On bidding goodbye to a difficult year

I know it’s a bit late to write a review of 2013. I want to say it’s because of the flurry and happy madness of Christmas and our annual two-night trip to a nearby hotel (courtesy of saved-up Tesco tokens), so I’ve not been able to write because I’ve been resting from these things. But the truth is there’s a part of me that has been dreading this post and putting it off. The real review of 2013, ‘my year of anyway’, will come soon: this is just something I had to write first.
This year I signed up for an excellent online Advent-Epiphany spiritual reflection course, hosted by my friend Tara. As a result, I felt spiritually prepared – and rested, somehow – when Christmas came, and I really enjoyed the festive season.
Towards the end of December, I logged onto the course Fuze Call (like a Skype conference call) for the next reflective exercise: we were reviewing the year. I like reviewing things. I was looking forward to it. I smiled at the other faces popping up on the call, and settled back in my bed, my head propped up with pillows and cushions.
Start with January, she suggested. And immediately, the memory came: in January 2013 I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance because it looked very much like I was having a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
I tried to think beyond that, to February, March, but they were all blank, and all I could think of was January and the ambulance ride. Last year I said I would write about it sometime but not now, and after a year on I am still not ready to write about it.
I tried to move on: April – blank, May – the ME relapse, the tachycardia, collapsing in the corridor, the fear.
June, July – blank, August – the fight to try to get an appointment with my ME specialist.
I watched my face in the computer screen sink lower down into the pillows and I hoped that the others wouldn’t see my tears. I tried again – but I couldn’t get past it – January, the ambulance; May, the relapse, the fear; August, the fight, the weariness.
If you think about it, Christmas and New Year are pre-disposed to make you somewhat emotional. (There’s nothing like a season of enforced jollity to make you feel miserable.) This year I actually loved Christmas, and I was well enough to eat dinner with the family and able to watch my boy open all of his presents, and I was thankful for these precious gifts. But if Christmas doesn’t get you, New Year will: a time where you are obliged to identify all your sparkly achievements for the year and make resolutions (again) that this year things will change.
On that particular evening, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t think about 2013.
I avoided it for a day or so, tried to focus on the good things, told myself it was about the time that everyone was writing their blog posts on 2013, and I ought to do mine too. Still I couldn’t write it.
Eventually, having failed on the ignoring-and-counting-blessings tactic, I gave into the sadness. On the 30th December I took a good look at the hard parts of 2013. I felt them again, I cried. A lot. I even told God about it: “Dear Lord, that was kinda hard. I’m tired.” I let the cloud and gloom envelop me.
That was a rough day.
It didn’t feel great, but the tears were cleansing. Even as I wiped the tears away, the positive memories and things I was proud of started to trickle in.
Sometimes you have to grieve a difficult year before you can celebrate it. Sometimes we have to feel it all before we can move on.
Sometimes we have to acknowledge that huge black cloud and let it purge all its rain before we can see the rays of the positive and precious memories, glinting and glistening.
Because I had given good attention to the black clouds of 2013, I didn’t have to work to count my blessings. I felt them pour into my mind, the happy memories of 2013, bright fireworks breaking up the darkness.
This was my year: hard, painful and full of goodness.
This is life: hard, painful and full of goodness.
I wrote them all down: the dark memories and the glints of gold. I kept writing. I kept finding things to be thankful for. There were so many glints of gold that in the end all I could see was the goodness sparkling against a dark background.
And somehow it’s the goodness that stays with me.
As I sit and read through my list of all that happened in the year, that verse pops into my head: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, to him be the glory…” I exhale deeply, wipe tears of thankfulness, and look with a smile to 2014.

Over to you:

  • How has your 2013 been?
  • What do you find helps in saying goodbye to a difficult year?


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46 Responses to On bidding goodbye to a difficult year

  1. Ruth Norbury 10th January, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    Thanks Tanya – this is really helpful. The last few months of 2013 were tough for us, but a friend lent me Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, and it was really helpful to be reminded to look for glimpes of grace and to choose to be thankful for them even in the hard times.

    I have also really appreciated your writing (and many of your links) on suffering and what it means to keep trusting God in the hard times – thank you!

    I really hope 2014 is better for you!

    Ruth xx

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Ruth – I have been following your journey over the last few months from afar, and seeing how tough it has been for you. I am SO encouraged that my writing has resonated with you in those times. Praying that those glimpses of grace will get ever-more evident for you and your family.

  2. Jamie Wright Bagley 10th January, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Crying with you. Hot tears of bitterness and relief. Shine on, bright star, even when the clouds pass in front of you. I still see you there, being light.

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      I am always humbled by the way you support and encourage me. This made me a little teary. Thank you, friend.

  3. Claire De Boer 10th January, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Beautiful, Tanya. 2013 was also a difficult year for me and one I wanted to “get the hell out of” pretty fast. But like you I am thankful – for how it made me look at my life and the way I was going about the day-to-day and for how it made me ask the really hard questions. I love that recognition and deep understanding you have that life is hard, painful and full of goodness. I think if we can walk through each year with this knowingness we can life a life far more abundant.

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Thank you so much for stopping by here, Claire. I really appreciate it. I’m hoping that this year is a better one for you, and that some of those hard questions will start to find some sort of resolution. Thinking of you as you embark on new adventures this year.

  4. Amy Young 10th January, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Tanya, I love this. At New Year’s my sister was asking all of us our thoughts on 2013 and when it came to my dad, he just said, “well, this cancer thing has probably been the main theme for me.” And though there are many great parts to 2013, I think in our family it will be remembered as the year I left China to get out of a bad situation for me AND the year Dad’s cancer kicked in and we all had to seriously face (and mourn) his mortality.

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Oh boy.
      Yup, that would kinda overshadow a year.
      Thinking of you, and hoping to connect with you soon, lovely lady.

  5. Diana Trautwein 10th January, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

    Well, thank God for this honesty! And for those tears. Because I truly believe that we need to cry those tears before the gratitude can find room. I’m just about done in by the push to jump to gratitude before we’re actually ready to be there – it takes time, the work of the Spirit, and the release of tears to get there. Thank you so much for this, Tanya. It is really important.

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:17 am #

      “Gratitude needs room and tears and lament are sometimes the very things that make the space needed.” – you wrote this on Facebook in response to my post, and I thought it the most perfect thing ever. Thank you, Diana. I know that you know and live this stuff, and I really value your voice. We need to know the importance and freedom of lament.

  6. Alice 10th January, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Thank you for this and I’m so, so glad the glints of gold showed themselves. That cloud can feel inescapable can’t it?

    Thank you too for being willing to say, ‘that was a horrible year’ – it helps to hear it in the midst of people’s scary, intimidating resolutions and glowing reports of a year of wonder and success!!!


    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:14 am #

      “that cloud can feel inescapable” – yes. Oh, yes.

      Thank you for always cheering me on.

  7. Ali 10th January, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Thank you, Tanya, for always writing so honestly and from the heart. I’ve been avoiding looking back too but reading your post has helped me to want to try!

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Thank you Ali, for hearing me with such grace. I am hoping that your looking back over the year ends up being cathartic for you, rather than just painful. Let me know how it goes…

  8. Sipech 10th January, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    Tanya, you know how my year’s been, though as one of the main antagonists in my story sometimes reads this blog, it may be best not to elaborate.

    But it must be said that you have been the highlight for many of us. Nomatter what happens, your writing is suffused with hope. While there have been tears and crying, I always get the sense that at least somewhere in the background there is a wry smile. And any opportunity to grin or to laugh is seized with both hands.

    I recall someone (was it Pam Webster?) who contradicted you once when you said that you gave up ministry when your ME kicked in, saying that you simply changed track in your ministry.

    Keep on going, Tanya, you wonderful human being. Here’s hoping 2014 will see you up and about more, with a reason to cheer every day.

    P.S. now is not too late to post a review. I disregard reviews written too quickly as they hint at thoughtlessness.

    • Tanya 16th January, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      I really don’t know how to respond to this except to say that this comment felt like such a gift to me.

      Thank you. I really value your opinion, and these words touched me. A whole bunch of thank you.

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