Last week, I shared my mid-year report on my SMART Goals. As I reflected on what I thought this year would look like and what it has become, I started mentally compiling the things I’ve been learning. I know a lot of people (especially my age) are struggling with the darkness of this year. To us younglings, in many ways 2016 feels like the wider-scale darkest time in our lives.
Hopefully these 24 confessions will bring hope, or at least an honest voice to the craziness.
24 Things I’ve Learned in 2016
- There’s always something you can do. Last year, I started obsessing with the refugee crisis. If I had not landed my job with Christopher Newport University, I honestly think I would have gone abroad. But a job meant I could not wander freely. So I started looking closer to home. Back in January, a group of volunteers from my church and I began English classes with the refugee population right here. This work isn’t “sexy” – it’s not as exciting as pulling people out of a sinking boat. But I cannot tell you how rewarding it has been – how on the days of shootings, my soul has been restored by laughing with my Bhutanese women and hearing them confidently read Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Celebrating their victories is a blessing. And I’ve loved seeing the wider community developing. The Afghan ladies who take selfies with me because they can’t get over how my awesome sister speaks their language, or the Syrians who go visit at my parents’ house to give advice on the garden. I’m not always the most enthusiastic person on a Sunday afternoon in 90°+heat, but I always leave glowing with hope. My takeaway: If you are obsessing about something, having nightmares about a world crisis, find it where you are. Listen to the needs in your own place. Then get to work.
- Bad times don’t necessarily end with a climatic flood of goodness. Often they quietly fade, until after a week or a month or three, you look back and realize everything isn’t so terrible anymore, and you’re not totally sure when that changed.
- Houses with lots of natural light are vital for mental health. Also important: Intentionally seeking time out in the sun to soak up that Vitamin D.
- Tight deadlines can be just the fix you need. That extra, sometimes impossible-feeling push can propel you out of apathy and into action.
- When strangers yell at you on Facebook, it’s actually just sort of sad? And a little tiny bit funny? Mostly sad.
- I still don’t know why God breaks me, but I am starting to see (and feel, to some extent) how powerfully He loves.
- A good doctor can be the difference between feeling suicidal and feeling safe. Don’t play around with this.
- My ability to empathize and grieve is a grim blessing. I am going to cling to it until my knuckles bleed.
- Emotions are not permanent, and while they may influence me they will not permanently change or damage me.
- I am cracked to my core in ways even I don’t understand. But when I know the truth of how badly I am torn, I begin to touch the extent of God’s grace. It isn’t what I think it should look like – not a physical mercy, often. Sometimes it is excruciating. But I like it when my fractured pieces sit in silent peace beside Him, and we both are quiet company – His wholeness a balm to my shattered bits. The soft contentment in these moments is beyond price.
- The world is dark. I cannot absorb the darkness or make it better by obsessing with it. I have to keep moving.
- Golden retrievers shed a lot. It is very satisfying to brush them.
- All people deserve my love, patience, and compassion. I used to only think of this as extended toward people more liberal than me or of a different race/religion/gender. It is easier for me to love these people than it is for me to love “my own.” But as I struggle to reconcile some of my heroes with some of the events in the world, I am constantly challenged to check my pride at the door. Dismissing opinions or ideas with hot topic words doesn’t make those opinions vanish. If I can use my imagination to understand and empathize with someone as far left of my views as can be – something I have been trying to open myself to in the past five years or so – then, as a person who values personal relationships’ impact on positive change, I must also extend the same effort to those on the right.
- I must keep trying. I am stumbling, often failing, but trying to look honestly, unflinchingly into my own heart, to examine the truths and the lies, and find the thread of love that crosses barriers of class, geography, religion (and denomination), occupation, and race.
- I don’t know all – or maybe even any – of the answers. I am often my best self when I admit it.
- Your friends’ victories are more exciting than your own. And you should totally go 100% crazy in celebration mode whenever you get the chance.
- Sometimes I think it is more important to listen than to make a point. Sometimes it is more important to be quiet than to be right. When I calm my panicky urge to have the last word, the cleverest word, the most impassioned word, I learn a whole lot more about the friends, family, and strangers around me.
- I am really bad at all of this. But some days, I am better.
- Safety is hard for me. Physical safety isn’t as big a deal – risking my life to go to hard places isn’t a hypothetical in my family and isn’t something I fear particularly. But the emotional and mental aspects of safety – that’s where my weaknesses lie. I am still trying to figure out how to know in the very heart of my being that (in the wider scope of Life and Death) I do not need to be in control to be safe. Because I am not in control, but I am promised safety.
- Being unafraid to show emotions is not the same as being vulnerable. Vulnerability scares the heck out of me.
- Roommates who drag you off the news are the best. Especially when they put on period dramas or distracting flicks instead.
- I know more people than I think. The community that rises up when I need help is astounding and humbling.
- The hole left by death (especially under traumatic circumstances) is mindboggling, terrible, and amazing. A student wandered into my office. Fifteen minutes into our conversation, we both had tears in our eyes as we realized we were tangentially connected to a kidnapped (presumed-dead) woman. Grief reaches so much farther than I used to think.
- The wound is where the sun shines through, and there ain’t no darkness strong enough that could tear you out from my heart.
What has 2016 taught you so far?