Okay, okay, I know that my birthday is in March and that it is now May but it has been a crazy month and a half. More on that some other time.
A tradition that I’ve started is to reflect on the past year and to prospect on the future year: to remember how God has worked and how he may be leading me to continue to be shaped more into his likeness.
Last year, I wrote about how I wanted to be more grateful, gracious, and giving. This past year, I’ve worked more on keeping score less and giving freely out of what God has given me. I’ve failed countless times too, for sure. But through a small exercise of writing three things a day down in which I’m grateful, the Lord has shown me how good he is everyday–in the big and the small. And that has been immensely helpful as this year was a rough one.
This past year is up there as one of the toughest years that I’ve endured. It had its bright moments for sure, and, per usual, I believe God used the pain and struggles of my 23rd year to humble me and to rely more upon his grace. For most of my 23rd year I struggled against the demons of depression and despair. While this wasn’t a new battle, it was definitely a more intense one. I was comforted as I learned more in my first year of divinity school about God’s sovereign care and grace throughout Scripture and Church history. There were still many days, however, where I could not get out of the depths of depression and found myself crying ceaselessly and uncontrollably.
I also fell in love this year. I fell in love with the story and the writings of Martin Luther. In the darkness I felt and the questions that I had, I felt that I had a kindred spirit in Luther. As I read his commentary on Galatians, “Freedom of the Christian,” and his introduction to Romans and learned about his struggle with faith in my Reformation History and Doctrine Class, I sighed a sigh of relief. Even though I felt far from God, I could rejoice because he is not a God who is affected by our feelings. His presence is objective and it is real. Jesus Christ is one who takes my sin and my despair upon himself and cloaks me with his righteousness and holiness. In times of doubt and despair, I do not look upon my works, but I look upon Christ, and I say, “I AM baptized.” It is God’s work upon and in me, not my striving and works that make me righteous–no, it is the only Righteous One who can do that. In the darkness, I felt a comforting hand reach out to me through the pages of Luther’s works.
Luther’s distinction between God’s ordinary and extraordinary means was also extremely helpful. God is all powerful and is a miracle worker, able to heal this broken and bruised mind, heart, and body, and ultimately all healing comes from him. However, God also uses ordinary means to convey his grace. He uses doctors and counselors and medicine to help heal what sin has broken. It is not faithlessness to use what he has given. And so, this year, I sought the help I needed and the Lord has been so good to use his ordinary means to start a healing process. I’ve realized that a small imbalance in brain chemistry can make a huge difference and that I do not have to be shackled to shame for the weaknesses that beset me. Rather, I can boast more in Christ, whose grace is sufficient and is clearly manifest in weakness.
This year, as I look ahead, I want to focus on rejoicing. We are called throughout scripture to rejoice at all times and in all places. As a Christian, I always have something to rejoice in–that is Jesus Christ and his redemption of my body and soul through his sacrifice. This past year I’ve been convicted of how I tend to look at what is going and could go wrong rather than rejoicing in how God is working. Now this somewhat goes hand in hand with being grateful, but I believe we can never do too much of that either, and is something in which I hope to be continually growing.
Furthermore, as the year ahead will probably include more long days and monotonous weeks, I know it will be tempting to become discontent or stuck in a rut. However, as Psalm 118 reminds us, each day is a day that the Lord has made. Each day holds an opportunity to rejoice because of what he has done and what he is doing–through the people we meet, the situations we find ourselves in, and even in how we are being formed by the daily grind. So I hope that the Lord will continue to shape me through rejoicing by showing me the opportunities he is giving me each day to love him and love others and to see how he is loving me.
Now that we’ve looked a little at the past and the future ponderings, I want to also share about how fantastic my birthday week was! It was the perfect way to say sayanora to the craziness of 23 and to start off what I hope will be a full and joyful 24th year.
I started the celebration with a breakfast with Liz and Pamela at Trattoria Centrale the Monday of my birthday week. It was the first time I went and it was great! A few weeks later they took me to Ozan vineyards where I got to sample a smorgasbord of wine. As we learned about the process of making wine, I was struck with the richness of using wine in Holy Communion. The grape must be crushed, ferment, and then it becomes something new. Christ was crushed for our transgressions, died, descended into hell, and then rose again in his new body. Likewise, in our spiritual life we must also die so that we can become something new. Obviously even fun outings become opportunities for me to find metaphors for the spiritual life. Liz laughed when I mentioned this to her.
Thursday night, Julia took me to Highlands for my birthday! It was so nice to dress up and to dine on some delectable dishes. Patrick served us and he treated me like a princess! I got to sample several wine pairings with dinner and ate some of the best food I’ve ever had. Julia got grilled Wahoo for her entree and I enjoyed the veal tenderloin. My chef friends in the back sent me a sweet little miniature loaded fingerling potato dish (because I am a potato maniac!). Dessert consisted of a mouth watering strawberry cobbler and some coffee to wake us up.
The celebrations culminated in a birthday party with plenty of friends.Before the party, my friend Amia and I ate at Bottega Cafe. It was so good to have so many people that I loved in one place to talk, laugh, and eat some delicious cake that my friend Sarah made.
This birthday was a sweet ending to a bittersweet year. It definitely made my resolution of rejoicing easy to start! I’m so grateful for how God has blessed me and am hopeful about what is in store for 24.