This year has been super weird. It seems that not a week went by without a bizarre / extraordinary / unfortunate political, social, pop-cultural event dominating my Twitter feed. I listen to and read lots of news from lots of sources, and the amount of confusing, heartbreaking, and/or WTF? moments conveyed in every medium is, in my humble opinion, enough to categorize 2016 as a total dumpster fire from a 10,000-foot view.
But from a 100-foot view (the one of me and my tiny life), this year has been one of the best I’ve ever lived. It hasn’t unfolded without heartache and difficult circumstances. I’ve wrestled with issues of faith, relationships, and my true deepest-downest-pit-of-my-soul self — and most of that tends to be THE WORST. It’s taken 32 years to get to the point where I can reflect on a year and acknowledge that it was weird and twisty & turny and sometimes stagnant and lonely, but come away thankful that everything happened the way it did. And that feels like a little victory.
In September, I got to visit with one of my dearest friends from Nashville, Beth. She’s one of those people who’s so easy to love. She’s hilarious, compassionate, and real — the kind of person you hope to share an embarrassing moment with because it will make you cry-laugh til it hurts. Beth and I met 11 years ago when we worked at a summer camp together. She walked into our cabin, and I was sitting on the bottom bunk applying super-strength lotion to my nasty besandaled feet. She said hello, and I awkwardly responded, “Hi! I’m Tara! I’d shake your hand, but I have this foot cream everywhere…” She didn’t care and shook my hand anyway because that’s just the kind of person she is. I knew from that very first day that we were kindred spirits.
I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so our visit consisted of lots of catching up. It’s crazy how time can creep along, seeming uneventful and monotonous. But when the weeks and months pass by, those forgotten days can come together to form some of the most meaningful periods of your life without your noticing. We talked and talked and talked that night.
About my new house and the dreams I have for it.
About my life-changing trip to Ukraine.
About my exit from a role in a ministry that was such a huge part of my identity.
About the tug on my heart that’s pulling me toward serving the marginalized in Indy.
About how I still haven’t found a church.
“But I feel like I’m at a point where I have space,” I told her.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that word — space — the most accurate synthesis of my year, has given me such unexpected freedom.
When I first moved back to Indianapolis nearly 4 years ago, I jumped into a unique kind of busyness. My time and soul-energy were poured into various communities that, while so worth the investment, often left me with little time to just be. Add 9-to-5 work, freelance, attempting to be a decent sister / daughter / friend, and the rest of life to that mix, and it’s a pretty predictable recipe for burnout. I recognize that everyone has a different threshold for chaos, and maybe mine is low, but it’s a reality I’ve come to accept.
I’m a homebody, and I’m also becoming increasingly more introverted as I get older. So when I did get glimpses of free time, I spent most of it alone, hibernating, with lots of Netflix involved. But even in those glorious moments of sweatpants + a bowl of cereal + all 7 seasons of Parks & Rec, there was a twinge of guilt present. Guilty that I wasn’t making a human connection, maybe? I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it was there.
Because I had been operating at such a capacity for so long, when I decided to buy a house, my head started swirling with plans. I assumed I’d get busy figuring out my church situation. And that I’d channel my experiences in Ukraine and my growing passion for the disenfranchised into involvement in a new ministry. And I’d meet a bunch of people this way, and we’d all gather at my house to live life together and invest in our community. And, obviously, I’d meet my future husband. Duh. Things were really looking up for me!
Of course, those were my plans, which so often go awry. God steered me down a slightly different path over the past few months by giving me this gift I didn’t know I needed.
Once I moved into my house, many of the expectations I had for myself melted away, at least from my immediate view. My outlook began to shift from Ok, now that I’m at this point, the rest of my life can happen, and I need to get started on it right away! to something more like this:
I’m here. I’ve been faithful. I am allowed to focus on one thing at a time. I don’t need to visit every church in the city to find “the one.” I’m allowed to take my time. I don’t need to jump into another ministry right now. I can be patient and eventually serve where I am called. I already have a beautiful network of family and friends who love me. I don’t have to seek out more, just for the sake of expanding it. I am free to make this house a home. Everything else will still be there when I’m ready for the rest.
And there it was: the space.
Leaning into that space has allowed me to give myself grace in those moments when I get anxious about everything I’m not doing. It’s paved the way for a self-forgiveness that is slowly, but surely, covering a bunch of my built-up guilt and shame. It’s encouraged me to embrace the unknown, learn who I am apart from all the non-essential stuff, and dream about the future.
I still have goals and hopes and, to be honest, probably some unrealistic expectations. I can’t pretend that I had this epiphany and suddenly started floating around, carefree, with zero sense of time. I get lonely. I still have hermit-like tendencies. Embracing the space has been a process — one that has been transformational for my mental and spiritual health and one that has, at times, been uncomfortable. But the words I associate with this period of my life — freedom, grace, forgiveness, acceptance — far outweigh any discomfort that may accompany them.
In the midst of this unbelievably hot mess of a year, I’ve seen redemption and goodness. I’ve seen God’s faithfulness in my own life, and I’ve heard it echoing across the country and around the world. I’ve seen light in the darkness. I promise it’s there.
It’s there in my friend Beth, who not only listens to my life ramblings, but also selflessly gives her time, creativity, and heart to serve refugees in Nashville, particularly mothers. She’s part of a revolution of kindness that has the capacity to change not just the 100-foot view, but also the 10,000-foot view. Beth’s mission is authentic and compelling, so I contribute when I can. She sent a card thanking me for a donation not long after our visit together and wrote inside that she was excited about my newfound space.
That little encouragement is what I’m taking with me into 2017.