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Life and Love

17 Lessons I Learned in 2017

When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2017, I rose my champagne glass filled with sparkling grape juice and told myself it would be a good year. I was optimistic, riding on the tails of a crazy 2016, that this year would bring a steady calm.

In some ways it did; I stayed at the same university, drove the same route home, kept my summer job, and hung out with the same friends.

In other ways it didn’t; I started a new job that’s actually in my career field, moved into my first apartment, and shared experiences that I had never encountered before. I apologized, and forgave, and tried to let go of the small things that didn’t matter. I cried, and laughed, and sang at the top of my lungs.

Through it all, I tried to keep a running list of life lessons; moments I knew would help me in the future while they were happening. This year was filled with seemingly ordinary days that turned into one of the biggest years of growth I’ve ever been through.

I boiled that growth down into seventeen lessons. I hope that my experiences can help someone else find a moment of clarity, realize that trials can lead to triumphs, or simply reminisce on a year that, in my opinion, passed too quickly.

Here goes nothing: My second annual list of lessons! (Here’s last year’s!)

  1. Messes don’t magically clean themselves
    Seems a little too obvious, right? I’m not kidding, though. I didn’t realize how often and how many things have to be cleaned until I moved into my apartment in August. All of a sudden my mom wasn’t cleaning my toilet and shower every other week, and that stuff gets dirty fast! Thankfully, my wonderful mom did teach me how to clean around the house (even though I swore I would never be grateful for chores).

2. New York City makes me feel invincible
At some point during my first trip to NYC, I felt like I could take on the world. I still don’t understand why I felt this way, but a part of my heart stayed in that city when I left. I had never felt more at home than I did walking the busy streets littered with people and taxis. The anonymity of the city created the feeling that I could be anyone, do anything, and go anywhere. I’ve missed it since the moment I boarded the plane to come home.

3. Cross stitching is fun!
My mom used to cross stitch like a maniac, and I always thought it would be fun to learn. I finally decided to give it a shot making Samuel’s Christmas present, and I fell in love with it. You know how people are convinced those adult coloring books are the ultimate stress relievers? That’s cross stitching for me. There’s something so relaxing about meticulously following a pattern to create something from smaller pieces. It’s fine, I’ll admit that I’m actually 80 years old and should probably have five cats by now. It’s just who I am.

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4. Home is a feeling, not a place
I’ve said this for so long, but this year I finally understood what it means. Home is overwhelming feelings of peace and love, the touch of a hand on mine, belly laughs with my best friends, moments of quiet on a long road trip. You can be hit by the feeling of home no matter where you are or who you’re with, and that’s such a beautiful thing.

5. “Pray like it’s up to God, then act like it’s up to you”
I’ve become so passionate about this topic because I’ve used “God has a plan” as a comfortable excuse to avoid taking action so many times. Prayer is powerful; it’s powerful beyond our control, but if we are praying for a circumstance we can take action with, we can’t just sit still and wait for God to place the answer in our laps. When we pray for something, we have to do what we can to prepare for the outcome. I like what this side note in my friend Elizabeth’s Bible says: knocking on the door can’t be beneficial if we run away right after we knock. Don’t ding-dong ditch God, y’all.

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6. My core people are crucial
This probably makes it seem like I work out all the time, but that’s not actually where I’m headed. My core people are the ones that have been in my life for so long, or are so close to me, that I can tell them absolutely anything without fear of judgement. My family, Maddie, Brooke, and Samuel top this list for me. They’re the people I can break down crying in front of when I’m stressed, or call in the middle of the day when I’m bored walking to class. When I haven’t seen Maddie in months, I still know I can call her in the middle of a pity party and have a friend. These people know everything about me, they’ve seen me at my best and my worst, and they’ve stayed. I can’t thank them enough for picking me up when I needed help.

7. Hammocking is relaxing as heck
Samuel first took me hammocking on an unusually warm day in January, and I have since bought my own hammock and head to the park whenever it’s warm and I need to relax. Oddly, I’m comforted by being in a confined space, and mixing that in with the sounds of nature is amazing. I love packing up my mom-friend tote bag with snacks, books, and blankets and trekking it to the park for an entire afternoon.

8. Plans don’t always work out how I expect they will
Um, hello? Haven’t I been told this my whole life? Yes. Something in my mind still has me convinced that my original plan will come to fruition exactly as I expect, though. I know that it’s a dangerous part of my personality that I need to work on. Nothing, honestly nothing, has ever ended up just like I expected because I can’t control the actions of other people, I can’t plan for bumps in the road (i.e.: Let’s panic this semester and think about changing the major you’ve been attached to for years), and I can’t change God’s plan. Some things just aren’t meant to be, and man, that’s hard for me to catch on to sometimes. I’m determined to be better at this in 2018. I truly want to stop fretting about the outcome of my future because I’ll start to overlook the moments that make up the present. That would upset me more than any failed plan ever could.

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This is me telling myself I’m crazy for wanting to change my major.

9. People can’t meet your expectations if you don’t communicate them
Going off of the previous lesson, I get #d #i #s #a #p #p #o #i #n #t #e #d when someone doesn’t do or say what I expect them to. I had an epiphany at church one day this year, though, because I learned that unmet expectations are actually the sole factor that create disappointment. That’s so true, right? Kid failed a test? Disappointment. Boyfriend didn’t come riding in shirtless on a white horse with 7 billion roses? Huge disappointment! (Please catch that sarcasm). However, there was something I caught myself doing this year so much that I had never noticed before (truly because I didn’t know): I was getting upset with people about not meeting an expectation I had for them, but I never told them that I expected it. Um, what? Why was I doing this? Why do I still catch myself doing this sometimes? I have scolded myself for this countless times, and I should, because how would anyone know if I don’t say it? This is why communication is important, people. (AND THIS IS WHY COMMUNICATIONS IS NOT A BOGUS MAJOR I PROMISE IT’S BENEFICIAL TO KNOW HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE). (I’m sorry I yelled). (This is a rant for a different day).

10. It’s okay to be alone
I’m going to be brutally honest, I hate being alone. I have a really hard time convincing myself that I can go to the store, hang out at my apartment, or go to an event with just me. What if something catastrophic happens and I don’t have someone there with me? This is the kind of thought that runs through my head on a daily basis. I avoid being alone as much as I can. However, I was forced to be alone one day this year at a book tour stop to see John Green. My mom drove up to St. Louis with me, but only I had a ticket to the event. She dropped me off like a school child and I was suddenly alone. I was in an unfamiliar place with people I had no chance of knowing, and I was terrified. I made it through the line and eventually had to face the moment I was dreading the most: finding a seat. The Holy Spirit worked wonders when I entered that arena, because I went straight up to a stranger with one empty seat next to her and bravely asked if it was taken. It wasn’t (score!), and I actually got to talking with my seat buddy. Her name was Christina, and she told me she was there alone as well. The moment I really looked up and said “Thanks, God,” was when she told me John had written a note to the singletons in the program. The Holy Spirit scoreboard was officially at four within 60 seconds. John’s note instilled an overwhelming sense of peace in my heart, and I left the event feeling a little bit better about being alone every once in a while.

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11. It’s okay to be thankful for things that broke you in the past
Something I’ve noticed is that people tend to demonize their pasts. I’ve done this countless times, because there are moments in my life I would never want to experience again, and I would never wish upon anybody. Those moments put me where I am today, though. Those moments broke me down to build me back stronger. I’ve spent so much time regretting past mistakes, holding grudges against people who hurt me, and totally missing the bigger picture. I would not be the person I am right now without those experiences, so I’ve decided to be thankful for them. They gave me the chance to grow.

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“Without your past, you could never have arrived–so wondrously and brutally, by design or some violent, exquisite happenstance…here.”

12. Missing someone can strengthen a relationship 
This was a long sought understanding that I desperately needed. Sometimes distance and longing make a friendship reach a new level of closeness. Maddie and I didn’t handle our distance well last school year, and for months I felt like part of me was missing because I wasn’t with her every day. Our entire friendship was created around being with each other daily, and I truly didn’t know how to continue that relationship from a distance when we went to college. The best thing about this year is that we’ve found our balance. We don’t have to see each other every single day to know that we are still just as good of friends as we always have been. I’ll text her when something reminds me of her, and she does the same for me. We’ve figured out how to merge our lives, and she’s still my number one confidant. She’s my “I’m having a breakdown and my mom has already had to deal with it for too long so help me I’m at rock bottom” friend, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. And when we finally get back together for a night, it’s like we were never apart in the first place. She’s a forever friend, and figuring out our long-distance balance was 100% worth it. Love ya Mads.

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13. You can learn a lot from Jess Day
Not like anyone is surprised, but I started to learn life lessons from a TV character again (Remember Leslie? ;). I started New Girl in November, and from the first episode I knew Jess was going to be amazing. She is a fiercely loyal friend, and she tends to stop everyone else in the loft from doing something stupid. I aspire to be as quirky, and bubbly, and dedicated as she is, and I have mad respect for her ability to live with three boys. Her rogue awkwardness makes me feel normal, too, so that’s always a bonus. Keep doing you, Jess, and for the sake of my sanity please get back together with Nick (don’t spoil me I just started season 6)!!

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14. God forgives everyone, even when you don’t deserve it
I have this terrible habit of thinking I’m too awful to be forgiven by anyone, and it has taken a toll on my heart a few times. It has taken too many “I’m sorry”s for me to see that God, and even people, are fully capable of showing me grace in forgiveness. I’m so unbelievably grateful for that because I am not perfect. I make mistakes and say stupid things. Sometimes I think, “I shouldn’t even apologize because they’re not going to forgive me.” I sometimes even think that in prayer, and then I realize I’m underestimating grace! I’m underestimating the most beautiful, selfless gift humankind ever received, and then I usually cry because I feel so secure in the fact that God forgives me at first apology, and every apology after. It’s the most peaceful and comforting lesson I have learned this year. (Listen to this if you really want this lesson to soak in).

15. Each stage of life is special, but they don’t last forever
Just when I get comfortable in a certain stage of my life, it usually decides to mix things up. This realization hit me hard at two points this year. The first time was when I moved out of my dorm room in May. I had become so attached to that lifestyle, always being around friends and campus activities, and in one day it was all taken from me. I was so, so sad to be leaving for the summer, even though I had so much to look forward to. I just couldn’t imagine any of it being better than what I was leaving. It hit me again right after Christmas, because I knew this would be the last Christmas that my brother would be by my side on Christmas morning. He’s getting married next year, and while I’m so happy that he gets to create new memories and traditions in his marriage, a part of me was heartbroken when we finished opening presents. The worst part about a stage of life ending is that you can try to prepare for it, but it will always hurt when you truly loved it. I miss the dorm, and I know I’ll miss Justin next Christmas morning, but I know that it will get easier. Eventually I’ll look back on Christmas mornings like I look at dorm life, with fond memories and the realization that life can still go on beautifully in a new stage.

16. Community is important
I felt lost during the start of my freshman year of college, and this year I realized it was partly because I wasn’t involved in much. I was used to having a place to go in high school, but finding new communities in college was intimidating. When I decided to put myself out there a little bit, I actually ended up with a job that has placed me in a nice place professionally. I’m meeting people and learning skills that I need for the future, and I’m so glad I decided to step out of my comfort zone one day last spring because it has opened so many doors since. I’ve also stayed connected to the student ministry through my church, and it has continued to be such a huge blessing in my life. My small group (shout out to y’all!) has specifically impacted me in so many ways, and I truly don’t think I would have made it out of second semester with a smile on my face without them. I owe so many lessons and laughs to that group, and their encouragement is something I take comfort in daily. Feeling connected to something bigger than yourself is important. It makes you realize you’re never truly alone.

17. Simple moments mean more than grand gestures
When I think back to the moments I felt the most love this year, it wasn’t during the parties, the dances, or the adventures. It was during the quiet moments that never intended to be flashy. I felt it when Samuel reminded me, “There’s this thing called grace,” on one of those nights I was feeling unforgivable. I felt it when my mom turned off our alarm and let me sleep in on our Saturday in New York because I was absolutely exhausted. I felt it when one of my NCA buddy teams told me thank you for not only caring about cheers and stunts, but for caring about the relationship of their team. I felt it when Ashlie and I stayed up until 3am sharing stories from our pasts that have made us who we are today. I felt it every moment someone hugged me, encouraged me, or gave me a shoulder to cry on. I felt it in the sharing of french fries, the “can I borrow this book?”s, the quiet beach sunrises, and the squeezing of hands during a prayer. I felt it in the ordinary moments that I so often overlook, but when I look back on a whole year, somehow remember the strongest.

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2017, you’ve been a beautiful, life-changing mess, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

By laurenstockam

Lauren is graduate student at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.

One reply on “17 Lessons I Learned in 2017”

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