As we put the exclamation point on all things 2016 (or maybe just a cold, hard period, depending on circumstance) I’m sitting here thinking about all the ways in which my life has changed this year. Last December, as we approached this wild ride, I was hopeful and optimistic, which isn’t a place I spent a lot of time in the last several years. I had been faithfully camped out in cynical, jaded, and discontent for a variety of reasons, but heading into 2016 felt exciting. It really was a new feeling for me. And honestly, the year didn’t disappoint.
I’m in Hawaii right now, just minutes away from beautiful beaches and roaring ocean – a place my heart does feel very much at home. I feel like all things come into perspective when you stand there staring into miles of deep blue. A couple of years ago, I stood on the coast of California, looking over the beaches of Malibu and under a foggy picture of coastline, I captioned, “No one is impressed with themselves when they stand at the edge of the ocean. No one looks out at its immensity and marvels at their own greatness.” They aren’t my words, but I feel the truth of it in my bones. I don’t know what does it for you – what puts all of life into glaring perspective, but for me it has always been the ocean. So I’m thankful to be here now, looking back on a year that made me feel seen and loved in ways I’ve never known before, but also reflecting on the ways in which I am still just a small piece of a larger story. A tiny speck in the span of eternity. The littlest grain of sand on the whole stretch of beach.
Maybe for you 2016 was a little bit of what it was for me. Exciting. Fun. Fresh. Challenging. I know I have grown a lot this year. I’ve been pushed in new ways both in relationship and in my own heart. I have worked through obstacles and roadblocks that I had previously just pushed to the back of my mind and my heart and preferred to pretend weren’t there. I took timid steps into a relationship that blew my heart wide open and while I started this year single, I end it engaged to be married to a man who loves me both fiercely and graciously. In 2016 I opened myself up to vulnerability, especially here on these pages with you and that has offered a wide world of growth and opportunity. There were new chances to build bridges and be courageous. My own vulnerability has allowed others to be brave in their lives as well, and I don’t say that in a bragging way, I’m just telling you the facts because of the messages I have received after each new post. I’m so thankful for the small ways in which I have been able to speak to others, though I think Flannery O’Connor said it best when she wrote, “If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me.” Amen and amen.
However, I know many people who feel that this year was by far their worst. They are willing to crumple up this year of their lives and throw it into the fire, watching it burn down to ash and blow away in the wind. It hurt too much. It cut too deep. The moments seared into your memory for all of time. Some of you felt that this year and I wish so much that I could hug you enough to make the pain go away. That we could all say the right words or do the very thing that heals that wounded place. I have not experienced great loss in the form of death, but I have felt the sting of heartbreak and the ways in which it will forever change the shape of your heart. I have spent years in the throes of discontent and hurt and being a victim of my own circumstance. That pain will trap you and hold you hostage. That kind of grief will rip away all the days in front of you forevermore if you let it. And sometimes that’s just what you want it to do because you can’t bear the thought of another day like the last. It would be just very alright with you if you didn’t have to feel this way anymore because the days are dragging on and on and the pain just won’t subside. The salve offered in words and hugs just doesn’t seem to close up the gaping flesh wound on your soul. And over that I pray that 2017 is a year of healing. A year of soul mending. A year of baby steps forward, even as you might stumble and fall. I pray for you right this very minute that you would feel your little heart held in the hands of a very big God who knows and sees and understands. I pray you courageously walk into your new normal, walking with a limp, maybe, but still walking.
But whatever 2016 was for you, there is only one day left. And to be honest, the dawn of 2017 is not going to change anything. I hate to break it to you if you’re the type that waits for the coming of the new year to feel new and different - like midnight on January 1 is going to bring a new sense of stamina and resolve to whatever it is you wish to do away with in 2016. It might for a little while. But it won’t feel different or be any different if you don’t do anything different. It’s just another day on the calendar unless you’re willing to finally do some real heart work. If you finally lean into the pain and walk through it. If you reach out with a heart of forgiveness and a desire to reconcile. 2017 will be just the same as 2016 unless your own heart steps up to the plate and says it’s ready.
I think the most important thing you can do in whatever season you find yourself in is to work on your own heart. Open your ears and close your mouth. Listen - to God, to others. Dial in to where you need to mend some hurts, declutter your soul, bring new things to light. I read the other day that if you’re the same person you were six months ago, you’re not trying hard enough - or something along those lines. If you’re the same person – if you’re not pursuing growth, if you’re not pursuing new things and questioning your own convictions or asking the Lord where he would have you grow, you’re really just wasting precious time in your current season. What are you doing to grow and become? Don’t hear me say that we constantly have to strive to be more, but I do think there is always heart work to be done, some area where God is pushing you in your own sanctification if you are willing to listen.
The thing is, it’s easier to curate your Instagram feed than cultivate your heart. Like it’s easy to post a selfie or a photo of you and your person or a thing you did and make it look fancy and perfect, but maybe you’re ignoring some areas that need some work in your own life. No one sees internal heart work – at least not in process. No one can comment on it or like it or give you a flame emoji confirmation that you’re looking great that day. Heart work happens in the quiet moments, the unseen, the seemingly unnoticed. Heart work is hard work. And it seems that if transformation of heart and life takes more than three minutes in a microwave oven, we’re out. If the instruction manual is longer than a tweet’s worth of text, then too long; didn’t read. But don’t bow out because it’s hard. If there’s anything I can tell you to do, it’s lean in. Call that friend. Make an appointment with a counselor. Throw out the junk food. Kick the habit. Reconcile with your family to the best of your ability. Read your Bible and figure out how to stay in the story. Offer forgiveness. Seek to be a person of compassion and empathy. Resolve to live worthy.
I guess I just don’t want to be stagnant. That’s what I want for 2017. I want to pursue growth and open my heart to change and if you know me at all, that’s a scary sentence for me to write. But the world needs more than a bunch of people sitting comfortable in their dormancy and unwillingness to see areas where they need to grow. One of the ways I’m pursuing my own growth is attending a writer’s conference in February and then, of course, marriage is going to change everything. Also, the fact that I might be moving for the first time in 32 years? Eeek! It feels a little daunting when you look at it from 30,000 feet. My mom had to often remind me when I got overwhelmed with homework to just take it one thing at a time. Don’t look at the whole syllabus. Just look at the next day. So let’s take 2017 one step at a time and see where we might be led.
I read recently about Dr. Helen Roseveare who was a missionary in the Congo in 60s. She just went home to Heaven not that long ago, but she was single for her whole life, completely devoted to helping others and sharing Jesus. Even after being raped and imprisoned, she continued to wring her life out for the sake of the gospel and if that's not something to aspire to, I don't know what is. Helen was well-acquainted with acute suffering but even in the midst of it she heard God ask her,
"Can you thank Me for trusting you with this experience even if I never tell you why?"
Her words pierced my heart. God will ask us to walk through some things in the coming year that we might think we can't handle. He might ask us to carry something we don't think we're strong enough to carry. But he's trusting us with an experience that is ultimately for our good. The bigger story we're a part of, the real meaning in all of it, is his story of redeeming and reconciling all things to himself. When I stand on the beaches here in Hawaii, I remember how small I am and how much I can't control. But there is one who tells the waves where to break. He holds back the ocean from dry land. The waves and wind still know His name. He holds the seas and he holds your heart.
I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I just want to do better this year. Pursue the things I feel called to pursue and let go of all the rest. Let’s walk together into this new set of days as people willing to stretch the bounds of comfortable, embracing vulnerability and courage. Take a minute today to get away from it all and get some perspective. Stand at the edge of the (real or metaphorical) ocean. Remember that you are small but mighty and you were made to do great things. Trust that God will walk you through it - that he's trusting you with each new experience laid before you. Let's make the necessary changes we need to make and stop waiting for tomorrow. Let this be the year.