The photos I took over the last year tell a distinct and lovely story. They say that life was good, happy, contented. The photos say that I had meaningful weekends with dear friends from university, that I learned to love my family in ways I'd never dreamed of, that I hosted and brainstormed awkward yet hilarious get-togethers, that I maintained crucial relationships, that I learned to give gifts like I never had before, that I took steps that would always before have terrified me, that I celebrated new beginnings with my friends, that I found adventure in the unexpected, that I steeped myself in the loveliness of my home state, that I fell in love all over again with my extended family, that I lived happily and with humor in awkward contexts and tumultuous days, that I love my new job, and that I adore skirting the margins of cool.
And while those things are true, they are not the full story. I trace my year quite differently.
Discovering the depths of my heart's rage in the winter, learning what depressed truly means, fighting despair, caving in to the destruction of comparison, believing ugliness was not just in my face but in my heart and soul, resenting everything "wholesome," screaming words I regretted at people who just needed a listening ear, and disdaining American Christianity; destroying standards that I had set for myself in the spring, rebelling against expectation, wearing whatever I felt like wearing without feeling guilty, spurning time constraints, and beginning to believe that love can successfully govern any conflict; taking my restlessness to visible levels in the summer, refusing to wear shoes because freedom is a very lovely thing, taking time to read children's books with my heart, giving up on holding back the tears, locking myself in the bathroom to avoid screaming fits, crumbling to the terror, and listening to the voicemails over and over and over to convince myself I was safe; taking steps back to reevaluate in the fall, learning to celebrate love without feeling empty, knowing with a horrible lateness the depth of my love for four littles I'd resented for much of our time together, renewing my promise to love the fatherless and widows when it is not easy, rejecting the easy/acceptable/present in favor of the difficult/best/future, and being humbled again when I thought the process was over; defying guilt in the winter (come back like an old nemesis after new blood), learning gentleness as I should have earlier, fighting to write and feeling like an old dried-up well, facing down the old ghosts, slamming into the shocking realization that it is my heart that God deems precious, refusing to give in to the past, willingly submitting myself to vulnerability and need, discovering with delight that the Spirit of God does speak to me . . . and was probably always speaking, all those months when I felt devastated and abandoned.
Exhausting. Horrible. Strenuous. Discouraging.
Beautiful. Peaceful. Heart-breaking-and-building.
Discovering the contradictions . . . and embracing them as good gifts from my God.
It has been a year of mercies, a year steeped in grace.
A year of learning Who God really is, not a magic wand or an angry ruler, but my Father, my Friend, my Provider, my Shepherd, my Lover; and discovering that He is more powerful and comforting and frightening and amazing that I could ever have imagined . . . and as I never would have seen had it not been for this rather-brutal year.
And I think, just maybe, I wouldn't trade it for anything else.