This is the time of year that I miss England most of all. I love America, and I am thankful beyond expression that I live here. But there are days when I yearn for England. On this very day four years ago, I flew across a dark ocean to an island shaped like a rabbit.
That day I also met my best friend, and was reunited with a friend who has since become a brother to me. I was soon to meet another one of my dearest friends, to be challenged and shaped in ways I did not know...I was about to feel the edges of myself and see the face of Christ in unlikely places: from street vendors to homeless folk, in the wrinkles and behind the glasses of my tutors, in the humble and pretentious alike whom I met at college. Little did I know any of this four years ago to the day. All I knew was that I had barely made my flight and that I was grateful to have an empty seat next to me.
The intervening years have seen much change, regression, and growth in myself and my peers. Who has not fallen back three steps in the taking of one at times? None of us knew the pain and loss these last years would bring—parents divorced, loved ones dying at young ages, cancer, disappointed hopes, and dark nights of the soul. Not one of us quite knew the joys these last years would bring—marriages, children, grad school, world travel, opportunities that refined our skills, reunions, spiritual freedom and progress, and Hope—always Hope—to anchor our souls.
At this time last year I was looking forward in hope to a better year. I was excited to read over my previous goal letter and witness very specific answered prayers. However, it took very few weeks for me to realise that 2014 would be much more difficult than the preceding year. Some of most cherished hopes were dashed to shards, others blossomed in ways I never expected.
Hindsight is always bittersweet in this fallen world, and I often pin my hopes on the unwritten days ahead. Learn from the past, live in the now, hope the future will be better. That seems to be my motto. Yet I have been challenged by the writings of G. K. Chesterton not to expect the Fall to come undone in future days and weeks, simply because they are as-of-yet unwritten.
"The last few decades have been marked by a special cultivation of the romance of the future. We seem to have made up our minds to misunderstand what has happened; and we turn, with a sort of relief, to stating what will happen—which is (apparently) much easier."*
Alas! I am lazy, looking for the easy way out of trials, ache, and loss. I just want all the bad to go away so I can live a beautiful life, where everyone looks out for the interests of others—rather than poking their noses in, unwanted. It is easier to look ahead than to remember the past, because the past is laced with both joy and pain. No one wants to focus on the bitter, unless they are infected with that poison. Still, it is hard to pursue joy—not happiness, but joy. It can be unspeakably difficult to accept with joy loneliness, abandonment, death, or some other loss. Why must we bear the cost of someone else's poor choices? Yet we often do. When we look back at what has gone before, in our lives, in history, we see that turning our face to the Maker in praise—especially in the midst of pain—is where we grow and are made whole.
So, I look back upon this year, glad that is over—and yes, I am hoping and praying that the New Year will be full of good things without any major loss or pain... But I also know that I must accept with joy whatever comes, and I know that is not easy. Easy is not where I struggle for life, it is not where my spiritual muscles are strained and strengthened. I do not ask for hardship to make me grow, but I ask for the grace and humility to walk with Jesus through all hard things with joy.
Let me be Christ haunted in the coming year—Amen.
* Chesterton, G. K., "The Fear of the Past" in What's Wrong with the World (Public domain)