Reflecting on another year

Today is my 31st birthday. And before we go any farther, no: this email is not an attempt to get all of you to wish me a Happy Birthday or send me a Starbucks gift card (though I would gladly welcome both).

But if you know me, you know I’m overly sentimental at what I would call “crossroads” or “check points” in life. Any time I move on to a new “phase” of life, I spend a lot of time reflecting on that past season. It almost feels like saying goodbye like you would to a friend moving so far away that you know you’ll never see them again.

When I’ve moved out of any place I’ve lived, it’s been hard to say goodbye and look at an empty space that was once filled with my stuff and moments that became memories. I’m such a sap that I even do this on vacations if I’ve had a memorable enough time there. Emily often has to snap me out of it and remind me it’s just a hotel room, or just an Airbnb, and that I’ll be okay.

But no matter the length, all of these instances meant that it was the end of an era, and that feels momentous enough to remember and reflect on.

It’s easy in 2020 to talk about what’s been bad, and many people just can’t wait for this year to be over (more on this down the road!)

But today, if you’ll indulge me, I want to reflect on the past year of my life and, in turn, I hope this inspires you to think about the last season of your own life, however you’d define it, and focus on the ways in which you’ve grown and most importantly what you’re grateful for.

1. My relationship with God has grown deeper 

The year away from teaching, which I talked about in a recent email and podcast episode, brought its share of challenges as it related to identity and comparison. But out of those battles grew a stronger reliance on God. Rather than running from those struggles, I ran toward God with them and listened to what the Bible has to say about it and what so many others who have struggled with it have learned about it. 

It’s allowed me to feel a freedom from those pressures that I didn’t possess before. 

Then, when COVID-19 hit with all of its uncertainty, it forced an even deeper reliance to be content and free of worry when we didn’t know what the next week, or even day, would look like. 

2. Emily and I moved to a new city and into a new house

It was literally on this day last year that I packed up my car and moved to Bowling Green for good. As soon as I dropped my tennis players off at the school after we had just lost at the State Finals, I hit the road headed toward my new home Bowling Green. How’s that for a birthday gift?

In the year that we’ve been here, we’ve been blessed to have a beautiful home that’s fit for company and hanging out. We’ve also welcomed a second cat into our family and have built a life in what feels like a home we could live in for many years.

3. I started my podcast

It had been on my heart since the early summer of 2019 to start a podcast, and I was finally able to launch it in November. We’re going on almost a year of doing it and approaching 50 episodes. I never thought when I started it that I’d be able to have people like Matt Holliday, Hannah Brencher, Scott Sauls, Dan Orlovsky, and others on as guests.

It’s been truly amazing to see how God has worked through that project and I’m continuously blown away by the caliber of guests I’m able to land and the content of our interviews. It’s been such a joy to bring these conversation to people and use the gift of communication that God has given me to help share hope, encouragement, and truth with people.

4. I’ve gotten to write (and read) more

One of the hardest parts of teaching previously was having to squelch the creative desires I had because my busy schedule simply didn’t allow any time or energy to pursue them. I spent every year from 18 to 26 writing and pursuing professional writing opportunities. It was a little jarring to just sort of shut off that part of me for a few years while teaching and coaching.

This past year I’ve been able to restart that engine. I’ve started writing weekly to you all here and more regularly on my website, and I’ve also carved out a role as a regular contributor for Sports Spectrum. I had a couple more pieces published by RELEVANT and I’ve got some other things being published in the near future at other spots.

This has been good for the soul. Writing is the cathartic exercise my soul needs to stay balanced.

I entered 2020 with a goal to read 25 books. Even though I’m a writer and an English teacher, it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I really started to read much, and even then I really only read when I needed to. I’ve read 15 this year and am about to finish two others, so I think I’ll be able to meet my goal.

5. I entered back into teaching

This has also been good for the soul. While this year is bizarre and probably the strangest school year I’ll ever experience, it’s been really great to be back in the classroom teaching kids. I’m grateful for Warren East High School giving me a chance and hiring me.

I work with an incredible staff of teachers and administrators and the students have been great. It’s not been easy — in fact, it’s been pretty challenging — but I’m grateful to be a part of a community that really cares about each other.

I could keep going and talk about the traveling Emily and I have gotten to do, how we’ve gotten more involved at church, how I’ve found a new sport I love in golf, and how I got to attend my first ever writer’s conference. But I think you get the picture: this past year hasn’t been all bad. 

I’m literally writing this as the clock inches toward midnight and I’m trying to savor the last few minutes of being 30. I always felt growing up that 30 seemed like a major age — that when I got to that point I’d be so old and be such a grown-up. My Dad always likes to ask me every year on my birthday, “do you feel any older?” Aside from maybe turning 21 and answering that while I sipped my first beer, this was the one age where I really did feel older. I was leaving the youth of my 20s behind and entering what will officially just be “grown-up adult life” here on out.

What I’m mostly grateful, though, is that I feel like perhaps more than in any other year, at 30 I embraced every part of the essence of who God made me to be and felt confident sharing it all with the world. I’ve never been all that comfortable being public and outspoken about my faith and using my creative skills to share about it, but I’ve shed that skin and am comfortable in my new one.

I’ve written more, tweeted more, podcasted more, and just generally shared more about my faith publicly this year than probably all of my other years combined. Thank God for that.

Thank you all for embracing that and being a part of it, and if you’ve made it this far, that in itself is as great of a birthday gift as I could ask for, whether you’re reading this on my birthday or not. One request I’ll make — and it’s my birthday, so I can do what I want — is that you’ll use today to write down what you’re grateful for in the past year.