I get it. Really I do. 2016 was a strange and certainly difficult year for many of us. The world seemed to contract as if in labor. From Syria to Russia to global terrorism on an epic scale, through racial and socioeconomic tension and the ugliest US election cycle I can remember in 40 years, this year was never lacking for headlines, hashtags or social media banter. We lost many well-loved personalities, from Prince to Harper Lee to Grizzly Adams, and although no year is without its casualties, 2016 will be remembered by many as the year the Eighties Icons died.
For my family, though, it was a year of illness, of strained relationships and circumstantial changes. It was the year my family moved from our childhood home in Oregon to the Midwest, leaving everything we knew and the people we love behind to forge an adventure into the unknown. Many of our family and friends couldn’t understand why we would want to do this. Some of them took it personally and it unfortunately put tension on those relationships. To top it off, just the other day, before the year was yet over, our chocolate lab was hit by a car in front of our house (See Here).
So I get it. I understand how so many have come to see 2016 as the worst year ever. Uncertainties. Sadness. Heartbreak. Tears. I could easily look at it the same way. I can also see how many of us are clinging to the hope of a new year, as if somehow the passing from December 31st to Jan 1 is like going through a revolving door into a utopia that will magically put all those terrible things behind us forever. Hope is good, and so is the idea of a clean slate, a new canvas to paint on. A new year full of possibility. But it does not erase the things we have come through or the lessons they hold.
So I’m choosing to hold on instead of letting it go.
I’m holding on to 2016 because it was the year I grew the most, emotionally, spiritually and professionally. 2016 was the year I learned to grieve. I wept over my mother as she died suddenly of cancer, much too young. I said goodbye to my father, who died of a broken heart just a day before my mom did. I lost my grandpa and Katie lost her grandma. Through all of these things, I did not lose faith, but clung to it, and was made stronger by it. I learned that the way to become a better father, husband, human being is to be stretched beyond comfort and even broken at times so that I can be put back together again. To rely on others more and myself less. I learned that God is not just a crutch to lean on and read about, but a trusted companion who is compassionately dedicated to shaping our lives, and fiercely loyal through the process. I learned that bad things will continue to happen, but that no matter how dark the world seems, the light that shines in our household will never go out as long as we remain dedicated to each other and to the people around us.
And it wasn’t all bad. There were good things, even great things, that happened through the year. My second eldest son graduated from high school (a feeling that is something like an exhalation of a long-held breath, which any parent of graduating teens will understand). Our move to Iowa afforded us the opportunity to pursue a lifestyle we could only dream about in Oregon. I’ve had the opportunity to be challenged in my job and to grow from it significantly. We’ve had the privilege to bless others and to be blessed. There were beautiful sunsets every night, butterfly kisses from my daughter and silly moments with the boys. And laughter. There was a lot of that too. We built things with our hands, saw places we’d never seen before and got to know new people along the way.
Hope is not a thing that only comes in the promise of a new year. You see, through all of our personal tragedies, there was good in the midst of the awful. And that gave us hope. Hope was the very thing that kept us moving forward. But without tragedy and hardship, hope is meaningless.
We must take the wonderful with the terrible and let them both shape us into something more than we are today.
Was 2016 the worst year ever? Each of us have our own perspective, but I don’t think so. A challenging year? A frustrating year? A year of loss? Yes, to all of those. Will 2017 bring something different? I don’t know what the new year holds. We can be fairly certain there will be more trouble. More uncertainty. But I will not be defined by fear. And neither should you be.
I’ve made it through 2016. And I’m now better prepared for whatever is to come.