Way too far to turn back (2016 & 2017)

2016 was a difficult year in the world, generally. For me, it was one of the most transformative years on record. It doesn’t stand alone in this respect, but in 2016, the refining fire I’d been in for a long time finally burned down. That’s where the story of last year begins. In April 2016, I came out of a fog I’d been in since shortly after Luke and I got married, one I’ve written about extensively and which was harder on me mentally and spiritually than anything else I’ve ever been through. It was the sort of time that challenges the notion that one’s testimony has to be R-rated in order to be really challenging. In my case, this was all the more true because my testimony IS R-rated, and this time was still more difficult than anything that came before.

To put it like this: there is nothing more painful, period, than losing whatever or whoever means the most to you. The fact that the stories that are most compelling are those in which the stakes are high is testament to the fact that this is generally true for everyone. For me, that something was my dreams. Simplified tremendously, the reason my dreams were my most important thing was that over the course of many years, I had, by my own actions as well as circumstances beyond my control, lost or broken every relationship of value to me save one by early 2012. Part of that comes with the territory of PTSD, and I don’t want to diminish that. But it’s equally true that during that time, I essentially replaced the place of relationships in my life with something else. Part of why I worked so hard in school, for example, is that my work would never break my trust. There are other factors in the mix. But a habit, once formed, is hard to break, especially when that habit encompasses more waking hours of your time for a longer period than any person, even a child, can ever take up.

Other relationships, both new and renewed, have taken the place of those that had ebbed away by early 2012, and praise God for that. But the broader trend remained. I wasn’t deceived by my dreams; I was consumed by them. When the Lord started assembling the pieces of his plan for my life, I figured that I was already on the right track, so those pieces would logically follow and supplement the track I was already on. If you read this blog, then you already know what comes next, but I’ll reiterate just for fun: rather than supplement the track I was building, the Lord systematically dismantled it. First, my major. Then my post-collegiate prospects. Then, my immediate plans. He did this slowly, over a period of a couple of years. Then, in 2014, there was suddenly no track left. I was in freefall for a while, then landed at the bottom of the horrible desert I was in for a year and a half after that. Homebound, aimless, and with nothing to fill my days with for months on end, my high-achieving self had to sit still and think about my life while God continually didn’t answer me. I’ve never felt more abandoned, angry, or alone ever in my life than I did for those 18 months, all the more because while I knew it had to end at some point, there was no telling when that would be.

Many people—I would even say most, especially serious Christians—either have or will experience a period like the one I went through at some point in their lives, possibly even more than once. So if you’ve been there, you know exactly what it feels like to be at your wits end with God’s alleged provision and sovereignty while he systematically breaks down everything you thought you knew or wanted from your life. He hits you where it hurts the most, because that’s the only way to get your attention. Now, I know that he does that to show how serious he is about wanting the best for you. And his plan is always greater. But there’s a reason it’s called a personal hell: because nothing else makes you feel as far from God as him taking away the thing that’s most important to you, even if the reason he does so is because that thing is in the way of what he really wants for you.

It took a year and a half of my personal hell for me to get to where I am: to having no plans, to watching closely for signs of his actual provision rather than my projected version of it, to actually being happy with my life and my future rather than being resigned to it. I’m learning to trust God again, and to open myself up to relationships even if that means I might get hurt or rejected or left behind. And I’m learning the importance of moderation. I’ve been blessed with a personality that makes me good at sticking to the commitments I make with myself and others. But the fact I also want to help everything and everyone means I’ve been prone to overextending myself, personally, socially, and in terms of work. I’m learning to be more selective in what I agree to, and to stop sacrificing my health and relationships for the sake of work.

Which brings me to the coming year. I find myself in the unusual position of announcing two major developments in my life right when I finally started to get this moderation thing down pat. But the reason why actually pertains to that old devil, my lack of trust in God. Because I feared that he would take my dreams away again, I stopped having them. I stopped hoping. And I started to get very cynical.

The last election cycle really brought home to me just how consumed I’d become with the toxicity of the news cycle. It affected my depression, which made the lows associated with my bipolar disorder crippling rather than inconvenient. My politics haven’t changed, but my habits have. A couple weeks after the election, I stopped reading the news. I read enough to stay abreast of developments, but I don’t spend an hour or two a day on it like I had been. Instead, I’ve been filling my idle time with creative work. I’ve picked up sketching again and have finished two chapters of my novel over break so far, and am on track to finish two more. This is the first development, one I’m figuring out how to incorporate into the semester so I don’t just lose the momentum I’ve had once my days get busier next week.

The second development is that I’m skating again. And this is where I get really, really vulnerable.

I’ve had aspirations of getting a skating coach ever since I learned, nearly fifteen years ago, that I had natural talent in figure skating. That was also around the time I learned that coaching cost $60 an hour or more and would require substantially more sacrifices than my family could afford. So I kept going on my own, as best I could. Then, early last month, a new development meant that my husband and I would have enough additional income, with some left over besides, for me to pursue competitive skating with a professional coach. Over Christmas, I was able to purchase the skates I’ve needed for over 10 years.

I don’t know what this will mean for me yet. I’m taking this one step at a time. The first is to find a coach; then, after being evaluated, this person and I will figure out what I’ll need to do to get tested, and then, after that, a timeline. Soon, I’ll need new blades, which cost almost as much as the skates themselves. But I’m not looking further than that for now. For now, this is enough. I’d stopped believing this was even possible for me years ago. Maybe that’s what needed to happen so that the Lord could blow my mind.

This year, going forward, will be challenging, for different reasons than the last few have been. But I’m cautiously optimistic. And sorry in advance if you follow me on Instagram. Expect a lot of videos of me falling in the coming weeks.

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