Every New Year, my mind drifts back to a talk I once heard by Francis Chan. He spoke to a small breakout group at a conference and challenged us something still crystal clear in my mind more than a decade later: What if you could skate through this year with zero problems? No friendship pain, no job loss, no health issues, no sadness or difficulty. But at the end of your year, you did not become one bit closer to Jesus. Or the second option: What if this year will be wrought with difficulty and hardship at every turn? Hurts. Pain. Brokenness. But at the end of your year, you find yourself closer to Jesus than ever before. Which would you choose?
At the time of that conference, I proudly proclaimed how easily my answer came to me. Of course I would choose whatever road necessary to bring me closer to Jesus.
Last year, on December 30th, I sat at a Starbucks in California for two uninterrupted hours (the photo above is from that magical morning). It was cold and raining outside. I was warm on the inside, thanks to my salted caramel mocha. And I dreamed. I dreamed big dreams for 2017 and all that it might hold. I took out my trusty Erin Condren Planner and created a new Notebook on my computer, complete with color-coordinated tabs. I planned. And I dreamed. And I planned some more:
Spiritual goals. Family goals. Professional goals. Personal goals.
And it felt good. It felt good to get my aspirations for what could be down on paper (and screen).
Now, in the final weeks of 2017, I look back on my list of goals and dreams. Some accomplished, some left undone. Some completely forgotten. In many ways, this year was filled with joy. I have so many things to celebrate at the close of 2017.
But in very many other ways, this was the most difficult year of my life. Three things that were not on that list, but were very much apart of my year:
The crumbling of a friendship. Miscarriage number one in September. And miscarriage number two, December 9th.
The pain and fear that comes from even typing those words is almost palpable. Because those things weren't on my list. They don't pop up on an Instagram story. Those events don't get splashed on our Facebook walls (is it even still called a wall?!). We reserve those things for our inner circle, while those on the outskirts are left to think we're truly as footloose and fancy free as our Social Media pages make us appear.
I was driving earlier this week and a reality came clear into focus: I have never been closer to Jesus. I have never depended on Him more in my life. Amidst the toughest year of my life, Jesus has never been more precious and dear to me. Francis's challenge was painfully accurate.
As we end another year, many of us will be tempted to say, "I'm so over 2017!" or "So long, 2017! You were horrible!" And I would typically have joined in on that sentiment.
Had the tremendously difficult events in my life during 2017 not happened, I would not be where I am now in my walk with Jesus. I wouldn't have been able to experience so tangibly the comfort and peace He so freely offered me through the valleys I walked this year.
As we head into 2018, I cannot forecast what your year will bring. I can, however, boldly proclaim this: Jesus will not fail you.