As the year ends

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. -Zora Neale Hurston

I don’t know who Zora was, but I like that quote. When I saw it a few weeks ago, I thought “yes, this year asked a lot of questions, and I hope 2014 answers them.” And then I thought about it some more and was reading back over my end of 2012 thoughts and I realized that actually, 2013 answered a lot of questions that 2012 had asked. It’s just taken some looking back to notice that.

It was a roller coaster of a year. There were a lot of ups, but there were a lot of really deep downs too. To quote one of my closest friends, Nicole, who said this recently in an email, “Life is a serious bitch sometimes. It’s worth it all and has some really fantastic stuff, but it hurts like hell.” That’s pretty much how I feel about 2013. John Green also has some words I like: “Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”

2013 mattered. I had no idea what it was going to hold, and it blew me away at times, both in joy and in pain. But it mattered. I am not the same person now as it ends as I was when it started, and I’m betting most of you would say the same thing about yourself.

What it held, for me, in a nutshell: Some kick-ass times with friends, all throughout the year. Travels. Really great conversations. Seeing and spending time with my old roommate, seeing Eastern Montana and North Dakota. I surprised my parents and showed up in GA on the 4th of July and ultimately got to see them 3 times this year since I was also there in February and then cruised to the Bahamas with them in October. I visited with my brother and sister in law twice. I had some amazingly perfect conversations with my niece and nephew. I saw my oldest and dearest friend and got wrapped around the little fingers of both of her children. Later in the year I cried with and for her as her dad almost died and then rejoiced with her when he survived. I inherited a best-friend-in-law when David married the man he loves and I had more fun being a part of that than can be described. I gained a few more friends through that time as well. I saw New York City as an adult (the last time I was there was 8th grade). There was some hiking and some snowshoeing. I quit running (but that’s not a forever quit). I made some really tough choices. I made a few desperately needed changes, and some others came about more as a consequence of the intentional ones. Some of those are still being worked on. Closure came about in two situations that needed it, both very different, both very difficult, one of which I’m still healing from. I barely scratched the surface of some goals and dreams. There was a promotion at work and most days that is a good thing. I read a lot of good books and watched a lot of good TV and movies, along with some not quite as good. I saw Mumford and Sons in concert for the 2nd time and loved it as much as the first. I wrote. And I made plans to write more. I made a blanket for a precious little boy who peed on me the first time we met. I cried, a lot. But I also laughed a lot. I talked about a lot of books with really intelligent women. I drank a beer in the shower one incredibly hot summer afternoon and it was perfect and for some reason many of my friends find it to be both hilarious and wonderful and so I thought it should make this end of the year post. My library fine was paid off by Alisha for my birthday. I wore a funny hat and sold Christmas trees. I lived out of two places at the same time as I prepare to move in a few weeks (more on that later). I made a lot of lists. I wrote quite a few letters. 2013 was busy.

Usually I make a list of to-dos for the next year. And they are pretty specific. Honestly, I’m not in a place where I think I can do that for 2014. I don’t want a list to check off or to fail in completing, even though there are already some ideas on a list in my head. For right now, I just want to think about the not-so-specific-things that I am fairly certain will go on.

I will listen to more music. I will watch more TV and movies, and maybe I’ll go see a show or two. I will read, a lot, and I will talk about those books with others. I will write. I will have opinions that sometimes get shared and sometimes do not. I will sing out loud when a song I like comes on in the car and I am alone, and maybe even if I am not alone. I will dance to music that is playing when I am at home. I will dream and I will pray and I will search and I will think deeply. I will go to work and do the best job that I can. I will cook and bake and eat out. I will love with all that I have and I will work on forgiveness more and more. These are the things that are not on a 2014 to-do list as they don’t have to be.

2013 was hard and beautiful and difficult and lovely and it was worth it. 2014 is a fresh start, a new beginning, and holds a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what it holds.

See you next year!

2013-2014

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Behind My Gray Hairs

Several years ago, David was standing over my head while I was sitting in a chair. I was way overdue on coloring my hair. I said “don’t look at the grays.” He said “I love each and every one of your gray hairs.” That’s one way I know he loves me a lot. Because I have a whole lot of them.

I wish I could be content with my grays. I wish I could not care anymore and let them go. I wish that every time I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t checking to see if they are yet starting to show, and counting the days or weeks left until my next color appointment. I wish I could pull off a mostly full gray head at age 34, because I think what’s behind those gray hairs says a lot about who I am. They tell a lot of stories. They hold a lot of memories. They come from some strong roots.

My dad likes to remind me from time to time that my grandmother went gray early too, which is likely where I get it from. Sometimes when I look at those hairs, I think about her. About her strength and her deep faith and her stubbornness and I wish that I had more of those first two than I do of the 3rd which I know I have plenty of.

These now-gray-but-colored-brown hairs have been on some amazing journeys. Back when they were highlighted blonde, they started travelling the world. First to Poland, then to China and then to Azerbaijan and then to Kenya and then back to Poland and then to Trinidad and then to London and then to China again. These hairs have seen a lot of the world. But then I think about how much more of it there is left to discover. Thinking of blonde highlights also makes me think of Katie. And Adirondack chairs on the beach of St. Simmons, and an entire lifetime of the world’s problems we solved by sitting in those chairs.

Somewhere in the midst of those travels, I stopped lightening the hair (and it started turning gray) and went a bit darker than what I am naturally, I think. And that color, or a close variation of it, has stuck. The change to a darker color takes me to a few years of fumbling around a bit, finishing grad school, trying to find the right job, figuring out what it meant to be an aunt, recovering from the emotional and spiritual toll that China had taken on me, and searching for a place I could live that would feel like a place I belonged. In the midst of this stumbling around, there were some really good times, some fun trips to Chicago and Statesboro and Disneyworld. A couple of forever-friendships were sealed in those years too, even though the likelihood of living near each other again is small.

Then there was a cross country move. A drive to change my life that I’ve been told is impressive or admirable but I viewed as necessary. In that change, there were a lot of gray hairs, because it took a while to find a good beautician that I could afford to go to regularly. I should have just gone all gray then. That was my opportunity.

But then those grays started being covered up, and I settled into a place that feels like home, and a career that seemed so destined, yet right this minute leaves me somewhat unfulfilled…that’s a string of thoughts for another time.

I really started thinking about my gray hairs a few weeks ago when I had to stretch out my appointments to longer than normal, and was briefly avoiding mirrors if I could. And I started thinking about not only what stories they could tell from the past, but about what they are carrying right now. A bit of heartache. Some missing connections.  Longings yet to be met. Some beautiful friendships. Amazing adventures. Perfect days. Insecurities. Impossible moments. What feels like a whole lot of challenges. A faith that wants and needs to be strengthened. An attempt to be steady, safe and stable, for myself and for other people. Thoughts of how much of me has changed over last few years, but how much of me has truly stayed the same, and how few people really seem to see both who I am and who I want to be. Feeling like, even now, I am still, in some ways, searching for what my small place is in this anything but small world.

Maybe it’s because of the work I do. Maybe it’s because of things I’ve watched family and friends go through. Maybe it’s simply because I find that eternity is regularly on my mind. But I often find myself thinking about how fleeting life is, and what it’s going to be like at the end, whenever that happens to be for me. And I find myself wondering what my full head of gray hairs (I’m hoping) will be holding then. Will I look back at the life I lived and know that, mixed in with all of my many faults, I loved well, helped the hurting, was an encouragement to those who needed it, was grateful for how much I’ve been loved and the grace I’ve received, and lived a life that honored God? I don’t know if that’s what these gray hairs will be saying then, but it is my hope.

These are the things I think about when I look at my own reflection in the mirror, when I find myself frowning over how quickly the grays return. If I can, instead, think of the life behind them, them maybe I can begin to view them as something positive instead of just something to cover up. I’m doubtful I’ll feel that way any time soon, but I can try.