As another year of this crazy, awesome, unpredictable, scary, exhilarating thing I call my life comes to a close, I’m left feeling speechless and amazed once again as I watch the glowing flames melt the shining wax on twenty-six birthday candles. I can’t say I felt this way even twenty-four hours ago as I stalked the weather forecast and lamented the fact that my birthday would consist of thunderstorms and severe weather alerts. As much as I hate to admit it now, my first thought was this:
If my birthday could represent how the past year has been for me, it would equate to the weather forecast for the next twenty-four hours. (In other, completely non-dramatic or exaggerated words: dark, depressing, and miserable.)
This time last year, I was celebrating my twenty-fifth birthday surrounded by countless blessings and the warm wishes and hugs of those I love most on this earth. I was completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace upon my life and His willingness to give me much more than I could ever deserve. As I was asked to make a wish on my twenty-fifth birthday, I found myself at a loss for words, because all I could think of was this: I love my life. Life is good. [The blessing of twenty-five birthdays.]
Now, 365 days later, I have come to that same place of quiet reflection once again. And just as on every previous birthday, today, someone has placed a cake with candles before me and has asked me to make a wish. I am reflecting on the words I’d written one year ago on my twenty-fifth birthday, and one thought comes to mind:
If you had known what those next 365 days would have in store for you, would you have come to the same conclusion upon making your birthday wish? Would you still have felt the same way? Would you still have been able to honestly say that you love your life? Would you still believe that life is good?
These last 365 days have been some of the hardest of my life. I was faced with challenges that I never could have imagined facing, and many days I found myself at a loss for words just as on the first day of this new year of my life, only I was at a loss for words because of the suffocating effects of grief and pain that this new year of my life had brought me. Life is funny in that way—it loves to express its deep appreciation for irony by dragging you through hardship and trials before you’ve even gotten done saying how wonderful life is. This year was my year to be hit by the irony of life.
Isn’t it crazy how one storm cloud can come and block out the entire sun? Just one storm cloud is all it takes for us to no longer be able to see or experience all the goodness, beauty and light that the sun brings. One minute, I could see nothing but blessings, and the next, all I could see was a cloud. It’s so easy for me to forget in a storm that the sun is even there at all.
And what do you do when a storm cloud comes along and causes you to lose sight of your blessings? What did I do? When I woke up on the morning of my twenty-sixth birthday and looked out my window to see a massive literal cloud blocking out the beauty of the sun?
I wish I could say that my first instinct was to think on all the good things I still had, to remember all the many ways I’ve still been blessed in this past year even in spite of the storms I faced. I wish I could say I looked back and remembered that I’ve been brought through it all, that I survived it, that I learned from it and grew stronger because of it. I wish I could say I remembered the bits of light that still shone for me even through the clouds that gave their best effort to block the sun from my life. And if my life were a Disney musical, maybe that’s how my birthday would have begun. I might have woken up and drawn open my curtains and spun around in excitement about this new year of my life and counted all the blessings that this last year brought me. But instead, I looked out my window at the wind and pouring rain and then rolled back over and sulked about how the weather was exactly what I should have expected this year to bring me on my birthday. I’m only human, after all.
But here’s what God does:
In spite of my sulking, in spite of my inability to see the good behind the bad, in spite of how quickly I forget that just behind that storm cloud, there is the beauty and brilliance of the sun ready to give me light and warmth after this short season of gray skies and rain, he takes the time to remind me of all the good that is still here. He doesn’t hold it against me that I’ve disregarded the reasons he’s chosen to allow the rain to come: to grow me and to prepare me for something even greater and more beautiful than I could ever imagine. Instead, he takes the time to show me that the sun is still shining bright.
This year, I was greatly shaken by the storm cloud of loss. The kind that hits you like a pounding, relentless headache. The kind that disorients you, that keeps you from remembering the last time you went a day without crying at least once, the kind that keeps you from simply living your life, because at any given moment, your world can crumble before your eyes. The kind that brings irrational, unflinching guilt and that cuts you like a knife when you look at the people you love and only see what your own pain is doing to them. But through it all, the sun never stopped shining. Even on the days that were too painful for me to be able to see and acknowledge the good, it was still there. God never left my side.
This year has shown me a lot of things. It’s shown me pain and grief, heartache and tragedy. It’s shown me how dark things can become, how clouded my vision can get with negativity and bitterness. It’s shown me how easy it is to be dragged down by misfortunes and miss out on the blessings of this life. It’s shown me loneliness like I’ve never known it before, the penetrating discouragement of disappointment, and how easy it is to start comparing myself to others. But it’s also shown me how to be patient, how to appreciate what I have, and how to focus on the good in my life rather than the bad. It’s shown me how understanding and patient my husband is, how much he loves me and how willing he is to love me unconditionally through both the good times and bad. It’s shown me friends and family that stand behind me and are ready to encourage me and lift me up when I’m at my lowest. And most of all, it’s shown me a God who is unwavering in his faithfulness, who doesn’t hesitate to draw me into him and embrace me and hold me together just as I fall apart.
And what can I wish for? When despite the heartache and tragedy, I’ve been brought through stronger? When I’ve been shown as much grace as I’ve been shown grief? When every tear has been met with kind words and love, and when even on my darkest days, I’ve never truly been alone? My God is healing me; he is bringing me through. And there has not been a minute in these last 365 days where I have been alone. Even now, as I reflect on the loss that I’ve suffered over this past year, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by the sweet faces of those I love who have shown me love and kindness in new ways, who have proven to me on every dark day that their capacity to love me is far greater than I ever could have known. And as I look around on this dark, cloudy, rainy birthday and I am reminded that I am once again marvelously aware of how blessed I am, I realize that I cannot wish for more at this moment. So, instead, I say a prayer.
I pray that love will continue to prevail on this earth. I pray that healing will come to all those who need it. I pray that there will always be more good people than bad. I pray that I’ll never be too busy to recognize and appreciate life’s simply beautiful moments like these. I pray that families will stand together in love. I pray that everyone will have the opportunity to experience love and friendship and family as I have. I pray that God’s truth and grace be evident to all. And I thank God for being an ever-present help and reminder that we are not alone. I thank God for moments of quiet reflection like these.
So for this crazy, dark and rainy twenty-sixth birthday, as I celebrate the beginning of another year on God’s extraordinary earth, I wish to not only be reminded of that same, overwhelming realization that I had one year ago today, but I wish to also fill others with that same realization. This past year was one of the hardest of my life, but I’m standing here on the other side of it ready to state these truths, still believing them, still acknowledging them even in the midst of the present clouds that are still passing through: Life is good. God is still here. Blessings still exist. Good is still evident. There is truth, there is light, there is peace, there is joy. Pain and heartache and sadness and grief can be overcome. Love is real. God’s goodness and truth can be yours as much as it is mine. Keep loving each other. Keep being the friends and family that you yourself deserve. Keep smiling, keep laughing, keep living. Strive to be the person that you’ve been created to be. Let positivity flourish and negativity vanish from your life. And thank you, once again for being part of my blessings in life.
For all those who have helped me in this past year with their smiles, kind words, hugs, encouragement, prayers, and random acts of kindness, I deeply thank you. Because of you, I’m still here. Because of you, I’m still grateful. Because of you, I am strong. Because of you, I can still say, without hesitance, I am truly, indescribably and undeniably blessed.