While most people look forward to their 21st or 30th birthday, I was eager to celebrate 33; also known as “the Jesus birthday.”

Being the Bible nerd that I am, I dreamed of inviting all guests to dress as their favorite Jesus. We’d play pin the tail on Mary’s donkey, water jugs would be flowing with Jesus’ miracle juice, and we would feast on artisanal loaves and salt baked fishes!

There would be fig and goat cheese for Hors d’oeuvres and tres leches cake with a honey whipped frosting for dessert. As party favors, everyone would get three chocolate coins.

I, of course, would dress as transfiguration Jesus in a gold lame cape and all things glitter. Think Dolly Parton on a mountaintop.

Alas, the pandemic took that all away, and I settled for a nice Indian restaurant, a hike in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park and a socially distanced picnic with friends. Everything was absolutely wonderful.

However, this last year I navigated some difficult decisions in both my personal and professional life that neither seminary nor American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You prepared me for.

And in some ways, while I did not get my Jesus birthday party, it sure felt like I had a Jesus year.

We have each had a year like that – one that challenged and changed our outlook on life and faith and God. A year that required us to give up more of ourselves.

Maybe yours was not in year 33 of life, maybe it was 28 or 55 or 42. But you have lived through it, and on the next dance around the sun, you emerge, still breathing and a bit wiser.

I have decided this is the Jesus Year. The year of challenging what was and is and envisioning what could be.

A year of being misunderstood and relinquishing the need for approval for a bigger cause beyond what the world expects of you. A year where you are asked to rethink everything and accept the reality of knowing little beyond your own world.

Earlier this week, I turned 34 and let out the biggest sigh of relief as I left 33 to its place in the past. It feels as if I made it past a security check in a breeze without question.

I celebrated not only the chance of another year to fill my lungs with air and fill the world with love and hope, but also the fact that I made it through my Jesus year.

Of course, there will be plenty of these in life. And if I or you ever face another one, here are three things I learned from the 33-year-old Jesus that I will be taking into year 34.

First, the shining mountain-top moments will eventually fade, and you will have to come down from the hilltops, but the light within each of us is a divine gift meant to carry us on ordinary days.

When the disciples suggested they stay up on the mountain where it was safe and bright, Jesus said no. Why? Because light is meant for sharing, and gathering in community illuminates the hope that we have put our trust in.

Protect your light; learn when it is time to wipe the dust off your sandals and move on.

Second, do not be afraid of changing your mind or admitting that you were wrong.

When the woman begging for healing reminded Jesus that even dogs deserve to be fed, he was very publicly asked to change his mind. And in that moment, Jesus had a choice of digging his heels into the ground or admitting he could be wrong.

If Jesus can do it, so can you and I – hopefully in a manner that humbles us to be better students than revelers in our newfound “rightness.” Because if I have learned anything working in progressive spaces, it is that we still have more to learn.

And lastly, my biggest takeaway in year 33 is that you will die a thousand little deaths that shed layers of old thinking and practice.

It will be painful at times and downright heartbreaking. But as Easter people there is a chance for resurrection if you are willing to tend to the soil of your life and to believe that the God who created an intricate universe holds you as well.

A bonus lesson: never underestimate your power to advocate for yourself and your community, because it is that power that moves you from destruction to new life.

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