New Years is always an exciting time, it allows for reflection on the year that was and commencement to the year ahead with abundant hope. This New Years, unlike most other years, carried extra weight as it is not only the close to the year but also the decade. The week leading up to New Year’s Online & Television outlets alike were inundated with decades in review, it was nearly impossible to not get caught in their web. I multiple times found myself victim to their reminiscent draw, whether it was ESPN’s 100 top bloopers of the decade, FOX’s biggest stories of the decade or a random Facebook pop up list, it got me thinking about my own decade of change.
The beginning of the decade saw me embark on two things that I was told would never happen. I was told I was too dumb to go to college but yet 2010 saw me enroll as a freshman at Liberty University to pursue my degree in Religion and Christian Counseling for the purpose of pursuing the second thing I was told would never happen, being a pastor. Whether by luck or God’s divine providence I was blessed to almost simultaneously with starting school be a part of a church plant, that allowed me to put to use what I learned as I learned through, preaching, teaching and pastoring in that small church. That church holds a special place in my heart as it was the place where I gave my first sermon and gained multitudes of hands on experience, but not all the lessons learned were good as late 2013 saw the closing of that church and chapter. It was not long until a new door opened that would see me through the end of the decade and some of the biggest moments of my life. 2015 saw me graduate with not one but two Bachelor’s degrees as I also received a Bachelors in Psychology to go with my religion degree. I was blessed to start and lead a successful Men’s ministry that continues today after my departure and concluded the year with the highlight of officiating my sister’s wedding. Overall, 2015 was a banner year to close out the first half of the decade. As we turned the corner of the decade and began trucking towards 2020, I did not know it then but retrospectively 2016 was the calm before the storm. That year many decisions were made that would change the trajectory of my life forever most notably the decision to pursue my Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling. As 2016 concluded there was something that seemed to be off but there was no way that I or anyone could have foreseen how the next 12 months would play out.
As the calendar flipped to 2017 my world would be very quickly and tumultuously turned upside down. Everything that I planned and hoped for, all that I knew as an adult, the dreams for the future in a matter of weeks seemingly disappeared. Then something amazing happened, something only the hand of God could have orchestrated. Amid the greatest wounding of my life and one of if not the darkest period of my life, Christ met me where I was. He lifted me up and put me back on my feet. He took what could have, and almost certainly would have destroyed me without his involvement and used it to refine me, remake me and lift me to levels I never thought possible. 2017 saw me lose everything I had worked for and held most dear, but it also saw me begin to become the man I was always meant to be, demonstrating that even in the storm Christ was with me and had a plan. If 2016 was the calm before the storm then 2018 was the restoration after the storm as God one year to the day that the storm began, commenced not just restoring but improving what had been lost the year before. It was a year that saw me find my best friend, laugh in ways I never thought I could again and accomplish things that previously seemed out of reach. In May 2018 I graduated from Liberty University with my Master’s Degree, which is not bad for someone who was previously told he was too dumb to even make it to college. As exciting and momentous as it was to be graduating from Liberty that was not enough for me as the day before I graduated, on Liberty Mountain overlooking campus the same place where a year prior I cast my circumstances and the accompanying storm at the foot of Christ’s cross, I asked my best friend to become wife. September of that year my best friend became my wife and shortly thereafter I was finally formally recognized as a Pastor by a man and church that stood by me in my times struggle.
After the amazing growth of 2017 and the blessing of 2018, it was going to be tough for 2019 to compare but that did not stop me from entering into it with hope and expectation that it could. As I progressed through 2019 it became very apparent 2019 was not going to be the year I expected as it saw old wounds reopened through multiple legal proceedings regarding our kids and unforeseen financial struggles that put a halt to any plans I had coming into the year. This is not to say though that God was not faithful throughout the year as he used 2019 as a year of transition with an eye to the decade ahead. Early 2019 saw me leave my longtime job in favor of a position with a local school district working with students in a social, emotional and behavioral program for the purpose of better understanding the cultures within which I operate. 2019 also saw me step away from my ministry responsibilities at Family Life Community Church to focus on building this ministry and uniting local churches. Both endeavors have proven to be both fulfilling and at times aggravating but have reaffirmed the calling and direction of our lives.
As I look back over the last decade it is hard to not feel like an arborist studying the rings of a tree, which for those that don’t know tells a trees entire story. The further apart two rings are the better the growing conditions were during that year, while the closer together the rings are the more challenging the growing conditions were. One thing that is consistent in both trees and life is that each year leaves its mark on you, which for a tree means a ring. In a good year the tree grows rapidly with noticeable external growth, while on the other hand tough years lead to slower growth but create inner strength that is not as easily seen until life’s storms come. As I look at the last decade, I see years that I grew a lot and had successes while other years I struggled and lamented what I was going through. In retrospect I am thankful for those years of struggle as they created an inner fortitude that gave me the strength to move on and survive through the next storm. This comparison is a reminder for myself as much as others to appreciate the success as well as the failure, the trial as much as the breakthrough and to praise God throughout the journey as you need both seasons to arrive where you want to get
For the conclusion of this blog go to Hello 2020 part 2: Burn The Ships