I do this every year. Somewhere mid-December, I sit down and attempt to write a recap of the year, as if 365 days could ever be effectively condensed into one piece of writing. But this year, I’m staring at my screen, poking random thoughts that seem to have little cohesion. So much of this year is a blur, other parts so vivid I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.
I’ll admit, on one hand I want to slam the door on this year and never look back. I just want 2013 to be over. I’ve actually said that frequently in the past few months, and especially since my Grandpa passed away last week. And yet - on the other hand, I want to somehow sit down and try to wrap up this year neatly with festive ribbons and bows, validating the pain with lessons learned and in some entirely insufficient way give credence to the ways that Jesus has been nothing short of extravagantly faithful to me. Neither, to the exclusion of each other, do this year justice.
The honest “resolution” this year awards is that grief is a messy thing.
Life is a messy thing.
A messy, beautiful, glorious, and grace-lined thing where the sufficiency and goodness of Jesus always tip the scale towards an enduring hope that does not disappoint, no matter what happens. But it’s rarely safe or easy or neatly described. And it’s a process. Always a process.
Hope is real. Peace is tangible. & the goodness of Jesus endures.
In a linear progression, I can tell you what 2013 looked like. I can tell you that in bookends of the same year, we lost both my Dad and my grandpa. I can talk about trying to balance life and adult responsibilities with graduate studies and making decisions about the future. I can tell you about sitting in the physio’s office on two different occasions, with the same disappointing prognosis. Or the doctor’s office trying to pinpoint what’s causing lingering issues. I can tell you that I’m still single, I had the best summer job, and I lived in the same country and province for the whole year.
But a linear progression doesn’t do the year justice. A linear progression doesn’t do life justice and it never will. Because life is lived both in the progression of marked events and the subtleties of emotion and lessons-learned and tears cried and sunsets watched. It unfolds in the moments when we’re consciously paying attention to its unraveling and in a bunch of moments when we’re too busy living – truly living - to notice anything except what’s right in front of our eyes.
2013 was an ongoing contradiction. Between strength and resolve and weakness and continual grace-lined realizations that I’m hopeless on my own. Between solitude and community. Between immeasurable beauty and crushing pain. It was a year of longing and waiting and grieving and more numbness and ache than I knew I could feel. It was a year of being stripped and raw and tender. In a lot of ways, I felt like a piece of pottery being continually smashed and remolded, with glimpses of beauty and notable imperfections all at the hands of a loving and brilliant potter who promised continually, “I know. I know. I’ve got this one. Trust me.”
2013 was inherently flawed from the beginning, but it was also crazy beautiful in the kind of way where life-giving and hope-restoring beauty emerge behind the peeled and eroded layers of brokenness and surrender. It was a year where hope continually illuminated the toughest days.
It was a year where God was so tangibly near – not because He Himself was any nearer than He always was before, but perhaps because, this year a little bit more than before, I became desperate enough to acknowledge His nearness and let Him take a bigger place in my story that He always should have had. This was a year, where, in so many ways, it was just me and Jesus. A year where I learned that wrestling and tears are worship too. Where I tangibly experienced that He’s nearer and closer to those whose hearts are broken than you can even begin to comprehend until you walk in that place. I long romanticized that place – of Christ increasing and me decreasing, the place of sweet surrender. But notions of that place aside, sometimes the way we get there is hard - heartbreakingly hard.
I spent a lot of this year wondering if my heart would always hurt, if I’d always be alone, if life would always feel really hard, and if I’d ever find the old or real me again. I started believing that maybe this was my “new normal “and that this season was what the rest of my life would look like. I wrestled with the feeling that my family would always feel incomplete. And that the ease of laughter would long be distant.
But a funny thing happens when a lot of what we thought we had figured out is stripped away. The true foundation is revealed. Our true theology is exposed. And the unshaking, immovable rock that is Christ becomes that much more central to our stories and our hearts. In so many ways, He even rewrites and reestablishes the very way we conceptualize goodness and wholeness and our own ideas of who we are and how things should be.
Hope is real. Peace is tangible. & the goodness of Jesus endures.
I can’t even count how many days I would go out to my car while it was raining with a blanket and tea and just sit in my car listening to the rain and pray myself back to a place of trust. Or how many drives I took to the ocean or into the mountains or down Fraser Valley country roads, just me and Jesus, where I’d sob my way back to a place of believing that life was beautiful, Jesus was faithful, and that His love truly is better than life itself.
This was the year I fell in love with this place and this city and with Jesus thousands of times over and over and over again. This was the year where I held on to the moments of beauty as if they were the very air that I needed to breathe and the continual and tangible examples of Jesus’ goodness to my tired heart. Where glasses of wine overlooking the water in White Rock or the perfect Sunday afternoon for a bike ride around Stanley Park with a dear friend visiting from out of town shone with so much beauty that - for glorious moments of reprieve - I forgot the storm.
It was a year of craft beer tastings with my brother and game nights with friends. Of countless sunrises and afternoons in English Bay, trips to Kits Beach, and walks in Coal Harbour. Of Whitecaps games and impromptu trips to Whistler and singing “I Believe” by Nikki Yanofsky as loud and off key as possible. Of babies being born and weddings and engagements. Of deep conversations whilst driving and skype dates from around the world. Of country music blaring, stunning acoustic albums, and Justin Timberlake concerts. Of sunrises, sunsets, mountain views and snowy walks. Of lazy Saturdays and Canucks games streamed on my laptop. Of rainbows and rainstorms and cleat tan lines. Of camping trips and campfires and the indescribable beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
This was the year of sharing my home and my city with so many friends who came to visit. Of the smiles and laughter and unconditional love of little kids, playing a game that I deeply love, the redemption of sport in my story, and watching stunning little hearts encounter Jesus. Of prayers and worship and the Holy Spirit’s perfect timing in all things. Of endless cups of tea and strong brewed coffee and hours studying and researching things I truly care about. Of words that matter and images that speak loudly beyond the confines of a frame. Of newspapers and stacks of books. Of passions being revived and growing with intensity. Of decisions once laced with anxiety being replaced with excitement and peace. Of passports and plane rides and airports and road-trips.
Of a church family who generously gave me a chance to have Christmas with my family. Of friends who, without question, drove me to Seattle so I could catch a late flight out to say goodbye to my Dad and be with my family. Of the ways that that hospital room felt both like the worst place on earth and a stunning glimpse of heaven at the same time. Of singing the doxology right after Dad died and realizing those words had never been more true and attempting to write a Eulogy that did his life – and his Jesus – justice. Of professors that gave me grace, inspire me continually, and who have taught me to love the process of learning and questions as much as (if not more than) the results it/they bring(s).
Of a small church plant in the heart of the city that has captured and embodied so many prayers and dreams. Of university auditoriums and living rooms and warehouse spaces and elementary school gyms where church happens and worship changes you. Of ugly tears and shoulder-shaking sobs in the presence of friends where I felt safe and constantly loved. Of community who spoke life and love into my heart and fought with me against lies that threatened to silence me and hold me captive. Of the friends and family who believed in the depth and fullness of my story more than I ever could. Of Fort Langley river walks and Wendell’s latte’s. Of trips to Ontario, crisp fall days on Parliament Hill, Montreal café’s, my Opa’s wisdom and Grandpa’s prayers, the perfect day in Hamilton with my cousin, giggles and cuddles with my sweet nephew, and how my mum has increasingly become one of my best friends. Of roommate reunions in Arizona, visiting my alma mater and in the best possible way, realizing how much Jesus has done in my heart since I fist walked those sidewalks when I was eighteen.
Every event and place and person we encounter changes us if we let it.
This year changed me. It broke me.
And it grew me up. It broke my heart in the same space that it captured it completely.
2013 rewrote and reestablished the foundations that have been there all along, not because I’m strong and somehow figured these things out, but because Jesus revealed Himself again and again to be that incredibly good. If I know anything, it’s that I’m insufficient and broken, but He’s sufficient and beautiful.
More than anything this year, I fell in love with grace (perhaps more accurately crashed into it by circumstantial necessity) and, more so than ever before, I’m letting it wash over every centimetre of my heart and mind and story. I still have a long (long!) way to go, but grace is starting to feel like freedom. Grace is like a deep and never-ending love that is written in sweeping strokes and in the tiniest of margins and details over every effort and memory and ambition.
Throughout this year – a year that has so often felt like a long, dark night - people continually told me that joy comes in the morning. I believe that with all my heart. I believe that weeping turns to dancing and mourning turns to shouts of joy, but I don’t think it’s always quite as quick or straightforward as we’d like to think. God weaves redemption into the darkest of places and the most untouched of shadows, but it takes time we can’t grasp and it takes grace we can’t comprehend and it is accomplished more so in surrender rather than in determined strength, which goes against everything society tells us.
But it’s good. Oh, it’s good. Not in a sugary-energy-spike, sunny-afternoon, teenage-romance kind of goodness, but in an enduring, won-through-hardship-and-struggle, amidst-both-the-rain-and-the entirety-of-the-seasons, with-lasting-nourishment-and-commitment, kind of goodness.
And, maybe it’s less about joy that turns things around completely than it is about joy that learns to dance in the rain, laugh in the midst of tears, and savour the seemingly minor moments that sustain and restore hope while the storm is still raging. Maybe it’s less about running away from difficult circumstances than it is facing them with rawness and honesty and finding God faithful there. Even there. Especially there.
And maybe, sometimes, it is about sunshine coming after the rain. I like the idea of that a lot. God is a God of extravagance and abundant and fiercely generous love so it’s certainly in the domain of His character. But that kind of joy isn’t promised or guaranteed until Jesus comes back to restore all things to goodness and justice and peace. forever. So I’m not clinging to that. I’m clinging instead to the Jesus who meets me in the midst of it all - rain or shine.
I don’t know how God will continue to redeem this or bring healing to my heart and my family. I don’t know how this year will end, much less what He has in store for 2014. I don’t know exactly how He will bring justice and reconciliation and renewal to nations and cities and peoples.
But. I believe He will. And I believe He is.
2013 has no neat conclusion. I have no inspiring closing words. Tomorrow is another day of his faithfulness made manifest and 2014, however it comes, will be 365 more days of the same.
My family still has to face this coming Christmas without my Dad. I hate that someone else will have to read the Christmas story and that I won’t get to watch World Juniors with him. January looms with the first anniversary of the day that changed everything. I’m still not okay with his absence. And, I don’t think I ever will be.
Hope is real. Peace is tangible. & the goodness of Jesus endures.
2013 has no ribbons and bows or fancy paper to cover over its wounds. It’s been hard. The hardest year I’ve yet faced. But, I not slamming the door in bitterness and anger, nor am I writing pain over the entirety of these days and this space. I’m both more in love with Jesus than I’ve ever been and more aware of my own weaknesses, failings, and desperation for Him. And I hope I can say the same tomorrow. And every consecutive day after that.
He is Emmanuel. The God who dwells with us.
Hallelujah. Come Lord Jesus.