We have reached the final day of 2021. I have not found anyone who has described this past year as the best one ever. There are so many words I could use to describe this past year, but difficult seems to sum up most of my experiences. While I celebrated various feats and joyful moments throughout the year, they were not without challenges. We are not promised comfort and happiness in this life. We are shaped and molded through our responses to the difficult experiences we face. As I write my last blog for 2021, I just wanted to reflect on what God has taught me this year and what my hopes and prayers are for 2022.
2021 started with grief, trauma, and one of the greatest losses I have experienced. For the first eleven days of this year, I watched my aunt’s physical life deteriorate and eventually die from cancer. The days and nights were long. Everyone was so weary and heartbroken. The pain was palpable. At times, I found myself gasping for air. But in those moments, friendships were rekindled, and I witnessed the power of a family’s love. My aunt’s life and legacy are celebrated. The grief journey continues- it does not end, it just changes. One of the things God has made most evident through my grief is the importance of grieving with others. It is important to be able to talk about my aunt with people who knew her and to be able to share about her with those who did not get the chance to meet her. While she is not physically here, the memories and the impacts she had on so many remain.
The experience of loss was profound this year. In September, our BFH staff and volunteers lost a dear friend we had the opportunity to minister to for a couple of years. His death was tragic and unexpected. As we looked for his family and tried to understand exactly what happened, I was heartbroken by the reality that there are many people experiencing homelessness in our nation who will die, and their family and/or loved ones may never know. Thankfully, we were able to find our friend’s family and notify them about his death. God granted us the opportunity to minister to our friend’s family which allowed us to experience a greater level of closure as we mourned this loss. We were able to show his family recent pictures and give them an account of his recent years and they were able to share photos from when our friend was younger before he ended up on the streets. In the midst of sorrow, God is my great Comforter.
Less than two weeks ago, I received a call that another dear friend had died completely unexpectedly. I do not think the shock has worn off or the reality sank in that when I return to New Orleans this weekend, I will not get a text asking if I have made it back yet. As I anticipate the grief from another loss, this year, God has shown me that we can and do survive the loss, and the pain will not be insurmountable every single day.
When I look at the year as a whole, I believe there is a collective loss that we are all facing. We may not recognize it as grief, but I believe that is part of what many of us continue to feel. Most all of us have lost someone we cared for deeply this year, whether to COVID-19, terminal illnesses, or tragedy. Our lives have not looked at all like what we anticipated. We have had hopes that things were returning to “normal” dashed as new variants of the virus emerge. There is much for us to grieve. I hope as we enter this new year, we can hold a space for this grief. Extending grace to one another, treating each other with kindness, and loving our neighbors are needed more now than any other time I can think of in my lifetime.
I am not a stranger to hurricanes, even major hurricanes, having grown up on the east coast and having lived in New Orleans for almost twelve years. But this year, I experienced my first extended evacuation when my return home was not easily predicted. While I am so grateful to have only been minorly impacted by Hurricane Ida, the uncertainty of what I would return home to and the feeling of helplessness as I watched the storm from afar were difficult to process. While the rest of the world seems to move on, those who have been impacted by any natural disaster operate in survival mode for weeks and months. In ways I had not quite experienced before on a personal level, I saw the body of Christ respond to a need in tremendous ways. I had the privilege of watching Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and other volunteer organizations show up in unpleasant conditions to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I am so grateful for the people who prayed, donated, and served in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and who continue to support the recovery efforts.
Despite the chaos of 2021, God opened amazing doors for me to share my testimony and empower people to respond in life-changing ways to victims of childhood sexual abuse. I never imagined this platform would exist and that I would be invited to step onto it. From virtual conferences for local child advocacy centers and churches to national conferences alongside my heroes, God continues to redeem my story and use it to hopefully make a difference in the lives of children and those who serve them today.
In 2020, through only what I can describe as a divinely orchestrated encounter on Twitter, I learned about the SAFE Child Act that was passed in 2019 in NC. While I technically knew about the Act prior to it being passed, it was not until a fellow advocate on Twitter messaged me that I realized this piece of legislation actually applied to me. As a result, I had the opportunity to pursue civil action against my abuser which reached a settlement this year. The process was lengthy and painful- exposing unhealed wounds and revealing new wounds. There was a huge toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. There were moments when I wanted to quit- which was certainly an option. But it was more important for me to seek justice while I had this opportunity and to do anything possible to protect future victims. My hope and prayer are that we will continue to see statute of limitations reform throughout our nation that better reflect the science/data and reality of the impacts of childhood sexual abuse.
This past year, I was reminded of the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the context of ministry. Through the changing protocols and guidelines due to COVID, we were able to continue to find creative ways of serving our community at BFH. Whether it was doing case management at a picnic table outside, reorganizing events, or re-assessing the greatest needs in our area, we found a way to keep the ministry going.
God has continued to provide the opportunity for me to pursue my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Some days I believe I am ready to close the books, but most days I am so grateful for the opportunity to be stretched and challenged academically. In just a few days, I will be taking my qualifying exams which moves me one big step closer to completing this goal.
I do not know what this year will hold. While there are things I am looking forward to on my calendar, I nearly anticipate them to change- canceled, delayed, or turned virtual. I am resting in the truth that God is in control.