As is the norm when one works in higher education, I have this whole week off and I am also slowly, ever so slowly, recovering from coming down with influenza a few days before staff winter break, so I have had lots of time to be quiet and weigh the whole of this year in a feverish stupor. A recent trip to Walmart led to a three-hour recovery nap and a change of clothes because I had sweated through the others just from the exertion. For someone who, as a dear friend once described me, lives balls to the wall 150% of the time, this forced laying about has been most maddening. But it has also opened up space for me to think, to acknowledge the presence of the Lord, and to make some decisions in light of all that has occurred this past year. 2017 was the year of great unmet expectations, the year that pushed me harder professionally than ever before, the year that made people’s intentions known, the year that held its own quietness, but also made me terribly restless, the year that, in a final breath, pushed some old, dead things out and made space for something new. Details below.
Expectation #1: I would be present. I haven’t even finished the book yet that inspired me to try this, but I am happy to say that the art of being present this year turned out to be my best success and my biggest failure. I wanted to show up for my tribe this year and send more letters and take more trips and make more of an effort to be present and available to the people I love. And I did. I sent more letters and took a couple trips and made sure that when a member of my tribe crossed my mind, I reached out and made myself available to them and tried to affirm and encourage them. People get on me for saying “I love you!” too much, but I believe we don’t say it nearly often enough to the people who need to hear it. Assuming our love is implied is assuming far too much. Some people need to be told, sometimes over and over, and tell them I did. Not flippantly, absolutely genuinely, and as often as I could. It was fun, that. I learned a lot about living up the expectations of my own words, and undoing the generational practice in all sides of my family of not expressing love.
I thought that by loving others, acting lovingly towards others, being present with others would somehow be enough to love myself, too. This is where I erred, much to my own demise. I got lost in all that being present with other people, to the point that I was no longer present with myself. Which meant I wasn’t present with the Lord I claim to seek and serve. It also meant that I lost my footing in who I am as a person and who I want to be, who I have to work so hard to be sometimes. I used my prayer journal less this year than any year since I started journaling 22 years ago. I have missed more corporate worship services at my church since August due to exhaustion or illness more times than I think I have missed church in my whole life combined. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I’m walking around feeling like a prisoner in a body I have never known to look this way and I am bone-tired. My dear friend/mentor/sort-of-mom gently reminds me that Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.” I’ve been watching over other people’s hearts and not my own. And little good has come of it.
Expectation #2: I had friends in my office. I started this year feeling as though I had hit a real lucky streak with my coworkers because I was able to call them friends, too. And I thought some of us were pretty close. As I discovered this summer, that was an unmerited, and ultimately unmet, expectation. I found that I cannot expect of other people what they are unable to give, even when it is professionalism and common decency and thoughtfulness. Further, I do not have to meet their expectations, either, particularly when it might force me to ignore my values and beliefs. Coworkers are just that: coworkers. It doesn’t mean that I care for them less. It simply means that they have no right to my life and I have no right to theirs. We still get along and all that and there are a few, I suspect, who think they know more about me than they do. I spend a lot of time with the office door shut these days; largely because of the confidentiality of my job, and thankfully so because there are some unedifying and unfortunate things I want no part of. I’ll find my friends elsewhere, hopefully where souls run a little deeper and no knives get lodged in my back.
Expectation #3: My prayers would be answered. Except they weren’t. Not even a little bit. I’m not talking about the needs prayers – those were absolutely handled and I am grateful. I have been blessed beyond measure. I am talking about the ones I have been breathing out for years in the hopes God hears them. I believe He did and does. I am confused, and more than a little hurt, because I don’t know why He didn’t take visible action. Again. The holidays always make me painfully aware of this one. Particularly when it has been a year where so many I know have seen the chapters of their own love stories and birthing their own babies. I am not jealous. I rejoice with my people when they rejoice. I just wonder when (or IF) I will ever have my own story to tell and how I made it through yet another year without even reading the introduction. I am not a discontent singleton. I am a singleton who knows what she wants, isn’t afraid to wait for it on God’s time, and isn’t in a rush. I am also a woman with a bleeding, too-big heart who wants to share her adventures and cups of coffee with a God-loving fellow. And perhaps a wee babe or two. Also, if you are in your 20s, or if you have been married for awhile but were single before that, please do not tell me that you get it. You don’t. Being single-never-married in your 30s is very different than being single in your 20s. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Expectation #4: I would get my stuff together. Well, I didn’t. My material belongings are still scattered across 800 miles, and I often mourn that I don’t have a space to call my own. My folks and I are currently splitting living expenses and while it has its benefits, monetarily and the fact that I get time with my people, I long for my own front door. But when I say stuff, I don’t just mean the physical stuff I own. I mean myself, my life, my goals. I started a second Master’s program, which was a goal, but I’m just going through the motions and none of it, academically speaking, feels like it means anything. I will be done this year and I cannot wait. I also wanted to return to a fitness routine, but that proved to be nearly impossible and was shut down at every turn for reasons too numerous to list here.
Expectation #5: My tribe would be there for me. This one surprised me most of all. It wasn’t everyone. It is just that the people I thought would make an effort didn’t, and the people who did show up were not the ones I expected. I found out who my friends are this year. Strangely enough, the realization that I was wrong about some people has been a gift in itself.
Expectation #6: I would make a move. Like a physical, pack up my house and move to another part of the country, move. I didn’t. And it is more than okay. I do not know how long the Lord will have me tucked away in East Texas, but here I am. I love living here and it does feel like home, unmet expectations aside. I love the chivalry, the manners, the whispery gentleness of this place. But I am getting antsy again to see new territory. I feel it in my bones. Perhaps this one would be best saved for 2018.
I began this past year with a sense of peace that was quickly wrecked the first week. I am beginning this year with a restless feeling and a fair amount of ready. I don’t know what to expect and that is a beautiful place to be. Better get my boots on, y’all.