2017 slipped away during a power outage. We were a few days into the power outage when the inside of our dark house dipped to 40 degrees. I told everyone to pack an overnight bag and we headed to my sister’s. Sean was d.j.ing a swanky party; my kids watched the ball drop with their cousins at 9pm and fell asleep soon after. No fan fare and no quiet moments of reflection (which is my favorite New Year’s tradition).
I'm not content to let 2017 disappear without acknowledgement. I went into 2017 with bleary eyes. A year ago, when I prayed for 2017, words came to mind like “celebration” and “visible evidence of what has been internal work.” I barely dared hope and I didn’t really have a reason to believe it was true.
2016 had worn me down. My parents divorced after more than 40 years of marriage. My mom remarried within months and my dad was dating and would also remarry less than a year after finalizing the divorce. My father-in-law had a bad fall and brain bleed. Sean stayed for an extended time in Portland as we teetered between fear that we would lose him, and gratitude as he recovered. At the end of 2016 we were moving my father-in-law into assisted living in our town and helping him sort through finances, a house sale, and belongings. We were pulling through an intense season of youth ministry, feeling like crisis and losses were coming too fast to process.
Fall of 2016 I had discovered a chunk of hair missing on my head. I was talking to my hairdresser (who happens to be my sister) and half laughing, mostly wide eyed, said, “Funny thing. Check this out.”
It’s never good to hear a disapproving gasp from your hairdresser…or your sister. She wasn’t laughing with me. “Shilo, this is a stress patch. You need to do something about this.”
“Well, it grows back, right?”
“Sometimes. Probably. I mean, it should.”
Instead, the patch got a little bigger and I began parting my hair strategically.
My sister and cousin declared “Operation Hair Regrowth” on my behalf. They pushed me to slow down in any area I could, to do more things that refresh than drain me, to let go of my oldest-child-try-to-fix-everything tendency that weighed me down in family crisis.
There were many circumstances out of my control. I was often praying, “Lord, I absolutely believe you can uphold me and I absolutely believe you work in my heartaches. But man, I could use a little relief.”
I grew bold in my prayers. Apparently that happens when I’m on my knees and losing hair. I had prayed a long time for the health of my husband. As I watched him navigate ministry, student and family crisis’, two side jobs, on top of taking care of his dad, I didn’t just pray that God would intervene in a general sense. I specifically asked for a non-church job that would bring financial and emotional relief to him and our whole family. I prayed very specifically for physical, emotional and spiritual health.
In January 2017 a job popped up for Sean and was exactly all the things I prayed for. I doubted he’d see it the same way because he loves ministry and wasn’t praying with me for something new. Yet, he saw what I saw. Through a series of events that I believe were led by the Lord and in direct answer to prayers I prayed, by February 2017 Sean transitioned into his new position at Faithlife.
Leaving ministry was difficult. You can’t help but have an identity crisis after wrapping yourself tightly in one thing for nearly two decades. Every time there was struggle or a little panic set in, something happened to encourage us or validate the decision we made. The peace we felt as a family was profound, even in the crazy transition.
Part of me was determined to adhere to Operation Hair Regrowth and part of me understood that many stresses are out of my hands. I prayed often, “Lord, you know what I need and I absolutely don’t want to carry anything I shouldn’t be carrying. I know in the midst of the crazy, you have ways to bring me peace and deeper dependence on you. So if 2017 is more unraveling, give me ways to stay grounded and healthy.” Simultaneously I asked for rest and hoped that “celebration” wasn’t just my own idea.
How has it been a year since I nervously prayed those prayers? With power lines down and winds high, 2018 arrived and I wasn’t at all ready for it. I should have had trumpets, copious amounts of confetti, and banners. I should've been running in the streets, singing and dancing (then again…falling trees…maybe not).
2017 started with trepidation and hope that felt like a pipe dream. It grew (along with my hair!) into a year of refreshment.
Sean’s new job has been absolutely what our family needed. He travels a lot which keeps him creative, sharp, making new friends and connections, and gives him opportunity to be challenged. He was hired at the same time as one of his closest friends, which made the transition a thousand times more fun.
(It can be hard to get out when you're living in hotels and conference centers, but I send rainy Washington pictures so he'll take some time to enjoy sunshine in other parts of the country.)
When Sean’s home, he works from home and is available to our family in a way he has never been. Ever. He goes on field trips, he drives kids to practice and he has dinners with us. He’s also around during the day so we’ve been able to do some projects together during school hours. It’s a strange schedule but it works for us.
Beyond the schedule and practical change, there have been deeper and harder to articulate changes. If you stood in our kitchen observing interactions a year ago and then stood in our kitchen tonight, you would sense it but might struggle to describe it, just as I do. Perhaps fueled by a new job and outward changes, but perhaps more the Holy Spirit deciding it’s time, there is an increase of peace in our home. We have a dad and husband who is choosing to engage and have fun with us. It’s bringing relief and freedom that we’ve lacked.
I published a book in 2017! Cue more confetti and break out the t-shirt gun (because for real-we have one.). My newly published devotional is the visible evidence of workings God has been doing for many years; tangible evidence I can hold in my hands.
The fun surprise of publishing this book has been the opportunities it’s opened up. I developed teaching material and taught an 8 week class on the book. I developed a mentor’s guide to accompany the book (to be released 2018)! I've had opportunities to speak to various groups, including a roomful of Young Life leaders, on how to use the book with students. After many years of thinking my writing was “just for me” or “just between me and Jesus”, I’m giddy that He’s proven me wrong.
I can always find a reason to not celebrate. This year could easily be looked at through the lens of my parent's divorce, the high emotions of Sean's career change, the sadness of my father-in-law losing independence, and my perspective could cloud the hundreds of things worth celebrating. I could dream up all the awful things that could be coming down the pike, and conclude it's too early to kick up my heels and proclaim it celebration season. Or I can say, "Yes, there are still simultaneously hard things-welcome to life-but it won't dampen the gratitude I have. In fact, it gives me hope for every hard thing!" May I never rob myself of enjoying what there is to enjoy.
This is the beautiful hope of the Christian life, isn't it? We never run out of things to celebrate. Even when we have heavy hearted waves and blurry eyes skewed by sin, loss, and discouragement, the story isn't over. What my eyes see is just a sliver of God's work. I absolutely believe I will not be disappointed by eternity with Jesus. I will never run out of fulfillment, celebration, and happy endings. As my confidence in Christ builds, I discover more celebrations along the way. I'm intentionally stopping to stand witness, to acknowledge, to savor them.
As 2018 is ushered in, I celebrate visible evidences of God's internal work. I also celebrate the work I can't see yet-the tangled messes I believe are still used for His glory. I celebrate grit that gets us through the bleak work to a place where we can see the view. I celebrate a year that (finally!) didn't feel circular. As 2018 kicks off, I also celebrate new hair that sticks up a little strangely-a visible reminder of God's faithfulness.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...