Thursday, January 3, 2013

A First Time for Everything...This Time, A Christmas Letter

There are many things I enjoy about Christmas at home—the familiar decorations, the traditional cookies, the secret code names on the gifts that taunt me from beneath the tree, the basket of Christmas letters that sits beside the fireplace. Each year the members of my family take turns digging through the basket, searching for photographs and looking for letters from people we know. I have dreamed of the day I would pick out red and green-trimmed stationary and share my own seasonal news. I’ve penned the Kuehn family Christmas/New Year’s letter eight of the past ten years. This year I am sending my own.

I wonder why it has taken me this long and why this is the year I decide to write. If I am honest—more honest than I believe one is supposed to be in a Christmas letter—I would say it is because my life has not seemed “letter worthy.” I am not yet a “real” adult, at least not the kind that sends letters. There is no new house, no fiancĂ©, no babies on the way or big career moves to speak of.

I did manage to land a youth ministry position at a church in Liberty, MO. I was there for an entire 25 months (7 months more than the average youth worker) before I resigned. Youth ministry is just not what I was created to do. I am not really sure what I was created to do, but it must be something else.

My final Sunday at the church, I described to the senior high why I was leaving and where I was going. I explained that each of us has different talents, gifts, and opportunities. Sometimes, many times, we settle for what is known, comfortable or expected when we are capable of more. The doors are open, but we are afraid to walk through them. Other times, we long for escape the way I have longed to live overseas ever since I graduated. We push and we strive, but the doors do not open. And so we stay put. Because we must. We seek other opportunities to use our gifts and experiences, which is, of course, how I ended up living in a community house in Kansas City, KS, teaching ESL courses to Bhutanese refugees, and working at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

It’s difficult to sit down with a group of high school students (most of them seniors and freshmen), encouraging them to try new things and pursue their dreams and desires, when you are not doing so yourself. I try to motivate my students to take risks, to move into spaces that may seem uncomfortable, and to chance leaving what they like in order to pursue what they love, what God has called them to. And those are the reasons I have chosen to leave a life that I like, so that I can pursue the life I was created to live.

Three and a half years ago (not long after I graduated from college with a B.A. in Writing and a fuzzy idea of the future), I set off for a four-month mission term in England. I returned from that experience with a newfound love for refugee and immigrant populations and a strong desire to get back overseas. I spent six unexpected months working my high school job at the HyVee bakery and living with my parents in Lincoln, NE. After that, I left for Kansas City, where I hoped to move in with a college friend. That didn’t work out, but Kansas City did, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything, not even the overseas teaching position I was offered two weeks after I committed to moving. I decided that Kansas City deserved a fair shot, but now I am ready to adventure again.

January 27th my plane departs for Paris, France. I do not speak French, but I will be staying with a family that does and I’m hoping I will be a fast learner.  For three months I will focus on writing and will serve as an English tutor for Nina, a tri-lingual five-year-old. I will spend May in England, visiting friends and reconnecting with a country and community that is lodged deeply in my heart. My flight is scheduled to return in June, at which point I will walk through whichever door seems to be open. I may go to graduate school, provided I get accepted. I may move to California. I may move back to Kansas City. Or I may end up on the other side of the world.

I am open to the unknown future. I’ve learned it’s better that way. It isn’t easy, at least not for me, but I do believe it is better. God calls us to hold our lives loosely. In fact, He calls us not to hold to them at all, but to deny them, to willingly give them up—not because He wishes to take anything from us, but because He desires to give us more. As long as our hands are full, our fingers clenched tightly around people, positions, promises, and possessions, we are unable to receive what might otherwise be ours.

This holiday season, as you unwrap gifts and open boxes, think not only of the great gifts that God has given you in family, friends, and fortune, but of the gifts He may still be waiting to give. Are you willing to let go of what you have now in order to take hold of something else? Are you willing to sacrifice what you know—what you may even like—that you might pursue something you really love? It is my hope that you will, and that you will become more yourself in the process.

And with that challenging thought, I will bid you adieu. I would love to hear from you, and would be delighted if you chose to follow my upcoming journey.

Grace, Peace, Joy, and Love be yours,

Amanda Kuehn