I lost my dad recently. He was the first really close person that I had lost, and the emotions of it all continue to be excruciating. I’ve gone through cycles of grief and sadness, feeling alone as I lost one of my biggest cheerleaders.

Standing beside a casket gives an incredible sense of finality—no more phone calls to catch up, no more Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners all together as a family, no more advice when things are hard, and no more celebrations of life’s little and big victories.

Solomon understood this when he penned Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”

Essentially, he encourages his readers to look back and consider how they are living their lives and “take this to heart.” He says there is still time to examine the direction of our lives and make the necessary adjustments, changes, or corrections.

It’s important to examine our lives on a regular basis, and not just when a loved one dies. One of the ways our family has “looked back” as part of a Christmas tradition is by creating an “Eyster Family Annual Report.” Now, if that sounds boring and sterile to you, just hear me out …

Our Annual Reports started more than a decade ago. Our children were in elementary school, and between Thanksgiving and Christmas we began writing down the things we were grateful for. Everyone participated and we created a long list of great memories from the year. Fun things, trips, vacations, major milestones, celebrations, new friends, new accomplishments … you get the idea. You would be surprised at some of the things a 6-year-old will think of!

Once we finished the list, we would spend time between Christmas and New Year’s Day going over it and reflecting on all the life that had been lived. When our kids were young, it was fun and silly and we all laughed and enjoyed memories of the year.

But as our children got older and life became, in many ways, more serious, our annual review became an incredibly important part of our family’s traditions. It was still fun and sometimes silly, but in addition to great memories, vacations and milestones, we started listing things that we learned and how we grew personally.

We started adding pictures and even things like major goals that were set and accomplished. We even began listing our “Epic Fails”—mistakes we made and experiences we learned from. It has become a powerful way to be aware of how God was at work in our lives and how good and faithful He was, regardless of circumstances.

Here are a few excerpts from last year’s report:

  • Samara and Benjamin got engaged!
  • Mom got kayaks for her birthday
  • Westley finished his first Enduro Race – 5 hours in freezing rain
  • We went to Pine Cove Family Camp – our 12th year
  • Westley bought his first automobile (Chevy Silverado Truck) and had his first wreck – 4 days later!
  • Papa passed away, October 10th – such an incredible loss, what an amazing man.

It also made us keenly aware that life was moving pretty doggone fast! There is an old saying, “The days seem to last forever but the years fly by in an instant!” This is so true.

I am reminded of some lyrics in the classic song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… into the future” (I dare you not to hum). The days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, and the months turn into years.

We now have more than a dozen Eyster Family Annual Reports that chronicle the major happenings and events of our family. I am grateful that we took the time to really reflect on all that God was doing in our lives and in a lot of ways took it to heart.

Let me encourage you to start this tradition for your family. In fact, FamilyLife has made it simple for you by creating a mobile application called “Our Family’s Year In Review.” It helps you capture memories from 2014 in categories like “Marriage” and “Fun,” reflect on how God worked in your lives, and make some plans for 2015.

It’s part of FamilyLife’s new “My FamilyLife” app, which offers a variety of interactive experiences for married couples.

One final note: When my daughter—now 21 and married—read this article, she told me, “Make sure you tell parents that their children will grow to appreciate how important this tradition has been in their lives.”

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