Well, it's that time of year again -- time to think back on 365 days gone by, and to contemplate what the passage of time has taught me and where it has brought me. Without meaning to hyperbolize here, I think that 2006 has been the most influential year of my life since graduating from college. Let me go through the months and recollect on some of the memorable things, and then provide some general themes and patterns I see.
January. 2006 began with two main things on my mind. My dad had recently had surgery, and so he was still in the process of recovery. But the recovery process was going well, and so it was not a huge thing weighing on my mind. I was also in the midst of what by my view was my first "real" dating relationship, with Leah from Wisconsin. I remember at the end of 2005 being pretty excited about the future possibilities. I spent New Year's Eve last year with Leah and her family. She visited Cedar Rapids in the middle of the month, and I visited her at school at the end of the month. That visit also marked "the beginning" of our breakup. I can state that fairly matter-of-factly now, but at the time it was quite the up-and-down month.
In February, Rich visited Cedar Rapids, and I got to meet his girlfriend (now fiance) Kelly. Also in February, Leah & I finished up our breakup (thus another up-and-down month). I convinced myself that I am in fact dysfunctional, or that relationships in general are dysfunctional, but in the end I think we both learned things from the experience. I think for me it sort of set the stage for the rest of the year, and I think God used it to teach me some things about relationships, about myself, and about how to better serve him.
March was a month of traveling. I participated in Rockwell Collins' support of the Air Force's Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) 2006, spending about a week and a half at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas supporting some software that I have specialized in for a few years. The experience was a very good one from my perspective. It blended well with previous "real world" work experience, namely my work in New Mexico in 2004 and California in 2005. At JEFX, I gained a better understanding of how a military operations center works, and honed my understanding of network management and how it fits into a real-world picture. Both of these would serve me well in the remainder of my work year.
I also participated in Hillside's mission trip to Guatemala in March. About fourteen of us spent a week in Guatemala, primarily building houses in the Lake Atitlan village of San Juan, staying at a hotel in San Pedro, and helping with a showing of the Jesus Film. This was my second overseas missions trip (first was to Venezuela in 2000). In 2000, I think I felt a little out of place, and the types of things we did there didn't quite "fit my style" at the time, or something. After six years, Guatemala seemed to be a better experience, and the work was more "manual labor" which seemed easier for me to get involved with and feel like I was contributing. I still had the Spanish/English language barrier, which was a big part of why the manual labor was easier than other more communication-requiring activities.
Upon returning from Guatemala, I spent one night at home, and then flew out again, this time to Vancouver, BC in Canada. I went to the 2006 Network Operations and Management Symposium (NOMS) as a work-sponsored trip. It was my first conference attendance for work. It was an interesting experience (note to self: you don't always need a rental car), but I found overall that it seemed more geared toward telecom operations than our wireless networking emphasis. Still, I'm glad I went and had the opportunity to see what the conference life is all about. And, the views around the area of Vancouver I was in were pretty cool. And my several hour long walk in Stanley park was great.
Later in April, I attended VEISHEA at Iowa State. After being off the calendar for a year due to riots in 2004, it was good to see VEISHEA at Iowa State back again. From what I remember, the day was a good one, with no major unruly incidents.
Also in April, after returning from NOMS, I got serious about house-hunting. I have never really said this in any public setting before, but I think there was a causal link between the relationship stuff of January and February and the seriousness of moving out on my own. I can't pinpoint exactly what the exact motive was - something to do with growing up and making decisions, probably -- but I have to think they were connected, and I have the idea that if the relationship had not happened (and, more specifically, had it not failed), I would likely not be living here in my own house today. I think this is an example of how things don't always work out the way we intend, but they do work out, and sometimes God uses things for our benefit that on the surface just look like a mess.
I signed the initial paperwork on my intent to buy my house on May 2nd. I had visited perhaps 10-12 other properties with my realtor Angie Goetzinger in the previous few weeks. When I viewed this house, I was interested, but as the whole decision-making thing goes, I wasn't sure about it. I heard that there was another offer on the house, so I called my dad up and we walked through the house again. I made one of those snap decisions (funny how so many things in life seem to come down to just yes or no on what seems like incomplete information, incomplete for one because I can't foretell the future), and made the offer. And here I am today because of it. Overall, I think it was a wise decision -- good price, good location, good life change. The whole house purchasing process was interesting to go through, and I feel like with help from the realtor and advice from friends and family, the process was mostly painless.
May also brought about Jeremy and Angela's wedding. It was cool to see their wedding after seeing their relationship develop and grow over the past several years. Congratulations Jeremy & Angela. :-)
Finally, near the end of May came MOVING DAY. I had a serious posse assembled to help me move stuff into my new house. I thought we would just do big stuff that night, but they pretty much just came in and took it all dumptruck style. :-) Which turned out to be very cool. At my house we dropped stuff in the various rooms and commenced to have a "lawn chair party" cuz I didn't have furniture yet. Thanks to all who helped make my moving day pretty painless and a joyous occasion with friends.
By the end of the weekend when I moved, I had acquired most of the furniture I have now. And in the weeks following, I received a few other items. As I have given tours since then, I realize that a large percentage of the furnishings in my house have come from the goodwill of others, either donated or at a reduced price. I'm not sure I can name everyone, but thanks so much to the Descalzos for A LOT of furniture, to my cousin Kyle for the couch, to Myndi for the picture and the recliner, and to the Tolands for the ping pong table. Thanks also to Darrell for the several hours he's spent helping me learn the ropes with a few household projects.
In June, I helped out with the National Trails Day event at Matsell Bridge Natural Area. It was a little different from National Trails Day events in CR, but it was cool to revisit the location (where Rich and I got lost in the dark once and barely found his car again), and it was cool to see the natural surroundings in rural Linn County.
Later in June, I rode in the (Suzanne)Blackfordmobile to Phil's wedding in Indianapolis. Spending a weekend in a car with Suzanne and Matt is rather exciting. :-) And the wedding itself was quite memorable. Phil and Natalie had an outdoor wedding in a park, and it was PERFECT weather for it. The right temperature, sunny skies with just a few clouds. Natalie-the-bride was escorted in on a horse and buggy, and they both were escorted out on it. There were a number of Hillsiders there to celebrate Phil's big day, and at the reception it seemed a little like Pastor Kory's alumni reunion -- with so many of his former youth group students there, now several years later. Also after the reception, several of us from Hillside sat in a lounge at the hotel and talked about... whatever.. and that was a cool "community" feeling.
In early July, I visited Maya and Tony in Minneapolis. Rich and Kelly and Rich's brother and a couple others stayed overnight one night in the M&T hotel. We all went to a Minnesota Twins baseball game as well. Rich & Company were on their way to Mount Rushmore, so they left the next morning to continue their trip. The rest of the weekend I did the usual Maya and Tony thing, I think (you know, go to the electronics store, etc).
Later in July was my annual happiness at Family Camp. As usual, it was a great time. Phil and I were the sound booth crew again. Angela helped Lindy in the nursery. Jen led children's activities, with help from Paula from Independence. And.. no one threw up in my cabin this year (oh the 2005 memories).
August was another busy month. I held my first major party at my house on August 5th. Three of us Watershedders have birthdays in August (Fawn, Amy, and me), so we had a combined birthday party at my house. I don't think we had a final tally, but there were probably 30 people that showed up for at least part of the time. Good times.
The next weekend, I went with several Watershedders to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. This was my first time at the state fair, so that made it extra special. We got there just in time to hear Sheltered Reality, a cool drum bad with a cool message for young people. After that, we did ... stuff... and ... more stuff. We tried to go as a group, but it was hard to organize everyone, so basically we were in multiple groups most of the time. At the end of the day, we crashed at one of the exhibits for 45 minutes or so, and then some of the group went out to eat at a restaurant, and the rest of us hung out at Kathryn's for a while before heading home.
August was the sendoff for three different Hillside alumni couples: Stephen and Laura Descalzo -- to language training in the Carolinas, Dan & Becky Todd -- to a church in Nebraska, and Pastor Mike & Ashley -- to a youth pastor position in Bartlesville). Dan & Becky were already on their way, but the PIGS hosted a party after church for the Descalzos and Mike & Ashley, giving them a warm Hillside sendoff to their new areas of ministry. Bittersweet.
Toward the end of August, I spent a weekend helping Ida (from Minnesota) clean up her house in prepration for her moving out of the house and into the nearby town of Winona. The experience reminded me of a mission trip, since there was a clear focus on work that needed to be done, but enough spare time to enjoy the weekend too. I fell in love with shop vacs that weekend, as I found them very useful for sucking up dead bugs, caked on dirt from the last 30 years, little bits of brick, etc etc.
October held a couple family events: My cousin (2nd cousin?) on my dad's side, Brianne, got married. It was a nice service, with some cool musicians to go with, and the reception was nice. One of my other cousins -- this one on my mom's side -- Kelli, visited Iowa from her home in California, letting us all get first looks at her new adopted baby, Ivy. We oohed and aahed while we ate at Granite City.
October was also the time of the Haunted Trail. This was the second year for the event. With ideas from last year, the planning wasn't quite as hectic, but getting volunteers was a busy process, as it was last year. On the day of the event, the weather was fairly cold, and the turnout wasn't terrific, but we all had fun anyway, and it was cool to participate in this event on the trail and to work with other volunteers in planning it (primarily Sandy).
Sometime this fall, I signed up for the CRANDIC Yahoo Group. There are a few people who post messages on this group about CRANDIC, one of the local train companies that I've been interested in since childhood. In November, word came out about several train engine roster changes... The CRANDIC stopped running "road" trains (to Iowa City or Amana) recently, and so they have sold their four road engines. Taking their place, they are purchasing a number of new(used) switch engines, mostly MP15s. It has been cool to watch these changes take place, and see some of the behind-the-scenes details made available via the Yahoo group. I'm not the only one who gets excited about CRANDIC! :-)
November was also another outing of the CIA. CIA, or "Christ In Action" is a Hillside small group that was formed early in 2006. CIA focuses on doing service projects in the local community, projects that aim to "share the love of Jesus in a practical way." We did several such projects in 2006. On the day after Thanksgiving, several of us got up at about 4am to prepare hot chocolate and serve it to people waiting for the stores to open. We distributed about 10 gallons of hot chocolate that morning, and added a little warmth to the days of a lot of people. CIA is a cool group, and I hope we continue to do more projects like these, and invite others in the church to participate with us in these activities.
December has been a month of... hospitality, I guess I'll say. I hosted my first Christmas Open House this month. I printed out a flyer and invited pretty much everyone I could think of -- church, work, Watershed, neighbors, etc. This event gave me a chance (excuse) to finally go meet most of my neighbors (besides the one that I'd talked to in the last six months). In the end, only one of the 7 or 8 neighbors showed up, but I was glad to see the one at least. All in all, about 35 people showed up to my open house, so I called the night a success. The Hillside-people-my-age New Year's Eve party is going to be at my house too.
So those have been the highlighted activities of the year. Now I want to focus a little bit on the "themes" I've seen developing, and comment a little on them, and where I think God has been leading me.
The Kingdom of God. Sometime late in 2005, I attended Solomon's Porch, the church that Maya and Tony now go to. I didn't know much about it at the time, but it turns out it's one of the "emerging" churches. Some time later, I became more and more impressed with some of the ideas of the emerging church movement. For one, I have seen what seems to be a renewal of faith in Maya as she has found a group of people that seem to see things more her way. And beyond that, the emerging church ideas make sense to me as well. Basically (in my view) they start with the idea that the Kingdom of God is now, that it is our duty to work for the Kingdom while we're on this earth. We aren't just in some holding pattern waiting for the Rapture. This resonates with me because I think I like to be busy DOING something, instead of just talking about it.
In the midst of my studying of the emerging church movement, I started to realize that Hillside has a lot of the traits of an emerging church. That is just my opinion, and there are some things about the movement that we at Hillside may not really adhere to, but it's a similar spirit -- a spirit of service, a spirit of building the Kingdom, of working to build our community, of doing away with the imaginary rift between "sacred" and "secular." That's how I see it at least, and with that sight, I have gained a newfound respect and joy for being at Hillside and hearing these conversations. Thanks especially to Pastor Kory and to Cathy W for insight on these matters and where we want our church to be going in the future as we seek to serve Jesus.
The Disciplined Life. This fall, Pastor Kory taught a Sunday evening class on spiritual disciplines, based on Richard Foster's book "Celebration of Discipline." We talked about a host of spiritual disciplines, from the usual ones like prayer and Scripture reading, to the lesser talked about ones of meditation, submission, and fasting. I was challenged to make many more of these disciplines a part of my life. However, in the few months since the end of the class, I have seen YET AGAIN how hard old habits are to break, and how hard it is to seriously change my lifestyle. I have not been good at keeping up this disciplined life. When planning for 2007, I need to do some reflection on this topic and decide how best to apply my efforts -- how I can work toward a true life change, and not just something I do for a few weeks while part of a group.
Service. As I mentioned earlier, my involvement in local service has grown a lot this year. I have been (at least in theory) coordinating local service projects for Hillside for over a year now. I think even after that amount of time, I'm still trying to find ways to better organize that oversight and get a better handle on how and what I should be doing. But with the development of CIA, I feel better about the work that Hillside is doing in the community. CIA gives us as group members, and by extension the church as a whole, a "focus group" to help keep service on the forefront of our minds as we seek to serve Jesus as we live out our lives.
In addition to Hillside, this fall I took over partial responsibility for the local service portion of Watershed (along with Chad). As we work more toward this end in 2007, hopefully we will find beneficial ways that we can be a blessing to others in the community.
Work. I have noticed a couple of trends at work. First of all, with my experiences at JEFX and later work related to that, and participation in AFCEA, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, I feel that my "field of view" is expanding. Maybe that means I'm growing up to be a systems engineer after all. But instead of just writing bits of software code to do a specific function, I am beginning to ask more questions like "Is this really the best way to solve the problem? Do we even understand the real problem?" etc. This changes the work I do, but also leads to some very stimulating discussions as we seek to understand the customer better so that we can provide a more optimal solution.
On the other hand, perhaps as a byproduct of getting more involved with the higher-level discussions, I have also been more aware of the politics involved in the whole corporate bureaucracy. As an impatient engineer, sometimes I think the the corporate bureaucracy is just overkill, and what we call professionalism is sometimes more aptly termed "gridlock." Part of this problem is the fact that I've seen on almost a daily basis that person-to-person and organization-to-organization communication is a huge problem everywhere I go, especially at work. Specific examples could be mentioned, but the point is that I have been stretched this year to work in conditions that are not as simple as they once seemed to be. In 2007 I hope to get a better understanding of what my role should be in addressing these problems, and seeking to promote better communication at work, and more efficiency and less politics when possible.
Decisions. The early part of this year especially was an exercise in decision making skills. This might be a big part of why I wonder sometimes whether I am bona fide dysfunctional. During the "relationship phase" of this year (and the tail end of 2005), I was faced with relationship decisions: "Do I like this person" "Should I date this person" "Do I see a future here" "Are we compatible" "Can I handle a long distance relationship" -- questions like that. I found that those kinds of questions can eat me up if I let them. In other words, I have a predisposition to overanalyze things to some unhealthy level. When the questions finally got to be too much, and the relationship didn't work, I learned that lesson the hard way. I was still thinking about these decision-making skills when I started looking for a house. "If I can't decide what I think about a relationship, how can I decide where I want to live and where I want to stake my future?" Worse yet, I was ambivalent still about leaving home in the first place. But, when the time came, I staked my claim and made my choice. Even when I signed those first papers, it was a bit of a step of faith, praying and hoping that this house was a good choice. But really, I guess faith would be a key word. I can't tell the future. I can make an educated decision, but maybe this year taught me that there is no such thing as a 100% sure decision. And sometimes big decisions even seem fairly arbitrary, but you have to just take the step and make a decision. Don't be hasty, but don't hold back forever. Take a risk. Your future self may thank you for taking that risk.
Love Life. If there is one bittersweetness in my reflection, I suppose it would be in my so-called love life. It started off promising, but that wasn't meant to be. But I'm really not just thinking of that. Throughout the year, I've been thinking about the related topics. They have not ruled my life, but they've been there (just like they always are). This is an area where God is obviously still working on me. I am left with two opposing viewpoints: "Let go, and just serve God, and let God worry about the prospect of love and getting married someday" vs. "You have to be a man; you have to lead; if you want to get married, then act like it and take steps toward it (like asking people out)." Who to believe? Or another set of conflicting statements, "It's not good for man to be alone" vs. "Some people are just meant to be single."
I am glad for my relationship experiences this year, helping me to see that I am not completely inept, and just generally giving me some perspective. But they have also again left me jaded, wondering if this whole love thing isn't just some game that we play, and that we love people when we choose to live in mutual infatuation. Yeah yeah, I still have some messed up inclinations of course, mostly because I haven't perfected the art of loving people correctly yet. I don't know what 2007 may hold in this regard, and it's probably best not to guess, but I hope that God will continue to lead me on this particular journey, and I pray that he would work to turn my dysfunction into something that looks more like the youthful idealism that still exists somewhere in my mind. And in the meantime, the other good things God has given me this year -- good friends, good church, good coworkers, good house, etc. -- will keep me busy.
So, at the end of my review, what can I say? Time and again throughout this year, especially recently, I've been amazed at how blessed I am. As I just said, I have been blessed by God with a number of good things, and have been kept in good health and, arguably, good spirits. There's definitely more work to be done in my life as I seek to become more like Jesus, but I am glad for the steps I've seen in my growth in 2006. In some ways I almost feel guilty for the blessings I've been given, as I see others around me who have (it would seem) many fewer blessings. But I celebrate the goodness of God in this transition of the years, and I hope to be able to share and spread that celebration in this coming year. I hope to seek God in the community and in solitude, to continue to pursue "right doctrine" and "right practice" as the emerging folks say.
May you be aware of the blessings of God as you go through each day. Amen.