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)!