December has crept up on me so quickly, and I’m sitting here realizing its been three months since I’ve written anything. This coming of Christmas brings with it the closing chapter to another year, which causes me to pause and reflect on 2015 and the concoction of emotions that it was.
This time last year, my friends were posting their words for the year. Some chose trust, others chose joy, while I just wanted to choose something. I asked the Lord for a word for the year, but instead I found this picture, and He gave me this prayer:
Lord, we’re about to pack our Christmas decorations back into their boxes – a sign that this season is officially behind us. I have a lot of aspirations for the year ahead, but one resolve: to have eyes fixed on Jesus no matter what it brings. Keep me focused this year, Father. Keep me in love. Don’t allow me to stop marveling.
My feet were on the ledge of 2015 and I was ready to launch into whatever it held with all the anticipatory excitement I could conjure. That excitement propelled me into some great progress towards my business degree. It gave me the courage to quit the job I had been working for nearly three years and try some new things. It allowed me to step out into life in community, and it taught me to laugh louder, love bolder and live braver. I feel like this year marked one of more purposeful and authentic living for me, and it’s a side of life that has led me nearer to the throne than any other.
But in a lot of ways, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the implications of switching jobs so many times, struggling to figure out if I’m pursuing the right degree at the right place at the right time, and wandering around with an overall lack of direction. I wasn’t ready when I had an appendectomy, or when I totaled my car and spent a month in bed with a fractured back. I wasn’t ready to be blindsided by heartbreak, to grieve so much loss, or to hug a friend with a cancer diagnosis. It seems that slowly but surely, as the year dragged on, my enthusiasm dwindled and it took everything in me to just wake up and do the next day. I knew those days would come, which is why my prayer at the outset was for focused eyes and a steadfast heart.
But as I sit at my kitchen table reading through the pages of my journal from this year, my heart sinks as I remember so many days and weeks when God simply seemed absent. Far from focused, I was distracted, held captive by my own sinfulness, faithlessness and fear.
I took a break and glanced out my kitchen window into my backyard, and smiled as I saw the muddied field where my family has stood so many nights this year playing volleyball. If you know us, you know volleyball is that thing that brings us together. Some families bond over warm hugs or shared meals, but mine is fused by fierce competition. In all its dysfunction, that backyard of ours has been one of the most unifying places for my family, and those mounds of dirt mark places we’ve bonded, bickered and belly laughed til dusk, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yet I couldn’t help but giggle at its condition. In a neighborhood full of carefully maintained and manicured lawns, filled with flowers and festive décor, the toppled chairs and mangled net that adorn ours seem to leave our landscape lacking. I have, no doubt, glanced at my backyard thousands of times over the years. I’ve seen it doused by rain, covered in snow, and blanketed by leaves. But today, I glance outward with new eyes, and I see a place that when leaves clear and snow melts, is marked by nothing but soil and grass worn thin – a physical reminder of the places we’ve stood.
Today I feel a lot like my backyard appears. Disfigured and storm-tossed, I know that surely I have been shaped and shifted by the elements of the seasons this year has contained. But as my hands grip my journal, this thought grips my heart – that maybe it’s those places, the dirty and disheveled ones, that we see Him best. Maybe its the places of dysfunction that draw us closer to the cross. Maybe it seems like the ground has been trampled far too many times for new life to ever spring out of it, and maybe it never will, but maybe its there that the Lord chooses to stamp us with His image and remind us that no place we stand have we ever stood alone. I think that’s a reminder we all need now and then, that no matter where we stand, Jesus is with us – Emmanuel.
Today as I turn the pages of my planner and peek ahead to 2016, I see a vacant year that will soon be filled with moments and memories just like this one we’re wrapping up. We’ll surely stand a lot of places. And though we walk into it somewhat blindly, this I see clearly – that whether we’re oceanside, bedside, mountainside or graveside – Jesus will walk alongside, His Spirit living inside if we simply walk forward in faith.
What a year of gifts, growth and grace. What a year of battling to seek His face in the chaos. Today I look back, and I see Him. His glory woven into the grit of every day life. Today I look back, and I love Him. More than the girl in that picture. More than the girl I was last year. Praise Him that we can never wander outside of the loving grasp that draws us back. And praise Him for His Son, a baby wrapped in rags that first Christmas, who now wraps us in His love no matter where we are.
That is Christmas.
A perfect Savior storming our imperfect lives.
Love lowered into a manger.
A peace that procures us to praise.
A grace that grips our fragile, fearful hearts.
A hope that is leading us Home.
May we never stop marveling.