Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Back on 2013

What follows is not an exhaustive review of 2013, but just a few impressions that have stuck with me about my year.

Home & friends

This year has seen several changes. The first was moving to a new neighborhood. I was initially upset at the prospect of moving from a location in which we had been comfortable for nearly three years. It seemed to portend changes in other routines in which I felt secure. As it turned out, the new apartment (and the relative ease of finding it!) have been an example of God's provision for us. Even though I was not excited to move from the edge of the suburbs into St. Louis proper, we have found the new place to be a better deal and a more suitable situation than we would likely have sought out otherwise. Living in South City is pretty much like living anywhere else that we have lived together, though a bit of a trek from church and most of our friends.

One of the happy outcomes of our move, however, has been living closer to my friend Rebekah. It has been lovely to connect for more than one cramped lunch-hour per week, and our friendship has flourished more than ever. This fall Bekah launched a Psalm-singing group which has proven to be a delightful occasion for fellowship. One day we were discussing Rosaria Butterfield's book, and just a few days later, my friend cheerfully announced that a stack of psalters had arrived in the mail and that we were all invited over for singing and dessert the next Lord's Day evening! It is one of the many reasons I love this girl. I hope the group will draw more interest in the coming year.

Speaking of fellowship, one of the very hardest things has been saying goodbye to the Cowans. Since we met in the same small group at our pastor's house in 2011, Coralie, Jonathan, and their family have become some of our dearest friends. We felt sought out by them, even though we weren't a seminary family like them and many others in our church, and we'd been attending the Kirk for several months longer than they had. It meant so much for me and Kevin to be invited into the life of a family in this way, something I don't think either of us realized we missed and longed for after years of frequent moves and the rootlessness of student life.

This month the Cowans moved to New Brunswick where Jonathan will be pastoring a church, an opportunity the Lord has clearly prepared them for. Even having prayed for such a thing and knowing what a blessing it would be for them and for Christ's church, I was caught off guard by how painful the reality of distance can be -- that even when it accompanies something beautifully right, the loss of proximity somehow feels wrong. I suppose it has something to do with that sense of home and presence that marked our time together.

The most wonderful thing, though, has been the way that spending time with them has consistently moved us to love Christ more. It is a precious thing to have friends who make Jesus more beautiful to you, and that is something that won't change or fade. Even though the feeling of presence will no longer be quite the same, I hope God will teach us to extend hospitality to others as has been graciously done for us, and as I know the Cowans will continue doing in their new church.

Academics & depression

In light of multiple changes, it isn't surprising that, this year, St. Louis didn't feel as much like the haven we imagined it to be when we first arrived. While the Lord was gracious to bring us here, His purpose wasn't necessarily to shelter us from hard things.

One case in point is that this year felt like being stuck in a rut. It's easy to exaggerate, because on one hand, I successfully defended my dissertation topic and advanced to ABD/candidacy status, which is a major milestone! I am so thankful to have reached this point after months of struggle and uncertainty, and to have the opportunity to write a dissertation in my field after more than a decade of working toward this point.

On the other hand, I experienced an almost overwhelming sense of stagnation this year. It's as if my passion, creativity, and focus have seeped out little by little, along with the facility with language and love of study I've depended on for as long as I can remember. Reading and writing have become wearisome in a way that they never were before. It is dispiriting, even humiliating, to feel as if the gifts I have spent my entire adulthood, really my entire life, exclusively cultivating and building much of my identity around are slipping from my grasp. Attempts at tweaking my routine and "just trying harder" have mostly amounted to finding new ways to fail and become discouraged.

One factor is depression. I believe I've been seriously depressed over the past year, and likely longer than that. It's nothing new; it's been recurrent through much of my adult life, and rather than being strictly situational, it probably has a physical basis that is triggered by anxieties and other factors. It can be fairly manageable, but I've dealt with it better at some points than at others. This past year was not one of the better times. Ironically, the best way to not let chronic depression define me is not to avoid admitting or dealing with the problem, but to confront it head-on. Seems pretty obvious, right? Somehow, though, in the thick of it, it just isn't.

The worst thing about depression, for me, is the overall sense of uselessness it brings. When I am unable to work well, my confidence that I have something to contribute plummets, and I start to feel like dead weight wherever I go, whether at school, at church, even hanging out with friends. As you might imagine, after awhile, that feeling erodes any sense of connection to community. It is hard to believe that I bring anything of value to others when my mind and emotions seem to be perpetually out of whack. Hopefully, with treatment, I'll start feeling like my old self soon, these feelings will fade, and I'll be more capable of connecting to people again. And I am getting help with the symptoms, so while I am grateful for understanding and support (VERY grateful -- I know that another person's depression can be frustrating to sympathize with, even if one has experienced it personally), you don't need to be too worried about me. You could pray that I will regain my ability to concentrate so that I can progress on my dissertation, and maybe that I'll regain some of my love of writing in the process.

Looking toward next year

Thankfully, I've never lost sight of my manifold blessings -- a husband who loves me so well (who would have thought that would happen for me?!), a supportive family, a comfortable home, a church where I can count on being fed with the Word every single week.

While part of me just wants to say good riddance to 2013, and to wish that even if things don't become less hard, at least they might be a different kind of hard, I'm content with whatever God will use to mold us into better servants of His church. I am trusting Him to reign well over my life, as He does over all things.