It’s a few days before Christmas, and I’m sitting at my parent’s home in front of a roaring fire on a dark winter’s night, sipping a glass of wine while listening to Christmas carols, writing and reflecting a little bit on this past year, and taking a break every now and then to mute the music and pull out the guitar and play a little… Tomorrow morning I’ll fly out of Chicago for sun, warmth, the ocean, the Cameron/Miller/Floyd/Smith/Temple clan, family time, and a big heaping scoop of crazy (with sides of laughter, games, pranks, and some of my favorite people in the world). While I love it, it often isn’t the most conducive to reflection, quietness, and solitude… And I wanted to take a few minutes to send out this “newsy-reflective-thoughtful Christmas-y letter,” to update you on life, ask for thoughts and prayers, and reach out to many of you I haven’t touched based with in a while.
This past year has been formative in ways that I never would have imagined – but above all, it’s been a year that has been full of beginnings, of newness, of promise. However, usually things can’t begin until other things end. So while it’s been a year full of beginnings, it has also been a year full of endings – of letting go, of surrender, of transition.
This year began for me when I was living in Philadelphia – at a time when I was trying to discern if the master’s program I was enrolled in was the correct one, and was a part of a sweet community and a life-giving church. Through prayer, listening, and reflection (as well as a healthy dollop of advice), I came to the conclusion that while the program itself was interesting, it wasn’t leading me anywhere. There was no end goal in mind as I meandered down the path, and while that might be OK at some points, I think I realized how staying there would have been simply me looking to stay with the familiar and known rather than to follow the direction that I wanted to go, the direction that I felt God was leading.
At the same time, a serious relationship I was involved in was coming to an end, and neither one of us (but probably more me) wanted to let go of it, even though it was what we had to do. After a complicated beginning, a long term friendship, and 8 months of long-distance dating, we were taking time apart to pray and listen to what we both really wanted, and what (if anything) we felt the Lord was saying to us.
It was a lot of endings to take in a short time.
Yet God was faithful through it all. And as these two things were ending, God was in the process of bringing new things into my life – new beginnings and possibilities – which resulted in a melancholy, confused, bittersweet mess at times.
Some of those new things include:
– beginning a master’s program in mental health counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This has been a great fit – loving the program, the professors, my fellow students, and am seeing a continued clarification of where I’m headed. At this stage, I’d love to be involved in some capacity working with children and adolescents who have undergone trauma (like many of our friends in Brazil). We’ll see what doors the Lord opens regarding that. And I’d also like to work with cross-cultural workers dealing with transition, adjustment, sustainability in vocation, etc. Trusting that those will come together in the right timing…
– moving into an apartment w/ 4 other amazing, quality guys in Chicago that has been loads of fun.
– feeling a sense of clarity and direction as I pursue something that is life-giving to myself and to others.
– finishing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles) in May.
– finding a new church community that has been a breath of fresh air in so many, many ways.
– connecting with friends both old and new in surprising ways.
– slowly acclimating to mid-Western winters again (I even went for a run this evening in 34 degree weather, and didn’t complain hardly at all!)
– a slow re-discovery of myself – who I am, who I want to be, the things that I want my life to be about, and what that looks like in the context of living once again in the United States.
I feel like in the last few months, I’ve slowly been coming to life again after a long time spent dormant – shut down and hibernating. It’s a great feeling – and there is such a sense of hope that I feel about the coming year, what God has been doing and will continue to be doing… I see his fingerprints all over the place when I stop to look closely, and am blessed, and excited, and hopeful (and honestly, pretty full to the brim of anticipation and expectation to see what it is that God will do next…)
As for the family… Dad and Heath are doing well – spending several months a year travelling and consulting with language programs, and the rest of the time doing so remotely from their home base in Rockford (where they can garden, be involved in our church, and enjoy hot water, electricity, and not having their bank account emptied by criminals in Columbia).
Kaitlyn is now living and working in San Diego as an OR nurse, and seems to be keeping herself busy (mostly with trips back up to the south bay area to connect with people… ok, well, one person really in particular.) I’m excited to spend a little time with her (and him), as I haven’t seen her since August when she was back here in the mid-west for a dear friend’s wedding.
Carly will be missing from our family celebration (boo!!!) as she’s once again teaching English in South Korea – and is unable to get time off to fly over for a couple of days. But she is loving it there for the most part (except for missing her family at the holidays), and has wonderful colleagues, friends, church, and community there that have really made it feel normal and home-like for her to be there. I treasured the adventures we were able to have this fall when she came back to the US for a few weeks.
Jon is back in Hawaii safe and sound (thankfully) after 6+ months of being deployed in Iraq… And I’m excited to sit down with him and play a bit, as we haven’t seen each other since last Christmas.
We’re all doing well though, and are grateful for your presence in our lives… =) more than words can say.
I’m feeling in so many ways the presence of Emmanuel – God with us – the promise that he will be and is present through all of our endings, and through all of our beginnings. And I want to leave you (and me) with a prayer for this coming year – to remind us all to be looking for the new things that are beginning in our lives – for no matter the stage of life we find ourselves in, I believe he is always doing a new thing. Let us have the eyes to see it.
"Help Me to Believe in Beginnings" God of history and of my heart, so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days: I've known death and birth; I've been brave and scared; I've hurt, I've helped; I've been honest, I've lied; I've destroyed, I've created; I've been with people, I've been lonely; I've been loyal, I've betrayed; I've decided, I've waffled; I've laughed and I’ve cried. You know my frail heart and my frayed history - and now another day begins. O God, help me to believe in beginnings and in my beginning again, no matter how often I've failed before. Help me to make beginnings: to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams, daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now; to begin forgiving that I might experience mercy; to begin questioning the unquestionable that I may know truth; to begin disciplining that I might create beauty; to begin sacrificing that I may accomplish justice; to begin risking that I may make peace; to begin loving that I may realize joy. Help me to be a beginning for others, to be a singer to the songless, a storyteller to the aimless, a befriender of the friendless; to become a beginning of hope for the despairing, of assurance for the doubting, of reconciliation for the divided; to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed, of comfort for the sorrowing, of friendship for the forgotten; to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn, of sweetness for the soured, of gentleness for the angry, of wholeness for the broken, of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth. Help me to believe in beginnings, to make a beginning, to be a beginning, so that I may not just grow old, but grow new each day of this wild, amazing life you call me to live with the passion of Jesus Christ." Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace
I think we are continually being called into new things, if only we have the eyes to see them… may we be able to see the things that call out to us, that move us, that break our hearts, and not hide from them out of fear or uncertainty.
I heard a reflection the other day on Abraham and Sarah – who at the age of 75 and 66, left their country, their people, and their family. They traded that which was known for that which was unknown, and traded certainty for relationship, risk, and trust… They began something new, and out of their obedience and faithfulness, hope flowed and flowered. This is what they heard God saying to them, and this is what he says to us, each and every day:
“Do not be afraid of endings, or beginnings.
Follow me with abandon at every age
with the eager expectation that I can use your life for my purposes.
Never completely settle…
And die gloriously,
attaching our story to the good story that God is telling…”
~ via Jacob’s Well (Isaac Anderson – “Birth”)
Believe in the beginning – in the new thing I am doing – in the fresh hope, life, and possibility I have placed in front of you…
Believe, and act, and be free…
Praying that this new year is full of beginnings, hope, life, and freedom in ways that surprise and delight you…
with much love,