As the (seemingly endless) year finally comes to a close, social media and news sites are filled with “best of lists” and personal highlights. The end of the year marks an important passage of time and most of us want neat and tidy boxes to put our experiences in but try as hard as I may, I cannot fit 2018 into a neat and tidy box. When I look back on 2018, the only way to describe it is with overwhelming gratitude. I am absolutely overwhelmed, in the best way, when I think of what this year has held for me. I truly cannot believe all that I have been able to do, see, learn, and become. It’s also a year that is incredibly difficult to categorize because most things didn’t fit perfectly into these past 12 months. It was less a year of beginnings and endings and more of a year of middles.
I started 2018 on a seminary trip to southern India where I got to learn about the cultures, faiths, and people that make up that extraordinary country. In India, I visited Hindu temples for the first time and was invited to take communion in a Christian church who traces their faith back to the Disciple Thomas (whose story reminds us that the worst of our doubts and mistakes don’t have to be the end of our story). In India, I was able to look critically on the lasting legacy of colonialism while also challenging what can only described as performative wokeness that overshadows the voices we’re supposedly trying to listen to. Running in progressive circles, both in person and online, has challenged me to not only to pursue true justice but also to evaluate my own motives and desire to been seen a certain way.
I spent the next few months of 2018 in Atlanta working at my church, taking classes, and working as much as I possibly could to be able to afford the rest of 2018. My internship was at Pulse Church, a small New Church Development out of the Atlanta Presbytery, although you’d probably never know it was Presbyterian. Working at what I often call a “start-up church” (too many years in Seattle!) challenged my preconceived ideas of what “success” looks like, what thriving looks like, and what challenges actually faces churches. All that I learned on paper cannot match the love and belonging that I felt at Pulse. One of the highlights of my year was preaching at Pulse and feeling the love of my congregation supporting me. I have been lucky to have a church family in Salem and Seattle and although it took me awhile in Atlanta to find it, the congregation at Pulse has become an inseparable part of my story. Overwhelming gratitude.
In May, my dear friend Alexandra and I took a road trip up to Vermont so I could do my Clinical Pastoral Education at University of Vermont Medical Center. My summer in Vermont was more than a dream come true and I still cannot believe I got to live on the edge of Lake Champlain all summer. Working as a hospital chaplain wasn’t what I expected and it took me nearly the entire program to find my groove. My colleagues challenged and supported me as we learned and grew together and have become dear friends. The whole CPE experience was such an honor. I got to preach at churches I’d never been to before, stand on holy ground with families in their darkest hours, celebrate in times of joy, and walk in rooms I never thought I belonged in. To be used by God is such a special gift. Overwhelming gratitude.
After CPE finished, my mom and I took a road trip from Maine to Georgia, stopping in Acadia National Park, Boston, Shenandoah National Park, and Asheville. It was an incredible trip and only days later I hopped on a plane to go back to the West Coast to see family and friends. I spent time with my grandparents in California, parents in Oregon, and got to see my Aunt Joanne for the last time before she passed away from cancer in November. She was truly an incredible woman and it’s hard to believe she’s really gone. I am so glad I got one more chance to see her. I went back to Seattle for an important step in my ordination process- getting “certified ready to receive a call.” After two years of ordination exams, endless paper work, and vocational discernment, the Seattle Presbytery certified me “Call Ready” which means I’m able to start look for my first job after graduation. My time in Seminary has confirmed my call more than ever. I cannot wait to be a pastor! Overwhelming gratitude.
And then, of course, I hopped on a plane for the next big adventure— a semester studying at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s been an amazing experience but I wouldn’t have made it without Keith. Living abroad means getting thrown one curve ball after another and I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to face it all alone. When I started at Columbia, I knew that I wanted to study in Prague this semester, but it was beyond my wildest hopes that I would get to go with one of my best friends and that we’d have a friend from Charles University who had studied at CTS with us. Overwhelming gratitude. Despite what my instagram feed might look like, I really have been studying and taking classes in Prague. It’s hard to quantify and classify what I’ve learned. If you’ll indulge me a very long metaphor, I feel like a stew that’s been on the stove for many hours. At first, it was easy to see what I was learning— new ingredients were being added and each moment felt different than the last. But then a new approach was needed. Instead of more ingredients, what was needed was time. The heat was set on low and slowly the flavors started melding together, becoming richer and more harmonious. Some spices were added, there were taste tests and adjustments were made as needed, but all the ingredients were already there. The last few months have been about bringing together what I have learned in undergrad, ministry, and seminary and bringing them together. While it may not look like something entirely new on the outside, I feel the difference quite acutely. Overwhelming gratitude.
My time in Prague has also include all sorts of travels and adventures. From Prague, Keith and I went to Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Hungary together. I went to Germany, England, Denmark, and Sweden (with Finland and Estonia yet to come in 2019). Listing it all out sounds so extravagant that I’m not even sure it can even be called a humble brag. I don’t want to show off and I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m taking any of it for granted. At least once a week, I think to myself, “I cannot believe this my life. I cannot believe I’m really here.” If anything, traveling has humbled me- both in seeing my own blind spots and recognizing how much I don’t know about the world. I know what a privilege it is to travel at all, let alone as much as I have. I can only hope that I will let it change me for good. From spending time with my relatives in England to wandering Scandinavian streets by myself, I have only overwhelming gratitude.
If I were to add one more word to my definition of 2018, it would exceptional, and I mean that quite literally. This year has been an exception to my normal life. When people tell me they can’t believe my life, I say “me either! And trust me- it’s not always going to be like this!” This year of my life is truly like none other, and although I wouldn’t change any of it, I’m glad it’s a once-in-a-lifetime season. So here’s to an exceptional, unbelievable, exhausting 2018. I can’t wait to find out what 2019 has in store for me!