Vision and Hindsight, A Tale of Two Lists

vision and hindsight, tale of two lists by Mackenzie ChesterThe year flew by.  This morning I was sitting at the kitchen table, lamenting all the things that I meant to do last year–my open journal with the list I scribbled down, wide-eyed, like a child on her birthday, a January ago.  Beautiful vision.  And just like that, I blinked, and those twelve months are memories, rising up like balloons and disappearing into the sky.

So many things didn’t happen.  So many goals not met.  So many days where we were stuck in a holding pattern of one sort or another…  The third trimester of pregnancy, birth, life with a newborn, walking the pace of the smallest child, doing each day and then doing the next.

Last January, I had not yet noticed the heavy shadow of grief looming over my life.  I didn’t know that I would be losing the radiant warmth and beauty of my Mother’s presence.  Her life set like a brilliant sun, and the light of all of my days are now colored by the shadow of her passing.

I wanted to do everything.  I wanted to do everything right.  I wanted that list to be checked off and graded as easily as my elementary spelling tests.  A+ parenting.  I did it all.

But the reality is, as hard as I tried, my vision for the year was not big enough to encompass the reality of what God was working out in our lives.  I delivered a beautiful baby boy.  I lost my Mother.  Both of these experiences, on opposite ends of the life-spectrum, have flooded my days with unexpected light and shadow.  Both experiences have slowed my pace and caused me to pause, look out the window at the rain falling, and rethink what life is all about.

And it isn’t as easy as a spelling test.

Look outside.  The rain is bitterly cold.  This winter has been long.  There is so little green.  The trees look as though they could never recover the color and warmth of springtimes past.  So many clouds.  So much of the world in shadow.

But there are secrets under the soil.  The beautiful life of every green thing lies safely dormant, protected from the biting January cold.

I am so blessed with the joy of a newborn’s daily presence.  My darling boy, experiencing everything for the first time…  His dear little face wakes me up to wonder.  His pure and sweet truelove for me.  His tiny, careful, gentle touch.  His perfectly turned-up nose.  There is just nothing like a baby.  And his little life, which God, in his lovingkindness, gave me as a beautiful gift between the hollow ache of losing a baby in the womb and the ocean waves of sadness following my Mother’s death, means more to me than I could ever say.  This little life is pure sunshine.  And in the shadow of a season of great loss, I am more thankful than ever for the brilliant light behind a baby’s eyes.  It will make so many good things grow.

I am humbled by the great work that God is doing in my life in allowing me to be a mother of seven children.  Sometimes it is hard to know if the seeds you are planting are going to take root and grow.  The work is so long and slow.  And there is no guarantee against bitter winters and false springs.  And I am not much of a gardener by nature.  But I am trying to learn.  Season by season.

I closed my journal and began to pray.

God, I offer myself to you.  Use me.  You know I am not getting it all right.  Use me in spite of my inability to figure it all out.  Use me as I stumble through grief and blunder my way through parenting.  Use me as I fumble my way through homeschooling, as I start and restart every kind of daily routine imaginable trying to make life work in each new season.  You know my heart.  I know I am never going to get it all right.  But I know there is even grace for my mistakes and weaknesses.  I just need vision for this day.  And that is something you promise to those who are seeking you.  That you will be the voice saying, “This is the way.  Walk in it.”  Use me, God.  Use what is fragrant and in bloom, use what is dormant for a day in the future, use what once was but no longer bears fruit and throw it into the compost heap of my life.


I turned to a new page of a new journal.  I started a new list.  Of things that actually happened last year.  All the big things I could remember.  And I began to feel my heavy heart lifting.  Like helium.

We had a baby. We took a trip to the beach. We added a basement of 900 square feet of usable creative space to our home.  I got a wheel and we began learning to make pottery. We started epic board game nights with the kids. My young sons picked up new instruments and began playing at church. My girls learned to decorate cakes. We fell in love with air dry clay. We wrote songs and stories, created art, read stacks of books, filled notebooks with our own unique hands and voices.  We added instruments to the family collection and accumulated hundreds of hours of family practice.  We made changes in the house that make life better.  We built a fire pit and camped in a tent. The kids learned to ride bikes. They learned to use the computer to create songs and movies and comics.  I wrote more and from places deep in my heart that continue to open up and surprise me.  I had people come alongside my creative work to support my writing and our family vision (Deepest thanks to all of my wonderful Patreon supporters!!!). I inherited my beautiful mother’s watercolors and brushes. We baptized four children.  We met around the table 3 times a day for nearly 365 days to share a meal and talk and be together. We shared so many amazing experiences as a family.  So much fruit.  So much growth.  So much we learned.

The year flew by.  I had almost forgotten how much time we spent working in the family garden. This morning I drank a cup of coffee, scribbled down a list of all the wonderful things we accomplished over the last 12 months.  Beautiful hindsight.  My heart was light like a birthday balloon.  And I walked into the morning ready to celebrate this beautiful life.  It is such a gift.  It is such a mystery.  And I am reminded that as I pray for vision and grace and daily do the best that I can, I will continue to see beautiful things growing out of this rich, fertile soil in every season to come.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Adrienne says:

    I love your perspective, and your transparency about your struggle with perspective. This reflection reminds me of the principles that we tend to find what we look for, and that what we focus on, grows. I love how vulnerably you share your initial sense of coming up short when you “assessed” your past year through the lens of your January 2019 vision list. And I appreciate the shift you model when you describe taking a second look at the past year through the lens of things you did do, either yourself or as a family, and at things that happened in the affirmative. Perhaps our desire to outline a vision for our lives serves its greatest purpose by inspiring us to strive beyond our comfort zones. And perhaps that striving, and that faith in our ability to rise beyond the known towards big dreams and goals, and towards big purpose and service, are themselves the goals, more so than “achieving” lives that perfectly mirror our vision boards or lists. I appreciate your ability to always find value in what is, just as it is, and your willingness to seek the wisdom in the what-is-ness of things.

    1. Yes to all of this, Adrienne. Thank you so much for reading and responding. I treasure your comments more than I could ever say.