I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
(Be forewarned: I don’t send Christmas cards, but this reads like a Christmas letter with just a hint of blog-ness.)
In my mind’s eye, 2023 resembles a roller coaster ride.
It started as a slow, controlled climb, sprinkled with anticipation. Dad had recently moved to a new assisted living facility, which provided me and my siblings with a renewed sense of peace; Greg and I had an incredible experience with family and friends on a mission trip to Mexico; I was joyfully revising the chapters of my second book; and my pastor and I were co-teaching a new round of confirmation classes. My eyes were looking up, and God’s presence was palpable.
Spring and summer rolled in, marked by a handful of thrilling highs that left me grateful and giddy. There was the long-awaited trip to France with friends, confirmation Sunday with nineteen students professing their faith, a reunion with the members of my old praise band whom I love and missed, a family wedding in Ohio, and a high school graduation in Tennessee.
A few sharp turns threatened to throw the cart off its tracks. Cancelled plane reservations. Publishing setbacks. My first bout of COVID that left its mark with brain fog. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The unexpected bumps weren’t pleasant but just part of the journey.
I didn’t exactly coast through the fall. Rather, careful planning helped things fall into place. My book was finally published. My coaching friends and I hosted a successful summit for aspiring authors. I participated in a new study group with old friends. My family celebrated on Veterans’ Day when my father received the South Korean Medal of Peace for his service in the Korean War. And my husband and I hosted a joyful sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-seven relatives.
December surprised me with its sudden arrival, and I found myself exhausted heading into 2024. I scrambled to buy Christmas presents while yearning for solitude. Then a reconnection with a lost friend presented an escape. She offered me a few days at her Virginia Beach house where I could relax, reflect, and recalibrate. I gratefully packed my bags. The end of the ride was in sight, and I looked forward to coasting into the station.
But then came the steep drop.
Dad took a nasty fall that landed him in the hospital and then hospice. My favorite uncle died. A week later my father passed away. Then a dear friend died, followed by another friend a few days later.
Not one of these deaths should have surprised me. My father and uncle were both in their 90s and had lived good lives. My friends had both been battling terminal illnesses. But when all four died within a matter of weeks, I was blindsided. I felt like my train had derailed.
I wasn’t prepared for the tears that came with no warning, for long forgotten memories to resurface, or to find myself physically weak in the middle of the day staring into space. I have known grief before, but I had forgotten how unpredictable it is. The 2023 roller coaster had passed the exit without letting me deboard. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2)
And so, 2024 has started like a runaway train. What are my options? I could bail out, jump off and take my chances. Or I could cower and hide. Or I can lean in and experience the highs and lows of the entire the ride. I choose the latter because I know the conductor. I may not like the current route, but I trust the one who controls it.
Author and theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Therefore, friends, do not lose heart. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Don’t Lose Heart by Steven Curtis Chapman.
Favorite lyric: “These afflictions that are only temporary are gonna turn to glory beyond compare.”