In light of the baffling pessimism of recent media, public complaints that 2016 was the worst year to date and also considering my own attitude of unrest, I decided to think and write about personal high points of 2016. I’m usually not one for gimmicky writing that touts my accomplishments of the past year, but maybe with some humility and thankfulness, I can do this without sounding too vain. We fellows haven’t yet embarked on our mid-year vocational retreat, but after reading the results of my assessment (and knowing myself to be this way for a few years now), I know I must force myself to reflect on the little (and big) wins in my life. Without doing so, what should be thanksgiving is replaced with silence, or worse, complaint. Life isn’t quite right; I haven’t yet made it, but when I do, then I can celebrate. Then I can thank the Lord for his amazing work. Unfortunately, this logic destroys my faith in the goodness of God.

When I look back over the past year and appreciate where the Lord has been overwhelmingly present, I can’t help but be thankful and joyful. After my year in Spain, a friend asked if I was the same person I’d been a year before. A wonderfully thoughtful question, one I wish I asked myself more often. The answer is undeniably no. And that “no” is attributable to the explicit and implicit work of Christ in my life. Below is a list of some of the joys and lessons of 2016.

In 2016, I

1.  became a (decent) Spanish speaker. I returned to Spain in January 2016 determined to increase my speaking proficiency exponentially, and I did. Though a subjective term, I’d say fluency still eludes me, but I’m proud of my improvement and eager to progress further.

2.  learned something of joy. Vividly I recall laughter in Spain. My own, that of my friends, and most notably, the laughter of my students. I have to think theirs is the laughter of heaven, of euphoric joy, and they share that joy willingly, unknowingly even. Jesus was on to something when he said we should become like children. I yearn for the joy elicited by a simple game of Escondite Inglés on the playground, something I got to experience with Irene, Alejandra, Sara, Angie, and countless others.

3.  became more self aware. In a fairly safe environment, I learned I was capable of far more than I thought I was. At some point in my life, I’d decided I was incapable of certain sin; but in a rude awakening and through many tearful prayers, the Lord comforted me through this significant lesson.

4.  traveled the world. I visited multiple cities in Spain and went to England and Ireland over spring break. Then after my 9 months in Spain, I adventured for two weeks by myself and four more with friends and family. In all, I planned almost two month’s worth of traveling and visited 10 countries and many more cities. It was only the beginning of what I hope will be a life of learning cultures, people and languages.

5.  walked taller, with a confidence I’d never had before. S/O to all those who encouraged in this and also to those who battered me into it. Even the painful shoves are positive memories as they forced me to grow.

6.  became a runner. 2015 began my forays into running, but I really think it was 2016 that I earned the designation. Don’t be mislead, I run and mostly think of how much I hate it, but I’m out there. I’ve even weaned myself off music while I run, so now my time is spent in prayer or just thinking (of things like December blog topics).

7.  became a Raleigh fellow. I returned from Spain, picked up and moved to Raleigh NC. Relationally, this year has been complete whiplash. I went from relational lack to overwhelmingly rich community, which means lots of conflict resolution, learning to live in community, and the joy of seeing each other grow.

8.  learned a new job. Starting a new job means lots of days feeling unproductive, which I loathe. Working at Jobs for Life has been such a growing experience, I couldn’t fathom trading it.

In peace and rest the Lord often whisks me into my memories and reminds me of his presence in the significant moments of my life, moments that weren’t necessarily “big” but definitely formative because of his presence. The Fellows program has allowed me the space to enter that peace and rest, and that space is an addictive therapy I further understand and seek because of the impact of Raleigh Fellows.


J. Nordstrom