It appears to be New Year’s Eve once again, it’s crept up on me a little bit, probably partly because I’m not feeling too well today. I don’t normally enter into the New Year festivities, but I do enjoy taking a bit of time out to reflect on the year that’s past and think about what is to come. For me it’s a way of closing one chapter of a book before I start another.
As I think about 2013, I find myself feeling ever so tempted to cross it out in my mind as a lost year. To lock it away in a box marked too difficult to think about, to try and dismiss this particular chapter altogether. It would be just too easy. Because in some ways this year has been marked by the ashes that settled on my life when one young man fell off a mountain. A single moment in the thousands of moments this year has brought, but one with the power of an explosion, leaving shockwaves in so many lives. When James died I found all I could see were the ashes, the burnt fragments of memories that would never be, words that would never be spoken, goodbyes that would always be too late. The devastation left behind when someone looses their life so young. Those ashes of grief clouded my vision, and I struggled to see past them. There were times when I couldn’t see God or understand how he would let this happen. Some days I still struggle.
But now looking back, with some distance from that mountain, I can see just how much beauty the year contained. So many precious moments of friendship, that I still treasure now. Times of hope, laughter and joy. New and beautiful memories that somehow grew from the fertile soil of loss. I can see God at work in my life, even if it was not in ways I would have chosen. The hardest thing to grapple with at the time was how life just went on, but in time I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of how life continues. The world is always changing, no two moments will be the same. And whilst there will be nights that are black and painful, the sun must rise eventually. There will be endings but also new beginnings, as I’ve found as I started at CAP. A brand new place, not without it’s difficulties, but also full of opportunities, new friends, a new church family and a chance to make a difference.
I didn’t expect to be able to look at my Norway photos again, once we got back on English soil. I expected it to be too painful, that I would be struck by James’ absence from all of them. But strangely they are incredibly precious to me, and have come to symbolise to me hope and beauty, in the midst of loss and pain. The above was taken on the same mountain where James lost his life, at the time I could barely recognise the beauty for the ashes clouding my view. But now everytime I see it I am struck by how a scene so stunningly beautiful, could be found in a time of such sadness.
I know I am not the same person as I was 12 months ago. I’ve changed in some strange ways that I would not have chosen. I cry more easily, not just at sad moments in films but also in happy moments, or when I find a piece of music especially beautiful (or I discovered at Christmas, when the little children sing the first verse of Away in a Manger on their own…still a little baffled). I worry more for friends and family, and spend more time on what ifs and worst case scenarios. But other changes are more welcome. I know the value of friendship and community more, I try not to take the people in my life for granted. I am stronger than the girl who entered this year, somehow braver and more grounded. The things that would have scared me before June have less power now. I have a different perspective, less superficial, less earthly. My faith was tried and tested, yet it endured and somehow grew and pulled me through.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who will have found themselves looking back at this year and seeing only ashes. Whether they be lost loved ones, or burnt dreams, jobs that were lost or illness that descended on you or your loved one. Maybe it’s too soon to look under the ash and see what remains, too early to see beyond the devastation. But I challenge you that there will have also been moments of beauty in this year. Try not to let them get lost beneath the ash. Our lives will be made up of both beauty and ashes. It would be foolish to pretend it’s all sunshine and flowers, and it would be sad to only hold onto the ashes. Instead why don’t we hold them both, and marvel at how they can exist together. And how God can bring beauty from our ashes.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning” Isaiah 61:1-3
Happy New Year x