Jesus:

I had a surprising end to 2015, which led me to develop a hopeful feeling of premonition for 2016. I felt the year would bring new, exciting things, or a new, exciting direction. At the same time, a little, superstitious voice was telling me to be cautions. It’s going to sound ridiculous, but… odd numbered years are just better to me than even numbered ones. I know it sounds a bit neurotic. BUT. I’ve kept a journal since I was eleven; I have the receipts. But getting $10,000 from God kind of made me think the pattern was broken. It felt odd to enter the year with an optimism I hadn’t embraced for a while. God would carry us through, he was “on our side” now, doing big things, and it all would get easier.

LOL.

2016 has been a whopper. A doozy. And I’ve done a slapbang job of renewing my trust in God’s provision through it all. This year, I’ve had a lot more responsibility fall into my lap. I’ve become more selfless and more selfish simultaneously, as I’ve given my time to a lot of different things but not enjoyed them as much as I wish I had. I’ve had handfuls of work-related, church-related, friendship-related, family-related, and faith-related challenges this year. Nothing huge or unbearable, but a lot of things all together causing me strain and stress. The good change I anticipated at the beginning of the year has probably come to fruition more than I realize, but I wasn’t expecting it to come at me like a hurricane.

And then there are all the absolutely heartbreaking things that have happened this year. I think we all need a respite from 2016. From all the bickering and tension and violence and aggravation and injustice and disappointment with humanity… 2016 has made me long for peace unlike any other time in my life. Can I get an amen?

Because of all… that, I’ve been forced to find spaces where I can cultivate peace. Without those spaces, I would be much more of an angry, anxious, and bitter person that I already am. Three things this year have helped: exercise, reading, and writing. I can feel both tuned out and deeply connected to the world through yoga, or running with very, very loud music. I can completely escape real life through books, but feel more compassion and understanding toward real people when I connect with fictional characters. There are times when I think that journaling has literally saved me – I would not be the person I am today without the self-reflection and discovery and clarity that comes to me through writing things down.

I started this year with a weird tug to write like I haven’t before. I’ve been totally unfiltered, and rather than just journaling and blogging happening as a result, I’ve actually started writing essays and novels, never finishing one before moving on to the next. There have been quite a few nights where I couldn’t sleep because I needed to write down a story or a thought. I’ve used creative writing about my past experiences through other people’s perspectives as a therapeutic, healing technique. I’ve handwritten and typed chapters of a memoir that I’m too unexperienced and under-qualified to write.

Then there’s this blog. I’m used to posting 2-3 times a year and having 18 people pop by to read my thoughts. But, since I’ve been consistently sharing my story about struggling in my faith, I’ve had a stream of visitors I didn’t expect at all. I wish you could see me blushing, telling you this. In 2016, more than 2,000 of you from ten different countries have viewed my blog. I don’t know if those statistics are good or bad for people who do this a lot, but I really can’t believe it. They could be a bunch of spam bots and I would still be flattered. As much as my friends have told me that I should speak openly and without fear, I never really believed that my honesty and transparency would be of use to anybody.

So, the next thing.

In 2016, I have been continuing to ask God and Jesus just who they are, and wondering what I believe, and becoming more and more okay that my faith doesn’t look like it used to. I’ve found answers and reassurance through other people, through teaching, through stories… but my doubts were so centered on the Bible that my heart was too wounded to look back there. Every time I tried to read it again, I felt betrayed. God, why aren’t you like this in my life? Why is what you’re saying not clear? How is this part of your “holy Word”? Plus, I’ve been taught so much that reading Scripture is an act of obedience out of love for God, so reading it just didn’t go with my vibe. Maybe I was sinning. Simple as that.

But an idea and a desire sprung up in my head, one that felt too “church-y” to me, but I couldn’t let go of anyway. I kept remembering that month where I got out of bed every day, made my coffee, and woke up reading and digesting Scripture. I wanted that again, but to be even more connected with it. I brought an idea to some of my friends, and now a wonderful community is going to be Advent-ing together to the tune of the names of Jesus.

Starting December 1st, we will be sharing verses and thoughts every day that focus on who Jesus is. I’ve been asking him that question for a long time, and his answer is out there somewhere. I’m so glad I have friends who will be sharing their perspective, too. These are all people I look up to, with regards to their faith and character. Plus, most of them learned to write for a living. We want you to follow along, to use it as your daily devotional, and give us all your thoughts and feedback.

I’m also very excited to tell you that this Advent series will be posted on my new website: hannazoeo.co. It launches with the Advent series on December 1st!

If you are interested in collaborating on this project, please comment or email me at hzhafner@gmail.com

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