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Maybe 2018 was a hard year for you. You’re not ready to tuck the snapshots of the last 12 months into your mental scrapbook as symbols of a joyful season. Maybe you’d rather just flip the calendar and hope for a fresh start in the new year.
I get it.
This year was difficult for me, an emotional roller-coaster with lots of uphill battles and valley disappointments. There was loneliness, pain, moments of feeling misunderstood, and the loss of loved ones, routines and a dream or two.
My grandpa passed away in February and I made a fast trip to the US and back to Cambodia (jet lag twice in a two-week span is not at the top of my bucket list).
My team wrestled with whether to remain on the field or not. We finally decided to resettle in America, which brought both relief and grief.
I wonder if Mary could relate. She didn’t ask to bear a child, journey far while heavy with this babe or give birth in the most humble and possibly unsanitary conditions. The first visitors to greet her son weren’t exuberant grandparents or doting aunties but stranger shepherds. This wasn’t part of her life plan, not the story she had imagined.
But when Mary looked at her life and the unassuming yet spectacular circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, she “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19).
I look back at the challenges and yucky aspects of overseas life, the rough patches and losses of this last year, and realize that through all these things God was still giving sweet gifts. Sometimes I didn’t recognize them, yet I don’t want to forget the moments of joy, the ways He worked that I never expected.
Here are a few of those moments that I’m tucking away in my heart to pull out over the coming months and ponder, as Mary did.
After 24 hours of traveling to the US for my grandpa’s funeral, I landed in Atlanta just trying to wrap my head around what was happening. I was scheduled to fly out after a 4-hour layover and arrive in my home state of Nebraska about 11:00 pm. I breezed through immigration and security (a gift!) and found out there was another flight earlier to Omaha. After checking with the gate agent, I got re-booked on the flight that was set to start boarding in the next 15 minutes. I had no American SIM and couldn’t get connected to the airport WiFi and was starting to panic about how to let my family who lived 2 hours away from the airport know I would be arriving earlier than expected. Pay phones don’t exist anymore and the gate agent wasn’t super helpful. Finally, I decided to be brave and just ask a random stranger to use their cell phone, hoping they wouldn’t think I was super creepy. The first couple I asked let me use their cell phone to call my mom. Heart heavy with grief and mind blurry from all the travel, this couple’s kindness was a sweet balm.
My arrival for home assignment in April was a flurry of family activity. There was a narrow window in between a graduation and wedding when all my siblings would be in the same place, and since that wasn’t the case last December, we were going to celebrate a quick Christmas. Enter a big April blizzard. Now, if you’ve never lived in the Midwest in America, let me fill in you a bit on the weather situation. If you don’t like the current weather just wait 5 minutes, because it will probably change. We went from lovely spring weather to crazy snow and ice and closed roads. I was ready to give up on a family Christmas ever happening, but the weather cleared enough, and my future sister-in-law graciously allowed us all to invade her apartment for a few hours. She lit a cinnamon-scented candle and turned on Christmas music, and with the backdrop of inches of snow outside, we savored those family moments as we opened presents and stockings.
With a splendid view of snow-capped mountains, I sipped coffee and journaled every morning during a week of debriefing this spring. After group and individual sessions, I walked the wooded paths, and soaked up life-giving conversations with people who didn’t need the whole story. Their “yep, I totally get it” nods and smiles gave courage and strength to my weary heart. I drank in the beauty around me, feeling my soul breathe and giving space for the start of big decisions that needed to be made. This week of debriefing was an incredible gift I didn’t even know I needed.
When I pause and ponder, these moments of God’s grace seep through the tangle of painful memories and hardships. His gifts through the last 12 months become evident and I tuck them away so I can remember His faithfulness when the tough times come again.
What gift moments from this last year would you add to your memory scrapbook? How has God covered you with His grace in the rough times?
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