There have been all these memes and review about the rottenness of 2018: it’s very clear many of us are ready to say good riddance. It was not a banner year for our family either–Lucia had one surgery and two unplanned hospitalizations and both of those came during busy semesters. But, she and we also had one of the best summers of our lives! She was healthy and happy and we went on two vacations with friends and family.
When I look over this year, the lectures I got to give, the conference I got to plan, the articles I published and submitted, the major grants I’ve won, and the mentoring and ministry and preaching I’ve done, it means that much more that it didn’t happen in seasons where things were easy or seamless, and yet there is so much to treasure and cherish. Perhaps especially when things aren’t perfect, it really helps to look back. We rarely learn from triumphs and successes. We tend to just keep forging ahead. But disappointments, mistakes, and challenges are the sites where growth can take seed if we’re willing to own up to them.
In that spirit, I’m honored to share some of what I’ve learned with you in this year, and I invite you to do the same. What end of the year rituals do you have? What hopes do you have for 2019?
This is one of my favorite posts to write, because it forces me to go through all the lessons of the previous year and cull together all that God has taught me and all that God is doing. 2014 was such an eventful year for me personally, with the birth of my daughter and the defense of my dissertation. Both of those have opened up some exciting conceptual space for me to dream and imagine my future vocation and God’s work in my life.
I admit that I sometimes go back and read my blog posts.
I don’t think it’s because I’m a narcissist(?), but more because I’m woefully forgetful!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I often have to revisit the same lessons many times to make sense of who God is and where God is calling me, and thank God, God stays faithfully the same. So with November waning, December looming, and 2014 on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to revisit some of those lessons.
Perhaps you’re like me, and it takes a few times for something to stick. Perhaps you’re like me, and reminders of God’s grace and provision, can never be too frequent or too poignant. So I invite you to revisit some of these posts from 2013, and share your lessons in the comments. What have you learned? Where are you growing? And where are you headed?
I’m reminded that it is in God that the multifaceted call I’ve received finds its unity. This gives me confidence and reassurance when others question, or I begin to question the integration or the practicalness of my own call. It is we who often put limits on God, not the other way around!
I’m reminded that there are really only two ways to live in this world–the one in which we try to prevent others from seeing our imperfections, and the other in which we lay them bare and resolve to love others and ourselves just as God made us. How liberating it is to live into the second truth and to let God shine through the cracks.
I think this may have been one of the greatest revelations of my year, and I’m so glad it came relatively early! I find myself repeating these words to others and myself when I am tempted to let the competitive, swimming upstream tendencies in my career or my life to get the best of me. And I find deep wisdom and comfort in never being too busy to listen to those in front of me.
Thanks to yet another excellent sermon at my church, I began to reflect on what it means to be Easter people, to undergo profound internal change, and yet to still experience great brokenness, pain, and death in this world. For me, holy everything amounts to witnessing and testifying to the holiness of the cross, and the holiness in you and me, in the triumphant and the everyday.
I wrote: “Perhaps this is where my anthropology meets my theology so nearly, neatly, and dearly–in the enmeshing of the sacred and the profane in the everyday lives of people in culture, relationship, and meaning-making. Real salvation is transcendent in that it seeps out of our pores to touch everyone we meet and everything we do. And so I think theological education has to change to respond to not only this reality, but this Truth. It has to equip all these people who are going to be outside the walls of the Church institution, and who will be ambassadors of faith and hope and love in this world.”
I reflected on how deeply our new church community had ministered to me despite the lines I’d been trying to draw between experiences of God in China and back in the United States during our transition.
I wrote: “What if instead of contemplating the origins of disease, asking how the bus driver got lung cancer, or quibbling with the details of disaster, wondering why people bother to live in Oklahoma which is so prone to tornados, we contemplated the length that Christ went for us on the cross, the underservedness of our own grace, and the abundance of grace in a world that’s often so graceless? And then what if we committed to being not the one who speaks, but the one who prays, not the one who solves or fixes or even heals, but the one who recognizes, beholds, and reveres deep need? What if we found a way to acknowledge great hurt, but live with great hope? What if we were one another’s comfort, one another’s grace, each other’s miracles?”
I realized that I often give up on those closest to me, friends and family who have been burned by the church and believe that God is not for them. If I believe that God truly is the God of all of us and doesn’t give up on any of us, how do I reflect that with my life?
I reflected on what it truly means to be content in all circumstances, to find a deep acceptance of what God has given and an even deeper praise for all that God has gone, no matter the ups, downs, or delays in life.
Along those lines of learning contentment, I thought about how empowering, meaningful, and important it is to redefine success in a world in which its often bound up with pride, trampling others, and being number one. I believe that even in academia, it’s possible to live with the sense that being a child of God and doing one’s best constitute the ultimate contentment and satisfaction.