In 2004, I lived in four states in a four-month time span.
It was as tumultuous as it sounds! Multiple moves, learning new mailing addresses in each state, emotional instability, uncertainty about the future—yeah, it’s not my favorite period to look back on.
But one thing arose from it for which I have been forever grateful.
The Athens Olympics took place that summer, and in those Olympics I found solace. I could forget that my world was in chaos when I sat down to watch those sports. Volleyball, swimming, diving, gymnastics, track—it all helped me feel grounded and inspired at a time when I was personally hurting.
When the 2008 Olympics in Beijing came around, I couldn’t help but contrast how I felt then to how I felt four years previously. My life was completely different—I was settled and happy and excited for the future. To help me process these feelings, I wrote a letter to my 2004 self.
“Keep holding on. This pain that surrounds you and marks every hour is going to heal. God is about to work in your life in amazing ways and you don’t want to miss the ride. I wanted to give you a little heads up, but I won’t say too much and ruin the surprises. And girl, there are a lot of surprises coming!”
I wrote down encouragement for that wounded young woman, and it felt redemptive to reflect on all the changes in that four-year Olympic cycle. When London 2012 rolled around, I decided to do the very same thing and look back on all God had done between 2008 and the present day.
“This life that God has given us is full of curves and the unexpected, but it’s one I wouldn’t trade. We can’t make straight what He has made crooked (Ecc. 7:13), but we can walk with joy and faith and peace and wonder. We can walk in His love. We can walk in His healing. And we can let Him take us places we never imagined.”
I’ve continued this tradition with each subsequent Summer Olympics. When the coronavirus pandemic postponed the 2020 Tokyo Games, I decided I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to reflect on the quadrennium. I still wrote the letter, even though there were no Olympics to watch, and I promised myself that if they happened in 2021 I would write a one-year contemplative letter to keep the streak going. And I did!
“It’s only three years until Paris 2024, and I have no idea what to expect in that time frame. I have hopes, desires, dreams. My vision for how it will play out is limited. It seems likely that many changes will occur, yet I cannot see them now. I must continue trusting my journey to the One who sees the end from the beginning, who knows exactly what I need and how to provide it for me. He knows best and He will not fail.
“Erin, you made it through this year. Let yourself take a deep breath and say: “God has good things in store.” For He surely does.”
These letters have become memorial stones in my life, marking God’s faithfulness over the changing seasons. I look forward to writing them, and rereading them fills me with a sense of awe each time, as they encapsulate so much in the space of a few paragraphs.
Do you have any traditions for looking back on how God has worked in your life? I’d love to hear about them!