As is my annual tradition, I’ve sat down in an attempt to write through this past year multiple times over the past few weeks. I’ve curled up in my favourite spot in our house by our cozy fireplace clicking through photos and letters and journal entries. I’ve sat in coffeeshops poking away at my keyboard and pen in a notebook trying to articulate what this year has been. I’ve written lines and I’ve thrown together paragraphs and I’ve scribbled rambling pages and I’ve felt like I’m just scratching the surface of what this year has been and meant and changed in me: both in ways far more difficult than I can say and in ways far more beautiful than I know how to articulate.
But maybe that’s exactly what makes this year what it was.
This year was a hurricane. This year was intense: it felt a bit like living multiple years crammed into the space of only one. This was a year where everything “fell apart”. This year was chaos and calm. This was a year of failure and this year was freedom. This year was really beautiful and this year was really hard. This was a year where I let myself be weak and let myself admit where I had been weak all along but had previously been too scared to admit it. This was a year where I laughed and danced so so much and also a year where I cried almost daily. A year where I let myself hope and dream and dared to take more risks. This was a year that changed me, moulded me, broke me, and grew me more than I know how to express.
And I think I'm still there - still right in the process of healing and growing and finding a new way of living and thinking here.
To be fair: I started 2015 tired. bone-tired and oh-so exhausted. The few years before had been long and hard and 2014 had been particularly draining in its own ways and I was so desperate for something new. But, I think I wanted newness and new life to come in a neat package, somehow (as if that’s even possible). I never would have articulated it as such, but I think I wanted an almost hyper-sanitized version of God leading me into the dancing that comes after mourning and the joy that comes after weeping. I wanted to run as far and as fast as I could away from the pain and hurt and unknown and tiredness that had been the few years prior and I wanted newness and joy to sweep in gracefully to save the day.
Short/simple summary of this year: it was not that. In fact, it didn’t even remotely resemble that.
But it was newness and it was joy. But it came in a way that looked a lot less like a walk along a sunny beach in summertime and more like a tough-mudder race in the pouring rain. It was newness and joy that actually started to come through leaning deeper into the pain and hurt and unknown and tiredness: when I finally felt strong and brave enough to face and admit the sheer depth and weight of where I actually was. It was newness and joy that started to come through acknowledging and wrestling through the foundational ideas that kept me bound to old habits and old paradigms. It was newness and joy that started to come through making decisions that made no sense on paper and seemed almost foolish, but that were rooted in a freedom from my own unforgiving and unrealistic expectations. It was newness and joy that started to come through walking away, learning to saying no, failing repeatedly, admitting weakness, and owning up (to myself and to my community around me) that I was as tired and heart-broken as I actually was.
At the very beginning of 2015, I scribbled this in a notebook:
How would you live if you lived (really lived!) out of a place of love? If you lived like you knew and believed to the core of who you are that you are loved: fully. deeply. extravagantly. by the God whose love is more deep and crazy and all-encompassing than you’ll ever understand and more personal and specific than you’ll ever be able to fathom. How would this year change if you lived like you truly believed that you were loved by the people around you - not because of what you have done or will do, but just because of who you are? How would you live if you broke free of the pressure to perform and live up to ridiculous and unrealistic expectation of “success” and perfection? If you let yourself truly embrace rest? What risks would you take if you dared to live free from the lies of not being enough? What dreams would you dream if you dreamed from a place of anchored love and audacious hope?
I scribbled the “How would you live if you lived out of a place of love?” in bold black marker on one side of an index card and the words: anchored love & audacious hope on the other side and kept it as the bookmark in my Bible, having no idea at the time how much making my home in that idea would change me and impact the year that was about to unfold. No idea how a year later I’d be sitting in a coffee shop in a new neighbourhood and be tearing up with a wow. things really have changed kind of gratitude while revisiting those ideas because they now sound different and feel different and they’ve come alive in me in ways I didn’t know they could.
And the crazy (read: beautiful/humbling/astonishing) thing is that this newness and joy has come both in ways that I could see and feel in glimpses as it was unfolding and in ways I think I’m only beginning to grasp. It’s changed me. It’s changing me.
I’m not who I was a year ago: and, I think, only credit the grace of Jesus, that's a change that's the best and hardest gift. Sure, it may mean that I’m entering 2016 unemployed, with a master’s thesis left unfinished, mostly unsure of my “long-term” professional trajectory, (still) recovering from severe burn-out and long-term health issues, (still) wrestling through hope-deferred and dreams unanswered, and (still) navigating the ache of grief.
But what that circumstantial check-list doesn’t tell you is that a year that looks so much like failure and continued heartbreak and challenge on paper is a year that feels a lot like freedom and a year that held more beauty than any list can ever accurately depict.
Was it/is it hard-fought, tear-stained, and frequently doubted and second-guessed freedom? absolutely. Is it still - right now even - one of the hardest seasons I've ever had to walk through? without a doubt.
But I’m starting to think that’s part of what makes it as truly impacting and meaningful as it actually is. Where being fully alive and fully awake to love and hope isn’t the result of easy circumstances, but comes most beautifully, when - against all odds - we keep making and rebuilding our homes in hope. When we together learn and re-learn (over and over and over) to relax into this always unconditional and always undeserved love that changes everything. Where hope & tears share the same space. Where bold dreams & honest lament go hand-in-hand. Where we equally embrace the best of who we are & the pain that crushes our chests.
What the checklist doesn’t tell you is that it was this year where God brought me a new expression and depth to community that I’ve been dreaming of and praying for for so long. It was this year where already deep friendships went deeper in profound ways and people I only met this calendar year now make up a significant portion of my closest friends: the kind of kindred-spirit heart ties that only Jesus can orchestrate. It was this year, where I felt truly at home in this city, in my community, and in a literal house (a Vancouver miracle!). It was this year where my heart come alive in ways it hadn’t before and I let myself hope and take risks and even fall. And that even when many of those risks didn’t end the way I hoped they might, this space showed me that the risk is always worth it. It was this year, where laughter was frequent and easy and healing. Where I started dancing far more and with much less hesitation. Where I starting say no to things that I was doing out of obligation and started carving out more and more space for spontaneity and creativity and adventure and rest. Where I started - in lots of small ways and in some big ways too - to live as if I actually believed that I didn’t have anything to prove and my identity and worth wasn’t linked to what I could or might do. (And the best part? I actually started to believe that.)
Maybe it's the perfectionist in me or my love for clean resolution, but I used to think that my story would be best told if it was neat and tidy and had a consistent thematic arc that testified to God’s faithfulness in an "clear" way that was easy to understand. I used to think my abilities and successes and dreams were the best things I had to offer to the work of the Kingdom. I used to think that to live out the radical hospitality and grace of Christ, I had to have my own story and my own stuff figured out: at least to a certain degree.
The good news though? The “scream this from the mountains!” kind of good news - is that none of those things are true. My story isn’t neat nor tidy. Much of it definitely hasn’t been easy. And I'd be willing to bet that yours isn't and hasn't been neat, tidy, or easy either.
But, if 2015 taught me anything, it taught me that the mess is actually really beautiful. Because it’s in the mess and the pain and the cracks and the bruises where the stunning light of His love shines brighter and where the true worth and irreplaceable value of the people who stand with you in the downpour, who walk with you as you recover, and who face the wreckage right beside you stands out so clearly. It’s in weakness where the steady and strong foundation of His character is revealed to be as truly beautiful and absolutely necessary as it really is. It’s in the failure and the falling where my own ambitions and goals and ideas about success fade miserably in comparison to God’s steady faithfulness, his sustaining presence, and this upside-down Kingdom where you live to die and you die to live.
The two stories that I came back to again and again and again this year? The woman at the well in John 4. And the reconstruction and rebuilding of the temple in Nehemiah.
The first: a story of the audacious love of this God who meets me/us exactly where we are - in the mess and grime of our stories. That says that it doesn’t matter what we’ve done or haven’t done: He is the God who sees us, knows us, is with us, for us, and who loves us as we are in that exact moment. Not some future “better” version of ourselves that we aspire to become, but the versions of us that we are today - with all our hurt and dreams and joy and exhaustion and all the weakness we’re carrying.
And the second: where, in the midst of occupation and wreckage and against all odds and in a non-linear and almost illogical way God brought about a stunning work of redemption for His people in Israel. Where the restoration and repair were entirely the work of God and the tasks given to his people were to root themselves in and continually call to mind His faithfulness, mercy, and steadfast love. That it was in His timing and His way that God would (and did!) bring about restoration and in doing so showed us that He’s is a God who repairs ruined cities and causes wildflowers to sprout again in desert valleys and makes dry rivers flow with new water. But also that when this renewal comes - it comes from God working through man, not the micromanaged efforts of men on their own.
I fell in love with this God in new ways this year. And in ways I don't think I've loved him before.
With the God who is both a friend who sticks closer than a brother and the Saviour who rescues and comforts. The God whose crazy and extravagant love meets us right here and right now. Whose love invites us into an abundant & fully-alive way of living. And the God who is never removed from the pain or the wreckage we may face, but who weaves redemption and healing and new life into our stories in ways we can't imagine or bring about on our own.
I almost forgot there for a while that this love that sets us free isn’t a love we can earn or validate or even rationalize. I almost forgot that freedom doesn’t come when we find all the “right” answers or when we build lives of upstanding morality and the endless pursuit of good efforts and important causes, but instead comes when we surrender all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of this Jesus and this love that meets us in all our imperfections. Almost forgot that a life of knowing him and being know by him is one that echoes with wonder and joy and anchored love & audacious hope that invites us into a completely different way of living.
2015 was a year where that truth rolled through like a hurricane: tearing down a lot of what was wasting space, time, and effort and in the aftermath graciously giving me an opportunity to rebuild in a different way. It was a year of tearing down and clearing away and needed time for recovery and rest. It was messy. Oh, it was/is messy.
And yet - yet! - in all those spaces and in both the baby steps and the big strides towards living a life more fully from a place of love: the gospel is coming alive in me in ways I didn’t really know it wasn’t alive before. It’s opening my eyes and heart to see and know the love of Jesus as sweeter and deeper more comprehensive. It's making me more honest, more brave, and less concerned with having it all together. It’s making my relationships and community better & deeper. It’s making me willing to take risks I wouldn't have before. It's re-framing my ambition and making me embrace both adventure and rest more fully.
slowly. messily. but it's progress. And that's grace: sweet sweet grace.
This anchored love and audacious hope ? It really does change everything.