‘Tis the season of reflection and gratitude; the time of year we stuff ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie; and sometimes (half heartedly or distractedly) list off the miscellaneous things for which we’re thankful.

I talk a lot about my love and affection for this particular holiday. Part of it is nostalgic – Thanksgiving has traditionally been the holiday of family gatherings, cousin scavenger hunts, family portraits at JC Penny, and the annual viewing of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” But more seriously, I can’t help but reflect on the blessings of this past year. Not in a cliche, lame attempt at remembering to be thankful while devouring pumpkin pie. But with genuine gratitude because this year has been transformative.

2017 has been a rich and full year of personal growth, new friendships and opportunities. This time last year, we were still pretty isolated, hungry for community but very much alone. I think my husband and I (with a little more clarity now as hindsight is 20/20) realize some of the mistakes we initially made. We chose to live in base housing, a good 20-30 minutes from the civilization of Augusta and the church we were attending. We struggled to find a church, partly due to the fact that we didn’t really know anything about the community and what kind of church we wanted to attend. We only had one car, and work (for both of us) kept us on base, inhibiting our ability to get out, explore, and meet people.

But then we found a church. And we moved to a more central location. We bought a truck. We connected, diversified, willingly pushed ourselves outside of our bubbles of comfort. We stopped complaining about Augusta and began to recognize the benefits. We started frequenting the same coffee shops. We kayak and venture out to Saturday morning farmers markets. We go for walks on the many trails throughout North Augusta and along the Savannah River. We’ve discovered local breweries and decadent grits bowls. We take advantage of the many opportunities for day trips to Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Columbia, Greenville, the north Georgia mountains, and the South Carolina coast. We have an open home – one we hope is a haven and place of comfort to friends and strangers alike.

We’re learning that friendship and community are essential to healthy life and personal growth. How easy it is to be hindered by a narrow-minded view of the world without diverse and far reaching community. Wisdom, as Karen Swallow Prior writes in “Booked,” comes as a result of community. Isolation isn’t health for a number of reasons, particularly because it inhibits one’s ability to think outside of the box, engage in conversation, hear other’s perspectives, serve and love, and humbly recognize the world is so much bigger than what we’ve seen and experienced. Active engagement in community requires vulnerability and hard work. There’s the vulnerability that comes in asking an Instagram stranger out for a cup of coffee, or inviting people into your house – allowing them to cross over the threshold and trust they won’t judge the dishes in the sink, unfinished projects, and excessive dog hair.

I’m thankful for 2017 because I’ve learned I’m not through growing. I have not arrived at the height of knowledge or achieved the perfect friendships. I’m thankful for a year of being made of aware of how much I don’t know, for conversations that have pushed and stretched. For good books and podcasts. For a church community. For grits. For coffee. For new friends. For a renewal of my love of writing. For a husband who is a constant example to me of how to better love people.

A year and a half ago, I cried (sobbed) at the news that we were moving to Augusta. And now I cry for different reasons. I cry because God has been so good to us here in His provision of deep friendships and growing community. I cry because this full and transformative year would not have happened had we moved elsewhere. Now when we’re out of town or visiting family, I find myself missing Augusta – the place that has become our home.

 

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