I was going to start writing my year-in-review post a lot earlier than I did because I knew it'd be overwhelming and it made me kinda nervous. Turns out it was so overwhelming that I didn't start early at all, and here I am staring at a blank page and wondering how--no, if it's possible to sum up twenty-thirteen.
Let me start by getting this out there: 2013 was the hardest year of my life. I know, I know. I'm young, I don't know what true hardship is yet. You can discredit that if you like. But it doesn't change the fact that this year was the most difficult I've faced so far.
It wasn't all bad, not at all. Many, many good things came out of this past year. I graduated, got a clearer direction for my life, and started studying theatre, which I love. I was in five productions--Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Music Man, The Wizard of Oz, Almost, Maine, and Les Misérables--including my first (and second and third) musical and my first time working outside the dear community theatre I started acting with. I learned so much about life and about myself through the shows I was in this year. That sounds weird, but theatre seriously has taught me loads. I took a couple roadtrips: to Chicago, Nashville, and NYC. I wrote a lot more and swing danced a lot more and sang a lot more and my little side photography business grew. I traveled to Florida to do pro-life outreach and to Cincinnati to spend time with my grandma and to Tennessee to camp and to the Gentlemen of the Road tour to see Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros backstage. I had some crazy adventures and great stories happen to me in 2013. I met lots of people and grew closer to some very dear friends and found my niche on campus and got a job working for the House of Representatives. I checked quite a few items off my bucket list and spent a week with a new friend from Australia and staffed a personally life-changing week of TeenPact and somehow survived without my brother for a whole summer.
These are a lot of big and good and wonderful things, things I'm proud of and things I'm happy about and things that have shaped me and given me long-time memories. I don't take them for granted, and I am so, so blessed. But I'll tell you something else.
I felt more alone this year than I ever have, and than I ever hope to feel again.
I could and would never discredit all the great things that happened to me this year, but a large part of 2013 has been filled with a very tangible ache deep inside my gut. I lost a lot this year. Maybe I'll look back and realize it wasn't so much, but all I know now is that today it is a lot. I was deeply, painfully humbled in many ways, on more occasions than I care to remember. I was challenged--not just the feel-good kind of challenged, but the hurting kind of challenged that makes you beg not to have to take another step. I went through a lot of pain and a lot of doubt and I don't mean to be melodramatic when I say that I now know what it feels like to have your heart broken. If I ever tell you the story of 2013, I probably still won't be able to make it through without trying very hard not to cry.
See, what it's hard to tell about a person is their insides. You can't tell when a person is pondering hard questions like "how are you?" and "can I trust God in this?" and "what is life?" You can't tell the next day when a girl has cried herself to sleep or when she rushes home at night to rock back and forth on her floor and beg Jesus to be enough. You can't tell when she slips into the bathroom to get out a few tears before walking out with a brave, smiling face, or when she asks for prayer that she really means can you pray right now. You can't tell when there's big happy moments that aren't necessarily less happy for being tinged with the memory that she thought it'd be so different at this time last year. You can't tell when you meet a person's eyes that she's meeting yours with an ache so raw because she misses someone so much that it feels like someone shot a hole in her chest. You can't tell when a girl says she's tired that she's actually really having a rough time but has no one to tell about it. You wouldn't know why that's her favorite mixtape or why she writes letters only to shove them deep into her desk or why her hands are shaking suddenly. You don't know when someone is grappling with the hardest questions and decisions of her life with seemingly so little to go on and so much at stake.
The lesson here could be that one quote: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." But honestly the lesson is much, much deeper than that, much more raw and real and full of guts and heart and tears and nights asking why. The answer is Jesus.
I've said it before: I am a flawed individual. And any heartache and pain and sadness I've been through--I don't blame it on anyone but myself. I've tried. I've been angry and confused and anxious and bitter a lot of times this year (and I don't pretend to have entirely overcome it), and each time I try to point a finger of blame, I end up pointing back to my own selfishness and lack of faith. The incredible thing is a truth I've clung to this year: "if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself." Yes, I have fought through some of the toughest battles I've yet had to face this year, and the thing that scares me more than you know is knowing that I'm not done fighting. I am not proud of some things I've done and I have hurt so much and I have been unbearable amounts of confused. But my Savior was with me every step of the way.
When I look back at this year, the best things that stand out to me are not the people I met or places I went or opportunities I had. The best, the dearest, the most personal and inexplicable and beautiful thing is that when I fell on my knees begging Jesus to be enough, he was. In a much realer way than I've ever experienced before. I said that 2013 left me feeling more alone than I care to remember, and that's true, but I also felt God's presence and peace like I never have before. It took me coming to the end of myself--broken, helpless, clueless, alone, and finally willing to walk towards the only one who could save me--to realize the only thing I needed so desperately was Jesus. There were long days in the middle of the year when Jesus was the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning, because I felt like I had no other reason, and he was the only one sustaining me through a lot of loneliness. When I look back at this year, I'm flooded with gratefulness at all the good things God handed to me in the midst of the rocky road I've been on internally. And while I learned many things over the past year, the biggest one was what if feels like to surrender. I'd be dishonest if I didn't mention that I'm also a pro at trying to take back control of things after surrendering, but I have seen my God purposefully, actively, personally at work in my life in a way that knocks me to the ground in awe.
These are a lot of words for one year, perhaps, but it doesn't just feel like the end of the year for me--it also seems like the end of an era. I'm not sure if I like that. I don't really like it because it feels like the end of an era with zero closure to that era and because I've never felt so nervous or unready to face a new year. On one hand it's just another day, but I can't help wishing that hardships were like vacation time that you have to use up at the end of the year, instead of inevitably rolling over into 2014. But even if there is a fresh start and new beginnings, even if hard things get easier and sad things get happier, I don't want to forget the things I've been taught this year...and that's weird because I would change a lot of things that happened this year if I could, and yet I know I wouldn't be here now if they hadn't happened. And I don't know how I feel about that so I'm trying to feel hopeful about what I've learned over the past 365 days.
I learned that you can say a lot in not very many words. I learned that sometimes it takes just going through the motions before head knowledge transfers to your heart. I learned that I need to eat three square meals a day, a feat I'm still working on (I forget to eat a lot and it makes me sick). I learned that making friends is hard but not that hard, and keeping friends is hardest of all but the most worthwhile pursuit I'll ever attempt. I learned how much my love language is quality time. I learned that God can make it really super clear where he wants you, if you'll just pay attention and be willing to move. I learned that there's nothing wrong with a good cry. I learned that God cares more about my holiness than my happiness. I learned that I don't have rights. I learned that coffee makes me kinda shaky and nauseous and tea is beautiful, amen. I learned that love is unselfish, and that means putting someone's good above their happiness (the hardest thing). I learned that getting out and traveling isn't so unrealistic. I learned to treasure church. I learned that writing for only my own eyes is good and healthy and needed. I learned that siblings are forever-friends. I learned that God has good plans for me and that he is who he says he is. I learned that there is nothing more valuable than getting a good night's sleep. I learned how personal and meaningful music is. I learned that God does not arbitrarily instill us with talents and passions that he doesn't intend to use in our life. I learned that hugs are my favorite things. I learned how much intentionality means to me. I learned that missing someone can actually make your heart physically hurt. I learned that the feeling of surpassing joy and freedom and peace in Jesus is real. I learned that laughter will never stop being important. And I learned that Jesus loves me strongly, satisfyingly, unshakingly, that he will never forget me, and that he is enough.
I welcomed 2014 at a party with friends from my sister's church who are slowly becoming my own friends. We had champagne and sparkling grape juice and crepes and played euchre and watched the ball drop. We spent the first twenty minutes of the new year praying, thanking God for what he's brought us through in 2013 and asking him to do even bigger things in 2014. It was...the best thing. I'm filled with so much hope and gratitude for what God is doing.
I don't know whether 2013 for you was beautiful or difficult, lonely or lighthearted, happy or sad, or a combination of all the above. But I hope you remember three things facing this bright new year: your outside circumstances, good or bad, never define you, you are loved more than you could ever fathom, and there is always hope. Happy New Year, friends.