What a gift. That’s the phrase that keeps coming to mind as I think back on this year: what an incredible gift!
As I try to put in to words the ways in which God has blessed and provided for us, I realize that reducing his greatness to the tangible blessings of life in middle-class America does a great injustice to him. We are blessed, to be sure. And no one knows that more than we do. I have an incredible husband, humble to the core and devoted to me and his family above anyone or anything else. Together we have three precious babies, and parenting them has taught us more about God and each other than any other endeavor. We both have been given the gift of meaningful (paid!) work: Alex as a nurse and me as a teacher. And of course we have the blessing of enjoying the little things in life: creativity and writing, reading and learning and filling our bookshelves to the brim, setting goals and being disciplined toward pursuing them, and enjoying the people God has graciously given to us as our friends. These are graces that so much of the world does not have, and when I really think about it, they are not so “little” at all.
But perhaps the greatest thing that has happened to us this year is that we finally understand with new purpose why we have this life: to bring God glory. That’s all, and amen.
Our marriage, our parenting, our work, our hobbies, our passions, our home: none of them are meant only to set up a comfortable life from now until the end. God is far too big and far too concerned with the things of eternity to think only about giving a very small percentage of the world a nice eighty-or-so years on earth and then entrance into his presence forever. No, no. We have purpose here, and great work to do. And that great work happens in the big moments and the small details.
This past year our family grew from four to five. God was just so good to give us Jordi Daniel. We bought a mini van to accommodate and, haters gonna hate but it has been my favorite purchase ever. Alex began his career as a nurse and found a home in a job he loves. I spent the school year as a “lecturer” at a small Christian university in town, which basically means a teacher but my title made me feel the tiniest bit proud (and gave me something to write on a resume, you know, the important things in life). We spent much of the warm months at my parents’ home on the lake, we laughed with new friends and even got the chance to visit old ones in other parts of the country.
We made lots of mistakes and let other people down at times, moments I wish I could take back and words I wish I could unsay. But we learned a lot about repentance and hope to walk out those lessons with more and more humility our entire lives.
We read books, studied scripture, and are imperfectly finding the beautiful rhythm of new routines that allow for real time in God’s word, even in the busy-ness of a swing shift job and three children. And after almost four years at our church we decided to make the move to a new one, a small church plant in the very heart of our city. It has been the best decision for us; we absolutely love the place God has led our family and the way we are learning about Him there. But leaving one home for another after four years has not been easy. We have over-explained to some and failed to explain at all to others. I wonder still how one finds the right words for a transition like this. We tell people the truth, that we sensed God doing many new things in us, and in that process calling us to a new place- but how does one manage how others interpret and accept that? Well, I have landed on this: I do not think you can, and I do not think I should. My desperate to please everyone self wants to more than anything, but I have to trust that the Holy Spirit is alive and moving and directing the steps of all of us, and in the process he is teaching us to keep our eyes on Him and on building his bride, the church, the way he has asked each of us to. We pray daily for unity among all believers, and then we walk forward with a humble confidence. The way we see it, we have two precious church families now, and hope to forever.
Alex and I have fought and then reconciled. We wrestled with what his sobriety needs to look like, how to parent together rather than one at a time, and how to value this marriage relationship more than any other on earth. I wish I could say we’ve found the formula, but we haven’t. What we have found is God’s word, and what he has to say about dying to ourselves seems to inform the way we need to do our marriage better than anything.
I struggled to no end with fear and insecurity this year: in my parenting, in my job, in my friendships, and like always, in my writing. But I think when the anxiety of those feelings hit the hardest we also have a chance to learn the most, and that is what happened to me. I turned off the tv a few months ago and really have not turned it back on, because I am finally taking responsibility for the things I let in to my mind and taking seriously the exhortation to truly think about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise... (I have tried so hard to fit Bravo into this category and right now, for me, I just cannot.) I am working so intentionally to get a handle on social media and the comparison issues it causes in me. I love the connection and learning about meaningful work of others afforded by Facebook and Instagram, but at times I fail to celebrate others in their life and work because I’m only thinking of me and my not-enoughness; and then up comes an ugliness in my heart I am anything but proud of. But I see it all very clearly now, and I’m daily learning how to walk with Jesus through a culture I want to be in but not of.
And finally, I think Alex and I are re-learning what it means to parent. Maybe this is something we are always re-learning, all of us. As our children grow from babies to little toddlers trying to grasp their words, and toddlers learning their words to young children telling stories and practicing kindness, we have to continually find ways to give them each what they need. I think that being a mom of intention may very well be the most profound journey God takes me on this coming year. But as I look at all three faces under my roof, I am overwhelmed every time to know that God would give me the gift of investing in these three souls with eternity in mind. It's my favorite job.
A whole year’s worth of moments, mostly really great, some really hard, all of them telling a story. In the end, I think this year has been one of me wanting to keep the main thing the main thing and fumbling my way towards that end. I’ve learned who I am not while learning who I am, and those are important distinctions to make. I am a follower of Jesus, a sinner saved by grace through faith. I am Alex’s wife and mom to Harper, Cannon and Jordi, the two titles that are the honor of my life. I am a teacher and a writer, a homemaker and an advocate for the marginalized. And, I hope many of you reading this would also say I am a friend, because caring for the people in my life actually makes me come alive, too. I hope and pray that in 2016 I can live in to these roles with more love and intention than I have given them before, spending my days wanting more of Jesus and, by his grace, making more of Him, too.
He's making all things new, friends, and he is starting with each of us. Here's to a year of faith in Him, lived out with a bold simplicity and the humble offering of praise that our life can be.