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I watched The Hobbit: An unexpected journey last night, and I couldn't have asked for a better movie to end the year 2012 with.
I think I can safely say that my entire year has been an unexpected journey - from the people I've come to call my friends and family, to the work that I've come to take much pride in, to the way my heart has been stretched and my fears challenged.
Yes, it's been a wonderful year, but not one that came without much pain, doubt, and second-guessing if I was where I was meant to be.
I can relate a lot to the story of Bilbo Baggins - a humble little hobbit who was quite happily living a comfortable little life, until Gandalf enters the scene and stirs everything up. I think a lot of us can relate. We all have our little "hobbit holes", our little bubbles of comfort, that is suddenly burst by an encounter with the real world. And we have a choice as to how we respond, just as Bilbo had when the wizard threw him a challenge:
"Home is now behind you. The world is ahead."
So many times throughout this year, I've felt like Bilbo - leaving the comfort of what I know and venturing out into the unknown. It's exciting, but it's also incredibly scary. And sometimes I do find myself longing for what I've left behind, until I realise, as Gandalf put it:
"If you return, you will never be the same again."
And when the rest of the rugged, weathered company of dwarves doubted the homely hobbit's ability, Gandalf retorts:
"He has more to give than any of you know! Even himself."
I remember so clearly the times I've sat in front of wise mentors, teary-eyed, and said, "I really don't know if I have what it takes to do this." There were so many times I felt like choosing the easy way out. I didn't know if I actually had it in me. But there were people who actually believed I did - and it was their steady encouragement that kept me going.
The wizard later confesses to Lady Galadriel why he singled out Bilbo for the task:
"Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That's because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."
When the going gets tough, and when I start feeling discouraged, what keeps me inspired are not extraordinary acts by extraordinary people, but small everyday acts of courage by the everyday people in my life. It's a simple cup of freshly made coffee brought to my table by our office cleaner, who goes the extra mile by making coffee for those who come in early to the office. It's an intern who writes an enthusiastic note of encouragement that puts a smile on my face first thing in the morning.
It's the little things done by people who don't necessary have extraordinary skills and talents, but a huge heart. These people give me courage, and I hope that in whatever small ways, I am able to do the same for others as well.
The climax of the movie comes after Bilbo heroically risks his life to save Thorin. When Thorin finally recovers, he hugs Bilbo and tells him, "I'm sorry I doubted you."
I teared up when Bilbo replied, "It's alright, I would have doubted me too." Because that's exactly how I feel about my past year looking back. Back in January, if you'd told me about all the things I would do or experience this year, I would have completely doubted if I had what it takes.
But that's what faith is all about - it's about starting with what you've got, and trusting that your capacity will be increased along the way. It's about not despising the little things, but believing they will add up to bigger things. It's taking that very first step into that unexpected journey, trusting what you cannot see, but believing wholeheartedly that there are far better things ahead than any you are leaving behind.