Last year I decided to reflect on what I had learned over the course of the previous year and a half (end of 2009, and 2010). This year I have decided to reflect on 2011 and the lessons I have learned, the path I am headed and the gifts I have been given. As I continue on this great adventure in life I see some lessons repeating themselves over and over, while others seem new and foreign to me. Last New Year’s Eve I was reflecting on the gift of a painful dessert season in my life and how such a tumultuous time had drawn me into a deeper relationship with God. This year had 2 themes, one is change and the other blessings.
I knew that 2011 would be one of change, but I had no idea how many changes it would bring. Some changes were predictable, some were not, all have changed the very core of who I am. I could have predicted the most obvious change in life for our family and that is the education of our children. Applications were made in the spring for our boys to attend the same school our daughter attended for the first time in the 2010/11 school year. Confident that they would be accepted I made the practical move of securing for myself employment that would help our family cover the increased schooling expenses. Valuing a stay at home parent, even as our kids become old enough to care for themselves without supervision, a school position was the logical decision, and as I enjoyed teaching history the ideal position I was hoping to aquire was that of a middle school or high school social studies teacher. I had already begun researching the requirements in 2010 with limited success, but I pressed on as well as making application to public and private schools. Summer began without an offer and with the sudden realization that certification was within my grasp, but would require examinations and course work, homework and a lot of patience. As the school year dawned without permanent employment I began as a substitute teacher, a position I have continued working at since the school year began and will continue into the new year for a few days. Next year I will start my very first full time salaried position that I have ever had. I can already predict that 2012 will hold several firsts for me, this being only one.
Transitioning into the role of working mother has been a transition that proved to be extremely challenging. I have always held firmly to the idea, “Do everything as unto the Lord.” With all that needed to be done there just didn’t seem to be enough of me to go around; enough hours in a day, enough sleep, and enough money to cover the expenses. As I am getting my grove on, so to speak, I am finding myself increasing my efficency, fine tuning my schedule and increasing my confidnece in areas I began the school year feeling totally inept in. Additionally, I was given an opportunity that many people don’t have. Substituting in a variety of schools I was able to really evaluate what I desired in a job and more importantly what I was unwilling to tolerate in a position. I was able to make a truly informed decision about a position when one was offered to me in December. While I fought God on timing and His plans for me, I am so grateful that He gave me what was best for me, rather than what I had asked for, ignoring my childish whining and bitter complaints.
The second deep change that faced our family in 2011 has been that of medical needs and problems. We have dubbed this the year of the hospital. Barring the first few months of the year, we have dealt with hospitals, rehabs, nursing homes, social workers, visiting nurses, and the practical care and visitation of two family members. Coming to terms with the nursing care needs of both our adult son and Jay’s mother has consumed a tremendous amount of time, energy, and finances. We are becoming familiar with patient rights, social security, and waiting. We see no end in sight for this area of our lives, and long term, if not permanent care may be required for one or both of them. We are adjusting to new family routines that involve a significant amount of driving as well as additional meetings and responsibilities for both Jay and myself. It has gotten me in touch with the deep places of my heart, some of love and compassion, some of selfishness and uncharitible thoughts. I have been forced to be both assertive and silent, firm and gracious, laissie faire and in control. There is a depth of ones character that is not only discovered, but also refined in times like these.
In the midst of changes, oh so many changes, I continued down the path of fleshing out my faith. I spent some time away with a few girlfriends on a mini-retreat. I rediscoverd the joy of being in communion with like minded women of faith. I also started the process of carving out a new ministry for myself in my local church. I opened up to God in a very deep, personal and raw way. I determined to “be the change” in my own life, in my family, in my church, in my community and in my world. I fed my passion for Christian response to the needs in the world, served side by side with my family, and used my voice to speak for change rather than complain about what is wrong. During my faith journey this year I have hurt and been hurt, I have learned and taught, I have been humbled and stood in awe, I have found allies in those I thought were enemies and hope in places that once seemed to bring emptiness to me. It has been an enlightening year.
Once in a while you embrace a truth that literally changes your very being. For me that truth came in the form of a book, it found its legs in the form of a commitment and it found its depth in the discipline of a habit. The book, 1000 Gifts, introduced me to a concept that I previously believed I already had well in hand, that of gratefulness. The author was challenged to make a list of 1000 “gifts” or blessings she has been given, to see the blessings in each day, even those that come wrapped in messy packages, such as a sinkful of dishes that shows that a family is fed, or a broken heart that shows that there was deep love. I made a decision that I would take up this challenge. I finished the book just as the school year was beginning, so I committed to birth this journal on the first day of school for my children, a difficult transition day for me. In addition to the daily journal entries designed to find daily blessings I determined to take (and post) one photo every day of something that I was thankful for that day. Since it’s inception 115 days ago, I have not failed to post a photo, and I have listed over 500 blessings I have experienced since the school year began. Perhaps I am not more thankful than I had been in previous months or years, but I am more intentional about my thanks. I am separating my feelings from my actions. The habit of thanks is more important than the emotion of thanks. I am blessed and I will give thanks because I chose to praise the Giver, it is as simple as that.
This year’s changes and trials have led me to question God, His plan, even His goodness. I invoked the mantra “Still I will follow” many times, often after speaking my mind to God in ways that many might dub sacreligous or even blasphemous. This year I continued my dance with Christ, I questioned the steps, I tripped and stumbled, but then I heard the music. I close this year a very different person than I started the year. I look towards a new year of adventure and dreams. I will start my new year with the fulfillment of a dream as I head to Kenya, checking off a number of items on my bucket list as I will visit Europe (a few hours in Amsterdam on a long layover), Africa and conquer both public transportation and solo travel as well as presumably “conquer a fear” as it relates to travel. I will return from the grand adventure to begin my new life as a teacher, having accepted a position that God picked out just for me. I hear the music, I can not help but dance. I am blessed and I will give thanks. Life is constantly in motion, changing every moment, changing me in the process. This year has been one of instability, change, and blessings. Next year will be an adventure and I yearn to see it unfold not only in Africa and in teaching, but in my heart and in my world.