Old Memories, A New Year

2014[1]

“There are far, far better ahead than any we leave behind.”-CS Lewis

2014 has arrived like a thief in the night. Or more accurately, like a sleepover with an unending supply of pillow fights and caffeinated beverages. I don’t want to sound too cynical but I really do not like the first days of a new year. In years past, I was the guy who would post as his status message on Facebook that lyric from Death Cab For Cutie, “so this is the new year and I don’t feel any different.”

Last year was different.

  • 2013 started with me gaining and losing my fourth job in as many months. A pattern that one suggested that something must be wrong with my soul, instead of looking at it as a string of coincidences that happened to collide with me getting married in two weeks.
  • On February 9th, I shed my bachelorhood cocoon for a wife. Words cannot come close to expressing how much joy she has brought into my life in the eleven months we have been man and wife. Many couples had shared with us that the first year of marriage is rough. Frankly, we haven’t found this to be the case. We’ve had our share of strain and toil, but as with anything, the best things in life take time to develop. I’ll take a home cooked meal over a microwave dinner any night. She brings joy into my life, like a ray from the sun bursting through storm clouds. I am blessed and I hope that I never lose this perspective. The bottom line, I highly recommend marriage, but just a warning: it will be more challenging than you ever thought it was, but the rewards outweigh the storms that you two encounter.
  • I ended up getting a job as a part time substitute teacher for a small charter network of schools spread out across the East Valley of Phoenix. One day I’d be trying to corral a rambunctious group of 4th graders and the next I’d be explaining life outside of High School to seniors. Three months of substituting led to me being recommended to take over the English department for one of the High School campuses as a full time teacher. I initially turned down the offer because my wife and I were planning on moving up to Northern Arizona to help one my closest friends plant a church. Things never fell quite into place; we decided to settle into life close to family and friends. I checked out the availability on the previous job offer and it was still on the table so I took it.
  • In the fall semester, I ended up teaching three High School English courses, a computer science class, a college and career preparation class for juniors and seniors, an academic skills and speech class for freshman, and advising the yearbook group. It was an eye-opening experience to me since I had never been in a classroom before college and my only exposure to High School was through working with Christian organizations. There were bad days where on my drive home my wife was the recipient of my bitching about the perplexing teenage mind, to good days when students enjoyed their class and seeing the light go off in their young minds was very encouraging. I’m excited about returning to school on January 7th and seeing what adventures my young friends and I will encounter.
  • This year was marked by also the gaining of close friends and the loss of old ones. I’m the type of person who can make friends with anyone and everyone (just ask my wife, she is amazed at the diversity of friends I’ve obtained), but this year was hard maintaining them. I had to learn the hard lesson that if a friendship is continuing, it must go both ways between both people. When several friendships got lost, some new ones sprung out of the ashes. Like my friend Scott. When I moved back we visited several churches of different denominations to get a greater picture of American Christianity. He also comes over to our house at least twice a month for dinner, to play Cards Against Humanity, and have lively discussions on life and religion. Then there’s my friend, Joel. When Jenny and I went through some of our darkest moments as a couple, instead of telling us to read our bibles more, praying without ceasing, Joel simply listened. His love was poured out to us by being present in our lives, which deepened our relationship. Finally, my friend Craig. Craig (and Scott) was one of my groomsmen at the wedding and he has been a source of laughter and provocation. When we’re not cussing through text messages about our angst against Christian subculture, he’s displaying the love of Jesus through his prayers for my family.
  • My wife Jenny and I had our own memories we made in 2013. Ranging from driving in a snow storm on the way to our honeymoon, to late night conversations of silly and serious topics. We also experienced the pain of losing our first born child through miscarriage in the summer. This hit us both hard, as we both dealt with the pain differently. Our personalities are very different, I’m more lively and outgoing, and Jenny is stable and reserved. When we lost our baby, she became outgoing in her pursuit of me while I retreated to hermit mode. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t miss our baby, but we are hopeful that we will be reunited in heaven. We also moved into a rental home fifteen minutes from my school and that provided us opportunities to be more hospitable but in an unlikely way. We were only in our house for three days when our lives were flipped upside down again.  For a month, we hosted a family member who was struggling with depression to the point of attempting suicide. Having to take care of this family member caused strain on our young lives as we had to change our routine and take on the role of caretaker. We are starting to get back to normal now that this family member has moved into another living situation and is starting to improve.

The year was more different than I would have thought it would be.

I am grateful that 2013 is behind us and 2014 has arrived. I’m still waiting for my flying car, or Hoverboard, but until then I remain optimistic that this will be a good year. I’ve always been a fan of trees and if I lived in colder climates I could make the following analogy. “As I look out my window and see snow on the ground and the bare trees, I am reminded by the truth that even though on the outside there is death, in a couple of months they will experience resurrection.” Sadly, where Jenny and I live we don’t see snow or naked trees, but the analogy still remains. Our lives had many moments of pain and death, but our story does not end in death, rather in resurrection.

This year will be marked by resurrection and life.

What does 2014 hold for me and my wife?

I don’t know.

We have our goals, I have my job, we have our house, she has knitting projects, we have our friends and family, we have each other, but more importantly, we have One who remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow who is always with us, even to the end.

——

Okay. I don’t want to end on a Jesus juke, so here are four resolutions I have made for myself:

1) Read more.

I have decided to attempt to read one book a month in order to keep my mind sharp as well as distract me from the literature I’m teaching to my English and Creative Writing classes. I’m teaching The Dollhouse, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Importance of Being Earnest and a wide variety of poems, short stories, plays, and prose.

Here’s a list of what I plan on reading (not in any particular order):

  1. The Way of Simplicity: The Cistercian Tradition by Esther De Waal
  2. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  3. Simply Christian by N.T. Wright
  4. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
  5. The Woman in White by Willkie Collins
  6. I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
  7. The Cloud of Unknowing by Anonymous
  8. Salvation (and How We Got It Wrong) by Bishop Kenneth Myers
  9. The Case For The Psalms by N.T. Wright
  10. The Blue Parakeet. Rethinking How You Read Your Bible by Scot McKnight
  11. Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing In Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous
  12. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From The Gospel Of John by A.W. Tozer

If you’d like to join me in and read one of them with me and start an Oprah Book Club with me (sans Oprah), you can purchase any of them on Amazon. I’ll be posting a book review at the end of each month.

2) Write more.

My writing in 2013 stayed in my head due to “writer’s block,” which I’ve discovered is a fancy way of saying, “I’m afraid of what others are going to think of what I think so I better make it perfect without flaws.” In 2013, I started my share of Facebook comment wars, due to misunderstandings in semantics and terms, but I’m starting to find out that it is sometimes best to further explain one’s self before they burn you at the stake. Who knew by no longer calling myself “Reformed” would cause such controversy? I was treated like I said, “I’m not a Christian anymore,” even though that’s not true. Sadly, my writing went from staying in my head to pithy status messages to snarky comments to notes attached to essays. I’ve decided to redesign this site and write and publish once a week  (minimum). I wish I could say that I’m too busy to write, but truth be told, I love my offline life too much. I am a firm believer that the best things in life happen offline, but over the years I have found that writing tends to be a form of therapy for my soul, so prepare ye internet for (hopefully) more thoughts from yours truly.

3) Create more.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that before my great (times infinity) grandparents ate the forbidden fruit and caused all of humanity (except one) to be stained with sin, we are all imago dei. No, this isn’t a line from The Circle of Life, but it means that everyone is created in God’s image. I’m still trying to figure out what that means, but for right now, I think that it means we share similar (yet broken) characteristics of God. Not to mention, every person on the planet deserves the same love and respect we are given from God. One of the characteristics that bind us all together is being creators, inventors, and innovators. Some people make money from their ability to create (like my wife, hint hint.) and others use their ability to help (or hurt) others. I’m not quite sure what I’ll create (be it photography, painting, music, pottery, poetry, etc.) but I’m eager to contribute more beauty in our beautiful world.

4) Love more.

2013 was a bad year for Western Christian culture. It seems like there were plenty of idiotic things said by predominate Christians in society, ranging from the deranged sayings of a bearded duck call maker, to a “pastor” telling his congregation that he can recreate Jesus’ miracles like walking on water, only to drown to death upon his second step into the river (true story). We get a bad reputation in culture for being a group of hateful, self-righteous, and often double-minded group of individuals. It is my conviction that people who follow Jesus, as imperfect as we are and will be, must be known more for who we love instead of who we hate.  Jesus gave us one of the hardest commands in his final hours leading up to his death and eventual resurrection:

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” –John 13:34-35 (msg)

I want to love my students more, even when they decide to act immature.

I want to love my family more, even when I don’t understand the things they do.

I want to love my friends more, even though I rarely get to see them.

I want to love my wife more, even when I am inconsiderate and selfish.

I want to love Jesus more, because even on my darkest days, He still loves me.

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