Today someone asked me what my "Aha!" moments were this past year. I sat and thought. I thought a little more. Eventually, I came up with a couple. The first and most striking revelation about the year was simply that the conflict in Northern Ireland is way more complex than most people think. It's been hard to understand it while living here and seeing it firsthand. Even people who have lived here their whole lives tell me that it's difficult to understand. I can't begin to fathom how I am going to explain the situation to people back home. Yet, in light of that, I've learned the importance of dialogue this past year. I've learned how nonviolent efforts can make a significant impact. And really, how can violence ever lead to peace? The need for nonviolent efforts in the peace and reconciliation process are more importantly than anything else and I was incredibly lucky to be a part of these types of efforts at the 174 Trust and Woodvale Methodist.
My second "Aha!" moment came through my work with the Disabilities Club. This moment didn't occur as a quick flash like so many "Aha!" moments do but was a subtle aha. It crept up on me through the year as I began to understand so many different things through this work. First, the club helped me to understand the importance of letting people know they have value and worth. I felt like we worked hard to help the kids succeed in the different activities we presented to them and I tried to always let the kids know how great of a time I had with them. And truly, I always did. From the night I spent in the bathroom taking care of one of them who was sick to the night one of them began chatting "Baldy!" at me and others joined in, I've always looked back fondly on each night at the club.
The second part of the "Aha!" moment at the club had to do with how we look at ourselves. We went mini-golfing in March and one of the kids pushed another into the water hazard. It was knee deep and as the girl stepped out she looked at me and laughed, "I'm soaking!" It didn't phase her the rest of the night. She couldn't do anything about it really, so she just continued having a good time. It was a great lesson for me as I am someone who seems to constantly worry about what could go wrong or what has gone wrong. As my parents would say, "Lighten up!"
The last part of my lesson with the club was an understanding of the size and inclusivity of God's kingdom. The children at the club had so much to offer me. Each week I learned something new from the kids. I thought I was supposed to be helping them out but it really worked the other way around. I never left the club with a frown on my face. Our first Christmas away from family was eased by the impromptu carols we sang on the bus in December, and in all of the more difficult situations we had, the kids showed me that I had what it would take to make it through. They helped me understand that we all have important places in the kingdom and important work to be done. More importantly, they helped me learn that that same work can be a whole lot of fun.
I've learned much more in Belfast than what I've written above and will reflect more upon what the year has meant and the lessons I have learned as I better understand what those things are in the weeks and months to come. But it's been a terrific year in Belfast. I'll look back on this year with great memories. I'm going to miss climbing Cave Hill, talking with the young adult group at Woodvale, Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps, teaching my guitar kiddos, Guinness from so close to the brewery, our Woodvale Methodist church family, our Whitehouse church family, our 174 Trust family, not having a car, riding in the up top and in the front of the double deckers, and all of the great friends we've made at our placements (just to name a few things). Thank you to everyone who helped to make this year possible by supporting us through prayer, financially, with a nice meal, with a nice conversation or just with a warm hug. It's been an experience of a lifetime for me and Kendra and we are so thankful to have had it.
Cheers for now,