As I sit here before a crackling fire on this very first January evening reflecting on the close of yet another year, I sense a severe case of déjà vu coming on. It seems I was just here reflecting on 2012 and all the drama it brought with it. In fact, to say that it had been a dramatic year would be a severe understatement. And yet, while it was certainly a challenging year, it didn’t come without its small victories, namely the acknowledgment and resurgence of passions and dreams that had lain dormant for the better part of my adult life. Having collected dust at the expense of mere clutter and the daily rhythms we call “busyness,” I vowed 2013 would be different. I don’t typically make formal resolutions, but 2013 was to be the year I’d cut myself a little slack, embrace the discomfort, and pursue the things that make me come alive. I recorded all of this in a post [see A New Year: A Neglected Need] at the start of this year; the last sentence of that entry says this:
My prayer is that at the close of 2013, as I reflect back on yet another year that’s flown by, I’ll see the bittersweetness of this season in all its rich context and the fruit of the tears that brought me to this vulnerable and healing place.
Truth be known, the majority of 2013 didn’t exactly pan out the way my hopeful imagination had projected. After quitting my job on a Monday followed by a nervous breakdown on a Sunday, I took more than a $15,000 annual pay cut and started a new job, albeit a more creative one and booked my first counseling session. I struggled through the process of learning to grow roots in foreign soil, spent far too few hours with family for whom I’d returned “home” in the first place, and spent the latter half of the year in what you might call a “post-fall rehabilitative state” combing clumsily through the pieces of love lost. For all my noble intentions, the noose seemed to only be tightening, while discomfort opened its gaping jaw to swallow me whole rather than reveling in the surrender of my open arms, and empty hours spent grasping at straw was all it seemed I had to show for all my life-giving endeavors.
It was a most unpredictable season.
I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that January is here again. The close of the year looked much the way Decembers generally do, lights twinkling on trees, frost coating a desolate landscape, excessive amounts of sweets taunting passersby at every turn, glitter awkwardly finding its way into every orifice of your body, you know- the usual sorts of things. And yet, absolutely nothing felt the same. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, life felt more like a war-zone this past year, and yet, as I watched the final days of 2013 slip thoughtlessly away like bits of sand through the narrow passage of an hour glass, I’ve been moved to consider the significance of it all. As my toes thaw by the warmth of another roaring fire on this bitter-cold new years night, for a reason I cannot rationally defend, I can’t help but feel thankful for the whole lot of it. Perhaps it has something to do with the timing of things, having just passed through the Season of Thanks, a bit of nostalgia sets in the way it does. Or maybe it’s the second wind I’ve felt myself catching the past month or so. Whatever the reason, I’m a big believer in seasons, and well- it’s the season for reflection, so here we go.
Last year started off with so much promise. New job, speedy promotion, fresh and exciting relationships, I turned 26, hey-o! But as they say, what goes up, must eventually come down, and so it did. The pendulum swings the way it does, and just when I thought I was making my way out of rocky waves to the calm of the shore, I bore the brunt of a sneaker wave that unapologetically plundered my momentary stability.
And it’s moments [or seasons rather] such as these when I’m confronted with my own instinctive impulse to flee. When things get hard? Quit. When things get scary? Run. When things get awkward? Hide. When faced with the polarity of fight or flight, the latter usually looks more appealing in the moment. I can feel the anxiety sweep through my entire body to the very tips of my extremities: run, run, RUN. And sometimes, sometimes this instinct is right. Sometimes it’s important to walk away from something that’s hard, because it wasn’t meant to be so. But I would argue that more often than not, the more difficult and rewarding option comes when we lean in. Lean into the pain, into the dissonance and discomfort. I once heard grief likened to yoga, breathing and stretching into the hard places, into the pain.
“This is a way through grief: the willingness to stretch into a place you do not want to be, and to be fully there.” –Emily Maynard
Only once we lean in to the pain, sit there a while, then lean in deeper still, do we uncover our resilience; our strength. Because if we can find the courage to lean into it, we will certainly find the strength to move through it and then, eventually, beyond it.
There was a specific stretch of time this past year that was particularly challenging. I felt completely disoriented. I told my therapist I felt like a piece of cloth that was frayed at every edge; no clear-cut lines, everything a blur and tattered. It was in this particular season the idea of getting well felt overwhelming, like an insurmountable feat. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around how much work would need to be done to recover even a basic sense of normalcy. For mere sanity’s sake I took up the mantra, “one healthy decision at a time” because anything else, anything more than this, was simply too much. So I started approaching wellness in this manner. Anytime I felt overwhelmed, I would take a step back and determine the single decision that stood before me, and I would look at it as though it were the only decision that needed to be made. It needn’t be monumental, merely attainable for the moment. One foot in front of the other. And believe it or not, this was probably one of the most significant accomplishments I made over the course of the year. Because eventually, healthy decisions begin to build upon themselves ushering us forward into spaces that – strangely enough – are, well, much healthier.
And because I believe in celebrating the little victories, let’s go ahead and be clear that despite all the road bumps along the way, 2013 absolutely bore its exceedingly bright moments. Sure, not every relationship worked out the way I had originally anticipated, but it should not be overlooked that other relationships were mended along the way, in massive and miraculous ways. In fact, there were a number of moments in 2013 that quite plainly floored me; and as I picked my jaw up off the floor, I was forced to take inventory and acknowledge that I had just lived through a moment I’d honestly been waiting for my whole life. Moments I feared I might never live to actually see come to fruition. So I take that back, that is no small victory… that is huge, and I will celebrate it as such.
And as much as it’s felt slow-going, one of my biggest goals for 2013 was to write more. To develop some amount of consistency with my blog. And you know what? While I still have room to grow in this regard, I gained significant ground over the course of the year, and I’m proud of that accomplishment, because it takes a lot to actually sit down and write, no matter how much I love it, no matter how much I want it. It takes a ton of willpower to resist resistance and do the thing you know you’re built to do.
Additionally, this past summer, in the midst of incredible discord of spirit, the Lord met me at The Window Seat. It was here, over the course of consistent and intentional quiet time in the early morning hours I discovered an entirely new level of intimacy with my creator. I suppose it’s not surprising that the moments in which the Lord’s Peace is the most restorative is when it finds us in the thick of the most difficult and tumultuous spaces, and yet it does always come as the biggest surprise. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.
At the close of this past year I started a small business with my dear friend. Yeah, that’s a thing that actually happened, I can hardly believe it either. It’s still in the developmental stages, but I have a business partner, we own our name, domain and will be launching our webpage soon. We even have clients booked… it’s insane to even think about. More on this in the coming weeks…
I largely learned how to speak up, own my voice and be proud of who I am and what it is I have to say with *less fear [because we are all a work in progress] of the critique of others. There are a number of layers to this, but it’s been incredibly freeing and I’m thankful for this step forward to embracing a new level of comfort in my own skin.
And now, as I sit here looking back at the closed chapter of another challenging year, I can feel the reviving winds of change filling up my lungs. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can sense it, and I’m not usually wrong about these things. If 2012 was a year of remembering passions and dreams, 2013 was the year I began – for the first time – to really step into them, and in an appropriate progression, 2014 will be about refinement.
It’s fascinating now to consider the weight of those final words I wrote to close out 2012 as I ushered in 2013. For surely I had no way of knowing exactly what they would come to mean when I wrote them, and yet it’s almost startling to realize how prophetic they’ve been. As I sit here reflecting on this year that has most certainly flown by, the richest lessons are a direct byproduct of the bittersweet. We are not refined without walking through the refining fire. And as I continue to lean in, trembling though I may while I hold my warrior pose and press in deeper still, I can honestly say it’s right here in the discomfort that I’m discovering my own strength and resilience, and it is a vulnerable and healing place indeed.