Today is the last day of 2014.
Did I just write that sentence? Wow, this year has really gone by quickly. I know that’s such a cliche thing to say on a day like today, but it just rings true.
Looking back over the past 12 months, the year has been a difficult one in many respects. As I wrote in this space last year, 2013 was a year of grief for our family as we lost my wife’s father and brother in a five month span. We continued to feel these losses in 2014, as we know we always will. But the year began on yet another somber note: in January we buried Sunny’s grandfather, “DayDon” as he’s known in our family. His death was, in many ways, a shock to the system. By the time we said goodbye to Don, this family had lost all three Shates men — grandfather, father, and son — over the course of 11 months. No matter how strong a family might be, the cumulative weight of so much grief in such a compressed time frame will overload the circuits. So that’s a big part of what we’ve felt over the last 12 months. We continue to miss these men who meant so much to us.
But the year has also been filled with moments of great joy. I finished my doctoral thesis in the spring and in May, I graduated with my D.Min degree from Abilene Christian University. This was the completion of a major life goal for me. I began my graduate studies in 2001, the week after the 9/11 attacks. After completing my Masters of Divinity in 2008 at Lipscomb, I began the final leg of my schooling in 2011. I was so glad that Sunny, the kids, and my sister were all able to make the trip to Abilene for my graduation ceremony. The next week, our youngest child was honored as a kindergarten graduate, which is, of course, a HUGE deal! Needless to say, this spring was a time for celebrating and picture-taking and lots of cake-eating around our house!
This summer, we enjoyed an epic family vacation, Griswold-style. Here’s the quick recap: baseball games in St. Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee; sharing a family devotional at the Minnehaha Falls; shopping and amusement-park-rides at the Mall of America; taking in the simple beauty of the Midwest; and all of it capped off with a couple of days in Chicago.
While in the Windy City, we experienced an architectural tour of the city, snapped pics in front of “The Bean” at Millennium Park, ate at our favorite Chicago pizzeria, and even spent time checking out the awesome aquarium. 8 states, over 2200 miles, one resilient minivan (aided by a mid-trip oil change!), and the best family vacation we’ve ever been on. At several points during our trip, I found myself thinking, “My kids will never forget this.” I’m so thankful for the memories we were able to make during this incredible week together.
As 2014 draws to a close, we have many reasons to give thanks. We continually experience God’s goodness in a variety of forms: through the love of good friends and family; through the encouragement and comfort of our church family; and in the hope that is ours through Jesus. My prayer for 2015 is a prayer for growth. I don’t believe any of us are finished products. We haven’t arrived. God has much more to do with us and in us and through us.
May 2015 be a year of growth for all of us. To God be the glory.