It’s always been an odd thing to me, how the hours between December 31st and January 1st feel like the longest of them…as if time has turned the corner on another year and so it’s slowing down, taking stock, not rushing just yet into that final stretch and what lies ahead. It’s really a day just like any other day. But not since I have memory has it felt that way. There’s a different pace, a different sense in the air, a palpable yet unseen feeling that things are changing. That tomorrow won’t be the same.
Which of course is always true. Things are always changing. And there’s never even a guarantee of tomorrow, much less one identical to today. Still…this day…it’s different.
There are no words for how glad I will be to see 2016 usher itself out and into history. It has held the absolute worst of what’s possible in this life for so many people I know–and certainly for those I don’t. The ugliest sides of humanity. The most horrifying examples of greed, anger, pain, violence, heartache and grief. On both personal and global levels, it has wreaked havoc, and honestly, I feel like most folks I know are just holding on, doing their best to get through this wild ride to something that feels less hostile, less vicious, less like something we must constantly be on guard against. There is a collective anxiety in the communities and families I know, and it can be crippling.
Bye, 2016. We’re done.
Except that joy and pain do not exist without one another, and though I’ve believed that to be true my whole life, I now know it to be true…deep in my bones. Do not confuse joy with happiness; these are two different things. Peppermint mochas and Bon Jovi on the radio make me happy. Joy is my beautiful Curly Girl laughing…skipping…singing…dancing…loving…even as her precious nine year-old heart has known more pain than any child’s ever should.
Pain is only possible because such joy exists at all.
Joy is in relationship. In holding on to one another, no matter what, expecting nothing but an understanding that our only hope lies in life together…in walking with one another through the absolute worst life that life can mete out, and into the goodness that is possible when grace pours down and mercy reigns. Joy is knowing that none of us are perfect, and that we are capable of such awfulness in our humanity, but knowing also that in our brokenness lies the possibility of truly learning what it means to be whole.
Life hurts, and that’s all there is to it. I can tell you story after story of folks I care about who have lived through all sorts of madness this last year–job losses, financial challenges, illness, family struggles, damaging gossip, divorce, death, broken relationships…and all this on a very personal level, yet cast against the backdrop of a world that seems to have tilted into a terrible sort of chaos, leaving us all gasping for breath and desperate for hope.
My friend Tiffany is the mother of three beautiful children. Only two of them are now living. Her middle son was stillborn. And this week would have been his 8th birthday. I asked if I could tell her story here, because I know few people able to hold pain and joy in beautiful tension as she and her husband Drew do. On their sweet Britton’s birthday, Tiffany wrote:
Today we celebrate the life of a little boy that changed our lives forever. While his heart never beat on Earth, when he left us it shattered our hearts into a million pieces. He’s taught us a lot in the past 8 years, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is LOVE. From the moment we heard the news, our hearts have been stitched back together – from the nurses who stood by our bedside, our pastor who left the beach to come pray for us to family and friends who came running, sent cards, fed us, and listen to the tears fall. Even to this day, we are surrounded by loved ones who listen to his story, offer encouraging words and remind us that they will never forget him either. I don’t know how we would have made it through the dark days without the love we have experienced from each of you. That blonde-haired, chunky-cheeked baby boy reminds me everyday to love and be loved. I can only hope and pray that I have shown the kind of love you all have shown us.
As I read Tiffany’s words, I marveled at her ability to say so well something so difficult to explain. And then I realized, “This is how I feel. About life. About this last year. About the pain in the lives of those I love. About the heartache this world keeps heaping upon itself. This is how I feel. About all of it.”
Which is to say, I feel the greatest lesson we’re collectively learning, or perhaps just need to learn, is LOVE. Real, true, unconditional, all-encompassing, life-changing LOVE. Love that says yes, your life matters to me. Love that says yes, you’re worth it. Love that says yes, I’ll make a sacrifice so that someone else can get a shot at a better life. Love that says yes, you’ve really made a giant cluster of a mess at things…and it will be hard to find your way out…but all is not lost. And somehow redemption is possible. And there is, on the other side of this awful pain, the promise of something good.
This isn’t possible in a vacuum. This isn’t possible solely on our own. This isn’t possible unless we are willing to be in the muck and mess with each other. This isn’t possible without pushing aside what we’ve known and trying our damnedest to see through to the other side. Good lord it’s difficult. But it isn’t impossible. Not at all.
I do not, for one second, believe that pain comes solely to teach us a lesson. Hear me when I say that. But…hear me again…I do believe that in our deepest pain is also our greatest potential for becoming more of who we are meant to be. I cannot explain that…I just know it to be true. And I know that when I have let the pain do its work, I’ve found myself more capable of learning those lessons of LOVE I just wrote about.
Another hour has passed of this December 31st as I’ve written. And so we’re closer to January 1st. My prayer for you…for me…for this whole wide world…is a prayer that speaks first, LOVE.
In all things. In all places. To all people.
Happy New Year…may you know LOVE as 2016 fades away and 2017 is born.