A few weeks ago, I picked up a book that had been on a list on the Notes app of my phone from probably a year now. The book was titled, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s written by a 35-year old divinity professor from Duke named Kate Bowler, who, shortly after giving birth to her son, was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. The book shares her honest and honestly-refreshing thoughts about life told from the perspective of someone who isn’t sure how much of life they really have left.
The book was excellent, and came at the end of my 24th year – a year marked with several significant deaths in my life. Last spring my grandpa passed away the same week I moved away from Nashville and to my new home in Ohio. A few months later, my brother and his wife would find out the baby they were expecting would likely not survive long outside of the womb due to a condition he had called Trisomy 18. My nephew J was born on February 8 and lived for about six hours before he passed away peacefully in the arms of my brother and his wife.
Today I am on the edge of an admittedly arbitrary ending and beginning: the ending of my 24th year and the beginning of my 25th one. I am not so dramatic as to think that turning 25 means I will die soon, but turning another year old, especially with the kind of year this last one was, I can’t help but think about how my own death is coming, too.
Kate’s book was part of the conversation I’ve been having in my head – one about what I want for the future and one about realizing that what I want may not be what God wants. Kate certainly did not turn 35 and expect to get cancer that same year. I did not turn 24 and expect to mourn the loss of my nephew that same year. While turning 25 is a great grace, it also comes with a little bit more of an awareness that death is not avoidable, even when you’re young and optimistic and full of hopes for the year ahead.
Year 24 showed me time and time again that I am not in control. Sometimes I want to say “Oh thank goodness” and honestly sometimes I want to say, “Oh God, but why?” I’d like to say that I’m glad God is always in charge, but that would be like saying I enjoy experiencing awful things; reader: I do not. I do not believe that God put hardship in year 24 with any kind motivation another then love and a desire to draw me to Him, but that’s the kind of truth that you can’t really say until the day has passed.
Kate Bowler’s book was a fitting way to end year 24 because it reminded me that it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to laugh in the face of grief and cry at happy things, too. It’s okay to be intimidated by birthdays and it’s human to want as many of them as possible, too. I like the way Bowler writes about these ideas, so I’ll just share a passage from the book:
“I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except that I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I see a middle aged woman in the waiting room of the cancer clinic, her arms wrapped around the frail frame of her son. She squeezes him tightly, oblivious to the way he looks down at her sheepishly. He laughs after a minute, a hostage to her impervious love. Joy persists somehow and I soak it in. The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”
Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.
Year 24 ends today. Year 25 begins tomorrow. I do not know what this next year holds, what events and conversations and changes will come between now and the next April 15th that comes around. I know it will will probably be hard. But I know it will probably be beautiful, too. Every year is.
But this year, I have Kate’s words to remind me of what God has always been trying to tell me year after year, birthday after birthday: “God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”