2018: A Year in Review

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We’ve come to the season where everyone tends to stop for a moment before jumping into a new year full of resolutions and plans. It’s one of my favorite parts of December. Maybe it’s just that I’m an introspective thinker by nature, but I think there is something wonderfully bittersweet about recognizing the transition between seasons.

The beautiful thing about taking an account of the past year is that it lets you reflect on the ways that life has changed and grown you, the little places that God was working, the forgotten prayers that were answered after all. I believe firmly in the power of setting goals and intentions, but I find that we so often get discouraged when we do not stop to consider how far we have come. It’s why I am so much more of a Year in Review person than a New Year’s Resolution one.

As I look back over this year, I am struck by how much has changed. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was on January 1st. I am stronger, bolder, more hopeful than I ever could have imagined. In 2018, I decided I was going to take an active role in my life. I decided that I was going to show up for it, that I was going to set lofty goals and chase after them fully. This year, I consciously chose to step out in faith. And oh boy, were there ever opportunities to step out in faith.

I quit a full-time job without having a different job to step into. It was one of the biggest, scariest, and somehow, easiest decisions I've ever made. I took the summer off to write, rest, and process through the things that were going on in my brain, and I was able to be available for my people more than I would ever have been able to otherwise. Someone asked me recently if I regretted leaving that job, or wished I had done things differently, and I was able to honestly say that I had no regrets about the situation. Did it stretch me to be unemployed for several months? Yes. But I wouldn't change any part of it. In the end, I found a new job with a consistent full-time Monday to Friday schedule, coworkers I really like, and I'm so incredibly thankful.

I went on dates. I put myself out there, and went on some really good ones and some that were… well, um, not so good. I learned what I will and will not tolerate, how to stand up for myself, how to let go.

I wrote a seven-day devotional on joy which I am incredibly proud of. I also launched the Real Talk Tuesday newsletter and have not missed a week in the last six months. It’s become such an important part of my weekly routine that I don’t want to stop, even if it means throwing it together at 11:30pm on Monday night.

I moved twice. This isn’t something I would recommend if you can avoid it, but again after the fact I have no regrets about the decision to move either time. Packing up your life into boxes is a huge amount of tedious work, but there’s something about it that always makes me feel grateful for the people and possessions I have been blessed with. And for any of my friends concerned about the possibility of being conscripted into helping me move my furniture once again, I’ve got a lease that’s going to keep me in one place for a while.

Friendships that have long been part of my life became stronger, more beautiful. I am so grateful for the people who show up in the hard times, who send me little notes in the mail, who leave meals on my doorstep when they know I’ve had a stressful week, who remind me again and again that I am loved. More than ever, I know who my 3am phone call friends are.

I was given the word "depth" for 2018. I say it was given to me because I'd spent years finding the entire concept of a Word of the Year cheesy and ridiculous. But clear as day at the beginning of January, God planted that word in my heart in that funny way he does, and I couldn't shake it off. As it turns out, it was setting the tone for a year of God's bizarre sense of humor catching me off-guard. But depth has defined my year in so many ways, challenged me to grow in community relationships, to ask big questions about my faith and my understanding of the world, to dig deep and do the hard work.

In 2018, I laid it all on the table, held nothing back. I’m so proud of this last year and the ways that I stood up and declared that I would not let life pass me by. Virtually everything about my life looks different than it did this time last year.

In 2018, I laid it all on the table, left nothing behind. I am incredibly proud of this last year and the ways that I stood up and declared that I would not let life pass me by.

Because 2018 was such an interesting year for me, and because Spotify informed me that I listened for over 18,000 minutes this year, I decided also to make a year in review playlist, with one song for each month. Each month's song was one of the most played for that particular month. This playlist is a testament to the fact that I love sad songs at the best of times (though some of the feels were REAL this year). If you want to know what the inside of my brain sounded like this year, click here to listen to the playlist.

 

12 Songs for 2018: A Year in Review Playlist

January – 3 Rounds and a Sound by Blind Pilot

February – Land of the Living by Roo Panes

March – New Wine by Hillsong

April – Wild World by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

May – Always Where I Need to Be by The Kooks

June – I Need Never Get Old by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

July – Iffy by Caamp

August – If I Let Go by Titus Haug

September – Atlas: Four by Sleeping at Last

October – Everywhere I Go by Sleeping at Last

November – Shrike by Hozier

December – Places We Won't Walk by Bruno Major

 

Honorable Mention: Fever to the Form by Nick Mulvey (because I've listened to this song almost every day for the last two years and I'm still not tired of it. It's just that good.)

Changes by Langhorne Slim (because holy moly, this sums up my life too well right now...)

 

So cheers to the end of one year, to the start of another. May the final hours of 2018 and the first ones of 2019 be sweet and full of celebration. May you find joy in the little things, know that you are loved.

 

Joyfully,

Alice

A Back to School Anthem

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It seems surreal that August has been gone for a few weeks now, that summer has effectively ended and somehow we're in the middle of September. It feels like it went by even faster than usual, like it was just April a couple of days ago. Maybe part of it is that nearly half of the summer was shrouded in smoke from the several hundred wildfires plaguing western Canada, and it was almost impossible to spend any time outside. I wasn't ready for fall to come, was hoping that somehow September would be sunny and warm and we would get to experience the last bits of a summer we didn't really have. But we didn't, and now the leaves have curled up and fallen off earlier than usual, frost already cutting through the morning air.

People have gone back to school, signed on to volunteer in new places, have jumped headlong into the thick of it after the slack schedule of summer. It still seems strange for me not to be going back to school, to have a second September where my life continues on as it has for the last year and I'm not flooded with all the realizations that I have to actually buckle down and get to work on those assignments whose deadlines are worryingly soon. If I'm being honest, I miss it. I miss knowing that each semester would bring something new to the table, that as a student you're never really doing the same things long enough to feel like you're stuck in much of a rut. But it wasn't all sunshine, and I remember that clearly too.

This was about the time every year when the shiny newness of the semester would start to wear off for me. The first week of university classes being mostly introduction and reading through the course syllabus before being sent off again, catching up with the people who have been gone for the past several months and enjoying the last remnants of decent weather. Then the second week full of first 'real' lectures and the false sense of security that comes from believing that midterms are still weeks away, that this time you're going to be a better student, get things done well in advance. But then by the third week, it all starts to come back; you realize that the first round of midterm exams actually starts in a matter of days, and instead of being ahead on your readings, you're actually somehow a full month behind despite the fact that school only just started.

It's when it hits you - this whole student thing is actually just a lot of really hard work. It's a lot less fun than it seemed in theory. And it keeps you up at night, term papers staring you in the face and taunting you until it feels like you're losing your mind. I've been there.

It's terribly un-glamorous. And it's enough to reduce the best of us to an emotional wreck from time to time.

Why do we do this to ourselves, again? Something about career development and life skills, but that seems a bit like a far-off mirage across a desert.

When the brightness dulls, and it will dull, buckle down and keep pushing forward. The days are long, but the weeks are short. And before you know it, the semester will be over and you'll be left wondering where all the time went. Four years (or five, or six) go by faster than you'd imagine. Remember that you can do anything for a limited duration. Keep in mind that this isn't forever, that soon enough it will be Christmas.

Remember that you are not defined by the letter written in red pen at the end of your essay. It's an incredibly false measure of a person's intellect, and we put so much more stock into grades than we should. That's not to say you shouldn't try, but rather that a couple of poor grades say nothing about your worth as a human being. Once you've graduated, no one aside from graduate schools will ever care about the details of your GPA.

Remember that there's no one right way to do this. Find what works for you, and go with it. If it means writing out pages and pages of notes by hand, go for it. If it looks like hauling yourself to a coffee shop early in the morning to get some readings done, great. If being successful looks like taking an extra year or two to get through your program, then do that. Or if it means taking a full course load every semester to make it out in the least amount of time possible, that's cool too. Just don't wreck yourself in the process. When you come out the other side (and you will, eventually. I promise.), you need to be a real functioning human.

Remember that it's not all about you. Don't forget to invest in the people you care about, to support the causes that matter, simply because college is consuming the bulk of your brain. Schoolwork is important, but it's temporary and if you graduate with perfect grades and nothing else - no network or support system, that's not much of a success. You've got people around you who have been through the same things you have, people you can rely on in the hard moments and celebrate the victories with.

It's a part of your life you are exchanging for this education, so don't forget to keep living. Real life doesn't just start when you've got the coveted piece of paper in your hand, so buckle up. Dream big. Get over yourself. It'll be over before you know it.

 

Joyfully,

Alice

PS. I’ve added a little button to my sidebar, and I’m feeling a little self-conscious about it. But I recently started a page on Ko-fi where people can support the work I’m doing here at Joyfully, Alice to help offset some of the costs of doing business and keep this little corner of the internet running. The nice thing about Ko-fi is that 100% of funds go directly to creatives, with no fees taken off the top. If you enjoy this blog and/or the Real Talk Tuesday newsletter and feel so inclined, you can buy me a ‘coffee’ by following the link. As always, I’m endlessly thankful for you all - for your encouragement and enthusiasm for my words. Much love.

Winning Friends and Influencing People: On Community

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I’ve been thinking a lot about community these days, about what it takes to be a true friend and supporter to someone else. Because we live in a world where it’s easy to feel connected to a lot of people without ever actually having to know them personally. We scroll through a news feed from time to time, glance through curated photos of a person’s life. That’s the beauty of the internet, being able to build connections, learn from people regardless of how close in proximity our lives would otherwise be.

It’s changed the way we think of pen pals. There are still some of us who write handwritten letters and trudge down the street to drop them in a mailbox to be sent somewhere across the world, but the number is certainly dwindling. More on that another day. But the rise of online connections has created an entirely new category of long distance friendship, the pen pals of the twenty-first century. There are people we know online that we consider true friends, despite the fact that our ‘real’ lives have never actually crossed paths. There are people we’ve never met that we put more effort into communicating with than the people we actually see and spend time with. As someone who’s had snail mail pen pals for the better part of two decades, I get it. That kind of friendship is real and valid and has a lot of value. But I think we sometimes forget we need to put effort into our real-world relationships too.

This culture of loose connections has made it easier than ever to drop out of people’s lives without realizing it. We still see the photos, read the tweets, but don’t actually spend the face-to-face time we would have if we weren’t tethered together by a news feed. It gives the illusion of friendship, but without paying attention it can become a slow fade into no longer attempting to communicate. And it becomes a tragic façade of a relationship.

It’s allowed for the rise of ‘ghosting,’ in which someone stops communicating without warning, falling off the edge of the map never to be seen or heard from again, as though a person had been talking to a ghost the entire time. It still strikes me as odd that it happens as frequently as it does. And every time I hear about it happening, I wonder how we got this way. How have we slid so far as to accept the idea that we can just opt out of relationships and hard conversations we don’t want to have?

The thing about relationships (of any kind) is that while there’s a lot of joy to be found, they’re also a lot of hard work. Investing in someone is never easy, and there’s always a chance of getting hurt. That’s what makes vulnerability terrifying, especially if you’ve been hurt before. And sometimes it feels like it’s easier to push people away as they start to get too close to really knowing us rather than risk exposing something that might scare them off anyway. Because at least it’s a controlled burn, then.

But fading into the background isn’t a viable option if we want to keep people in our lives. We can’t take one another for granted because the reality is that humans are not knitting projects; you can’t just drop them in the corner and expect that they’ll be waiting for you the next time you’ve got some spare time and are looking for something to do. They’ll move on, find new places to spend time, find new people who will stay.

We have to show up, send the text, reach out again and again. Because life happens. Things get hectic, and time gets away from us. But we have a responsibility to be there for our people. And at the end of the day, there is no real excuse for not supporting the ones who matter to us.

We have to prioritize one another. The thing about time is that nobody has any more or less of it. Yes, we each have different demands on our time, but busyness is a trap that convinces us it’s okay to apologize for being absent and tell people we miss them but then make no real effort to spend time with them. Action matters.

If there are people you need to go see, please do that. Send a message; make a plan and show up for it. Sacrificing deep, meaningful relationships in favor of a broad assortment of acquaintances is not a healthy solution. We can’t be everything to everyone, and we desperately need people who will see us for who we are and love us because of (and in spite of) ourselves.

I say this having found people who care deeply about me, who check in regularly to ask not only about the events of my life, but also my emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s beautiful and challenging and sometimes more than a little uncomfortable. But it’s necessary; it’s valuable. And while there are days when I’d rather not be honest about what’s going on in my heart and my brain, I’m always glad afterward. It’s a privilege to be able to pray, laugh, cry, and dream alongside these humans as we wrestle through what it looks like to live well and chase after Christ.

I wrote a Real Talk Tuesday about something similar a few weeks ago, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since:

“I'm part of a small group doing a study on discipleship this summer, and last week the question was posed to us about how our priorities should be shaped by the knowledge that being created in God's image means we are made for relationship. As I thought about it in the days leading up to our meeting, I wrote down the words "community is our calling." Because that's it. We are made by love, for love. Despite our cultural obsession with individuality and independence, we can't fly solo. If we're going to make it out sane or with any measure of fulfillment, we have to look past ourselves.”

Friends, community is a get-to, not a have-to. It’s meant to be a gift, not a chore. Let’s not settle for the surface. Dive in deep with your people and keep showing up for them. It’s one of the most sacred, wonderful things you can do.

 

Joyfully,

Alice