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. 

2015, baby.

On January 1, 2015, I posted this on Facebook:

And just like that 2015 is here with all its glory and pain and love and potential.

And there was so much of that – all of that. 2015 was a good year. Don’t read easy when all I said was good. It wasn’t easy. There were lessons and tears, but also laughing until I cried. There were long conversations and big celebrations (I mean, we actually pulled off a surprise party this year!). Engagements and weddings and funerals. Beginnings and endings. “What am I supposed to do? Why did that have to happen?” and “Ohmygosh, I’m so glad that happened!”

Toward the end of the year, Facebook starts pushing their Year in Review on your news feed and over the last few days #2015bestnine is making the rounds on Instagram. I don’t know how Facebook chooses from all of the things you posted throughout year, maybe it's the posts that received the most likes, but looking through mine made me smile. There was a picture from a birthday party, and a wedding in Colorado. There was one of my tiny new nephew and another of me and my friends at a lake last summer. It’s fun to look through your year and remember that thing you did in February that you had all but forgotten – like I went snowboarding in Breckenridge, but wait, was that really this year because it feels like forever ago. Time has a way of doing that – speeding by and suddenly those things you were looking forward to for so long, talking about, planning, praying about or crying about are just months-old memories and a couple of photos to make you feel nostalgic later.

Something you can do with that Year in Review is share it on your timeline. Don’t get me wrong, I love this idea. But it has the potential to force comparison and sadness when you watch your friends’ highlight reel – all of their glory moments from 2015. Like it’s one thing to see those moments posted one at a time throughout the year – that vacation in Mexico, that family dinner out, that new thing they bought – but when it’s all of those things in one long succession like, “Hey, can you please enjoy this with me all over again and remember all the great things I did this year because they were pretty great, right?” Of course it’s pulling all the great things, the reasons we celebrated and laughed and had a good time because those are the things we post on Facebook in the first place. We share our joys on social media, as we should. Celebrations and joy are best when shared. I love it when people find something they’re passionate about, something that brings them joy, and you see that light in their eyes. Isn’t that just the sweetest thing – seeing the thing that lights someone up?

But, you know what doesn’t get put up there on Facebook – the things your Year in Review doesn’t contain? The days that you cried in your car on the way home. The days you were disappointed and hurt. The days you felt worthless and forgotten. The day you found out you were sick. The day you received the rejection letter in the mail or the day you ended that relationship. This isn’t a post about the pitfalls of social media, but it is a reminder that while it might show our glory and love, it doesn’t always show our pain. And often our pain points are where we spend the most time learning and growing and becoming throughout the year. So, when I say my year was good, don’t just think of my highlight reel and think it’s all perfect. Because I didn’t post the day I cried about not getting the teaching job I thought I wanted. Or the day I got in a fight with my sister and the phone call and apology that followed. 

All that to say, I do love a good Year in Review reminder. I love to look back through my journals on this date last year – two, five, seven years ago – to see where my heart was, what was filling my head and taking up my time. I’m not trying to live in the past, but I think it’s good to know where you were so you can decide where you want to go because in just one more day 2015 will be over forever as time screams ever forward. Soon it will be the stuff we read about as history. The year I _______. The year when _______. Looking back on the year, I think the truest thing I can say about it is that I have been given much. I have socks on my feet and Jesus in my heart and I am grateful.

Looking ahead to 2016, I don’t know what it will contain. I don't know what to expect in this new set of days. Some people already know – they’re having a baby or they’re getting married or they’re starting a new job. Maybe they’re going on an adventure. I know of one or two things 2016 holds for me, but aside from that, it’s wide open. It contains so much potential, and isn’t that exciting and also maybe kind of scary? Where might you be led in the next 365 days? Who are you going to meet and where will those meetings lead you? What if 2016 is a year all your dreams come true? Or what if everything crashes around you? What if there’s more pain than glory? Oh, but what if there’s more love than you could have ever imagined?

For the last couple of years, I have picked a new word to focus on for the year. Last year my word was kindness. I put the word on the home screen of my phone so that I would see it every single day. The goal was to be marked with kindness above everything else. Since the world can be so heavy and cynical, I wanted to only add to it in ways that were kind and gentle. While I still want those things for 2016, my word for this year is abide. It means to stick to, stand by, keep to.  To remain. I have a lot of thoughts on the whole idea of staying, but that’s for another time. In 2016 I want to abide - in love, in friendships/relationships, in God. I want to be humble – always recognizing that we’re all still in progress and we have not yet arrived. I want to be present. Set boundaries. Learn to be slow and listen. I want to focus on and celebrate other people’s strengths rather than become an expert in their weaknesses. I want to be grateful and thankful and savor the important things. I don’t want to do anything that I would be ashamed of doing if it were my last hour – that’s a quote by someone. I can’t claim it, but I want to live it. Cram it into the corners of my heart. Let go of that last 10% of my life that I’ve been hanging on to and not allowing God to touch. In this next year, what I want the most is to keep looking for ways to give it away – all of it – my time, talents, treasure, love. And even if the pain outweighs the glory in 2016, I want to be able to come to this day a year from now and say that it was good.