Looking Back But Moving Forward

It’s amazing what can happen in a year, isn’t it?

The days are just packed. The alarm always goes off too early. The hours go by each morning. Tasks fill our afternoons; people and entertainment occupy our evenings. Sleep offers the smallest retreat, but the cycle tenaciously, emphatically kicks us back around.

Our thoughts get lost in minutiae, or maybe they stick with those who’ve touched our lives, the people who added flavor to our mundane moments or trouble to our peaceful ones. Yet we can be grateful for every one who has played a role in our stories, and how they’ve made passing time less empty and more abundant. Fellow humans have always made or broken our days, our years, and our lives.

Worries and memories expand to fill more than our minds, and pretty soon our days go by without hardly a wink. We move at blistering paces that feel like a snail’s in the moment, but a month or a season is gone just like that.

Each minute feels like an eternity while we live it, but the vehicle of our lives seems too fast to reflect upon. Soon, we’re overwhelmed by what we wished we had done, or people we would’ve rather spent our time with, or dreams we should’ve worked to fulfill.

Before we know it, the end of something arrives and life stares back at us, asking what we’ll do next.

Retracing Steps in the Pacific Northwest

Kati and I are visiting family in Oregon this week. It’s like a homecoming, though we will never fully be at home again, but we’re learning to be okay with that. It’s a curious thing to return to a place that means so much, that holds so many of our memories and affections.

We retraced some of the steps we took just last summer, taking in the sights and smells of the great Pacific Northwest and remembering where our minds and hearts and lives were at those points in time.

There’s nothing quite like the expanses of Douglas Fir lining every mountain ridge and coastal bay.

Portland’s food and coffee culture still reign supreme. It’s a wonder the city’s residents stay as slim as they do, with endless craft beer and finely honed culinary treats in every direction.

We were flattered with this great land’s spectacles, arriving at Cannon Beach just as sunset morphed the clouded skies from vibrant colors into darkness punctuated by campfires on the beach.

We joined a handful of locals for breakfast at a tiny diner the minute it opened, stumbling into an outpost of retirees who were quite content with their morning routines. I felt as though I had become one of them, an old man donning flannel and sharing huevos rancheros and French toast with my wife, taking in the morning light burning through the Northwest fog.

Driving the coastal highway, vista after vista, reminded me why I’m Midwestern by birth and Southern by choice, but I’ll always be Northwestern at heart.

What to Make of the Past

Last year, as I spent my days in some of the same places I’m now revisiting, I would never have guessed what my life would look like in only a year’s time.

There are few things as powerful as revisiting places that hold some of our fondest memories. The good times are always the ones we want to remember, but they’re so slippery that it’s difficult to hold our attention on them for long.

For some of us, familiar places hold the worst memories.

Places of deep pain, terrible sadness, or the most sorrowful regrets. Not everything in our past is reconcilable; maybe it’s not meant to be. But those places and memories haunt us nonetheless.

What’s beautiful about where we’ve been — not purely good nor bad, but a potent concoction of the two – is that we can never change details of our past, but we can decide how it will impact our future.

No one is stuck in the past if he can choose how it will affect his future.

Everyone has potential to transform the direction of their lives if they first recognize the path they’ve already been walking on. You won’t find your location on a map if you’re oblivious to the roads you’ve driven on to get where you are.

Moving Forward

A few lyrics of a song rattle around in my mind these days. Particularly when the tune revisits me while I drive around town or as I hike through summer’s shady forests, my step picks up and I’m a little more grateful to be alive.

The song goes like this:

I found life and I found laughter
In forgiveness I found rest
On the shoulders of redemption
I found hope when hope was dead
I could lose it in a moment
So I dare not close my eyes
Or watch fear fall with the sunset
And see hope rise with the tide

 And when the pain is true
Sometimes these troubles prove that I’m alive

My eyes are open, my heart is beating
My lungs are full and my body’s breathing
I’m moving forward, I’ve found my freedom
I’ve found the life that gave me reason to live

As this dusty road now settles
And I see what lay before
Every tear that held a broken dream
Is now shattered on the floor
And now bursting forth in splendor
Are the blossoms of second tries
Because dreams that bear the mark of love
Are dreams that never die

Life can feel so unkind
But sorrow won’t define me
So just reminds my soul
My soul

My eyes are open, my heart is beating
My lungs are full and my body’s breathing
I’m moving forward, I’ve found my freedom

I know the sorrow, I know the heartache
I know with fear comes a tragic heartbreak
But I’m moving forward, I’ve found my freedom
I’ve found the life that gave a reason to love

 – “Moving Forward,” Colony House

Look back to remember, but don’t try to live in the past.

Embrace new seasons and opportunities. Take calculated risks but improvise when plans fail.

Keep moving forward.

You can do more with your life than you realize. It will not be perfect, but you will learn through the process.

We are all learning how to live a life alive.


What places hold the strongest memories for you – good or bad? How have you dealt with your past to move forward into your future?


Learning from your past is one of the most important ways to move forward. That’s why I’m writing a book about making great choices. Sign up for updates so you can be the first to know more.

3 responses to “Looking Back But Moving Forward

  1. I’ve often talked with friends about redeeming places. For those cities or coffee shops or car seats where you’ve broken off a relationship, spoken a harsh word, or received dire news, pain and grace exist simultaneously. When I’ve revisited a place of pain, I usually bring a friend along. I honestly acknowledge what feelings the place brings up and then ask if we can make a new memory. Thanks for sharing, John, and I really enjoy the Colony House lyrics as well!

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