Well, here we are once again. It’s the end of another year. The other day I almost wrote 2016 on a document. I’m in trouble come January.
It’s been a quite year in the world of writing but I cannot miss the chance to reflect on the year. This year in particular has no shortage of blessings and difficulties to mine for treasures.
As I have for the last few years, I set a framework at the start of 2017. A word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year. My one word was “BEYOND” and my verse, Philippians 2:3-4, a verse about living beyond oneself and stepping into the lives of others. And it has certainly been 12 months of “beyond”.
As I was reflecting on 2017 the other day, I jotted down a short poem that has helped me unpack the past year.
Answers beyond my asking
Provision beyond my plans
Trials beyond my strength
Sight beyond the secondhand
And to finish out the longest year
He is asking for one bit more
Faith beyond the silent fear
That nothing lies beyond the door
ANSWERS BEYOND MY ASKING
For those who know me, you are likely aware that this was a year of finding the far side of grief. I knew there would be many changes in front of me as I stepped into 2017, and I was asking for particulars. Only, I was apparently asking small when God wanted to give big.
For example, I knew I would be moving and sane roommates are an important detail. And that is exactly what I asked for: a sane roommate. Only, God had more in mind. Not only is my roommate sane and self-aware, she is incredibly fun. We don’t tiptoe around each other. We don’t simply share space. We share life. It is the sweetest gift.
I asked to live near community. I didn’t imagine that community would live downstairs.
I requested to be near a certain area of town. I’m right in the heart of that area.
Why do we ask so small? Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). And yet, for some reason, I constantly fear asking for too much. As though I’ve used up my fair share of God’s goodness and should leave some for others. Pro tip: There is no limit to God’s goodness.
PROVISION BEYOND MY PLANS
Ms. Woods. Until this year, the only people who called me “Ms. Woods” were bank tellers and insurance salesmen. Now, in the span of a day, I hear my last name approximately 900 times more than my first. That is because I am a teacher. Wait. I need to write that again. I am a teacher.
I had a short stint of teaching a few years ago, but my students called me “Ms. Erin”. Now, I am “Ms. Woods” or sometimes “Mrs. Woods” because when most of your teachers are Mrs., it can be difficult to remember Ms. I get to teach 5th and 6th graders God’s Word. It’s pretty great. Not without its challenges, but nonetheless sweet.
This is provision beyond my plans because I never planned to be a teacher. Not in this sense. However, when the calling you felt when you were 12 takes some sharp turns and derails, you sort of approach the professional world with open hands. I applied for a billion ministry positions and was constantly met with “We love you and you are most definitely made for this job, but we are hiring someone else.” That is always an interesting conversation to process. All of those really affirming (totally serious) rejections led me to substitute teaching, which in turn led me to a full-time position in the world of education.
TRIALS BEYOND STRENGTH
The first half of my year was marked by social anxiety and fear and grief and internal battles like I have never known. Typically, I speak to strangers as though we’ve grown up next door to one another. Social anxiety was a completely new experience. It is especially strange to recognize exactly what is happening and have no earthly idea how to come to that moment differently.
I had gone back to the church I attended prior to my years in youth ministry. It was a church I helped plant. A place where I knew so many people. So many knew me. And yet, I felt invisible. I showed up over and over, bringing all I had to bring, and just could not find my footing. A lot changes in 3 years. The church had grown and changed. I had grown and changed. It was as though I was attempting to plug in a lamp while being blindfolded. I couldn’t find the connection and feared that grasping around for it might end poorly…fingers in a socket is an unhealthy connection.
It was incredibly isolating and painful to feel like a stranger in a community I was so sure I should be easily sliding back into. Even more isolating was the feeling of being a stranger to myself. Who was this woman who feared meeting people and who floated through days wearing a mask? But, that was the first half of the year. Now, we are here, on the far side, and things look much different. Brighter…the lamp is plugged in, and I am finding more and more of the woman I recognize.
SIGHT BEYOND THE SECOND HAND
There isn’t a ton of ways to unpack this part. In short, much of this year was, and is, learning to see beyond what I feel in the moment. I’m a 4 in the world of the enneagram, which in short means I feel things fully. I once had a counselor explain my emotional experience (and frustration with those who do not seem to understand it) in this way: “You are sharing your experience of painting with oils. There are textures. Your colors blend. It is a rich and complex painting and you are trying to help people recreate it. The problem is that they don’t have the tools you do. They are working with crayons and will never be able to see what you see.” Mind blown. Now, this is in no way meant to belittle anyone. We are all wired differently. I feel everything and am willing to feel every bit of it until I find the treasures buried in the experience. Knowing this and embracing it helps me to also recognize when I am missing out on valuable moments and relationships because I’m stubbornly refusing to look beyond the emotion.
FAITH BEYOND THE FEAR
The details of this beyond are for me and The Holy Spirit to know and sort out. What I will say is that the Lord snuck this in at the wire. He is asking me to be available to things that I apparently had decided were not available to me. This should be fun and incredibly terrifying.
“Lift your heads to extend love to others…Get beyond yourselves…secure your neighbor’s interest first.”
Do any of us have this figured out yet? I sit;l have much to learn about getting beyond myself. Living in Houston in 2017 provided plenty of opportunities to learn. Our entire city was under water, for days. And somehow, not one member of my family lost a thing in the flood. This told me one thing: Erin, you are free to help someone else. There was nothing keeping me from wading into the lives of my neighbors and anything that was, purely stemmed from selfishness. But let me tell you, there is such joy in coming alongside your hurting neighbors and helping them clear space for new life. It’s messy and hard work and sometimes awkward, but it is also sweet and powerful and good.
There were other opportunities for learning. Some, I recognized and leapt into immediately. Some, I recognized and pretended to not notice. And some, I just didn’t see. There is much room for growth and I look forward t continuing to get beyond Erin’s little world. There is so much life to be shared.
2017, you were a year to remember. A roller coaster. Terrifying turns and steep drops I was sure would send me soaring into the nearest grave. And squeals of delight with feet dangling and hands in the air. And just like the end of the roller coaster ride, the fear seems like a faint memory and the child-like giddiness courses through my veins.