Everyone talks about New Year’s Resolutions as if there is something in life that they control. The end of December is that inevitable time when people begin to plan their next year—what they’ll do differently and hopefully better— as if they know what’s coming next. On December 31 of last year, I sat in a house with a group of my closest friends, laughing together as we counted down the last seconds of 2014. The year had been challenging. My family dealt with the unexpected death of my uncle, and I faced heartbreak as the guy I liked started dating one of my best friends. As the chant of the last seconds before midnight echoed in the room, I prayed and hoped that 2015 would be better than 2014 was. It could only go up from there.
On January 3, 2015 my mom and dad dropped me off at school to begin a new semester. I hugged them and said goodbye and planned the next time I would come home. As my parents walked out my dorm door, Dad told me, “I love you Rach. We’ll see you soon.” Those were the last words I ever heard my dad say. On January 22, 2015 at 6:09pm, I got a call from my mom that Dad had been killed in a transport truck accident. Three weeks into 2015, everything I had expected the year to be— everything I had expected my life to be— had shattered. Where do New Year’s Resolutions fit in when everything comes crashing down?
While the people around me held onto their resolutions to lose more weight or earn more money or go on amazing vacations, my goal for the rest of the year was survival. All my lofty dreams and plans for 2015 disintegrated, and the remnant was more pain than I thought one person or one family could bear. I lived my life one day, one minute, one second at a time. I made it through my dad’s funeral, and the few weeks after that. I tried to go back to school. That lasted until March when I realized that I couldn’t keep going. I didn’t have enough energy to be in school or be a Resident Advisor to the six beautiful girls who were counting on me to be their dorm “mom”. Grief is a dictator.
As the year continued, I was forced to make more adjustments as I tried to navigate life without my dad. I did so many things that the world would classify as failure. So many things that I would have classified as failure a couple years before.
Throughout 2015, I dropped out of courses, dropped out of school, and left my wonderful job early because I was too stressed. I submitted mediocre projects, skipped countless classes, spent most days crying, and stopped enjoying my favourite things. I was diagnosed with depression and had thoughts of suicide.
But today, on the last day of 2015, I consider none of these things failures.
This year was by far the worst year of my life (and I sincerely hope the worst year I ever have), but it was in 2015 that I learned a different definition of strength and a different definition of success.
Yes, I dropped out of school, but by the grace of God, I also completed three courses from home. Yes, I was diagnosed with depression, but I also, with the help of caring people around me, found the strength to seek medical help and counselling. Yes, I had to leave my summer job early, but I also had the most amazing time working for the same organization that my dad worked for. Yes, I have spent eleven agonizing months grieving, but through the process, my eyes have been opened to the hurting people all around me.
This year, through the pain that tore away all normalcy, I grew closer to my family than I’ve ever been. I found the support of counsellors and friends and grief groups because I can’t walk this alone. Most importantly, I learned that when all else crumbles away, God’s peace finds a way to trickle through the cracks.
We live in such a perfectionist culture. We live in the New Year’s Resolution culture that screams, “You need to look better, act better, be better. You need work harder to fool more people into believing that you have your life together.” But what’s the point of all this pretense when we can’t even control the next five seconds of our lives?
On December 22 of this year, a vibrant, 23-year-old friend of my family lost his life just as suddenly as my dad. And my heart breaks over and over again for that family who is going through hell trying to learn how to keep moving forward when their world’s been torn apart. Yet most of the Western world is too caught up in New Year’s Resolution idea of “success” to notice the grueling pain of broken people. I’ve had people tell my mom this year that they are so sorry that she won’t get to spend the rest of her life with her spouse, when they will get to grow old with theirs. It makes me want to scream, “YOU STILL DON’T GET IT, DO YOU?” There is nothing guaranteed in this world. Everything about my life changed in a 10-minute phone call. It is only by the lavish grace of God that I have breath today, and I still spend it all dreaming about a tomorrow that might not even exist?
In high school, I was the girl with huge dreams and my future all laid out. I knew where I was going and what I was doing and where I would be in 10 years. My hard-earned grades would get me there. One day, all this time spent studying and academic stress would pay off. But when my dad died, everything I thought was important was stripped away. What was left was my family and my friends and my Jesus. Relationships. People. THAT’s what matters.
I think that resolutions are cool. There’s something about a new calendar year that prompts us as humans to reflect on the past 365 days as we look forward to the blank slate of tomorrow. But when those resolutions become our identity, we forget what is right in front of us. This year, my goals look a little different. I have no idea what 2016 brings, and if I’m honest, I am completely terrified. But this year, I will walk one day at a time, praising God for the gift of each day and cherishing the people around me. I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust the One who does.
May your 2016 be full of trust in God’s enduring promises even when they feel distant and empathy for everyone you meet. Thank you for all your support this year. I could not have made it this far without the enduring prayers of God’s people.