This week I’m saying goodbye to 26. Birthdays always make me nostalgic, always make me think back on what the past year of life held. This year, I’m realizing I’m not too sad to see 26 go. I’m realizing I wasn’t the biggest fan.

26 was when life got overwhelming.  Life felt like it was heading one way and it suddenly, jarringly, changed directions. It felt like in so many areas of life I kept hitting this impenetrable wall. In so many areas I was spinning plates while treading water while trying to put out various fires.

26 was when I started to question a lot. My current life, my potential future. What I wanted, what I needed. If I should come up with a new life plan. If I even needed to have a life plan.

26 was when friendships got rough. Easy, life-giving relationships all of a sudden started taking lot of effort. They started taking work. They started taking energy, in a season where I seemed to have so little of it.

26 was when my lists and schedules and normal stopped working. The structures I had built, the routines I had worked on – my normal I had worked so hard for. Whether because of my health or life situation or people, they stopped being viable options. Things changed. Life changed. Some, all of a sudden. Some, over a long drawn out period.

When it’s little changes, little things that shouldn’t matter much… it feels like the foundation is cracking a bit. Even though it’s not actual foundation. It’s not actual big things. But it feels that way. A lot of little things, over time, starts to feel like a big thing.

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26 brought about new fears and new challenges, new pain and new frustration. It came with more doctor visits and hospital stays than I anticipated. It brought some scary conversations and decisions, some realization that life is really fragile.

It brought about friends grieving loss while I was celebrating victory- and I felt guilty. It brought about celebrating friends’ joys while I was mourning – and I felt grateful. It brought about embracing the tensions in life. Embracing the grey. Embracing that life is rarely, rarely easy. Rarely follows the rules, rarely stays in the lines. Rarely fits into lists we love to claim on the internet.26 was rough

I embraced change instead of investing so much energy in running from it. I put up boundaries in areas I knew weren’t for me. People and parts of me that I knew I couldn’t fix or work on right now. And I accepted that. (I worked on accepting that.)

Grad school made me accept limits I didn’t like. But I had to accept them nonetheless. I sought out and created community for the first time in a long time – community that took work to build and invest in and felt awkward at times. Community that came as a result of showing up, not as a result of ease.

I started stepping into my voice and my strength in new ways. Not just writing, but living. Living out truths I was focused on, living out convictions I privately held. I found new power in small choices. I learned how loud whispers can be.

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26 taught me about grief and pain and loss – and how you can’t hide from them. 26 taught me how to lean in to the unknown and scary and the I-have-no-plans-for-how-this-ends. I started seminary with no clear end goal. Aka I made my life 300% more stressful and my free time 500% more scarce – willingly. I chose it, I chose the crazy. Because I simply felt called to it. (It still feels crazy. It still feels right.)

26 taught me there are few things I love more than beer around a fire with my People, than wine and s’mores and girl talk. This lil introvert loves gathering people together, loves being the homebase for friends. An open front door and a open-fridge policy is my love language to others and surprisingly my love language to myself.

26 taught me I’m allowed to like things people don’t. Im allowed to be good at things a lot of people aren’t. I’m allowed to lean into my gifts, I’m allowed to realize I might just be good at things for a reason.

26 taught me to respect myself and my time and my story. My challenges and my pain and my unique perspectives. My past is a prologue, but it’s also a big part of my story. It’s a foundation I’ve built on – for better or for worse.

26 taught me the importance of knowing who I am – even when maybe I didn’t like it. Knowing my triggers. Knowing my self. Knowing what makes me me.

26 taught me that life is so very hard some days. Most days. But it is also so very worth it. It taught me life can surprise you; Jesus can surprise you. Sneaky Jesus, always with something up His sleeve. Always ready to show up in the most unexpected way, if you’re open to looking.

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26 was sleep deprivation and hard conversations and loss. 26 was laughter and celebration and fun. 26 was balances of work and school, of old and new, of joy and pain.

The balance. If it was too much good, we’d fall over – right? If it was too much bad, we’d lose our balance. And in some places, this year, it felt like I was going to. It was so much, all at once; life didn’t stop throwing punches and I felt ready to collapse. I felt like it was never ending. I felt like all I wanted to do was give up, fall over onto the floor or into my bed or just embrace my inner toddler and throw the tantrum in the middle of the aisle. I couldn’t possibly go on. I couldn’t possibly keep up.

I was on the verge of falling. Teetering, teetering, one more would have pushed me over – but I had friends there holding me upright. Heaping on more good to ever-so-slightly balance out the bad. Giving me a handhold, throwing me a life jacket. Showing up, reminding me to hang on, holding my hand when it felt like I couldn’t.26 was rough

Life got hard, but it also got good. Life hurt, but I realized I grew stronger as I healed. Life threw some hard punches. I learned to keep my balance.

And that’s what this year taught me: sometimes you fall over; sometimes you learn to balance. The good and the bad. The beauty and the ugly. The tension is needed. The tension keeps us upright.

Medical problems came and so did healing. Relationships got hard, but, also, relationships were redeemed. Life stung, but it also opened me up to new possibilities. So much beauty, found in the ashes. Hope in the shadows. Flowers in the concrete.

That’s what this year’s hardships felt like – hard, not fun, I-didn’t-choose-this. But the hard forces you to be extra thankful for the good. When the darkness is so very dark, any light feels like a sunbeam. When everything tastes bitter, the smallest amount of sweetness is overpowering. Any ounce of goodness feels like a pound.

When life is hard, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It simply means you’re living.

26 was a lot of living.

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