I have been doing a fair amount of peering back over my shoulder these days, considering what the past year has been for me. I am doing this not for the sake of nostalgia so much as wanting to pause to consider the hard-won lessons this year brought so I can move forward with the wisdom they brought.
Like so many people I know, I learn best the hard way; heartache is a fierce and unrelenting teacher, but its lessons are rarely forgotten. Much of what I learned is so blaringly obvious on an intellectual level that when you read what is on my list, you might be tempted to think this girl is dumb as a pile of rocks (but I know you are all far too kind to say or think such things). It was only when I learned these lessons through making my own blunders and recovering from them that I could live to the truth of these authentically and from my heart. If you ask me, there's no other way to live and walk through the world.
I am continuing to learn to listen to and to be good to my body. I was often in the habit of exercising when I desperately needed rest, pushing myself past stiffness and exhaustion. When faced with an extended and unexplained illness, I had to pay close attention to what I put into my body, to the messages it sent me (such as need rest! or don't eat that!), and to heed them. When I am good to my body, it is good to me. I am continually amazed at the capacities with which God endowed it for strengthening, healing, and adapting.
This year saw the end of two dating relationships with men who couldn't be more different (one with no religious faith, the other high-church) or more the same. So many hard lessons came to the fore with these relationships. The long and the short of it was that I bent myself to become who they wanted me to be, made myself so pliable as to try and fit the molds of what they each bore in mind as ideal. It was only in hindsight that I see it this way; at the time I justified it as making those sorts of compromises that were necessary for the health of any relationship. While I always want to be challenged, developing myself, and learning new things, I learned (in a soul-deep, very gut-wrenching sort of way) that any relationship that asks me to be someone other than myself is a relationship not worth having. [Can I get an AMEN?!]
I am learning the delicate and appropriate balance between transparency and vulnerability on one hand and appropriate and healthy boundaries on the other. There were times this year where my transparency invited heartache that was ultimately avoidable and unnecessary. I've learned that the people who love me will respect and observe my boundaries when I declare and enforce them. With this, I am learning not to feel defensive or apologetic about drawing these lines, by limiting access in my life where I once permitted others to roam freely.
I am more aware of my heart than ever before. Just because my heart is not intellectual does not mean it is not wise; the mind and the heart are not opposed to one another as I often seemed to think. This lesson was won with months of tears, sweat, and prayers and ultimately came about when I gave up on the need to understand it all and simply opened my hands, allowing my heart what it needed, letting it speak, and paying attention to what it said. I really had no idea how much I stifled it until I came to a place where I was suffocating it completely. In the giving up, in that sweet wake of surrender, it was as if two long-going parallel lines intersected in the wilderness inside me. I don't know how else to describe it. Long in the habit of giving the intellect precedence, I am learning (like the tab on the Yogi teabag says) to have my head bow to my heart. This one was and is earthshaking and recent enough for me that I will expect that this lesson is one that I will continue to return to, distill, and approach from different vantage points as I progress in my journey. I know this lesson is only the beginning of something, that as this lesson unfolds and blooms inside me, I will better be able to live fully in the present moment. I will be learning to live with arms and heart wide open.
I think I am falling in love with myself. I don't mean this in a vain or self-centered way. What I mean is that as God's unique design in me continues to unfold and reveal itself, I'm liking what I see. I'm excited! In my more insecure moments in life, I have co-opted and puppeted traits in others I thought were cool or admirable, either because I did not like or did not know myself. Some of these borrowed characteristics were more ill-fitting than others. As I continue to see those false and borrowed things scraped away, I am thrilled to discover the me that lies beneath, to nurture this person as the truth of her is uncovered.
All these lessons (and the others too numerous to list here) have revealed more to me about myself and have granted me as strong an appreciation as I have ever had for being uniquely me: unlike anyone else in all creation, as singular as a snowflake or a thumbprint and infinitely more precious. I am a word spoken by God just once in all eternity, containing a partial thought of Himself; I am part of the story He is telling.
And speaking of singularity, there are a few more things you might be interested in knowing about me, truths that are neither deep nor hard-won (but amusing, I hope!) ...
- I use no less than three styling products on my hair.
- I'm very vigilant about eating healthfully, but admit I have a weakness for Kettle brand Sea Salt & Vinegar potato chips.
- When frustrated or flustered, the exclamation most likely to escape my lips is, oh for Pete's sake! You might also hear good gravy!
- If asked to name a favorite color, there's a 99% chance I'll say "green", but I recently starting flirting with the color orange. We like each other quite a bit & our future together looks promising.
- I keep red flannel sheets and a down comforter on my bed year-round.
- I actually enjoy doing laundry; few things give me as much domestic pleasure as folding my towels perfectly and stacking my washcloths into color-coordinated piles.
- I still like blowing bubbles and seeing how high I can swing on the swingset.
- I was the kid who colored the hallways of her childhood home with crayon, who lifted her dress over her head in the church Christmas program, and who wrote her name in the side of her Dad's car with his keys.
- I cannot watch Love Actually, Mona Lisa Smile, or Moulin Rouge without crying.
- I am a bit of a music addict, but were I ever in the unlikely & unfortunate position of being able to listen to just one CD for the rest of my life, it would be Deb Talan's A Bird Flies Out. No contest!
I want to thank those of you who journey with me, whether you are new friends or old, whether or not I've ever seen your face ... thank you for walking with me, for laughing with me, for crying with me, and praying with me. Thank you for joining me on my journey, and for inviting me to be a part of your own.
mug o' wisdom photo by kirsten.michelle