2017 in Review

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I've always been more of a Year in Review person than a New Years Resolution person. I think there's something beautiful about reflecting on where we've been and all we've learned, even if the 365 days before were ones filled with uncertainty and heartache. But I firmly believe that challenges and beauty are not mutually exclusive, which is good because this year was filled with both of those things in abundance.

This year has been one filled with more transitions than I've ever experienced in my life. I graduated university, took on a new role in camp ministry, moved into an apartment by myself, and started working full-time. My parents moved out of the house I grew up in. Many of my friends moved away to begin new chapters of their lives. It's been nothing short of a roller coaster, and I spent so much time trying to maintain my stranglehold on plans, the people, and places that I clung to for some measure of stability, only to have them slip away. God has rocked virtually every aspect of my world this year, and it has wrecked me in some of the hardest and most beautiful ways.

There are so many things I could write about having done and experienced this year, but I think I will stick with sharing one thing for now: learning to pay attention and say yes to God simply because He asks. I still have miles of room to grow in this, but I’ve been stretched this year in more ways than I ever thought possible.

God laid it on my heart to participate in Lent this spring, which was a strange thing for me to realize. I did not grow up in a household where Lent was regularly discussed, let alone observed. I think my first exposure to the concept was when I watched the movie Chocolat in high school, and I was mostly confused by it. But I couldn't deny that I felt a tug in my heart to observe Lent. I didn't know what that would mean for me, but God sure did, and He was lining up to knock me square off my feet.

I had also been conscientiously avoiding taking a time of prayer and fasting for about a year and a half before this. God had, through various circumstances, been calling me to set aside some time to fast and seek His will. I didn't think that sounded like a very fun idea, and tried to push the thought aside. But the thing about God is that He doesn't let you off the hook that easily.

I hadn't even heard of the Daniel Fast until January of this year. But suddenly, it started cropping up in conversations everywhere. It caused a couple moments of confused panic in my mind, and I distinctly remember having a conversation with God that went something along the lines of "I don't think I could ever do that on my own. That sounds crazy. Maybe if I had some people to do it with. But that would be the only way."

Friends, don’t give God a challenge. Because He will bust down those excuses faster than you can imagine. All these things (Lent, the Daniel Fast, and taking a season of discernment) collided in my life in one terrifying moment. I was sitting in the chaplaincy at the university a couple of days before Lent began with a group of students who were talking about how they were going to observe the following six weeks. Most of them had the typical responses: coffee, Netflix, unnecessary spending.

BUT THEN. One of my good friends leans back in his chair, looks me in the eye, and says, "I'm going to do a Daniel Fast for Lent. Me and my parents decided we would all do it together. Any of you are welcome to join us." I think he went on to make a joke about not knowing what he would eat for breakfast.

You want to talk about the moment where you feel God’s will punch you in the gut? That was my moment. I think I ended up mumbling something about not being sure what my plans were yet. But as I sat there, I was overwhelmed by the presence of God boring down on me, telling me to get with the program.

I went home and started researching what exactly a Daniel Fast would mean for me. Essentially, it's this: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and water to drink. No processed foods, no sugar or other sweeteners, no caffeine, no meat, dairy, or eggs. It's a vegan diet and then some. This scared me because I was not a vegetarian cook. I loved cheese and ate eggs for breakfast almost every day. But I could not ignore the bold way that God was telling me I needed to say yes to this.

My family thought I had lost my mind when I first told them. So did the people I lived with. But on the first day of March, I began the Daniel Fast. The first few days were difficult, between caffeine withdrawals and learning to cook in an entirely new style. But as I found new recipes and settled into it, it became much easier. By the end of the first month, I found that I hardly missed many of the things I had felt reluctant to give up.

Sometimes people come away from a season of prayer and fasting with a grand spiritual revelation, having encountered the glory of God in a new and powerful way. With the final exam season of my undergraduate university career rapidly approaching and nothing but uncertainty beyond, I had hoped that God would give me one of those grand revelations about my future. But as Lent drew to a close, I realized that I had not had any such mountaintop experience. I had had some good times of prayer and worship, but nothing particularly glamorous. Part of me wondered why God would call me into this season for no apparent reason. It wasn't until later that I realized that the sheer act of saying yes to such a foreign idea was part of a bigger lesson I needed to learn.

Around the same time, I heard God ask me to pull the summer camp application that I had submitted shortly after Christmas. I had planned to go back and serve one last summer at camp, but found that I had no peace about the decision. So after many days of prayer and consideration, I pulled my application.

But then a few weeks later, I found myself volunteering for a day painting signs at this same camp, and was offered a different position that I never would have applied for. Instantly, I was flooded with a sense of peace and certainty that this was the way I was supposed to spend the next four months. It was not an easy job, and there were days that I didn’t know how I was going to be able to finish the summer, but I wouldn’t change it even if I could.

I didn’t understand why God would want me to walk away from camp only to call me right back into it, and it didn’t become clear to me until I was driving away for the last time at the end of August. On that drive home I heard God impress one thing on my heart. He told me that my original plan to go back to camp was about me and my attempts to put off thinking about the future for as long as possible because I was scared of the unknown that awaited me. I needed to let go of that plan in order for God’s to take over.

I was so obsessed with figuring out the future that I was missing the thing that God wanted me to hear most about it. It went something like this: "The thing I want you to learn about your future is that you just have to be willing to say yes when I ask you to. That's all you need to know. I’ve got the rest of the details.”

As a type-A list-maker personality, it was one of the hardest things for me to hear. But I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea that God actually does know what He’s doing even when I can’t see the plan. It’s what I’ve had to cling to for the past several months as I’ve wondered why I’m in the season I’m in, and where I’m headed to next.

I’m going into 2018 blind. I don’t know where I’m being called. I don’t know how long I’ll be in this period of waiting. But I’m working on being ready to say yes when God gives me the next step. And that’s all I can do.

For those of you who have stood by me through this challenging year, who have spoken life to me, who have made me laugh, who have dragged me through the hard moments, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You mean more to me than you will ever know, and I am so grateful to have an incredible community of friends.

As this year ends and we welcome 2018 a few hours from now, I hope you know that you are loved and seen, no matter how you’re feeling. God is still working in the quiet moments. He has a plan even when we can’t see it. And because of that, I’m full of hope for these next 365 days.

 

Joyfully,

Alice