Happy New Year! But wait…

So 2017 has come and gone. It’s the time for reflection and resolutions. I tend to prefer to reflect and forego the resolutions. And so instead of the traditional Christmas letter, here are my musings and thoughts on the past year, which was busy and full of changes both big and small.

Last January brought a season of job searching and interviewing as I continued to seek a change in career from full-time clinical work to a career in academia. God always proves himself faithful. (It is a mystery why I continue to doubt this truth when He proves it over and over.) By March I accepted an offer to continue to teach at Central College and I am currently in the first year of that three year contract.

With some added stability to my future, it seemed time to buy a house. God has been teaching me about being rooted and established in his love, now it was time to put down roots in a community I’ve been investing in for almost ten years already. And again, God proved faithful. And on September 1st I closed on and moved into a home more beautiful than I could have dreamt of on my own.

And the final big news of 2017 is I was able to launch a research project, my first since completing my dissertation in graduate school. I’m so excited to explore the relationship between mission trip participation and spiritual development. I’m collecting data now and so feel free to take my survey! It only takes 10-15 minutes to complete and anyone can participate. (Here’s the link! – https://centralpsychology.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_baBvP9N6aN5TjGB)  Not only is this a topic I’m passionate about, but I also get to share the findings with colleagues at a conference in April.

So that’s the Christmas card version – you know, the events of the last year made pretty and any low or challenging parts neatly and cleanly edited out. But that’s not reality, nor is it authentic. The reality is this past year was full of incredible highs and the accompanying lows. It was ripe with growth, and the expected growing pangs. There was celebrating exciting new beginnings and grieving the necessary endings. And it was all a blessing.

You see, it is so tempting to deny the painful and only focus on the Christmas card version of the past year. Or it can be equally tempting to become overwhelmed by the hard times the previous year held and simply write it off as a total loss and eagerly see the New Year as a chance to start over with a completely clean slate. But both of these approaches are incomplete. Life is lived forward but only understood when we look back. Accurate reflection requires holding and experiencing the tension of both the good and the bad, the victories and the disappointments, and joyful and the painful.

So the joy of a new job comes with the sadness of letting go of an old one. The conviction of pursuing a newfound calling comes with the doubts and fears of being able to succeed (and sometimes fearing God won’t come through – even though He always does)! The excitement of buying a new home comes with the disappointment of losing three previous houses to other offers. The relief of an accepted offer comes with the anxiety of actually spending the down payment money you’ve been saving for years (and have unknowingly been leaning on for a sense of security). The incredible outpouring of community that surrounds you on move in day can give way to loneliness when at the end of the day you return to a large home instead of a small apartment. And feeling like a competent adult can melt away before your very eyes when you can’t quite find a way to get your gutters clenaed out or you’re not entirely sure how to mow anymore because you haven’t done it since high school. And the spiritual growth and intimacy that results from pressing in during times of uncertainty eventually gives way to feeling distant from God and spiritually dry.

So whether 2017 was the best year of your life or one of the worst, it is important to reflect and embrace it in its entirety. To ignore or deny the good or the bad is inauthentic and incomplete. The truth is every year involves both – no year is simply one or the other. If 2017 was one of your best, don’t forget to acknowledge the darker moments that made the good moments shine that much brighter. And if it is a year you’d rather forget, then it is all the more important to spend time today and throughout this week reflecting on the hidden blessings and ways God brought you through. Fight the urge to simply forget and move on.

I gladly welcome 2018 and expect it to be a wonderful year. But I won’t completely say good bye to 2017 before properly reflecting on all it held and thanking God for every aspect of the past year. I hope you do the same and invite you to share any lessons learned or insights gained from the past year in the comments below. HAPPY NEW YEAR (and happy reflecting too)!


Life really is a roller coaster

I spent the weekend at a family reunion at Okoboji where the activity of choice for the teens and preteens was riding as many rides as possible at Arnold’s Park. I had NO interest in this particular activity but watching the anticipation and joy in their faces did remind me that I once had those same emotions each year when the carnival would come to town for Fun Days. The favorite ride seemed to be the roller coaster. Now I am no thrill seeker and roller coasters don’t interest me at all, but I began to think just a similar our faith in God really is like riding a roller coaster. Yes, we’ve all probably used this analogy, but I think there’s more truth to it than we tend to realize.



I recall the pit in my stomach as the roller coaster slowly climbed the hill, the pause at the very top that allows the anticipation to build, and then the exhilerating free fall as the coaster raced down the track. There was the sigh of relief when it was all over quickly followed by a strange desire to do it all again. There was no real fear. There was faith of an innocent and naive child. As an adult, my experience is completely different. I see all of the ways the ride could quite literally go off the tracks. I rarely allow the anticipation to build on the way up the hill and I hang on for dear life on the way down instead of throwing my hands up in reckless abandon. There’s no real faith and there’s no real enjoyment.

So which way would God have me approach life?

Following Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit really does feel so similar to that roller coaster ride. There are challenges and obstacles making the trek up the hill challenging and leaving us often feeling like we’re just barely inching or lurching our way up to the top. And then just when we think we’re able to maybe catch our breath from the climb, it feels as though we are hurtling down the other side barely able to hold on. Both aspects can feel exhilarating or exhausting, depending on our attitude and our perspective. Will I embrace faith like a child, which allows me to enjoy the view and long to go on the ride again? Or will I constantly assess the risk and the danger, close my eyes, and hang on for dear life essentially squashing any chance of experiencing any joy?

I want to throw my hands up, open my eyes wide, and experience life in its fullness. I want to trust the rollercoaster designer and engineer – the author and perfector of my life’s adventure. In what ways has life felt like a roller coaster for you? What feels like you’re creeping up? What has made you feel like you’re racing towards the bottom?

One Life – Live it Well

I’ve alluded to the faith stretching journey God has taken me on over the last year, but it seems like the right time to share about it in full. Just over a year ago, I left counseling fulltime to teach at Central College. (You can read about that decision here.) I accepted a one year position, which means I have spent a good portion of the last year applying for jobs (explaining my lack of posting new blogs!). My friends and family fasted and prayed for God’s will throughout the process, but we were all a bit biased. We all wanted for me to be offered the tenure-line position opening at Central. I had felt specifically called to Central and I had worked there in some capacity for the last six years. Central College had my heart and Pella was the community I felt called to remain in. So I continued to work on believing God is the giver of very good gifts. He is the good, good Father and so why wouldn’t He work all things out so I would remain at Central? However, I had to balance that with knowing nothing is guaranteed and God may still have something different in mind. So holding those two truths in tension, I continued to apply for other positions while still praying into and leaning into where I believed I was being called – Central.

As I suspected, I loved everything about teaching fulltime. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to plan lessons and create learning opportunities and build relationships with students! And as my love of teaching grew, my desire to earn a tenure track position – ideally at Central grew as well. The waiting was so difficult. And then in the midst of the applying and waiting and interviewing and waiting, I received my word from God for the year – FAITH. Let’s be honest, this did not feel like a great word to receive. I knew if God gave me exactly what I wanted – that tenure line position – it wouldn’t grow my faith in the same way as if a different scenario played out. So I had a sneaking suspiscion God was up to something, but I also found myself beginning to believe – truly believe – God’s way really was going to be the best.

We continued to wait…and wait…and wait some more.

Answers began to come. First, I was indeed offered a tenure-line position, but at a different institution. I seriously considered accepting the offer. On the surface, it looked like a potentially really great fit. However, although I was intrigued by the opportunity, I wasn’t excited by it and I never felt called. Faith…do I trust an opportunity at Central to come to fruition or settle for the one before me? Ultimately I turned it down but I remained mindful that you cannot simply “fast and pray and get your way” with God. But I believed I was being obedient and so we continued to wait…

The day came…an email from the academic dean’s office and a meeting scheduled. My tribe and I braced ourselves – trying to temper our growing excitement at what this meeting might mean. I sat down across from the dean and heard these words, “I cannot offer you a tenure track position.” Somehow my mind went blank and began to race all at the same time. Here was confirmation of the sneaking suspicision I had that God was going to choose to grow my faith in someway. The permanency I so desperately longed for, that I believed would be provided by a tenure track position was not meant to be. In its place was an offer to continue as a lecturer for an additional three years. At this moment I had to choose to trust God or not. Can God still be a good, good Father who gives very good gifts when we don’t get what we want? Even when we believe what we want is in line with God’s will!? YES!!

It took time, but I now know without a shadow of a doubt that the offer to teach for three years as a lecturer is a MUCH better situation for me than being offered a tenure line position ever would have been. It was a hard, long year, but it was ripe with growth and lessons learned. Here are just a few…

God REALLY is faithful. It is His VERY NATURE to be faithful. And as we take small steps of faith, He reveals more and more of his faithfulness to us.

God longs to be WITH US. He is EMMANUAL – literally God with us. His Spirit desires to lead and guide, to comfort and empower. God wants to relate and walk alongside us.

NOTHING is more satisfying OR freeing as stepping into God’s call on your life. No matter what the cost! I had a wonderful career as a counselor and I will always be honored and humbled that I was able to walk with so many as their therapist for over 9 years. However, it was not God’s ultimate will for my life and because of that I was absolutely exhausted by the work. I believe I am just as busy teaching as I was counseling, but I feel energized and alive. And it is because I am where God wants me to be. And though I don’t have the permanency I thought I wanted, I’m very content with the unknown!

Switchfoot has a song called, “Live it Well”.  One of the lyrics says, “Life is short, I want to live it well. One life, one story to tell. Life is short, I want to live it well. And You’re the one I’m living for.” I have one life. You have one life. We must choose to live it well by living only for God. And sometimes (a lot of times) that means taking steps of faith – terrifying and sometimes confusing steps – but steps that lead to incredible freedom, contentment, and joy. Live it well friends. Live it well.