the year in review (because I can’t come up with a better title…)

I had a strange, new feeling while I was putting away the Christmas decorations a couple days ago. Relief.

I’ve never before actually felt glad that the year was over, but this year, I greeted the new year with relief. 2006 is a year I hope never to have to relive. It was a terrible year by many measures. We had to move. Again. Lost a job. Again. Circumstantially and emotionally, it’s been the hardest year of my life so far, and, unlike the first job loss and move, I’m having a much harder time this time around finding the “why” of it all answered. I just don’t know why we are back here. I don’t know why Sam is slogging his tired self to a meaningless job every day with terrible hours and even worse pay. Financially, we’re actually worse off than when he was in grad school, factoring that now we have three extra little ones to feed and care for. We’re drained. There really isn’t much more to say that isn’t dark and bordering on the profane. 2006 was a terrible year, from my perspective.

Yet, though, there was progress, in a way, when I look at it in terms of where I am now versus where I was this time last year. I have found my vision and my calling, or at least clarified it a little. I’m free of the burden of being what I want to be and freed to be what God wants me to be. That’s an improvement over last year. Another thing that God is reminding me of is that the things I lack now are really eternally inconsequential. It’s just stuff, really. We still have happy kids who are growing to know God more daily, we have a solid, faithful, God-honoring marriage, we are healthy, and our family relationships are full of kindness and love. That’s saying a lot, when I survey the landscape.

In the months since we’ve returned to Oostburg, I’ve taken a closer look at the culture of the community I thought I knew, and it’s really not the sheltered little Mayberry I had it taken for. I sat a few weeks ago over our Coffee Break Bible study as we were sharing prayer requests and realized that I knew every one of the women there had gone through at least one life-altering tragedy or struggle in the time that I knew them. Every one. And most of the tragedies and struggles were ones that couldn’t be fixed by a better job or a shift in circumstances, like our situation. I didn’t really realize there was that much pain in such a small place before. It’s easy to get so centered on my own world’s crises that I miss that sometimes. So, despite all this year has left in ruins and all the disappointments and frustrations, I am left thankful that the important stuff is still unscathed. God is here. He never left.

I was reminded of that this past Sunday. A young woman from our church gave her profession of faith yesterday. I know her mother from the group of women I talked about earlier. This young lady was born with serious health problems, and, although I wasn’t part of that church family twenty years ago when all this happened, from hearing the story, it was a miracle that she even lived to be baptized. To see her standing there yesterday in front of God and her church family in consummation of her baptism was a testament to the fact that God still laughs. If I asked her mom twenty years ago, I’m sure she would have acknowledged God’s working in the situation, but I can imagine she walked through some dark valleys herself as she kissed her baby daughter goodbye before she was wheeled into surgery for her liver transplant. …And somewhere, there’s a wounded family who may or may not know that part of the life that was taken from them lives on in a young lady who publicly proclaims God as her Savior and lives to serve him. One of the greatest joys in my life has been watching God at work, turning tragedies to cause for laughter.

So, although I am sitting here typing all this with a wounded spirit and I am tired and drained, I am still going to stick around for the end of the story. Last year around this time the first Narnia movie came out, and I left the movie with the joy of realizing for the first time that although one advent is complete, another greater one awaits. I know that He has a reason and a plan, whether it will be revealed by the new year or many years from now –or maybe not until I’ve entered eternity, but God is here, and He is laughing.