The Real, the Raw, the Messy, the Painful. A letter from 2021-me, to myself.
2021 was the most difficult year of my life. Here’s a letter to myself, from 2022-me to my 2021 self.
I wrote this at the end of 2021, and am only posting it now in June of 2022. The time feels right.
I debated a lot about whether or not to post this. I know that the end of the year/beginning of the year is when everyone shares their life reflections and highlights–but I really hate jumping on the bandwagon just because that’s what’s expected of you. So far, I’ve seen lots of shiny highlight reels being shared–which if you’ve had a hard time, can be hard to see and also makes you feel like your reflection doesn’t live up to the end of the year hype.
To be honest, 2021 was the most challenging year I have experienced. Most of it has been a private, hard, painful battle.
So what happened in 2021 that made it so difficult? I lost four family members, including my father, I moved three times, and I lost a job --among other things.
I’ve seen some people mention their challenges briefly in passing but glossed over them so quickly so that they could skip straight to the good stuff, the things everyone wanted to see and hear about. None of this really resonated with me.
For those who are going through a difficult season, my advice is it might not be the best for your mental health to be scrolling through all the shiny highlights on people’s timelines right now. But I also believe it’s important to celebrate the good things as well. I admit it’s a challenging balancing act we are all learning how to do, especially in this highlight world we are all living in.
As I was debating whether or not I wanted to share my “truth” I wasn’t going to write anything because quite honestly, 2021 was THE hardest year of my life, and I’d rather not dwell on it. I just wanted to forget it ever happened, wipe the slate clean, and try to move on in this new year.
Like many of us, I’m sure.
But a couple of things changed my mind and made me realize it was worth sharing my experience. Not for the sake of others’ validations, but to mark for myself, how far I’ve come within a year, in the midst of some very difficult circumstances that would have taken many people out.
So, at the beginning of December, I was thinking to myself how much of a “doozy”-- (to quote the Parent Trap!)--this year has been. I was reflecting on all of the private battles I’ve dealt with and was wondering how I was even still standing to be honest.
I INVESTED 270 HOURS INTO MY PERSONAL GROWTH in 2021
BUT THEN, for whatever reason, I started to think about all the amazing things that *HAD* happened. I made a list where I started to actually quantify and calculate all the time I had spent on the good things. I had never done this before. As I was making my list and calculating all the hours, a couple of surprising themes started to emerge.
First, in the most difficult year of my life, I realized that I actually invested in myself at a whole new level, unlike anything I’d ever done before.
I invested in conferences, trainings, seminars, courses, mentorships, and coaching programs.
I sought healing, breakthrough, and freedom in the form of deliverance, more heart-healing, and started therapy.
I tallied up all the time I invested in myself this year and it was almost 270 hours of investment!
I was shookth. Shookth, I tell you! I was shocked because in a year that seemed to steal all my capacity to show up for myself and for others the way I normally do, I didn’t think I had time to invest in myself or others.
I invested time, energy, and resources in how to serve on a board through the New Philanthropists, how to be an inclusive leader on boards, and how to create sustainable impact and lasting legacy from your board service. I completed copywriting courses to fine tune my skills in conversion copy, did ministry training schools, learned negotiation and sales skills from top leaders, took writing seminars, and much more.
And as of yesterday, Jan 1, 2021, I am now officially a Registered Scrum Master. What a way to start the year!
This past year was wild. Now, if you are friends with my mom or sister on Facebook you might have seen this news in passing –but this is the first time that I am publicly talking about it.
ON LOSS, GRIEF, DISAPPOINTMENT, AND MANY TRANSITIONS
Jan 2021 saw me move from Maryland to Indiana, to be a full-time caregiver for my Dad as he fought a fairly private battle with aggressive stage 4 cancer, which ended up being terminal. I was tossed head into caregiving, into coordinating doctors visits, into finding care with multiple teams of doctors, of coordinating rides across the city, without a car. Of counting his macros and fighting to help him gain pound, by pound every once of precious fat, trying to make sure he had enough calories and nutrients to survive. He was fighting for his life, and I was right there with him.
Deciding to show up for my Dad, to become his caregiver in his last stage of life, has become the most important decision I’ve ever made and I’m so glad I chose to go.
I got to see God restore a fairly broken relationship that had been riddled with a lot of hurt and misunderstanding over the years, into something beautiful, restorative, and sacred. For that, I will be forever grateful. I’m sure I’ll speak more on that journey at some point, but it renewed my hope in God’s ability to bring restoration, even to the most seemingly broken of circumstances.
Within three short weeks of moving to Austin, I transitioned out of a job, and my Dad passed away, all in very rapid succession of each other. There were a lot of traumatic family events surrounding his funeral itself, that many didn’t see or could understand externally, so it wasn’t just a normal loss. I also needed extra time to decompress and heal from that added layer of trauma.
If there’s one thing I learned this year, it was that giving yourself grace and compassion looks like sometimes giving yourself space to grieve and to heal. Removing all expectations of yourself and giving your heart room to breathe, and to heal.
I’ll just tell you that the way you process the death of a parent is radically different than any other death I had experienced before. And I thought I was a death expert! I had lost close friends, a pseudo mom, acquaintances, etc before. But the magnitude of and the ramifications of losing a parent were unlike anything I had experienced previously and I wasn’t fully prepared for going in.
In less than a year’s time, my family lost 4 people. My aunt Hilda, my Dad, my Uncle Sonny, and my Grandpa–all the elder's wisdom and the leadership covering the family. It feels so weird to have an entire older generation just ripped away, it’s like something is missing in your family, and it’s no longer complete.
These deaths were all very back to back, every 3-4 months or so–another death, another funeral, more loss, more grieving.
What was the most difficult part, was having to walk this journey of healing and grief, largely alone. While a select few rallied around me while I was taking care of my Dad (and for that I’m grateful), the after-effects were done silently, by myself. Grief is a very lonely journey and experience, only exaggerated when you don’t have a community to lean on.
All these transitions! I moved 3 times in a year, lost 4 people that were close to me– in the midst of trying to stay safe in a pandemic, all the while trying to elevate professionally, job-hunt, and trying to make new friends and build community in my new home of Austin– with people who had no idea what was happening in my world, while trying to stabilize financially—while trying to process death, grief, and dying all alone. When I say 2021 was A LOT–I mean it.
THE UNEXPECTED SIDE EFFECT OF GRIEF
Anyways, in the midst of the pain of grieving, I was acutely aware of how my own personal emotional capacity which was normally quite large, to show up and be there for others, to give of myself, had drastically reduced to something I didn’t even recognize –it felt like it shrunk to a pea size capacity of what my normal ability to help others usually was. Doing normal things, like hanging out with people, following up after coffee, and checking in on people became exhausting. And something I couldn’t do very well in that season. It’s hard to make friends when you don’t feel like you have much to give.
I deeply needed friends to be there for me– a few checked in intermittently once or twice every 4-5 months, and while I was grateful when that happened, it wasn’t really the same as having an established community and friendships to walk you through some of the darkest moments of your life.
I have so many more thoughts to share about what I’ve learned from this wilderness season, about how you can support a grieving friend, family member, employee, or colleague, what I learned from being a caregiver, and the implications of transition that I think will really help others in similar seasons. I’m looking forward to sharing more on those topics soon.
I GAVE BACK 83 HOURS IN 2021
But for now, I want to share what surprised me about this exercise. I thought had NO (as in “ZERO”) capacity to give to anyone this year. But when I looked back at the data (as Jereshia Hawk taught me :) –that’s not actually what the numbers showed.
I spent 83 hours this year giving of my time, volunteering, serving, and pouring back into others. This was both shocking for me to see and really encouraging for my heart to hear.
This looked like selecting the newest class of Coca-Cola Scholars with other Alumni, leading a Leadership Development Institute seminar for 2021 Coca-Cola Scholars, serving as a mentor to entrepreneurs in TrepCamp, serving a beautiful ministry in India as part of their team, and volunteering and helping people in various capacities. These experiences were so life-giving to me. And quite frankly I was shocked that I was able to give back at all. But I’m so glad that I did!
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED
So I learned, that even when your capacity feels minimized, even when you are forced into taking care of yourself for a season, there’s always something you have to give and to share, even when it feels like you don’t. Or even if it’s at a smaller capacity than what you can usually give –that still counts.
I believe in standing in your truth and your power. I am writing this as a declaration to my future self of the truth –that even in my hardest year, God was there. There were beautiful, profound moments of growth, moments of uncovering the core of my heart, and gaining a new level of clarity in my mission and purpose that did happen in 2021.
The second thing that made me change my mind was that I woke up this morning feeling true hope for the future. Let me explain why this is a miracle.
I have been in a very long wilderness and hidden season, where I have been contending for many promises to come to pass that I have not yet seen. Every year when they didn’t happen, there was this deep disappointment and I would have to really work hard at the beginning of each year to stir my faith up, to hope for good things in the future, to believe they were even still possible, over and over again. But this has become increasingly harder to do as the years drag by, without the change I've been hoping and believing for.
Anyways, a couple of days ago I was in this prophetic heart healing session, where Elise was leading us through an encounter with Jesus where we asked him what he had for us in our future this year. At the end, she told us that if our heart was ready and willing – we could give him 1 thing we wanted to leave behind in 2021.
I saw myself holding a whole box of things –I wasn’t ready to give him the whole box y'all– but I did make the conscious decision to give him my disappointment. I saw myself selecting that out of the box, and handing it over to him, for him to keep safe in his hands.
The most beautiful thing with Jesus, is that whenever you give him something, he never leaves you empty-handed. Never. He never asks for something, without giving you something else in return. There is *ALWAYS* an exchange.
In the moment, I didn’t feel anything change, I didn't feel different. I knew there was an exchange that occurred, but I had no expectation for what I would get in return. I just left happy in my decision itself, knowing I made the choice to actively hand over my disappointment.
But this morning, I woke up with fresh hope! Hope that wasn’t there, that didn't exist AT ALL, a mere few days ago. Now hope may not seem like a miracle, but it is. If you've ever lived without hope, where you have no hope for the future, because it all just feels grey and dull--then you know what a true blessing hope really is. How profound, and powerful it really is.
Hope gives you a vision for the future and allows you to keep running forward.
2022 had felt bleak when I looked at it, even before it got started, I didn’t want to look forward at all, in lieu of everything that had happened in 2021. That’s why I didn’t want to peer too hard into the future, I didn’t want to post my rah-rah message about how "2022 would be my year"– I was trying to keep my expectations low. I didn’t want to post a happy new year message that my heart was desperately longing to believe, but wasn’t really in that space yet at all. There was no belief in the hopeful message. Until now.
WHY I DIDN’T POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA
But what I’ve learned from this year is it’s important to honor my own process.
For me, that’s looked like not blasting these losses all over social media as soon as they happened. I didn’t even know I had permission *not* to do this, until I saw a friend who had also lost her father, not post anything on social media for months. I held off on doing this because while it is undoubtedly the easiest way to let people know the news and update the masses, deep down I knew posting would leave me feeling even more empty.
You post for the gratification of everyone reaching out saying sorry–but then you are still left to pick up the shattered pieces, to go through the process on your own. Several months later, I am finally ready to share some of the process, in the hopes that it will help someone else. I look forward to doing so.
But it also looked like learning to listen to what my heart needed and to intentionally seek out places and spaces that would meet those needs. Something I’m still learning for sure, but has been a good start. I’m grateful for the gold that was found in such a turbulent season.
While 2021 didn’t look anything like I had planned or hoped at the end of 2020, I am proud of the woman and the person I’ve become through it.
I stand here flabbergasted, amazed, shocked and in awe, that good DID in fact HAPPEN last year. That beauty did come, has come, and is coming out of so many ashes and smoke. The fact that I’m still standing, that I’m starting to thrive, that I’m discovering new things that bring my heart joy, is in fact a testimony in itself. That’s nothing but the grace of God. I could not have arrived at this point by myself. And for that, I thank him.
I recently saw Ashely LeMieux (an author who has dealt with miscarriages and loss, who uses her public platform to speak boldly out about the process of grief and how to show up for grieving people)-- say that in this season she has learned the power of the “and”. That you can have *both* joy and grief in the same seasons, and sometimes in the same moment. There’s power in giving yourself permission to experience the both, and. To recognize that life isn’t black and white, but next to the dark, there are always opportunities for light.
If you’ve had a turbulent season in 2021 as well, trust me, I know what that feels like.
My hope for you is that you are able to look back at your year, record all the good things that happened, all the joyful moments, and see what pattern emerges from them. It doesn’t matter how big or how small. I know you will be shocked at the gold that comes even from the deepest darkness and pain. Allow yourself time to honor your own process, breathe, soak it all in, and pick up hope for your future. He won’t disappoint.
I now feel ready to start sharing parts of my journey and what I’ve been learning in this season, but until then, I hope you leave encouraged that fresh hope is available to you. And life can be what you make it. Here’s to 2022.