It’s December 31st. A day in which I always write an extra long journal entry and reflect on the past year as we turn the corner to embrace a new year ahead. Some years are a joy to review. Others are more difficult. This year as I think back on some of the highlights, they paint a difficult picture.
On the difficult side are the barrage of current event stories that wounded my soul over and over again. Those range from the Charlottesville clash around statues and white supremacy to the Las Vegas mass shooting to one sexual misconduct scandal after another coming to light. We can’t forget the series of intense and damaging Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The political division and viciousness taking place in our country is like nothing I have ever witnessed. I have historically not been someone who worries a great deal about things, finding it a drain of precious energy and emotion. But this year, I have learned how to worry. The lack of trust and acceptance of untruths in our culture is growing at an alarming rate and civil discourse is all but disappearing. To disagree with someone is to be accusatory or unpatriotic or simply wrong. Instead of iron sharpening iron it is a fight to prove who is right and who is wrong. And even then, facts don’t necessarily prove someone to be right anymore. It’s confusing and disheartening to see the acceptance level of our society shift in what feels to me like an unhealthy shifting of our moral compass. I have been surprised at how much this cultural dynamic has weighed down my soul. Leaning into my faith has once again, proven to be critical to my spiritual well-being.
Of course the biggest disappointment for me this year came personally. Although Greg and I lost one of our beloved pet cats, there was another more significant loss for me. After training for 8 months to tackle a personal goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, 7 days before boarding a plane to set off on a 2 week adventure, I stupidly twisted my ankle resulting in an injury I could not overcome in a week. The trip was canceled, my hurting ankle and deep disappointment sent me into a funk this fall that tested my inner strength far more than that 19,300 foot peak ever would have. To literally think about something every single day for 8 months and then have it slip between your fingers threw me for a loop I didn’t easily mentally or emotionally recalibrate. For various reasons, I’m not sure I’ll make it up that mountain this year but some day.
Lessons learned from not climbing Kili has and will prepare me for many other disappointing moments in life, I am sure. Professionally, I look back at the year and wish some things were in a different place. As faithful as I have tried to be to God, my calling, the church, and my God-given giftedness, it still hurts when ministry doesn’t go the way you hoped. And serving in a career where the church is in a mighty struggle with culture and society that is causing seismic changes to the way we do ministry faster than we seem able to adapt appears to be the new norm. That is not easy for any organization nor its leaders. But as always, ministry is an adventure and that is one of the things I have always loved about the work I do. You never know what challenges the church has the opportunity to embrace or solve.
So before I sink any lower into the year in review I must celebrate one of the most thoughtful gifts I received for Christmas this year. A friend gave me a t-shirt that said “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Before you go all political on me just remember after the year I have had personally, this meant a great deal to me no matter the original cause for the tagline. When I think about some of the positive highlights there is a theme of persistence I can’t ignore.
First of all the Tarheels won the NCAA Basketball National Championship almost as a year of redemption after coming so close in 2016. It was a year of persistence for them that ended in a moment of triumph and joy. And of course I celebrate the release of the Wonder Woman movie- a childhood hero brought to the screen reinforcing the message that women are capable of being so much more than our stereotypes define for us. Which brings the upside to the sexual misconduct scandals, for the first time people are actually listening to the women. The upside to the Kilimanjaro fiasco is I still trained to be in the best physical shape I’ve attained in years. I know I can do it. And in lieu of my adventures in Tanzania I experienced two new things I have never done before – hanging upside down on a wall and meditating in a deprivation tank. Excellent but unusual experiences.
Persistence. As we head into a new year that I hope will be and feel different from the one fading in the distance I believe I will bring persistence with me into 2018. Persistence in my faith to remain grounded in my love for God and God’s love of me. Persistence to not let my moral compass waver a single degree in spite of the vacillating ethics of our times. Persistence in my calling that in spite of the rapid changes in the spiritual landscape surrounding us, helping people develop their relationship with Jesus Christ matters. Persistence in taking care of my body, mind and spirit no matter the extra effort that seems to take as I get older. Persistence in loving others no matter how challenging. Persistence in believing I was created to discover peace, contentment and God’s unmerited love. And so were you.
1 John 4:7-9 (CEB)
7 Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. 8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.
So I am claiming it now. The Word of the Year for 2018 is going to be Persistence.
Happy New Year,