I turned 36 on the 16th. More than anything today, I feel thankful. Not in the cute or glib way that you might use the word thankful because you don’t want to share what’s really going on. Thankful sums it up for me because it’s been a hard year—culminating in a really hard late summer and early fall—and I’m so thankful to be in a calmer, quieter space in my own soul at this moment.

I look back on this year and think about a beautiful one-day retreat I did in March with the women of Menlo Park Pres church at the reverent grounds of the Mercy Center. We spent the day talking about the soul’s journey of Exile to Belonging. I was just six weeks pregnant at the time with little knowledge of what was ahead. Little knowledge of the journey I would be taking later that year, a journey that has been, yet again, about the passage from exile to belonging, as life so often is.

We were still hanging in the balance, wondering if we’d be able to come to Bahrain with Steve or if our family would be living apart for a year.

Soon after that retreat, I miscarried, and we still waited and waited and waited to find out if we would be moving or not. Looking back, I remember a blur of exhaustion and sadness. A feeling of helplessness. As I wrote then, the feeling that something inside me had been silenced.

In very early May, just five weeks after the miscarriage, I spoke at a weekend retreat in the Seattle area. I spoke about the recent loss, and how badly I was upside down, grieving and not knowing if we’d be able to go with Steve or not. I have never been so raw in front of such a large group of people. The women there shared their own pain with each other and with me—one particular story of a young woman who lost a baby at 28 weeks that I will never forget—and somehow the solidarity started a tiny spark of healing in me.

Steve got his orders with such little lead-time and we packed him up and got him on a plane and I remember standing outside our rental house in Mission Hills, holding Luke while Lane still slept inside, putting Steve in an orange cab as he sped off to the airport. Not exactly sure when we would see each other again.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, I got pregnant again. Still not sure how that happened. I remember trying to get in touch with Steve to tell him I was pregnant, and having to hold onto that news for three days before I could finally get in touch with him on skype to let him know. And I remember his shock. Mine too.

Shortly after, we found out that we’d be moving, too, adventuring—yet again—to the Middle East. But this time with toddlers and a brand new little baby budding. And all the sickness that follows.

Commence one million details necessary to move across the world and the tireless help of my mom and Steve’s mom during those demanding days.

Next, I remember hazy goodbyes to my closest friends, feeling as though I was underwater about half the time. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. In such incredible shock I could barely cry.

We stopped off in South FL to see my siblings and their families—a circus of 7 kids and all the accompanying adults under one roof—making the most of swampy summer weather. And then Jamie joined us and we got on the plane to make the long trip to Bahrain.

I remember the first few months here like a scald. A hot boil that left me raw. Steve traveling. Our stuff somehow mistakenly put in long-term storage back in San Diego and the news that it was going to take so much longer to get our belongings and get settled. Steve traveling. The realization that you can’t just take your two toddlers out to the park when it’s a 120+ degrees outside. Ramadan. Plagued by mothering guilt and those howling monkeys in my head. Losing Steve’s grandfather. Steve traveling.

Never wondering if we made a mistake coming. Just wondering when I would feel better, settled, at ease again. Cue the self-contempt. Wishing I could be one of those women who could just do it all better.

Late fall, the heat evaporated and it all cooled off. I mean that in every way. And now, as I think back on this year, I am so thankful, grateful, hopeful, in awe. That we have come through it all and we are together. What more could I possibly ask for on my birthday or ever? That I get to wake up next to my husband. That I get to love these two precious maniacs, Luke and Lane. That I get the profound gift of growing another baby. That I get to put life into words and give that to others. That Christ remains with me. Even on the far side of the sea. Even here his hand guides me and holds me fast.

As I opened gifts and emails and texts and read all sorts of messages on Friday, I was undone by the great enveloping love of my tribe. And the words that kept coming to me were Thank You (breathed in the direction of countless vigil-keepers, including Christ himself). Thank You that we survived this year, and that despite its desolation at times, I have always received the gift of consolation.

As I have said before, and I believe more than ever, there is great beauty in foreign places. Discovering this beauty is never convenient and is hard-won. Such difficult news for me, as I’m too often tempted to stop at glamour when my soul really longs for beauty.

Yet, I’m seeing right before my eyes, an unfolding. That life rarely stays in the scald forever.

Thank you. And thank you again. For coming near. For delivering me. For your great love. I am held so entirely.

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