When titles and words are hard…

Katie and I have started a ridiculously funny and painfully valid holiday tradition for our family. It started the year we got married (2020). Between canceled graduations, delayed wedding plans, goodbye-less moves, and the start of a global pandemic, we were inspired by a Facebook ad to get a dumpster fire ornament for 2020. A funny, one-off nod to the crazy start of our “official” life together as a married couple. However, 2021 brought its own bout of challenge, heartbreak, and sheer absurdity. So we found another ornament: a 2020 dumpster fire in a 2021 dumpster fire. This time a continued sigh of “goodness gracious, this better be the end of this mess.” As our 2022 dumpster fire (containing 2020 and 2021 dumpster fires) ornament arrived last week, this tradition has become more of a family ritual of recognition of all that’s out of our hands, calling us closer to one another and to God, who thankfully holds all of these emotions of confusion, disappointment, joy, loneliness, hope, longing, etc. along with us.

When I chose “offer” for my 2022 word, I had high hopes. After 2021 and its catastrophic disallusionment, I was desperate for something different, something steady, something good. And boy 2022 was not that. Collecting W2s from 7 different jobs along with far too many “you’re a gifted pastor but not the right fit right now” messages, 2022 has been a constant crisis of validation and sustainability. So much so I’m hesitant to even choose a word for 2023, for fear it will take another crazy turn of meaning.

See, “offer” ended up not at all looking like accepting an offer to be a congregation’s pastor or offering cool new perspectives in a cool new place or receiving joyfully what the world had to offer. Instead, it was a lot of offering myself to spaces for which I had no desire or no capacity to share myself. It was a lot of my counselor offering condolences for yet another disappointment. It was a lot of Katie offering to hold things steady for our household as I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. 2022 was not at all what I hoped for and certainly not at all what I needed.

So where does that leave things in this season requesting peace, joy, and hope in the midst of deep darkness and assiduous waiting? Well, things look more like a garbled ball of newspaper and tape than a neatly wrapped present topped with a sparkling bow. But, there is a gift underneath it all nevertheless. The gift of actually wanting to and being able to write – which has not always been present in the last few years. The gift of continued and growing appreciation for my rockstar wife and all that she brings to my life and the world. The gift of change on the horizon as I leave my office manager position with Katie’s church to pursue hospital chaplaincy for the first few months of the new year. The gift of upcoming interviews with excitingly faithful churches that continue the journey of discernment with me.

Therefore, I’m going to try something a little different for 2023. Rather than a word, I’m choosing a question. Where?

Where are things going right?
Where are things moving, growing, changing?
Where is God at play?
Where can I plug in?
Where might I try something new?
Where can I be more generous? More kind? More honest? More hopeful? More loving?

I know better than to project my assumptions on what this question might do for me in 2023. Every year of this journey of words has been completely different than expected – in beautiful and also in challenging ways. So I’m doing my best to lean in to a blessing a read recently from @honestadvent. Maybe you can, too.

“Our assumptions hinder our spiritual journey in all kinds of ways, and the antidote to assumption is surprise. The surprise of Christ’s incarnation is that it happened in Mary’s day as it is happening every day in your lack of resources, your overcrowded lodging, your unlit night sky, your humble surroundings.
It’s a surprise that life can come through barren places.
It’s a surprise that meek nobodies partake in divine plans.
It’s a surprise that messengers are sent all along the hidden journey of life to let you know you are not alone.
It’s a surprise that you will be given everything you need to accomplish what you’ve been asked to do.
It’s a surprise that nothing can separate you from the love of God.
Nothing can separate you from love. Your assumptions believe there must be something that can…but surprise! Nothing can.

May you thank God with joyful surprise at how much you have assumed incorrectly.”

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