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In many western Christian calendars, Sunday commemorated Epiphany, when the Magi brought gifts to the newborn Jesus.

As my pastor noted, an epiphany occurs when you see something in a new way. These moments change things — our outlook, situations, lives or all of the above.

The visit from the Magi signified an “epiphany” because it revealed Jesus as the Messiah. The epiphany was that the long-awaited savior appeared in an unexpected way, from humble beginnings.

In our daily lives, epiphanies occur when we suddenly see, experience or consider something in a completely different way. We all have them. My most recent epiphany resulted from the recent holiday my daughter, Zoey, and I had in England.

In November 2015, I was doing research on My DNA test had produced a connection to another user. I could view his family tree, and I couldn’t understand how we were connected.

I contacted the user, who lived in England. I learned the account was managed by Andy Johnson for his husband, C. Alan Golden. Andy explained Alan’s grandfather, Ellie Golden, and my great-grandfather, Joe Martin Golden, were brothers.

Andy introduced Alan and me via email. Zoey and I went on to develop a close bond with the couple through social media, phone calls and texting.

We learned Alan and I have many similar traits and share several points of intersection. Why hadn’t we ever met before? We grew up a few hours from each other — Alan in Milwaukee, I, in Waterloo. His father sometimes made vague references to “our people in Waterloo.” My dad and grandfather had done the same about relatives in Milwaukee. Alan went to Luther College in Decorah; I went to Wartburg in Waverly. We’d had opportunities to work with the late Weston Noble at pivotal times in each of our lives.

The list goes on. Once we met in person, we noticed other things that reinforced the connection, from a similarly authoritarian approach to cleaning to “the way you both crinkle your eyes when you laugh,” says Zoey.

It seemed natural for Zoey and me to travel to England and stay with Alan and Andy over the recent holidays. However, a Boxing Day guest told me traveling such a distance to meet “strangers” was “a bit risky — kind of mad, really.”

She had a point, which triggered my epiphany: Taking that risk made the trip “successful,” regardless of the outcome.

Meeting Alan and Andy was life-changing — a sort of homecoming for Zoey and me. However, it could have gone differently. What if we didn’t get along? What if our presence became burdensome? Alan and I even had the same last-minute anxiety: What if we discover we aren’t actually related at all?

Many of us sometimes postpone taking action out of uncertainty. In some cases, we assume the unknown will result in negative experiences — that taking a risk will go badly. We assume difficulty can and should be avoided, while believing we should chase good times.

It’s not just about needing to know there’s a net to catch us when we leap. It’s that we want to know what the net looks like, what it was made of and whether it will feel scratchy upon impact.

Thus, doubt often holds us back, and the effect is we opt out of important events in our own lives, “good,” “bad” or otherwise.

It’s all an adventure — a chance to better understand ourselves and the world around us. The value of the experience shouldn’t always be measured by comfort level. Instead, sometimes the primary worth is found in how a thing changes us.

Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at


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