With the exception of last year when I rang in the New Year with 22,000 of my "closest friends" at Urbana, :) I have upheld the same New Year's tradition for the past few years.
Every day, I keep a journal of at least five things I am thankful for in that day. At the end of the year, I review the list and ring in the New Year by praying (praising) through the many evidences of God's faithfulness in my life. I have come to absolutely cherish this time with God.
I think there is something to be said for publicly praising God too, so I thought I would share with you some of my praises of 2007:
This year, God has done some amazing things in the young adult group that I am a part of. I have witnessed such growth in the lives of those within the group. We have bonded through sharing the stories of our spiritual journeys, devoting ourselves to corporate service in our church and community, spending time in prayer for one another in the midst of some very deep hurts, and just having some fun game nights with Catch Phrase!
Turkey: the most difficult time of my entire life, and yet the time when I encountered the love and power and presence of my Almighty God like never before. This was the greatest, most significant test of my faith to date. I praise God that He preserved me even though this time. If you haven't heard or read my testimony that came out of this experience, I encourage you take the time to do so even if you read no other post on this blog. Really, it is a testimony of our good God--the God who is good continually, in the midst of great joy and in the midst of great suffering. You can read my testimony here in a former post.
As Christians, we have the great joy and responsibility to share the gospel message with those we encounter. God brought various people into my path this year who needed Him, and gave me the opportunity to share glimpses of truth with them. Never did I walk away feeling like I had shared "too much" or "shoved the gospel down their throats." In fact in most cases, I felt like I shared too little. But I still praise God for the opportunities to talk about the greatest joy in my life and to pray for these individuals. The story of one of these encounters (and the strange events that led me there) can be read here in a former post.
Wheaton and Comprehensive Exams
By the grace of God, I finished all of my graduate school courses and passed comprehensive exams! All I have left is my internship, and God willing, I will graduate in four months--this May! During my time at Wheaton, I have made some incredible friends who have been godly role models in my life. My friends are serving God all over the world. Some I will not see again until heaven, but I praise God for the impact they have had on my life for eternity and their dedication in serving God wholeheartedly.
Yes, that's right. An ipod. Let me explain. This year, I decided that I would not buy myself an ipod. I figured that this would be one way that I could try to plug my ears to the message of consumerism ("You HAVE to have one!") that surrounds me. I'm NOT saying that buying an ipod is bad, but I figured it was one luxury item I could do without. (Of course, half the things I own are not really things that I "need!")
This summer, out of the blue, and for absolutely no occasion, one of my friends gave me an ipod as a gift! I knew this was really a gift from God, so when I talked with a teenager that I'm close to who is from a wealthy family and struggles with materialism, I was able to tell her that God gave me an ipod (through the generosity of a friend.)
My journal was filled with examples of God's protection in my life and the lives of my loved ones this year. I remember the night my brother Brian called us to tell us that he was okay. It was a few weeks after we returned home from our trials in Turkey. We weren't sure what he was talking about; we hadn't seen the news reports yet. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis had collapsed. My brother often drove on that interstate, but he wasn't there when it collapsed. When we were in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, we drove over the standing portion of the interstate and I took the above picture of where the bridge once stood.
God Pursuing Me
This year, I relished God's love for me. It struck me that He knows the depths of my heart--even the little, silly things. I think He delights in pursuing us in the big ways and in the small ways. Indirectly, I focus on the big ways through the blog--God teaching me various lessons through His Word, God carrying our family through great suffering in Turkey, God's blessing of a godly family and friends, etc. But I want to focus on two small ways here. I do not mean for the following to sound irreverent. For those who know me well, you know I delight in the really small things in life. Here are some examples. :)
Ever since I was little, I have loved toads and frogs. I had pet aquatic frogs (yep, there actually is such a thing) from junior high through college, until I finally became an "adult" and let them go in our creek. This summer, when I was tempted to become apathetic in my walk with God, He filled our entire backyard with thousands (literally) of baby toads. It sounds silly, but it reminded me of how much God loved me.
Also, my favorite "non-religious" holiday is Fourth of July. I absolutely love it! I was in Turkey during the Fourth of July this year, so I missed out on any celebration. But soon after, I was given free tickets to the party deck of the Kane County Cougars stadium, and there was an unbelievable, long, musical fireworks show after the game. Again, that seems so small and insignificant, but it reveals that God knows my heart and loves me deeply.
Dinner with the Lost Boys of Sudan
I would be remiss to end this post focusing my attention on my own personal world and neglecting to call our attention to the nations that God is calling to Himself. This fall, I had an amazing opportunity. I was invited to a dinner party with the Lost Boys of Sudan. Have you heard of their story?
Northern Sudan (predominantly Muslim) was at war with Southern Sudan (predominantly Christian). Those Christians who refused to convert to Islam were severely persecuted. The reason why there is no "lost girls" of Sudan is because they were either raped, killed, or taken as slaves to the North. The boys, who were away tending herds, ran. Over 17,000 boys ran for years. Along the journey, some died of dehydration. Some were taken by wild animals. Others succumbed to insect bites or disease. But as they banded together, many survived, and over 4,000 have now come to the United States to begin a new life.
As I heard their story from their own mouths over dinner this fall, I sat speechless. This happened in my lifetime. These boys, now men, are not much older than myself. Their story is well known; it has been all over the news. What is often downplayed by the media is their Christian testimony. Familiarize yourself with the Lost Boys. Watch one of the documentaries that will leave you held captive, such as the CBS 60-Minutes special featuring their story or the film God Grew Tired of Us. When you hear them praise God that their relatives chose to die in the face of persecution, which they rightfully consider far better than recanting their faith in God, gratitude will take on a whole new meaning for you.
Happy New Year, my friends! May you find yourself absolutely in awe of the God whom you serve as you consider His faithfulness--through triumphs and trials--this past year of 2007. May you eagerly anticipate all that God will do in you and through you for HIS glory in 2008. You are His child. Rejoice!