As the murmur of midnight fireworks fades from my neighborhood, I was inspired to write a love letter to this last year and the one we now find ourselves in. Without a doubt, this last year was a gift and one I both want and need to remember. Yet, like many of the best years in life, it was a paradox full of conflicting moments — ones of terrifying vulnerability and giddy excitement, disappointment and too good to be true optimism, hasty regret and deep-seated gratitude. My nervous stomach was all aflutter with butterflies the better part of those 365 days. But in every single moment was my Jesus, holding my hand tightly as I stood like a little child, looking into his eyes with the question: “Are we gonna get through this?”
This summer, I was given the gift of a week at a lodge in Tahoe with a good friend. It was full of rest, solitude, beauty. The particularly profound part of this gift was how it fell right before two doctor appointments to address two deeply personal issues. As I drove back down the mountain that final day, strengthened by my time alone with God (and that three-hour kayaking trip), I wept on the freeway, listening to Andrew Peterson’s album, The Burning Edge of Dawn. As is usually the case in the presence of incomparable beauty, I was overwhelmed. Even as the butterflies fluttered around madly in the walls of my stomach, I knew without a doubt that the last four days had been uniquely timed for me to encounter God on that mountain before facing some of my greatest fears to date. It had calmed my blood pressure and inner voices. It allowed me to put on the armor of God for whatever happened during these appointments. This is not a new thing. I’ve long noticed a pattern of solitude (whether in the form of housesitting jobs or retreats) whenever I find myself in the midst of a chaotic or grieving season. It began the year I first read Elisabeth Elliot’s Be Still My Soul and has been happening ever since.
This was also the summer I enforced new boundaries in friendship, opened up my heart to others, celebrated the engagement of my little brother, and finished my graduate degree. At the end of all that, I also said yes to a major commitment that, in retrospect, may not have been the wisest choice but was still an incredible opportunity: teaching my first English course at William Jessup University (I’d actually committed to two but was graciously released from the second before having to frantically bail because… mental breakdowns).
This Christmas season was a beautiful gift as well.
Celebrating advent with my Horizon church family was really sweet this year. Between Sunday mornings (filled with the faces of my own family and the friends who have become so), our annual Tree Lighting, and the candlelit Christmas Eve service, I was yet again struck by God’s unfathomable goodness and the way he led me to this church exactly four Christmas Eves ago after taking Brad Swope’s Christian Perspective class. Never could I have imagined the world he’d open up to me and the love and community he’d allow me to find.
Going into 2018, I’m pretty stoked. It feels like a milestone of a year, for sure. Not only am I saying goodbye to my 20’s forever, but it’s a time for new opportunities, career exploration, and other major life decisions I’ll need to make with God’s guidance. I want this to be a year of foolish optimism, idealistic hope, and abundant life. And, of course, in whatever actually happens, I know Jesus will be right there walking alongside me — like he did on that mountain.
In the fantastic new film The Greatest Showman, there’s a gorgeous sequence where P. T. Barnum’s wife reminisces (in waltz timing — aka the best timing) over the life she and her husband promised to live together when they first married:
“Some people long for a life that is simple and planned — tied with a ribbon. Some people won’t sail the sea cause they’re safer on land — to follow what’s written. But I’d follow you to the great unknown. Off to a world we call our own.”
As soon as I heard it, I saw my relationship with Jesus. He asks us to follow him into the unknown — an unknown that is absolutely terrifying sometimes. But as the song goes, “It’s all an adventure that comes with a breathtaking view… walking a tightrope with you.”
Have a marvelous new year, my friends!
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to he who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” -Ephesians 3:16-21
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Bailey Gillespie works as adjunct faculty and Director of Academic Engagement at William Jessup University. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over health, creativity, and faith. Recently, her writing has appeared on Real Hope Rising, Voice of Courage, and The Rabbit Room. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.