2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...
1. Treasure your health (and your mama).
Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health.
2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive.
Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail).
3. Savor the little things.
Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day.
4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally).
With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).
5. Let yourself dream.
As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
Happy New Year, friends!
When I woke up this morning, the familiar feeling of pre-exam dread filled every sleepy cell in my body (though it wasn’t quite enough to jolt me awake—even as a morning person, I felt far more tortured than exhilarated by my 6:00 alarm).
Luckily, I had packed my school bag the night before, ensuring that my morning would be as painless as possible: keys, wallet, textbook, flashcards, pleasure-reading book (an after-exam treat, to read under a nice, leafy tree), and five black ballpoint pens (just in case, you know, four of them stop working).
I planned to arrive at my exam appointment an hour early so that I would have a comfortable cushion of time for a little unexpected traffic and a little last-minute review. Much to my disappointment, only minutes after backing out of the driveway, I encountered much more than “a little unexpected traffic.” It was, to state it clearly, the messy, tangled, slow globs of cars that just can’t seem to go already, the light is green, for goodness sake! And so, what usually takes a few minutes of driving and walking time slowly percolated—twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot. By the time I found a space, I had only a few precious minutes in which to trek a mile, so I set off at a speed walk that would undeniably make the snowy-haired ladies in my neighborhood very, very jealous.
With my extra hour of review time eaten up by the excess of cars and red lights and vindictive crossing guards (the latter of which made me stop at a crosswalk for five very protracted minutes as the entire teenaged population sloooooowly sauntered across the street), I had no choice but to leave my textbook in the car and review past perfect subjunctive conjugations in my head en route to my exam.
Once at my proctoring appointment, I pulled out my five black pens, ready to take on the world (more or less), only to find out that the CD-ROM that my professor sent in the mail was faulty; she would have to send a new one, and I would have to reschedule, but have a nice day. And so, back into my pencil pouch went my five black ballpoint pens.
Upon exiting the building, my (now incredibly short) hair flew every which-way, as the wind picked up in the way it only can during the springtime. So, no reading my book under a nice, leafy tree.
I also tripped sometime after this escapade. A very visible trip. In front of many people.
Analytic as I am, I immediately started dissecting my day. Where did it go wrong? What was the exact point where things turned sour? How could I have better prepared? Should I have left two hours early instead of one? Called my professor three weeks ago to ensure she sent the correct exam disc? Brought six black ballpoint pens pens instead of five?
As the options got more and more ridiculous, I realized that the root of the problem was my fierce insistence that I should be able to control every aspect of my day.
But today illustrated that I have to have some level of dependence on other people—my professor, the proctor, that dictatorial crossing guard—and no number of extra black ballpoint pens can equip me for the unexpected.
No extra cushion of time can 100% guarantee that I’ll have ample time to get to where I need to go. And not all days are suited for reading beneath trees (the sad, sad truth). Certainly, it’s helpful to plan ahead, for had I not left an hour early, I would have been an hour late. These kinds of precautions help, like bringing a sweatshirt in case the fog rolls in, but they ultimately aren’t our safeguards or talismans against traffic or accidents or cancelations.
Today also made me realize that every person you or I encounter during the day functions as a domino in a lengthy line—someone’s actions affected someone else, and now that person’s actions are affecting you. So who, in turn, will your actions affect? How will you affect them? I made the decision while standing in the proctoring office, empty handed (and a little sweaty from my gnarly speed walk), to handle the situation with flexibility and poise and a whole lot of grace. And though I did a bit of healthy venting to my mom later that day, I sincerely think that my conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to handle my circumstances with a light heart and an open mind actually served to convince me that the day wasn’t so bad after all (except for the part when I tripped... I’m still kind of blushing about that).
The other night, one of my dearest and far-away friends sent me this quote from Cold Tangerines, a book by Shauna Niequist.
And before the evening was over, I found myself buying the whole book on my Kindle—a whopping seven-dollar investment (for a college student, that’s like a Panera You-Pick-Two)—happy to support sweet Shauna because I adored her book Bittersweet, but surprising myself nonetheless. I mean... I didn’t even try to snag a dog-eared and faded paperback copy for less than a dollar from the hoards of used book offers on Amazon. No, that wouldn’t do. Overcome by a strange and compelling sense of urgency, I needed the book, then and there. And in my experience, anything but apathy is worth listening to, so the urgent little voice in my head and I clicked purchase and watched as it loaded onto my Kindle.
That night I began the book as I tucked myself in between the sheets. The first few chapters that I read in those fleeting evening hours (before sleep convinced my eyelids of their weight) were about making small, daily life tasks significant and pleasing to the Lord. I was captivated, but not convinced.
How could the monotony of my daily life—the making and unmaking of my excessive twelve-pillowed bed, the strands of dental floss that didn’t quite make it into the trash bin, and the granola bar I shoved in my mouth as I put the key in the ignition when I was running late be significant? Meaningful? Ecclesiastical? How could those moments be anything, really?
By the next day I had forgotten all of those thoughts, as deep thinking was temporarily lost to a laborious to-do list (and an impending marine biology exam). But in a moment of rest, I cracked open Jesus Calling and lingered over my comically large coffee mug: "Even the most routine part of your day can be a spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me."
So there it was again—moments of worth. Moments like diamonds and days like treasure. It was about bypassing the “Sunday morning show” and living in Christ’s truth as I made oatmeal and got the mail and ran out of the good shampoo. Had I been living like that? Had I really been doing life with God? Did I even know what that looked like?
So I kept reading Cold Tangerines. Shauna was on to something with this whole “celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life” thing. Through little bundles of chapters and bookmarked pages, I began to feel like she was this sort of older-sister-meets-mother mentor figure to me. And I felt God speaking to me through her.
Awareness of God—His love, His presence, His plan put to action in everyday happenings—makes all the difference. It’s in this awareness of the subtleties of His voice and the vastness of His love that we truly do life with Him. It’s in these small moments, like chopping apples and putting on socks, that we have the grand opportunity to dwell in His love and light and reflect it back out into the world.
Recently I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping over my usual Spotify playlists and listening to my “Jesus music” while driving. Little by little, driving has shifted from a tedious, basic task, to a time where I can reflect, recharge, and gear up for/wind down from the day’s happenings. By letting God into these otherwise insignificant ten or twenty minutes, my mood improves and outlook shifts.
By pouring out love and intention every day, we’re consequently filled up with Christ. It’s the crux of the Creator–creation relationship. As instruments of His love and purpose, we’re called to worship in all moments—both big and small—and make disciples as we cut the grass and chat with the UPS guy. There is worth, power, significance, and love in the non-events. And so today: be intentional. Pour out. Be filled up. Harvest joy. Practice gratitude. Every moment is your testimony.