The Christmas season always brings with it a special feeling and meaning. The tree comes out, the lights go up, and the jewelry and luxury car ads start running - leaving us all feeling like the $20 Red Lobster gift cards we bought are a bit inadequate.

But for most of us, this season seems to always bring a burden of busyness that we carry through the next few weeks. Isn't it ironic how in the middle of a time where we're first celebrating thankfulness, then the birth of a Savior, we still allow chaos and overwhelming calendars to become the norm?

Year in and year out, we stuff our faces, trample each other at Wal-Mart for discounts on things we don't need, complain about weight gain, and rack up debt on gifts that will soon become last year's model - all the while, making statements about why people have taken CHRIST out of Christmas.

But at the end of all this mayhem, many of us will begin to set our sights forward - creating lists of resolutions, reinstating gym memberships, and launching into a new calendar with a fresh attitude and focus. As for this year, I'm challenging myself to check the rear-view mirror of the last 12 months before I move forward into discovering what 2012 has in store. That includes both the good and the bad. The growth and the change. The joyful and the challenging.

Here's a list of things that God brought me, taught me, and also fought me on in 2011:

1. God faithfully stretched me this year through humility. My eyes were opened to how quick I've been to judge, point the finger, and call people out on their shortcoming while ignoring my own.

2. I was given countless opportunities to rub shoulders and become "sharpened" by some of the best leaders I know. These men have created in me a hunger to lead by example, and to build into other future leaders.

3. God was faithful in bringing a wonderful and beautiful woman into my life. I'm thankful for her love, her support, and her patience with me, especially in my selfish and immature moments.

4. I dealt with the consequences of one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Yet, in the middle of that, I felt grace and forgiveness extended to me through Christ. That experience placed a heavier burden on my heart for people who are struggling or lost.

5. I built new and meaningful relationships with some of the greatest, most caring, genuine, and faithful people I met through PhoenixONE.

6. Before the end of this month (hopefully), I will be an uncle for the third time.

7. My Ohio State Buckeyes fell apart on and off the field. But new hope came with the hiring of Urban Meyer. 8. God deepened my desire to study, understand, and apply scripture to my life.

9. After complaining for a bit about moving for the ninth time in eight years, I began to feel thankful that God has provided for me the means to have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and good friends to call roommates.

10. And last, but not least, God has faithfully given me an opportunity to write every month on faith, life and church culture - using this column as a tool to inspire conversations.

What has God done in your life over the past year? I challenge you (before things get crazy) to take some time and create your own 2011 "Year End Review," thanking Him for the good, the bad, and the faithfulness He's shown through it all.

Merry Christmas (and Happy New Year)!

• Colin Noonan serves as the director of student ministries at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Keep the conversation going by sharing your own ups and downs of 2011 with him at

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