My Honest Holiday Newsletter II

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I have been thinking pretty much all year about writing this newsletter. My first honest holiday newsletter was a helpful way for me to process the year’s events. Many readers appreciated my attempt at a realistic depiction of the joys, struggles, and tedium that a year entails.

Knowing I wanted to write a second letter, I often wondered how I would portray this year at its end. Sometimes, I was tempted to write it early, so as not to have so much to think about at once. But I didn’t, and I’m glad. It’s more interesting to see what stands out when I sit down to write about the entire year at its end.

January: I turned 29. People make a big deal out of turning 29. Apparently you’re supposed to want to stay 29 forever, because after that you’re old. I, however, am quite looking forward to exiting my twenties and graduating from the “twenty-something” label.

My 29th birthday was a rough one. It seemed a particularly difficult birthday to get anyone to celebrate with me, and that hurt a lot. I also didn’t get to do much on my actual birthday, because Tom (then boyfriend, now fiancé) wanted me to attend a reception at his work. It was a big-big-deal reception with high profile guests (like the governor), and Tom had a key role in planning and hosting it. So, I needed to go. I let the birthday calls go to voicemail and if I started to tear up while talking to someone in a suit, I would pretend like I was having a coughing fit while I pulled myself together.

I always get emotional on my birthday, but this was a particularly weepy one for me. There’s a movie theater I like to go to on my birthday because they let you see a free movie if you show proof it’s your birthday. After the reception, as we bundled into our coats for a very-late movie, I remember telling a concerned Tom that yes, even though there were tears streaming down my face, I still wanted to go. (We went to see Unbroken–which, by the way, is an unfortunately tedious and trite movie about an incredible true story).

I did end up having a few different celebrations with a few different friends and family over the next few weeks. They were fun, however piecemeal. I also managed to raise several hundred dollars for One Day’s Wages education fund for impoverished children–my second “Campaign for a Cause” birthday. My goal was $1,000, and I didn’t quite meet that… which was probably at least partly due to the fact I started the campaign late. (In true self-sabotaging fashion, I had put off getting started because I was worried about not being able to meet the goal I had met the year before. Of course, several hundred dollars is still an incredible donation to be able to give, an amount I would never be able to give on my own!).

(For 2016, I’m aiming to raise $3,000 for the One Day’s Wages fund for empowering women experiencing extreme poverty. This time, my cause is to celebrate my 30th birthday and in lieu of a bridal shower. You can donate anytime now through January 23rd by visiting my campaign page.)

February: I bought the Into the Woods soundtrack. I know that seems like a strange event to include, but that movie–and its soundtrack–have been so encouraging to me. It reminds me, like the song says, that I am not alone, people make mistakes, and right and wrong aren’t always clear-cut. I wrote more about it in my post, Unbiblical Devotions.

I wasn’t feeling well on Valentine’s Day, so Tom and I cancelled our dinner plans. Instead, we ate take-out in comfy clothes and watched a movie. I think it was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.

March: In January and February, I had started training for my fourth half-marathon. Unfortunately, we had some very cold days for running, and at some point, I injured my lower back. I had to significantly adapt my training schedule, which was hard, because I had been hoping to improve my time. The good part is that, as a result of the ensuing doctor’s appointments, I was at least able to find some relief for some other ongoing problems (that may or may not have been related to the injury).

April: That half-marathon I mentioned was on Easter weekend… which I didn’t realize when I signed up. Oops. Tom graciously stayed in town to support me, and I completed my fourth–and slowest–half-marathon. I was glad that I still got to run it, despite the hitch in the my training. But it was rather anti-climactic.

At the beginning of April, I published one of my favorite-ever pieces: Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day. It garnered a fair amount of attention, but most meaningful to me were the women who found in it a voice that affirmed their worth and right to make their own choices. I also enjoyed corresponding with a few of the bloggers I referenced in the piece–two of whom shared with me the color of their own wedding dresses (sparkling gold and a lovely brown). Recently, I noticed that Converge posted their top 10 pieces of 2015–and “Why I Won’t Wear White” was #4!

(By the way, fast-forward several months, and just the other day I finalized the color for my wedding dress: a silvery blue.)

April marked the third anniversary of my father’s death. Emotions brought on by traumatic anniversaries are incredibly real, but somehow their depth and strength still surprises me. (See I Can’t Even).

May: The highlight of my May was getting to address the elementary education graduates at my alma mater. I was excited to encourage them. My focus was urging them to teach in a way that maximized their own strengths (instead of trying to imitate someone else). Here’s the text of my speech: You Be You.

June: I wrapped up my first year of teaching first grade (after six years of teaching fourth grade). I had a wonderful first year, and I’m really glad I switched.

In the midst of finishing the school year, I found I was ready to publish a piece I had been working on for several weeks: Dear Donald Miller: Thank You, and Please Stop. It was an important piece to me, but not one I thought many others would be interested in.

OH. MY. GOODNESS. Was I ever wrong. Within a few hours of me posting it, my “letter” exploded. It got shared and retweeted all over the place, generating thousands upon thousands of views. (In fact, it still gets more views in a given week than many of my newer pieces). The next several days were an interesting combination of being encouraged by others who shared my concerns, while frustrated by those (on both sides) who were not interested in productive conversations. The following week, I summarized the reactions, as well as my responses to the most common points: A Week Later: Reflections on My Letter to Donald Miller.

While having that much attention focused on my writing was emotionally jarring (to say the least), I was glad that I had some experience from the past few years of blogging/writing. The whole thing would have been much more unsettling if I’d never had other pieces generate interest before (although numbers-wise, the others hardly compare). I was encouraged that I was able to separate the online hubbub from the rest of my life. I went about my normal-life activities without feeling consumed or thinking about the reactions constantly.

July: Tom and I began to take more definitive steps towards getting engaged–like meeting with my counselor, talking with our parents (our own and each other’s), and discussing custom ring ideas with a gemologist. It was an exciting and daunting process.

I had spots of a weird anxiety during the summer. Much of it was probably related to preparing for a huge life change (marriage), and some of it may have been residual sensitivity from the whole Donald-Miller-letter experience. The weirdest part was that the anxiety often climaxed when Tom and I would attend our weekly “fun league” kickball games. There were things about the games this year that seemed to represent big things that really bother me–like people caring way too much about stupid stuff (like full-grown adults winning a fun league version of a game kids play at recess), people not caring about actually important stuff (like treating others well), and men who are power hungry and full of themselves (the umpires).

August: I started getting ready for my eighth year of teaching–my second year of teaching first grade. That anxiety I mentioned earlier began to focus on the upcoming school year, and I started to feel extremely fearful and incompetent. I remember one time in particular lying on the couch crying to Tom and telling him I wasn’t good at anything. For all his kindness and sensitivity, he couldn’t help but laugh in response to my melodrama. I was a little mad then, but now I think it’s funny, too.

September: The school year blew in like a hurricane. The beginning of my second year of first grade proved to be much more challenging than my first. However, interestingly enough, the anxiety from August didn’t hang around very long. There’s something steadying about one’s actual skills being tested against actual challenges (rather than imagined ones). Although most days were exhausting–and often frustrating–I rarely doubted my own ability or commitment to handling it. That was an incredible gift.

Over the summer, I had set my sights on training for the November local marathon. The long runs picked up in September, which presented challenges scheduling-wise (and energy-wise), but I was determined to fit in the training.

September marked a sad event for my family, as my last living grandparent–my 95-year-old grandmother–passed away. The week or two before her death, she showed signs of fading, so I am grateful I took the chance to drive down to visit her the weekend before she passed away. My grandmother had a challenging life, preceded in death by all of her siblings, her husband, and her son (my dad). While her death came as somewhat of a relief (knowing that she is finally, truly, resting), it was hard to let go of my dad’s mom, the only grandparent I had much of a chance to know.

October: October was my heaviest marathon training month, so much of October was fitting in long training runs. My 20-mile run was especially poignant, a beautiful Pennsylvania fall day on one of my favorite trails.

One particularly special October weekend, Tom and I set aside some time to go somewhere special together to formally commit to one another (i.e. to get engaged). We exchanged our wedding bands (I’ve been wearing mine on my right hand, which I’ll switch to my left on our wedding day) and, the next day, called family members to share the news. A few weeks later, I wrote a letter to my readers to tell them about my engagement and what it does (and doesn’t) mean for me and my writing.

November: In November, I ran my second full marathon. It was a difficult season to train, and hard to cope with being just plain slower than I used to be. But, it was a perfect day weather-wise, and I had a great time. I was especially touched by those who came out to support me. I wrote about the experience in this post: When You Stop Agonizing Over Decisions.

One of my best friends got married in November. Tom and I drove down to Georgia for the ceremony. Even though it was a long drive and the wedding was planned relatively quickly, I have known this dear friend for 16 years, and I am so glad I got to be there for her. (She’s one of the people I had in mind when I wrote this piece: Covenanted, Soul-Mated Relationships (of the Non-Romantic Variety) ).

December: Between that wedding and Thanksgiving, the end of November involved a lot of traveling and a lot of people in a lot of different contexts. By the beginning of December, I was pretty spent. After about a week of realizing just how spent I was, I started clearing my evenings as much as possible, getting to bed early, and being purposeful about my exercising. I had two unusually restful weeks in the middle of December–unusual in themselves, but especially for December!

Those restful weeks were actually also purposefully productive. But after the Christmas rush of busyness and emotions, I have been kind of lazy. Which is why, as I finish writing this and make it public, it is already 2016.

2015 was the year I turned 29, the year I ran my fourth half-marathon and second marathon, the year I got engaged, and the year my grandmother passed away.

2016–at the very least–will be the year I turn 30 and the year I get married. Whatever 2016 holds for you, I hope you are able to meet it with grace and in the knowledge that whatever challenges comes your way, you are not alone.

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