a happy new year

I am on the brink of blessing.

I decided this the other night as I sat on my boyfriend’s bed, watching a single tear drop straight from my eye and onto his sleeve, dotting the cotton dark.

I couldn’t explain why I was crying. In the last few months, wonderful things had started to happen to my family and me. My sister bought a house. My brother had a baby. My boyfriend brought me home for the holidays, and on Christmas Eve, exactly eleven years after my mother’s death, I took him to her grave so my mom could finally meet the man I loved.

Amidst all this, there were job interviews and Christmas parties and shopping trips down snowy streets; there was poetry and prayer and a blossoming of joy; and there was love, lots of it. It seemed as though every area of my life was shifting, transforming, building toward some great change. Mystery winked like glitter in the air.

It was all so very overwhelming.

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Each New Year, the world is reminded of the reality of time. It passes, it promises, it is. Time hovers above and behind and before everything we do, and we are never more conscious of its presence than that precise moment when one year clicks suddenly into the next.

This past year has felt particularly pivotal for me. Yes, I was back in my hometown, working at jobs I’d already had, spending time with family and friends I’d known forever. But there were some drastic changes too. I moved into a downtown loft with my best friend, where I could walk to work and get to know my city in a new, eye-level way. I flew to San Francisco with my brother on a why-not whim and drove to Chicago with my sister in the car I’d just bought, reminding me of the fruitfulness of travel and time spent connecting, one-on-one, with a kindred soul.

Most importantly, I fell in love. I learned to let go of the fears of commitment to which I’d been clinging, and to reach instead for the invisible hope I could hear humming just in front of me. I learned to live both in- and outside myself, feeling the freedom along with the weight that both come with being part of a pair. I learned to lean in, even when everything in me screamed to back off.

Starting with one small “yes,” I opened my heart to love, and I felt more alive and unworthy and full-to-overflowing than I’d ever had in my life. It was an astonishing thing.

So this past year has definitely been different, though not in the way I’d expected. It was very much a time of living in the now. It was an experiment in surrender, in simply allowing things to happen and not pulling them toward me or, worse, pushing them away.

Sometimes this made me feel inadequate or small–people would ask, “What are you up to these days?” and I would be forced to respond, “Oh, not much!” The combination of moving from Minneapolis back to my much-smaller hometown and working a couple of plain, part-time jobs seemed somehow shameful, as though I was supposed to be succeeding faster, or at least trying harder; after all, I was smart, I had a college degree, I was an adult now. When was I going to get on with it and grow up already?

But the real world, I’ve come to realize, is so unlike the picture we’ve been painted. It’s like learning cursive. In middle school, we would practice it over and over because our teachers told us it was the only way we’d be allowed to write in high school–only for us to get there and realize nobody actually cared about cursive. It was pretty in theory, but it just wasn’t practical. And that was perfectly okay with us. We were busy trying to adapt in other ways.

I think we set ourselves up for failure when we tell ourselves that our lives must follow a certain plan. Society commands us to pursue school, career, marriage, kids–every one of those, and in that order. But a life is such a unique thing. There is a reason we are named, not numbered–we have been given great control over the course of our lives. It’s important for us to grasp just how powerful God has made us, just how much passion he has given us, just how much trust he has in our ability to do what he has destined.

A big part of this is letting go of the lie that each new year will inevitably offer us some sort of huge personal triumph. My church is in the midst of a series called “Waiting Room,” which explores the ideas of faith and service while we wait for whatever it is we want. The other week, our pastor taught the intertwining stories of Jairus and the sick woman (Mark 5:21-43), each of whom had to wait for healing for what felt to them like far too long, but what was actually the Lord’s perfect timing. For through their patience, his goodness was glorified.

All my life, I’ve been living in anticipation of the next big thing. School sets us up for this–each year, we would count down the days until summer, crossing off homecoming and prom on our planners, casting our rods to graduation or college or whatever milestone we believed was waiting to bite at our bait. We began to think that each year would bring some sort of revolution to the ruts in which we’d found ourselves.

Since finishing college, I’ve had to discard that idea. Gone are the definitive homework deadlines, the black-and-white report cards, the clean-cut semesters in which I used to divide my life. Now I have no major events to look forward to, and the days blur together. I am discovering what my English professor meant when she said that time is a tree, and each instance, each memory, each dream a branch upon it. Time is not as quantitative as our calendars make it appear.

Time, like love, expands to fit what it must.

Last month, there was a whirlwind of a day when I attended two job interviews and was approached by a third person about a potential freelance assignment–all within the span of a couple hours. “Okay, God,” I said. “I get it.” While I wasn’t necessarily seeking a new position, the Lord seemed to be placing them right in my lap. Perhaps my wait–at least, this particular wait–was over.

On New Year’s Eve, I got an email that I had landed one of those positions. The offer was fantastic–salaried, full-time, and exactly the type of work I love (writing) and work environment in which I thrive (small team, plenty of independence). I squealed with joy, thrilled to have found something so apparently tailored to me. Still, I told myself I’d take some time to make sure I was making the right decision.

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I didn’t take long. Later that night, my friends and I found ourselves spending the final hour of 2014 at an understaffed and over-sequined club, where the drinks were scarce and the dance floor was sticky. Still, we thronged our way into it, holding each other’s hands, laughing, making the most of it all.

And when midnight hit, when the champagne bottles burst and the couples kissed and the countdown chant erupted into cheers, I made my first New Year’s resolution: to say yes to the job, and to say yes to anything else the Lord wanted to put in my path in the coming year.

Every New Year, we come face-to-face with ourselves. A mirror is held in front of us, and we are forced to confront what we see, both in our faces and in the backdrop we’ve constructed behind us. It’s a period of reflection and projection, of past, present, and future, all rolled into one.

The good news is that we get to decide what to do with that mirror. We can set it aside and forget what we’ve seen. We can breathe on the glass and draw a new face in the fog. We can give ourselves a makeover. We can choose to like the person looking back at us.

I’m still not entirely sure why I started to cry the other night. Change is an exciting thing. But after a period of relative stillness, sudden momentum can be a little staggering.

Still, I choose to welcome whatever this new year has to offer, whether it’s wild and exhilarating or quiet and small. Either way, it’s a gift.

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7 thoughts on “a happy new year

  1. Sarah, this is so beautiful! I’ve found myself in a very similar situation and it’s so encouraging to hear your thoughts about it. And, as always, your writing always has a hum of something vibrant to it!

  2. Just beautiful, Sarah. Your mom would be so proud…and I know she’d love Troy as much as I do and be so very happy for you. 🙂 Much love, Nancy

  3. Sarah you are a brilliant writer and I hope to see more and more of your writing out in the world as time passes by. You truly have a gift to give that I believe so many people would benefit from receiving!
    -Jamie

  4. Pingback: young love: a non-apology from a newlywed | schock therapy

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