If you know me, you know that my love language is not gifts. I get super weird and sweaty when receiving gifts, and I often make jokes that sometimes offend the gift giver. I also get super weird giving gifts, if you’ve ever received one from me, you’ve experienced the very awkward encounter. But surprisingly, 2017 was a year of gifts. And with that, it was a year of learning how to receive gifts well. I’ve come to realize, people love to give gifts, so I need to learn how to accept them well. (I’m also learning to do this with hugs.) I figured as I reflected back on my year, I’d like to share what I have learned, what I have experienced. The ups and downs, in hopes, as always to encourage maybe just one person who stumbles along this blog.
I was gifted the opportunity to start 2017 off by stepping into a new role the Lord had called me to. I kicked off 2017 by becoming the new student pastor at my church. Two years ago, I would have never thought that would happen. Many thoughts of, “what do I even know?” or “Am I even qualified for this?” ran through my mind as I stepped out in into this new role. But I knew this was a calling from God, and so I stepped out in faith, trusting He would be faithful to equip and provide every need. And oh did He! I learned a lot those first few months about working in ministry, about working with others, about not letting others discourage me from following this calling. I’ve been given the beautiful gift of wonderful people to work and do life alongside, who I know have my back and love me. Who will challenge me, encourage me and always point me back to Jesus. In those first few months, I learned how to stand up for myself. I learned how to say no, when I didn’t agree. I learned how to let go and push forward. I learned how to love change and embrace it. As the year continued, the call to pursue youth ministry, only grew stronger. The hunger for more, continued to grow. The Lord is faithful. And so in 2017, I was gifted a beautiful ministry, students and leaders to pastor, in which I am humbled every day by, and forever grateful for.
In early spring, I moved into my own place. I’m still in the middle of deciding if I like living alone or not. But while living alone, I’ve learned how much I appreciate the presence of others. The amount of times I have texted or called a friend just to go sit with them, goes unnumbered. Whereas before, it was less frequent. I have been gifted such a life giving community and I am overwhelmed with joy, getting to spend time with them. I think the Lord knew I needed time and space alone, to challenge me to reach out further for people, to intentionally set aside time to spend with others. I’ve learned just how important and valuable community is.
But it was’t until late spring rolled around, that this issue with gifts, became very prominent, very real. A mistake was made that left me trying to claw my way out of what people would call rock bottom. Have you ever had one of those moments where you do something and all you can think is “how the heck did I let this happen?” The waves of guilt begin to wash over you, and all you can think is you deserve everything but forgiveness, everything but grace. Yeah, I was there. I did a lot of crying and had a lot of hard conversations. I expected people’s reactions to be much different than which they were. Every person I encountered during this time, their reaction was drenched in grace. This was when I realized why I had a hard time receiving gifts, good gifts. It was because I thought I didn’t deserve them. And so when people showed me only grace, support, encouragement, I had a very hard time accepting them, because I did not deserve that. I had a hard time praying during this time, because I needed to pray for favor. But I couldn’t, because I didn’t deserve favor. I did not deserve anything good. And so when the Lord poured out favor, and hit me straight in the face with the Gospel, I broke all over again. The weeks and the months past, and He continued to show favor. He continued to pour His gift of grace out on me. And I began to realize, so clearly, that He truly does want to give us good gifts, in fact He loves to give His children good gifts, and so I had to learn how to receive them well. I’m not quite on the other side yet, but as each day comes, I wake up thanking God for His wonderful gift of grace and each day I learn how to continue to receive it and live in it well.
Summer came along and I learned how to surf. I’ve always loved the beach and the ocean, it gives me life. Joy. Peace. I’ve learned how to sit still and wait for the right wave, but I’ve also learned how to paddle my little heart out and have courage when taking a wave. So far, surfing has taught me to be still and be brave. To keep on paddling and just stand up.
In the fall I started my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. But as the semester went on it became more clear to me that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be pursuing at the time. This was the first time I felt I had made a decision and then went back on it and changed my mind. I wrestled for a while trying to figure out why I felt God would call me out of this right now. Because up until then, I always thought I had wanted to be a counselor. But sometimes, the Lord places things on our hearts, to get us to where He wants us to be, and then desires change. And that’s okay. I’ve learned through school to pray, seek guidance and trust God, but it’s also okay to change my mind and that I don’t have to have it all figured out right now, that I’ve been given the gift of time, for now.
However, my year did not end as I would have expected.
Two and a half weeks ago, I found out a friend of mine got hit by a car while she was crossing the street. I use the term “friend” loosely, because she’s more of a sister. I met Julia when I was 4 years old, she was 2. She lived right next door to me. I have known this sweet friend of mine, my entire life. Before cell phones, we used to talk to each other through our windows. Once we even tried the old tin can and string trick. It didn’t work. We have been through sickness, divorce, family vacations, celebrations, death, life, dark days, light days, together for the past 18 years. So when I woke up December 14th, 2017 at 8:30am, to texts and calls, delivering the news that my girl was in an accident, a very serious accident, unsure what would happen, my world was rocked. All I could think about was, “how can I get home, right now.” I was taken back 3 years ago, when I got a similar phone call that my mother was in the hospital, that she had fallen off a ladder and broke her back. All I could do in these moments, was fall to my knees and plead with God to spare their lives. I prayed “talitha cumi“ continually over her. I wouldn’t let the thoughts of why, even cross my mind. So all I did was pray, and cry and pray some more. The past two weeks have been full of unknowns. But the past two weeks have also been full of the good and precious gift of grace from our Father. The past week has been full of the gift of life. The gift of healing. The gift of memory, responsiveness and connectivity. I got to go into the new year, knowing Juls is awake. That she can breathe on her own. That she knows who she is. That she can shoot a thumbs up and even sign her name. I’ve learned that even in the unknown, God is always in control. I’ve learned that I don’t need to ask why, but trust and pray. Pray without ceasing. See you in just a few weeks sweet girl.
This year in all, I learned how to truly, pray raw prayers. To cry out to God. To get before Him and be seen, truly seen. The Spirit has met me in new and refreshing ways this year during prayer. My heart for prayer this year as grown tremendously.
Other gifts I was blessed with this year include but are not limited to, seeing my family more this year, than I have in years past. Making new friends and growing with old ones. Seeing students come to know Jesus and fall in love with Him. A new kitty. Celebrating many beautiful marriages. Trips, conferences and concerts. Walks on the beach and lots of shark teeth.
My journey with receiving this gift of grace, will continue. But as I sit with the Lord, as I let Him love me and delight over me and give me these good gifts, I’m learning to receive them with joy and gratitude.
So as 2018 begins, I welcome it with open hands. Now, ready to learn how to give good gifts.
Side Note: I revisited “This Year I Want To Fall In Love” and I can honestly say, I fell in love in 2017 with many of the things listed, plus many more.