This is not your typical “year in review” post. I’ve written those the last two years – bullet pointing all the noteworthy peaks and pinnacles of the year that preceded it, tossing in a few photos for good, nostalgic measure. But not this year. There’s just too much. I’m still processing and praying through most of what happened and I certainly don’t have the right words for it all. No bullet point or photograph could capture an ounce of what 2019 held.
BUT it’s the first week of January and I’m a sucker for reflection. And in a two weeks I turn 30, which invites a nostalgia of its own. So if there was ever a time to reflect on a chapter’s end as a new one takes its place it would be now.
As I look back on this decade I see how full and messy it all was. I think back on a post I wrote in my early twenties and smile at my earnestness and naivety and the post-college confusion that decorated those years. There’s so much I could say about that chapter of my life but for brevity I’ll just say that I’m grateful. For all that it held and for the gift of growing and learning and the freedom to make mistakes within the endless bounds of God’s grace.
As I look back on this year I see a lot of the same. It too was full and messy. I was earnest and naive and confused. But though the year was indeed marked by growing and learning and God’s endless grace, it was also largely marked by loss. A loss whose depths I could’ve never imagine. A pain that seemed to scrape me out from the inside and leave a gaping, silent void.
I’m no stranger to loss. Like so many others, I’ve had my fair share of struggles over the last (almost) 30 years. But never before have I so suddenly been stripped of seemingly everything I knew to be true about my life and left standing amidst the debris, looking around at what once was but is no more.
If this sounds dramatic its because it was, and it is. This has been without a doubt the most difficult season I’ve walked through. But as I stand here today still in it – not after the fact when it’s all tied up in a pretty little bow and ends with a happy story of earthly redemption – but waist deep in the muck of it, surrounded by my grief and sin and failure and fear, I can say with lifted hands that this is also one of the most beautiful seasons I’ve ever known.
A few months ago a friend encouraged me that as Christians we never experience death without a reminder of resurrection. And indeed, with all of this loss there has been so much gained. For every moment of fear, an invitation to trust. For every moment of shame, an opportunity for grace. For every door closed, another one opened in its place. (OK, that last one was a joke, but you get the idea.)
Our suffering can usher us in to a place of holy surrender, healing humility, and overwhelming nearness to God if we let it. And though it may not take away the tears and the pain, it reveals the unwavering foundation of the good and glorious sovereignty of God on which we stand (or lay in the fetal position, depending on the day).
So in celebration of that hope, and in response to the goodness I have tasted and seen in this season, I will reflect today not on the events that led me to this place, but on the gift of loss as part of the larger story of redemption.
The 9 Things I Lost in 2019:
1. Plans. How many times must I learn that “many are the plans in the mind of a man but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Everything I thought my future would hold – big and small, events and airline tickets and major life milestones – now look so differently than I imagined. But isn’t this always true? Have I ever been right about the future I imagined? So instead, I ask for grace for this day. And I hold fast to the promise that the Lord directs our steps and that He goes before us. It is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
2. Control. It’s a funny thing to name “control” as something I’ve lost because I know I never really had it. But I thought I did. And was so sure of it that this, maybe more than any other thing on this list, was not lost easily; it’s had to be pried from my white-knuckled fists over and over and over again. But how beautifully humbling this process has been. May I forever welcome every moment – no matter how painful or trying – that reminds me that I can simply trust our good and loving Father to provide and not feel the need to try to take His place.
3. Myself. For a little bit at least. In the first moments of my grief I forgot who I was, what I cared about, what I needed. I wandered and wallowed. I made mistakes and questioned my sanity and spent six straight hours watching TV in bed, days at a time. But the numbness thawed and there I was again. A cluster of a million emotions and thoughts seeking stillness in the midst of my chaos. And finding it.
4. Understanding. One of the sneakiest sources of pride in my life is that I constantly think I understand what God is doing. I ascribe meaning to most things in my life under the assumption that I can see what God might be teaching me or trying to reveal about himself. I forget that God is God and assume that I am wise and worthy enough to understand him in full. What a futile way to live. But a season marked with so many moments of “why” has stripped me of this. I am reminded of the story of Job. God answers his questions by saying:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
So I stand before the mystery of my Creator and lean “not on my own understanding” but on His promises, His character, and the fullness of who He is, too wonderful to be contained by the human mind. My peace comes not from answers to “why”, but from the answer of “who.”
5. Shame. I’ve carried shame around like a security blanket this year. And even still, it creeps up at random intervals, telling me my morality and mistakes define me and others’ opinions dictate what’s true about my worth. But I continue to learn, in waves and in whispers, that every moment of shame is an invitation to grace. And that I am defined by a worth I did not have to earn.
6. Apathy. I’ve struggled with apathy on and off in my life and significantly in the last few years. But through everything this year I have been broken open. I have never felt more affected by the world. By a candle or a baby in its winter sack or a friend in a season of waiting or a family member with dementia. And the hope of Jesus that has lay dormant within me, present but underneath the surface, known but not felt, now seeps through my pores and spills out of my eyes and loosens my words because I simply cannot believe how faithful God has been to me in even the darkest of seasons.
7. Narrative. I’m a writer, controlling the narrative is like, what I’m supposed to do. But when life goes to hell there’s no real way to control the story. The narrative of who I am – the one I told myself, the one I hoped others would see, the one I wanted to be true – was one of the first things I had to let go of. Instead, I rest in the source of all truth and trust in what His story says about me. The rest is just a footnote.
8. Home. Or what I thought it meant. But in its place I’ve found the comfort of new city streets to explore, the novelty of Central Park in the fall, the respite of a patio on a quiet night, the gift of a church four blocks away, the community of friends who stand with me in the deep end, and a holy longing for when all is made new.
9. Happiness. I may have lost the gift of happiness for long stretches of this season, but I have not lost my joy. There is beauty in the Word and in the world. There is hope for every sinner and sufferer. There are promises that anchor the soul when the waters of pain just keep rising. And there is joy for those who seek refuge in the Lord.
“I will turn their morning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13)