Living forward

It's okay to look back, but keep moving forward. Jeff explores the Mayan ruins near Cozumel, Mexico, March 2011

It’s okay to look back, but keep moving forward.
Jeff explores the Mayan ruins near Cozumel, Mexico, March 2011

“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
Søren Kierkegaard

We’ve talked often here about the importance of surrendering the idea of control, and learning to make the best of whatever comes.  Setting a course for the future is wise and even necessary, but any plans we make are based on partial information about circumstances we have no way of fully knowing in advance.  Expecting perfect forecasting is asking the impossible of ourselves.

Often we hear or say “I just don’t understand why all this is happening.”  Of course we don’t!  How could we?  It’s usually not important for us to understand anyway.  It’s far more beneficial to say “I don’t know what I should do about this,” and then seek wisdom through prayer, information, contemplation, and talks with trusted friends and advisors.

Life doesn’t always make sense to us.  But we don’t have to understand everything to make good decisions and wise choices.  I think we’re more able to cope when we aren’t distracted by getting stuck on unanswerable questions.

If you ever find yourself spinning your mental wheels over issues you can’t control, or fretting over a difficult challenge, or overcome with sorrow at a loss or failure — give yourself permission to go forward anyway, without needing to understand it completely.  If we do the best we can with what we have, one day at a time, we often will be able to look back years later and see meaning that may elude us now.

One year ago today:

Blinking once-sealed eyes




  1. bobmielke

    I had to chuckle as I read your post today. It seemed to be written with me in mind. The turmoil I just went through with my living accommodations seemed tragic and insurmountable but God opens doors, answers prayer and is always faithful in His promise to take care of the kids of the kingdom. I am one blessed man!

    • Thanks for this affirmation Bob, I needed to hear it today. I am so happy your situation is working out for the best! This morning I was thinking of the story of Hagar (in Genesis 16) and how she called God “the One who sees me.” For me, it’s easier to have faith that things will work out when I remember that God sees everything, the whole picture, and knows all the back story about what is happening. Your comment encourages me to wait in faith for solutions to problems that seem to have no possible resolution.

  2. Ann

    Julia, I love your statement ‘”It’s okay to look backward , but keep moving forward.” The past can seem so appealing and alternatively we can get stuck wondering why certain things happened. But the present is what matters along with the moving forward. As Robert Browning said ‘…the best is yet to be.’

    • Ann, I love that poem by Browning. I made certain verses from it into a Valentine I gave Jeff just a few months after he was diagnosed with Stage IV. I so wanted him (and myself too) to be able to believe that there was a future ahead. I agree that the past is a mixed bag; much of it almost magically perfect, but also lots of hurts and thorns along the way. It’s so important to stay focused on things as they are, and work with what we have at hand. Thanks so much for being here!

  3. Amen, Julia!
    I’m hearing from your last paragraph, Jesus’ urging – despite our burdens and weaknesses, whether of our own doing or other, to keep moving forward; as a farmer who puts his hand to the plow.
    …”take up his cross and follow me.”- Matthew 16:24

    • Yes, and he was doubtless the Master at that, as with all the other things he taught. I need to take that message to heart. I’m having difficulty with feeling stuck — almost frozen — from just being overwhelmed by everything. This happens to me often after the intensity of a crisis passes. For me, the most daunting obstacle to overcome has always been the discouraging realization that the daily, unrelenting tasks continue to stretch on (often in more complex and demanding forms) in the wake of the bigger challenges that leave one exhausted. At such times I take comfort in a related verse in Matthew 11, with a somewhat different angle of the same message — “I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Sometimes I think I’m only now beginning to understand that verse.

      • Each morning I put aside 30 min. for prayer and a daily devotional. The devotional lasts the year and then the same devotionals are re-read the next. When one strikes a chord, I bend a dog’s ear, to mark the place. Since that I’ve been at this practice for years, nearly every page is now marked with a dog’s ear.

        I’ve found that as time passes, and I am subject to the effects of new events, a passage that had little impact a year prior, now leaps off the page!


        • Alan, Jeff and I find the same thing is true of the Bible – no matter how many times one reads it, there are always those passages that seem new or have a new message. We have several favorite devotional books, and Jeff reads aloud to Matt and me from one of them daily before dinner. We don’t read from the same one every year, but some we do go back to a few years later. It’s wonderful how the same words can continue to speak to us in new ways as we journey through life. There also are certain songs, particularly hymns, that have verses that mean more to me at certain times, or ideas I once did not understand that have become much more clear over the years.

  4. Thank u. I am learning not to dwell on the potential outcome, but to just enjoy the journey leading to the outcome; and, trust everything happens in accordance to His plan.

    • Thank you for that reminder. I am encouraged by these thoughts people are leaving for me today. I am in a sort of blue phase (not surprising, and I keep reminding myself “this too shall pass”) so really appreciate knowing that others are pressing on in faith and trust. Sitting on my desk right in front of me here is a quote from Maya Angelou that says “We are living art, created to hang on, stand up, forbear, continue and encourage others.” I appreciate you and others who are the living art that adorns this blog!

  5. raynard

    Julia my 22 almost 23 years in the military is”almost behind me in the review mirror” Lessons learned some will stay with me others” will be in the trash can of my memories if I dont recycle them.Humor & Trivia along with baking is just a few of my gifts I know have to share and not be selfish or stingy “so others can be encouraged. Thank you as always and “about that ice cream oreos and cream i did have after my men;s meeting Friday night..” lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I wish my memory did have a trash can where I could throw out the bad ones, but I guess they help me appreciate the good ones. 22+ years in the military is bound to come with plenty of good, bad, and all points in between. But Jeff and I agree that the military has been very good to us and we mostly hold onto the good memories. Do you have the Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit? If not, I should sent you our set, you would beat everybody at that version. I try to avoid Oreos (so I can eat more chocolate chip cookies instead) but I do like the Oreo ice cream. Ice cream sandwiches used to be my very favorite treat when I was little, and Oreo ice cream reminds me of that.

  6. Michael

    Here is a line from the Anne Lamont book “-Help, Thanks ,Wow” that I thought was quite good,” Grace can be a second wind that, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina, poignancy and the strength to hold on.” I think that line is worth the price of admission. Yes grace can be a second wind- so I wish you grace today. I think we all at times could use a second wind.
    I think there is a Billy Joel song that even says, “Don’t forget your second wind.”

    • That is definitely a great quote, and actually it feels like the story of my life. I’ll have to read that book soon. As it happens, today was very much a “second wind” day for me, from a psychological standpoint – so your wish came true! At least for today. Lately I’ve needed a second wind every day. I like that Billy Joel song although I don’t have that particular album. I used to listen to him all the time. Jeff and I went to see him in concert during his “52nd Street” tour in late 1978 and it was great. In my opinion, those years were his best. I read that he recorded that song “Only Human (Second Wind)” as an effort to combat teen suicide; he once attempted to commit suicide himself, according to Wikipedia.

  7. Michael

    Yes- I seem to remember hearing that also- about the song- and its relation to the theme of teen suicide. I agree those years were his best. That would have been neat to see him at some point.
    I am sure you have heard the term, ” compassion fatigue.” Nurses, medical workers, home care givers; are all vulnerable to this malady.So I hope your support system is in place and you get to take a nice long vacation soon. And I hope the blog has not become just another-” have to do” on your list. One of the questions I have to address for my chaplain certification is,” how do you practice, Self care.” They always say, “If you don’t take care of yourself-no one else will.”
    Anne Lamont is kind of a mixed bag, the dreadlocks not withstanding. I am finding her book,”Some assembly Required,” very self indulgent, at times profane( uses the F word quite a bit) also funny and at times insightful. I appreciate her sharing about her relation with her church family and pastor. I suppose it makes sense to keep digging for the nuggets within, but at page 110 I may just give it up as I have another book to read- by Jan Karon-” At home in Mitford.” What a dilemma. I think it is the first in the series.
    Back to Anne Lamont, Anne describes several scenes when she prays,” Her in laws would get out of her house ASAP.” How can she do that when these people are obviously still very much alive?.

    • Michael, my friend Ellis discusses “compassion fatigue” in her award-winning memoir about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s a very real difficulty to those of us who have to struggle with chronic, ongoing challenges – even the word “chronic” often creates, in people’s minds, the idea that the person simply MUST be exaggerating or perpetuating the crises. While this may be true in many cases, it’s certainly not true for all. The other problem — the dirty little secret no one is willing to talk about — is that, when a situation is obviously a lifelong and ongoing one, most family and friends will pull back out of the fear of getting “stuck” with some ongoing obligation for helping out. This leaves people even more isolated during a time when they most need support. It is perhaps the most difficult aspect of living with illness and disability, from an emotional standpoint. Lots more I could say on this, but as Raynard says, “I digress.” (Raynard do you ever feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger hearing everyone talk about him saying “I’ll BE BACK?”) 😀 Suffice it to say that one of the ways I have learned to practice self care is not to assume that the isolation is our fault, or that everyone will be equally unwilling to get close. Fear of rejection can be quite natural because the rejection is real, but it can also cause us to withdraw for self-protection and miss out on what else might be waiting for us.

      Re: Anne Lamott – she is definitely a mixed bag, at least for conservatives or for Christian readers (not always the same thing). I haven’t read her latest but I do find that her earlier works, before she had such a loyal following, seemed less self-indulgent than the later ones. You might want to try “Traveling Mercies” and see if you notice a difference. The widespread use of profanity, particularly the “F” word, bothers me on a lot of levels. For one thing, using the same word over and over is bad writing, according to most literary types, and I think a master of language would use it sparingly, if at all. But beyond that, I am bothered that the use of profanity seems to be a kind of recent fad among writers who self-identify as Christians or other spiritual types. It’s as if such people are out to prove something, like the fifth grader who wants to appear tough and cool and grown-up. Given the annoying (and sometimes justified) negative stereotypes of Christians as overly naive simpletons, it’s understandable that writers would want to break out of that mold. But gratuitous foul language is not (in my opinion) the way to do it. I also get annoyed that Lamott sometimes gets downright vicious when discussing her political opponents (shes as far left politically as they come). But as you say, she has some wonderful insights, and her writing is often a pure joy. Plus she brings a valuable viewpoint to the table; how many ex-addicts who were raised as leftist atheists are willing to convert to Christianity and be so vocal about it? In that sense, she is a treasure, and a courageous one at that. I’d advise starting with her early books, and taking the latest ones in small doses – and by all means, go ahead and start with Karon; she’s the perfect counter to a delightful but decidedly coarse nonfiction book (I hereby give you the librarian’s permission to have SEVERAL books going at one time! It’s easy!) Re – the remark about the in-laws – Lamott’s trademark is outrageous honesty, and I’m guessing there is some sort of family understanding about that. I hope so, anyway.

  8. Michael

    I AM not very good at multi-tasking. You can ask my wife about that. Never been able to read more than one book at a time. Sometimes I bog down in a book and I can’t go on. That happened to me with Brother’s Karamazov. After your comments on Lamott, I think I have a better appreciation and she may be as you say-” a treasure” – when you look at her story it is really pretty amazing and a wonderful witness.
    What is your friend’s memoir? – not ? five days at Memorial?” Also on my list for a bird’s eye view of Katrina and I thought my son the firefighter might also enjoy this. By the way, on my last trip to Atlanta I went to an” Active Shooter” workshop with my son at the Georgia technical Institute in North Marietta. With the increase in the number of shootings- three events here in Seattle in the last month- I become increasingly terrified that my son will one day find himself in the midst of some kind of a cross fire. In fact, last week there was a murder suicide at the little outdoor Marietta Park. What is going on?

    • Michael, it took me a long time to get through the Brothers K but the payoff was worth it. If I hadn’t been so crazy about Alyosha I might not have made it, though. My friend’s book was called Under Surge, Under Seige and I discussed it here, where you will find a link to the book’s website. You can read more about the author, Ellis, in this post.

      Re: the shootings – you asked “What is going on?” In my opinion it’s a symptom of many escalating problems in our country and the world at large: the erosion of respect, reverence, morality and common decency; the frenetic, entertainment-crazed culture that runs on noise, and hyper-stimulation and excess, leaving mental health frayed and near the snapping point; the widespread use of both illegal and legal/prescription drugs, and the selling of violence as entertainment in a variety of forms and media. If all that makes me sound old, so be it. I am thankful that nobody worried about being gunned down when I was in elementary school (or even high school), and that the worst behaviors I saw were backtalk, gum chewing and the occasional mumbled cuss word, notwithstanding some pot fumes in the restroom from time to time.

  9. Michael

    If you get a chance -check out the film, “Philomena.”, with Judy Dench in the lead. Wonderful story and message about -“Christian meaning of forgiveness.” Very profound. Iwatched it on Netflix.

    • Michael, we definitely will – thanks for the tip.

  10. Michael

    Although I don’t believe in Satan,- the scenario you describe above makes me wonder if there is not an intelligent source of evil working toward our destruction- bit by bit. It all seems very insidious. Then I wonder if I have just turned into my grandfather who was not in step with many of my teenage proclivities, but these seemed so much more benign compared with todays trends, systemic gun violence, prevalent drug use and decay of -as you say common decency. There is a difference between throwing a spit wad and an AK-47.

    • Michael, “insidious” is a very good word for it, and there are worse things than turning into your grandfather! 😀 I suppose there are those who might argue that the difference between spit wads and bullets is only one of degrees, but degrees do matter. On the other hand, as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point, (in the chapter about Giuliani and the “New York miracle” regarding crime) little things can metastasize into big, deadly things. I guess it would depend on whether the spit wad was meant as rowdy fun or disrespectful rebellion? But either way, we are far beyond that now. Sad to say, but no point in sugarcoating it.

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