Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! I hope you are settling in this evening with friends and loved ones to ring in the new year. If your year has been anything like mine, I’m sure you’re looking forward to the change.
Fundamentally, we all know that the turning of the calendar page is not an actual turning point. The earth continues to orbit the sun, the stars come out and disappear, the air is warm or cold depending on our position in relation to our daystar, but so many of us place stock in the turning of the seasons and the hanging of a new recordkeeper on the wall.
The change of the year is purely mental—all of us understanding that with the new image and the new numerical track record on the calendar comes the opportunity to believe in change—both personal and global. All of us have watched events unfold in our country and around the world that have caused us to bite our nails to the quick, and whether we agree or disagree with the president and the government, all of us have closely watched the movements of congressional committees, the veto stamp, and the White House pen. Secretly or not-so-secretly, most of us are holding our collective breaths until November, when We The People will hopefully parade to the election booths and select the folks we hope will work on our behalf for the betterment of our nation and even our personal interactions. I pray we choose well.
For most of us, 2015 has been a bag of mixed blessings and difficulties. Five special blessings entered my life this year, five little men who I hope with all my heart will make a powerful mark on this world: Jaron, Collin, Ganton, Shaymus, and Killian. Five sweet little nephews who have each, in their own ways, stolen my heart.
One of these blessings was not ours to keep. Jaron Isaiah Fulford was born March 27th after months of speculation; doctor’s visits; relocation of his mom, Jessica, and older brother, Caleb, to California for months; a strong wave of prayer from around the world, literally; and many, many nights of tears and hope. That he was born at all was an incredible miracle. Jaron was born with Cornelia De Lange syndrome, a chromosomal disorder most of us had never heard of. The disorder caused a congenital diaphragmatic hernia—a hole in the diaphragm which allowed many of his organs to develop in his chest, causing his lungs to be unable to develop properly or expand. The disorder also caused a lack of higher brain function and deafness.
Despite all of this, and against every single prognosis given by his doctors, Jaron was born, and he snuggled his mom and dad for two full days. I had the blessing of getting to visit Jessica and Caleb where they were staying in California and feel him kick, lay funny, and goof around in his mom’s tummy. He was a fighter despite all the odds, and even though I never got to hold him, I was honored to attend one of his ultrasounds, and to “meet” him when I talked to him and felt him moving around.
Jaron went home to be with the Lord on March 29th, but his impact on the world continues to be far-reaching, as folks who followed Jaron’s journey still reach out to Jessica and Ben and tell them how much Jaron’s little life meant to them. Jaron made a profound difference for me in other ways, as well. In all honesty, I used to be nervous around children who had developmental disabilities—children in wheelchairs, babies with down’s syndrome, youngsters with cerebral palsy or other disorders who didn’t look or behave like other children. Before Jaron was born, though, I started thinking about the reality that my little nephew might be deaf and that he might not look like “other” babies do. I came to realize then that I didn’t mind. That, in fact, I wanted to see how unique and beautiful he would be. I decided that if he was born deaf, I would learn sign language. I would teach him how to read. I would find what toys and games he liked best and play them with him. I would help others see just how beautiful he was.
Even though I won’t have that opportunity, the idea has blossomed in my heart. The idea of learning sign language is more appealing to me now even than it was before, and the thought that I can honor Jaron’s memory by learning a way to talk to other children with developmental disorders warms my heart. This next year, I hope to take the first steps.
My second major blessing was the opportunity to watch the birth of another nephew. Collin Tank Wade was born July 6 after a couple of false alarms and late-night drives to the hospital. This little man always has a smile and a hug for me when I see him, and he’s very patient with the antics of his older sister. Every once in a while, I get to hold all four of my little nieces and nephews—Lexi, Caleb, Jaron’s teddy bear, and Collin. There’s very little I enjoy more than playing with those little goofballs! Lexi and Caleb are developing very rich imaginations and playing with them is always an adventure in itself. Lexi is the very definition of a girly girl, and when we play, we’re usually princesses who dance, sing, and cook in the kitchen. Caleb, however, has always been a bit more on the serious side, and I call him my little poet. Whether or not he becomes a poet, he is poetic in his attentiveness to the world and to the things outside it: His current love is for outer space. When we play, we’re being attacked by martians and firing ray guns.
I’ve also been blessed by getting to help more with some of the littles. Ganton, my best friend’s little boy, joined the fray of goofballs in September, and I’ve had the opportunity to be close by and “help out” by playing with his older brothers, Spencer and Bexton. I love kids; I always have, and getting to spend nearly every day running around, playing, and reading stories has meant the world to me.
That’s not to say I had as much time as I might have liked to play. This year I was also blessed with the fulfillment of another goal: a full-time position at the college. Though the full-time position is temporary, I have been assigned to create an academic journal for our school, which I have nearly completed. The first issue anyway. Because of that and other commitments—teaching, working in the Writing Lab, teaching a veteran’s class, helping run the book club, and house sitting—I was away from home more than I might have liked, but I still got to spend much more time than usual with little ones
My year was full of unexpected wonderful things. In addition to those listed above, I was able to purchase a vehicle I both needed and have been wanting for years: a Ford Escape *cue happy dance,* which I have named Harris. (Take your time; it’ll come to you.) I was allocated an office for the year, which has been crucial to helping me complete a number of tasks. I spent the entire summer house sitting and didn’t have to pay rent or utilities, yet I got to have dogs by my side for months (I love dogs). I strengthened my relationships with family and friends. I was afforded the opportunity to return to Pacific University for a writer’s conference, and with it came the joy of seeing my friends from the program, whom I miss dearly.
My favorite blessing this year has been…wait for it…my man! (I heard that collective squeal of glee from my grandmothers, mother, aunts, surrogate mothers, and all manner of female relatives and friends.) Cameron and I started dating in October, and he’s one of the most wonderful guys I’ve ever known. The best part is that he puts up with my ridiculous antics which, as most of you know, can get a little out of hand at times.
While I have been blessed beyond measure this year, others close to me have seen difficulty after difficulty. Two close family friends have been battling with cancer. Two of my family members have been dealing with significant physical illnesses. Others close to me have been fighting other battles—discouragement, frustration, loneliness, worry, anxiety—and the list goes on. At times, I feel guilty for the blessings I have received. I see friends and family caught in a storm none of us can seem to pass through, and it makes me wonder why so many wonderful things have been given to me this year while those I love so much are stuck in a holding pattern of sadness, frustration, and difficulty, and even I struggle daily to understand how to be the best aunt to a nephew no one else will ever know, whose accomplishments I won’t get to hang on my wall, whose hobbies I won’t get to participate in.
I don’t have an answer. All I can do is continue to trust and hope that someday soon, either the reason for these difficulties will be made clear, or they will fade away, and those I love will be given a measure of joy. And I will continue to be grateful for these challenges, even when I don’t understand them, because I know there is purpose that, someday, we will understand. And because I have been given joy, despite everything, I will continue to try to shine the light of that joy into the lives of others when it seems too dark to find it on their own.
It has been a beautiful, heartbreaking year, and there’s no way I can leave much of it behind. Every day, I think of Jaron and pray for our family, especially his mom, dad, and brother. Every day, I think of my friends and family who are struggling with physical, mental, and financial troubles that will continue into the coming year. Every day, I wonder why I have been so blessed while others I love have not been blessed as visibly. So, by the grace of God, I will move into this coming year, not with any giant revelation to give the world, not with any piece of advice that I feel might change the course of history. Instead, I will turn the calendar page quietly and pray that I will be, in some way, a blessing in every life I touch, whether from a distance or close by. That I will carry love, compassion, joy, hope, and wonder into each day, no matter the struggles, and shine the light of Christ into the darknesses I encounter.
I wish you all a blessed, hopeful New Year, filled with good things, and filled with support to get through the hard things. Happy New Year.