Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections on 2015

2015 was a long year.

You can read that however you like; depending on the day, I might say it with a long sigh or I might say it with a note of thoughtfulness in my voice. Either way, it's true. It's a struggle to unpack what this year has meant for my much has been crammed into so little time.

At the beginning of this year, I was in Kansas with my family; I was staying there, but I did not live there. Ironically, as the year draws to a close, I am in Liberia with my family, but I'm just staying here – I no longer live here.

It's so inside-out—and that really sums up the whole year. So many things in my life have gone topsy-turvy. 2015 was my first full year as an adult, and this semester was the first time I have been away from my family. It was six long months until I was able to return and see my family again. In that time, I've had to sort out who I am becoming and what it means to be an adult.

Half of 2015's issues were the aftershocks of 2014. When I returned to Liberia in February, haunting reminders of the Ebola crisis remained: bleach buckets, informational murals, and faded signs told a silent story as new Ebola cases continued to smolder here and there.

Much of this spring was sorting out what 2014 really meant for me. I had to figure out what it meant to be an adult with the knowledge that I stepped into manhood during the hardest year of my life. The final, formational months of my teen years matured first through the worst emotional crisis my family has ever seen and afterward through the worst Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen. Just two months before my birthday, I was evacuated from West Africa, among other things. I eventually turned 18 surrounded by family and friends, but I was stranded in the United States, unable to go back to the place I called home.

But how did that inform how I live my life? To be honest, I'm still figuring that out. How do I live with the fact that I'm “American” while recognizing that I cannot be wholly American thanks to my experiences? I've learned how to be open with some of my experiences—almost anyone who knows me knows of my background and my parents' work—but there are some things from last year that I feel like I'm still processing. 2015 is still a work-in-progress.

When I did return home in February, I had three short months to relish my country and my family. College was on the horizon, and I had to look in the faces of my then-baby siblings and try to start saying goodbye. After that, I was off to the States, to figure out how to live without the comforting nearness of my family. I did a lot of growing up then, too; I led a critique group at a writing workshop (it scared the bejeebers out of me – still does, to be honest), I lived (semi)independently, I survived welcome week at my college, and I finished the semester with all of the grades I wanted.

And looking back, I felt like it was a good transition. My sister and I owe a lot to a wonderful “surrogate family” that took care of us (and gave us coffee and food on weekends) and to the strong upbringing we received that taught us how to work hard, study well, and seek after God. And I in particular owe a deep debt to my parents—to my dad, who showed me how to think deeply, and to my mom, who showed me how to love well.

But I don't think this year turned out the way it did out of nowhere. Looking back, there was a turning point in 2015. In the quiet turmoil of reverse-culture shock and in the depths of grappling with saying goodbye to my country and the people I loved best in the world, God gave me a gift.

Truth can speak powerfully through art. Last year, God used Rend Collective's song, “My Lighthouse”, to get me through the summer—I hung onto the promise that he would carry me safe to shore. This year, he gave me a voice for what I was going through in growing up and moving away: a film called Inside Out.

Even before I saw it, Inside Out was formational for me. I had been following it for two years—the most intriguing project from my favorite director, making it for my favorite studio. Even before I left to go back to Liberia, I was planning on seeing it opening weekend. When the initial reviews came out, my excitement grew and grew, until it reached a fever pitch. Inside Out became a sort of lifeline; it was something I had looked forward to all through 2014, a sort of stabilizing factor in my hectic life.

But even then, I didn't realize just how important it would become. When I saw it for the first time, I was barely a week-and-a-half out from leaving Liberia. I sat in the theater, with all of the built-up anticipation of two years boiling in my stomach and all of the built-up emotion of eighteen years knotted in my heart.

And from the beginning, Inside Out affected me deeply; it was cathartic, in many ways. I lived vicariously through the main character, who began to grow up more and more through a tough experience, moving away from everything she knew. I hurt deeply with Joy when she looked back on old, happy memories and cried, and I felt my time in Liberia ice cold in my heart. And when the film's finale came, I felt the warm arms of my Father wrap around me and warm my soul with his presence.

It was only through recognizing these emotions and experiencing them fully that I began to heal. Inside Out started the process, and the process has continued through the rest of this year. It was fitting that I went and saw it again on my birthday, and I cried more the second time. Every time she said, “I miss Minnesota,” I heard “Liberia,” and the tears felt cleansing, in a way. Inside Out gave me the voice to express my sorrow, because sorrow is part of healing.  But Inside Out also showed me that sadness is part of the path back to joy; that was something that I continued to discover throughout the semester.

And that is one of the things I am taking away from this year. God blessed me richly through the every-day things that he helped me recognize as miraculous and full of wonder.  He has given me joy.

Two of the greatest blessings sleep just two doors down from me.  Last night I rocked my little sister to sleep, as her twin slumbered quietly in the crib a few feet away. She had been a bit standoffish for the first few days, but I was her favorite again, and the way she and her twin brother laugh and say my name is the greatest reward I have ever received. Never before have I been more grateful for the opportunity to love someone.

2015 was a long year. But in the end, all that I have left is thankfulness. God has blessed me—with people to love, and with a beautiful film that I saw at just the right time, to lift me up and help me heal. He is faithful through the ages.


(Listen to the song for full effect.)

Your grace will never be forgot
Your mercy all my life
Will be my soul's forever song
My story and my light.

From mountaintop to valley low
Through laughter and through tears
Surely the goodness of my God
Will follow all the years.

For all that You have done for us
For every battle won
We'll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done.

In all our failures and regrets
You've always led us home
Redemption's arm has raised us up
Our triumph in the storm—

For all that You have done for us
For every battle won
We'll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done.

(You are faithful through the ages.)

In unity we'll stand as one
As family we'll go
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand
Into the great unknown—

For all that You have done for us
For every battle won
We'll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done!

—Rend Collective, "For All That You Have Done"


  1. Great piece. Favorite line, "I sat in the theater, with all of the built-up anticipation of two years boiling in my stomach and all of the built-up emotion of eighteen years knotted in my heart." Good finish as well, sounded like a nod to Mistborn with the word ages.

  2. Awesome post!!! Have yet to see Inside Out.