Holy crap, this year was hard!
Funny thing – Last December, I did one of those things where you ask God for a word for the coming year. I heard FUN. Well, clearly that was a mistake, because the word that best defines 2018 for us is CARNAGE.
So much blew up or collapsed, I can’t even write about it in an ordered way yet. It will come out bit by bit in the coming year as I make sense of what all this means in the larger story. But for now, just envision me standing very, very still, not wanting to step on any more landmines, waiting for 2019 to arrive and declare 2018 well and truly over.
However…in the midst of all this loss and disappointment, small encouragements popped up with surprisingly good timing, as if there is a God who loves me and cares about getting me through. These weren’t big solutions that saved the day. But small life rafts that saved the hour. Or sometimes the next ten minutes. Anne Lamott has written extensively about how God’s answers to prayer are often like pool floaties that keep your head just barely above the water, and DAMN, I wanted her to be wrong. I wanted more than that. But when you’re drowning, floatation in any form is a miracle. So I’m here to admit it: Anne is right.
It felt weird to find enjoyment in the midst of intense frustration, loss, and anger, but I think that’s life. Rather than lament the hard things endlessly (or buy into the lie that if I just analyze them from every single direction I can fix things or prevent them from happening again), I worked on my capacity to accept the small breaks from the tension whenever God handed one to me. And that, as they say, made all the difference.
Borrowing an idea from one of the new blogs I discovered, Modern Mrs. Darcy, here is a list of some things I learned during this very strange, very hard year:
1. NOVELS DOUBLE AS FLOATATION DEVICES – After almost two years of reading endless piles of (mostly mediocre) Christian non-fiction, I rediscovered novels on our vacation this summer, and it was like the clouds broke open and the sun shone through. Since then, I have read multi-volume thrillers, middle grade action-adventure, a book that reminded me that I hated being a lawyer (periodically I wonder if I should revisit that career, and there is ALWAYS something like this that brings me back), five books by Elizabeth Strout that helped me understand the family/social dynamics of my Maine heritage (the first two aren’t officially set in Maine, but they are the most Maine books I’ve ever read), and one-half of a book that made me VERY glad I don’t live in Florida.
Here’s what I learned: Novels are a means of escape, a way to learn without lectures, and endless opportunities to ponder life in new ways…without the stress of having all those dilemmas & plot twists under my roof. Now, I grab at least three novels every time I go to the library so I’ll always have a new world to escape into when this world gets to be a bit much.
2. KENNY ROGERS WAS RIGHT – You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run… Spot-on the best inter-personal advice ever set to music.
People are a gamble. You might think you know what they have in their hand, but you don’t really until they lay their cards on the table. Then it’s important to have a framework for whether you’ll stay for another round or cut your losses.
We folded on our church this year, and walked away from the denomination where Steve & I both came to faith. I ran from a friend who admitted that she’d repeatedly lied to me and didn’t think that was a problem. We’re holding on to Jesus, our marriage, and the Cherubs. We’re counting our relational losses, and saving up to take a gamble again. It’s not fun, necessarily. But it sure beats the alternative of just giving up and never taking a chance again. I’ve learned through a pretty crazy life that if I’m still alive, God still has new people, experiences, and surprises for me if I’m willing to receive them.
3. THE HIGHLIGHT REEL OF INSTAGRAM REALLY HELPS – In a year filled with things too heavy to wrestle into a blog or fling out on Facebook, it was nice to just compile a little scrapbook of moments that were funny or sweet. It’s absolutely a highlight reel – it’s not real life at all. (That my highlight reel includes a photo of half-price holiday llamas at Barnes & Noble shows how low my bar dipped.) But it is super-important to remember that there are highlights. Instagram helped me with that this year. (I’m @Trishryanonline if you want to follow)
For example, this:
The weeks leading up to Christmas were stunningly awful, mostly in ways that had nothing to do with the coming holiday. There were days I could hardly breathe, so I just careened from thing to thing to thing, wondering, What the fu*k?
But on Christmas morning, against all odds, we had these moments, and they were every bit as real as all the crappy ones:
You can’t see it in these pictures, but Steve gave me a necklace with a teardrop shaped stone. My immediate thought was, This is perfect… There were so many tears this year (and so many that were never shed because at a certain point, you’re just dehydrated). This necklace is an acknowledgement of this…and a reminder of God’s promise that he He collects every one of our tears and makes them into something beautiful and strong.
If your holidays (or your year) were more like a horror show than a highlight reel…take heart, it’s almost over. I’ll take almost any excuse to be encouraged, and a new year seems like a particularly good one. You’re welcome to join me in mentally/emotionally/spiritually fleeing the year behind us…and holding very still and waiting for the New to come. Here’s to good things ahead.