass that makes clear the grand infinite of the world and petrifies me. In other words, there are so many paths in life, and so many ways in which to leave behind a legacy. An encouraging thought to be sure, but every direction taken begets a direction rejected, and possibilities rendered impossible. But before I ramble on about the implications of freewill and a life of choices…I want to make a different point.

2012 was the most emotionally and spiritually challenging year of my life. To put it lightly, I did not enjoy 2012. Ask my wife and she’ll tell you, 2012 brought with it experiences and struggles we weren’t prepared for and never want to face again. To put it more bluntly, 2012 sucked. Sure, there were highlights, and the last few months were a peeking sun on an otherwise cloudy year. But overall, it’s a year I’m very much looking forward to putting behind us. I’ll spare you details, and instead will offer the quickest of recaps. Lapses in judgment by myself and others played out in a cluster of strained or destroyed relationships. The burden it put on my family (admittedly somewhat self-inflicted) brought us to a breaking point. It’s safe to say we almost didn’t make it. Grasping at straws for support, we found it lacking where we hoped and present where we least expected. We woke up in the summer lost and with little hope. At this present moment I feel I’m coming off dramatic, but it’s difficult to truly convey in words what hopelessness feels like.

Despite the bitter start to 2012, something changed during the summer. I can’t put my finger on it. A spark maybe. The flame that once stood, now squandered and buried in the rubble of bridges and all that had burned down. Grand phoenix metaphors aside, when all was deemed lost, the spark found a way to kindle. Not just within my marriage but within myself as well. It certainly wasn’t immediate. Just as an ember takes a while to rise to form a flame, I still found myself still reeling in the effects of a life gone astray. I read an article recently by Bill Lokey on living with regret, in which he said something very resonant to me. He said, “One of the most painful things about looking back is the realization that those decisions reflected on who I was, or the greater fear, who I am.” I hated admitting that I was not the person that I thought I was. Confidence was shattered…and the journey back will undoubtedly be an arduous one. But it’s a journey worth making.

The person you become because of (or in spite of) your circumstances is what will define you in the end.

So let’s look at the odyssey ahead then, shall we? It’s not my intention to live in the past. One of my dearest friends Noah and I have a running conversation about how he dwells on his past too much and I dwell on mine not enough. I don’t tend to hold on to things very long…and I believe shame is something far from God. Yet, I could stand to learn something from my friend. There’s wisdom in the realization that your past affects your future. And those directions we took rejected other directions. There’s wisdom in being aware of the cracks in your foundation, or the blind spots in your resolve. If we are unaware of our blind spots, we neglect to check them. I’ve driven a vehicle long enough to know the dangers of neglecting blind spots. But on the flip side, if I can impart some wisdom, looking at your blind spots for too long creates an equally dangerous situation. Suddenly you’ve lost sight of where it is you were going. The road ahead has challenges of it’s own, and watching your step is a good idea.

My road ahead is a hopeful one. I’m not big on resolutions…mostly because I think true change is a process of shifting motivations, not a gesture made at midnight once a year. Sure, I hope to wake up January 1st, 2014 with fewer inches around my waist and with more good habits than bad. I want to spend less money and more time. (I’ll make a proper resolution list later perhaps.) But more than anything…I’m making a pledge to myself. Look forward and live now. The past affects you but doesn’t define you. World-renowned psychologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The person you become because of (or in spite of) your circumstances is what will define you in the end.

The legacy I want to leave behind is not one of perfection but of perseverance. I may not lose those pounds, hike Machu Picchu or write the next great American novel. I may not become a great man of faith. My relationship with Jesus may remain a complicated one. I may continue to struggle daily to make sense of the world I live in. But in the end, I want people to say I never gave up. I pressed on. I was kind and compassionate. I hoped relentlessly. I loved fiercely.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – Winston Churchill

Our journeys don’t start in 2013. They continue.

Husband. Father. Amateur Entrepreneur at @paradigmdfw, @orsorealty, & @grymttrs. Collector of hobbies.

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