It’s the end of the year—we’ve wrapped up a busy holiday season filled with an abundance of excitement, merriment, and anticipation. As the year winds down, these last few days tend to be full of reflection and examination of hopes, aspirations, and goals for an even better year to come.

I’ve joined the many individuals who are counting blessings and spending some introspective time on how I can be better as an individual, a wife, and as a steward to those within my community. I’m spending time understanding how I want to improve, and just what I’d like to accomplish in 2014.

With this planning at the forefront, the word “goal setting” can cause some anxiousness, filled with varying levels of emotion. The New Year often starts off just like any marathon—nerves and excitement are at helm, and hopes are soaring. Then, mile 10 sets in and you may begin to question what inspired you to pursue this mission in the first place. Or, as with goals or resolutions, February sets in and your inspiration may begin to waver.

So, how should you approach your goals this year? How can you make sure you are staying focused and on target? How can you pave a solid road for success? Personally, I’m keeping a few tips in mind that I thought worth sharing.

Select a Few Major Themes

Individual goals—losing weight, painting the house, cooking at home four nights a week, or saving 10% of your income per month—can be lost on the bigger picture. What are you trying to accomplish? When you get to the end of 2014, who or what do you hope to be? What words will encompass the year?

Financial freedom? Improved health? Career growth? Stronger relationships?

It’s these big picture items that will help you align goals to begin to build a more meaningful, successful, happy, and impactful life. You’re always going to have goals that may not fit directly with the major themes, but in the grand scheme, a theme or focus will keep you moving forward and give you a larger purpose.

Balance Your Categories

Whether it’s personal, professional, or spiritual, the importance of balance cannot be overstated. Burning yourself out on professional goals at the expense of personal goals will leave you tired and, in time, unfulfilled. Balance the number of goals within each category to ensure you are nurturing yourself emotionally and physically as well. For those that are married or in a committed relationship, it might even be worth outlining relationship goals with your significant other—this can serve as a tremendous method for building an even deeper, more loving relationship.

With those two things in mind, here are my broad themes:

– Be Present
– Be Encouraging
– Be Still

I’ll expand on these a bit more in my next post as I begin to outline my January goals—aligning them to themes along with categories. I’ve never really mapped goals out in such a manner before, so I’m really excited about the insights and blessings the New Year holds for me!

This has been a long and difficult year. I am so thankful to have made it to the other side with my head held high and such hope for the year to come. Here’s to a tremendous final day of 2013—see you on the other side!

If you’re not familiar with the Tough Mudder, it’s a 10-12 mile obstacle course complete with lots and lots of mud. And, by lots of mud, I mean your shoes become bricks and finding yourself waist deep in muddy water is not uncommon. Good times!

Earlier in the year, my coworkers at Rackspace decided we would buck up and tackle the challenge in honor of John Thomas, a friend and colleague we lost in late May.

I’ll save a lengthy commentary and let the photos (and humorous video) speak for the intensity of the course. Unprepared, untrained, but with a lot of good will, I trudged through the 12 miles and 20+ obstacles. Individually, many of the obstacles don’t seem too bad. That is until you factor in the length and the mud – everything is wet and slippery, making things exponentially more difficult.

And tiring.

By mile 10.5 I was beat. There’s video at the end showing me “sprinting.” It serves as a great laugh. And as motivation to train for the next one – yes there will be a next one. Although extremely challenging, it was such a joy to run/trot/walk along my team!

Yep, those wires are live. Bite down and smile through the shock of the Electric Eel!

And the grand finale: Mount Everest, 1. Ashleigh, 0.

Don’t laugh too hard…

I’ve been dreaming of the day I could write this post. If you’ve read back even a little bit on my blog, you know this year has not been a good one. It’s frightening how quickly financial burdens and stress can so easily compound, making breathing a laborious process.

Today marked the end of a really difficult time for my family—a few weeks short of seven months unemployment for my husband. Seven months of wondering when it would end, false hopes on job prospects, and panic as no financial relief ever found its way into our home.

Yet God provided. Through a small savings account, the refund from a cancelled European vacation, and an eye on expenses, we have made it through.

As I begin to look back and reflect, the promise of pruning comes to mind.

John 15:2 “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Learning from the Pruning

I believe that every moment in life is an opportunity to grow. Every trial is a chance to become kinder, gentler, and more compassionate. Every day is an opportunity to reflect Christ more clearly—and with that, an opportunity to realize just how far we are from the true target.

I’ve fallen a lot this year. In more ways than I care to recount. I’ve not been very gracious with my season of pruning—but maybe that’s just me not wanting to accept certain lessons. Maybe that’s just me being a stubborn human. Maybe that’s a result of how incredibly terrified I had become.

Regardless, God is done (even if momentarily) with the pruning. He’s done with His work on my family for now, and is ready for us to shine brighter and bring forth fruit that reflects His grace and glory.

Friends, this year has sucked. There is no candy coating it. But I have no doubt my Heavenly Father has started to strip me of that which is holding me back from praising His name more loudly and sharing His love more freely. I have no doubt he has injected a few lessons into the center of my family. I know he is bending my knee a bit lower, closer to the point of full surrender to His will.

God broke our branches, stripped us of financial security (my false blanket of luxury), and carried us through it all.

Pruning sucks. But, I know it has been worth the many lessons—many of which haven’t been realized yet. I know, in perfect timing, He will continue to lay those lessons on my heart.

As relief sets in, my personal prayer is that through this experience I can now become a better servant, a more loving wife, and a much better friend to everyone I meet.

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