The End Is Near!

 

I don’t know when the world will end, but the end of the calendar year is in four days. Whether it was a good year or a bad year for you, 2018 will soon expire. You will have survived another 365 days of life. But what’s the significance of this end? Is it simply that you’ll now need to buy a 2019 calendar?

When the end of the year approaches, the main focus is on what’s ahead, i.e., a new year. People look forward to a new start; resolutions are made–usually to be broken. But short shrift is given to what’s happened in the immediate past, the year which is ending. Oh, sure. Newspapers and magazines will compile a list of the top stories of the year, and a person of the year is named. The average Joe, though, is not one to look back and reflect on the events he’s personally just lived through. That lack of review is both sad and short-sighted.

Author Roy T. Bennett tells us that “The past is a place of reference…a place of learning….” If we don’t consider the past, then what will we have learned by living through it? Certainly you have heard that those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. I don’t like to make mistakes. Making the same mistake twice is even worse. Don’t we want to put our past experience to use and learn from our mistakes?

Now that Christmas is over, visions of sugar plums are no longer dancing in our heads. So let’s put our thinking caps on, as my dear mother always said, to conduct a post-mortem on the year just passed. If we don’t do it now, we might forget what happened. Don’t think this is true? Quick! Tell me what you have for lunch last Friday. Ha! Told you so!

Yes, I’m going to practice what I preach. I will utilize this blog post to determine what life lessons I have learned during 2018 that can benefit me as I maneuver through 2019. If I’m not learning anything, then I’m either stagnant, too lazy to think about it, or dead. I don’t like any of those options, so here goes.

The first lesson learned from my review of 2018 is that independence is overrated; you get by with a little help from your friends. No man, and no author, is an island. I am absolutely amazed at the encouragement, advice, inspiration, and friendship I have received from fellow authors in my Destin Word Weavers critique group. A tip from one group member led to the staff writing gig I obtained this year with adoption.com. When I first started writing seriously and regularly, I naively felt that I knew what I was doing and did not need “help.” Boy, was I ever wrong. Everyone needs help.

A second lesson learned when viewing 2018 in retrospect is that reality and my perception of reality are not necessarily the same. Sometimes we feel that what we do or say isn’t that big a deal or doesn’t have that much impact. But we can be very wrong.

In the first part of October I was in Budapest, Hungary on a missionary care retreat. Our group cooked for visiting missionaries, went on outings with them, played games such as Heads Up with them, and worshiped with them. There was no visible, concrete result from our time together such as a well having been dug. I questioned whether I had traveled overseas merely for a fun time doing fluff. That notion was blown up in a final worship gathering when one of the missionaries was in tears; she said that we would never know just how much our time with her meant to her. I was blown away. I was also struck by how actions I took or things I said with little thought were of such consequence to someone else. Maybe I should be a bit more considered with my speech and actions in the coming year.

A final life lesson that really hit home with me in 2018 is not to let trappings trip me up. As the Christmas season zoomed by, I was concerned that I hadn’t gotten my Christmas tree until mid-December and (I confess) I never decorated it. I did not get out every Christmas trinket and ornament which I have collected over the many years of my adult life. In fact, I didn’t even have the opportunity to cook a holiday meal on Christmas due to work obligations and family illness. But, like the Grinch, it dawned on me that these trappings were a superficial and even superfluous part of Christmas.

Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. Jesus was born in a lowly and undecorated stable. I doubt Mary was feeling like whipping up a holiday feast after birthing the little Lord Jesus. Decorations and feasts are simply trappings which distract us from the true meaning of  CHRISTmas. While I may not have decorated a tree, I did attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service to worship. I didn’t slave over a hot stove producing more food than I really need to eat anyway, but I did pore over some Scripture to focus on my faith and what I have to be thankful for. [HINT: It doesn’t come in a box wrapped with Christmas paper; it came in a manger.]

Viewing 2018 in hindsight, I am happy to say that I have identified some life lessons from the year’s events, i.e., I do need help from my friends, I need to be more considered in my thoughts and actions, and I shouldn’t get caught up in trappings. While these are wonderful takeaways, they will only benefit me if I move from not simply learning them, but living based on those lessons. Yes, I look forward to 2019, but not simply because it is a fresh start. It is also an opportunity to put into practice what I have learned in the year just ended. The end of the calendar year is not the end, it is just the beginning of the next chapter in my life which will be shaped by my experiences from the year just ended.

Just WONDER-ing: Do you look back over the events of the past year or do you prefer to let the past stay in the past? Have you learned any lessons from your experiences in 2018? Will they impact your actions in 2019?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alpha And Omega — It’s All Greek To Us

Happy New Year!  January 1st marked the beginning of a new year–2018.   But for there to be a new year, an old one, 2017, had to end.  We said good-bye, and possibly good riddance, to 2017, but we welcomed 2018 with open arms.  Baby New Year knocked, and we raced to throw open the door and admit him.  2017 was tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage in our rush to grab a fresh start.  The end and yet a beginning faces us.

Beginnings and endings may be opposite, but they are inextricably linked.  If one considers beginnings in the cold sober light of day (as opposed to the delirium and likely intoxication of New Year’s festivities), only one conclusion is reasonable.  Beginnings aren’t possible without something ending.

This thinking isn’t rocket science.  I mean, can you name any beginning that isn’t preceded by an ending?  A baby is born; a pregnancy has ended.  A child graduates; her formal educational period has ended.  A couple gets married; their days as singles are over.  A worker retires and begins a life of leisure; his work days have ended.  A meal is served; food preparation is completed.  The sun rises to signal a new day; the night has passed.

Not only does an ending inevitably precede a beginning, but an ending doesn’t simply go away; it impacts the beginning.  A beginning is built on what has ended.  If a marriage ends in divorce, an ex-spouse may enter the world with a bad taste for romance and a cynical view of the opposite sex.  The beginning of single life and any new romantic encounters will undoubtedly be affected, perhaps even tainted, by that past ending.

How typical and appealing it is at the start of a new year to focus merely on a beginning and a fresh start.  But without considering what came before, i.e., what has ended, our likelihood of success at whatever we are resolving to do is minimal.  Perhaps we should ask what came before such that a new beginning is needed or desired.  If our resolution is to lose weight, we should consider how we got to the point where extra pounds have been added.  Were our eating habits at the end of the preceding year undisciplined?  Was food being used to feed an emotional need?  Only by taking into account the ending will the beginning have a good chance for success.

Alpha and Omega are bookends for the Greek alphabet.  Alpha is the first letter, and Omega is the last.  Alpha denotes the beginning while Omega denotes the ending.  Alpha and Omega may be 22 letters apart (yes, the Greek alphabet is only 24 letters long), but they are linked by the letters in between.  Alpha and Omega are at opposite ends of the alphabet, but they are both necessary for a complete listing.  The bottom line is that there is no whole without a beginning and an end.

Referring to Alpha and Omega when speaking of beginning and endings underscores that the past does matter.  The ancient Greek civilization ended, but its accomplishments affected the beginning of others.  I may not grasp all that the Greeks did, but I understand that their alphabet had a beginning and an end.

As Christians, endings and beginnings are important, and they aren’t always tied to a calendar.  Becoming a Christian is a new beginning resulting from the ending of the old sinful man; we are new creatures in Christ.  (2 Cor. 5:17)  Our gratitude and joy in this new state is impacted and even greater when we consider how hopeless our previous state was.

While it might be fun to debate when the world actually was created (DUH–in the beginning) and when it might end (the end is near! or not), what’s even more important is WHO is the beginning and the end.  Revelation tells us three different times (1:8; 21:6 and 22:13) that God is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the first and the last.  He is the beginning and the end.  He is the whole and the One who can make us whole.  If we begin this year with Him, He will see us through to the end.  2017 ended, but His presence in our lives does not even as a new year begins.  Now that makes for a happy new year.