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I believe it’s our experiences, good or bad, that make us change and grow. Overcoming conflict, enduring pain, learning to adjust to new circumstances, and coming out the other side stronger and more compassionate are the points to human existence. Whether or not it is our “purpose” bestowed upon us by a divine orchestrator or not is irrelevant. How we handle these struggles gives our lives meaning. Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when we stop and take stock of where our lives have been and where they are going to see if we need to redirect or to set new goals if our old ones no longer represent who we have become since last we did this.

So at the end of every year, I reflect on the major events in my life for the past twelve months and decide on a course correction for the next twelve. As usual, this year was packed full of change, tragedy, joy, and life lessons. This year my son and his wife moved to Florida, taking my two little grandchildren far away, which has been difficult. At school I started teaching AP classes, creating stress and an even greater workload challenge, but it has also refined my teaching skills. But the three major life events this year that have affected me in the most profound ways are, in chronological order, definitely not in order of importance, publishing my first novel in paperback, leaving the Christian faith again, and my mother’s death.

I started 2014 by publishing The Ezekiel Project in paperback. Publishing and marketing a novel has made me grow in ways I never anticipated. It was a huge milestone to accomplish, and it really solidified my need to pursue writing as my life’s ambition. It’s what makes me happy and fulfills my need to express myself. Publishing my novel was an intimidating thing, putting something out there for all the world to see and judge. I remember the day of its release, I had a free digital promotion and 18,000 copies were downloaded. The idea of people out there reading my novel, either loving it or hating it, judging me as a writer, possibly even as a person, was terrifying. I felt more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life.

But after the initial fear waned, I felt more confident and willing to put myself out there without worrying about getting the approval of others. They like it or they don’t, but I need to do it. Acceptance aside, publishing my novel has caused me to focus on my passion and has given me joy. But beyond that, it made me develop as a person. I faced a fear, overcame it, and now I’m less afraid to take risks. I realize how many years I wasted fearing rejection or criticism.

Publishing my novel was not the only goal I had for this year. Having struggled with my faith since 2008, I decided to get serious about my spiritual growth. I took a class on how to study the bible and started attending a small group bible study. However, the more I read the bible, the further away from spirituality I got. I thought I must be doing something wrong, so after reading about strengthening my faith, I committed to ninety days of devotions, which included studying the bible, praying, worshiping, and journaling. It seemed to backfire.

Before too long, I realized that I didn’t believe the bible at all, and if it was true, I wanted nothing to do with the twisted morality I saw in it. This led me to begin questioning the whole basis for my belief in God and the foundations of faith. It turns out I don’t really have any faith and could not continue in my practice of the Christian religion. But I’m okay with that. I don’t need a god to get through life, I don’t need to believe in an afterlife for comfort, and I don’t need religion to be a caring, moral person. I rejoined my secular humanist group, consisting primarily of atheists and am enjoying their thoughts and views on the world, which are much more in line with my conscience anyway. Of course, I do have to deal with upsetting my family, and particularly, my Christian husband. But while it may be disappointing to them, it does not affect our love for each other or the way we get along, and we respect each others’ beliefs.

I guess you could say my lack of faith was tested when my mother passed away in November, causing some people to think I would return to my faith for comfort. Losing my mother was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It has been a roller coaster ride of hospital visits and close calls for the past few years. Each time she would bounce back and recover, so it was a bit of a shock when she finally let go and went to her rest. I had the privilege of saying goodbye, holding her hand as she passed away. I loved my mother with all my heart, and she was very strong in her Christian beliefs, but still, I felt no stirring of faith or belief return.

Instead, I realized that I had the strength within myself to endure this tragedy, to accept the grief, the pain of losing my mother without any divine help. In fact, I resented the implication that somehow non-believers “grieve with no hope” as the bible states. I don’t need the hope of an afterlife to make me feel better. This life is full and beautiful and quite sufficient.

My mother’s death confirmed to me that I am strong enough to endure tragedy and resilient enough to carry on. My mother’s passing was very difficult, and I loved her. There is nothing quite like losing a mother. I will always think of her, miss her, and need her, even though I’ll have to go on without her. She was proud of me, and I was a good daughter, so I am at peace knowing that. She knew I loved her very much, and I was there for her till the end. Losing my mom made me even more determined to live my life in a way that would have made her proud, but I can’t believe what I don’t. However, I can make the most of this life, helping others, being kind and compassionate, and not letting fear block me from chasing my dreams regardless of obstacles. I am determined to not waste time, to love freely, be myself, accept others for who they are, and to “live fully and die full.” My mother lived life according to her beliefs and conscience, and I intend to do the same. They just happen to be different from hers.

So as this year ends, and I look forward to the next, I intend to stretch myself, take risks to follow my dreams and focus on what is important and to cast aside what’s not. I will prioritize life by loving those around me, touching the lives I can, and I will try my best to not worry about what I cannot change. I want to be kind, adventurous, gentle, and to remember that the world can be a beautiful and good place, to notice that good on a daily basis and do my part to make it even better. That will encompass all my New Year’s resolutions for the coming year. So even though there have been hardships and pain this past year, I am grateful for 2014 and all it has taught me. Happy new year!—Christina Knowles

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