It’s been one year since our lives were turned upside down.

One year since sobs started escaping my body without warning. One year since my body became a ball of tension that hurt to move. One year since the panic attacks and inability to make even the smallest decisions plagued my daily life. One year since I had to re-learn how to communicate with my family, especially my husband, as we tried to find a way forward.

One year since the life I thought we would always have was swept away in an instant.

As I look back on the emotions of the past year, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the realization that I have spent the vast majority of the last twelve months holding onto far too many feelings at one time.

The fear of telling my children that their life was changing, certain that they would blame me for everything that was happening to them. This was especially true as our son asked us “does this mean we will have to move?” and five months later the answer would be yes.

The embarrassment as I questioned my worth as, not just a teacher, but as a human being and child of God.

The pain of feeling betrayed by the silence of people who I thought were friends.

The loneliness of being isolated from what I thought was my community and the painful discovery that I didn’t really belong.

The righteous anger of believing that I had followed my heart and God’s desire and the questions I had about others as I asked God why.

The grief of loss, so much loss, not just for me but for my entire family.

In Greek mythology, the phoenix is an immortal bird that goes through the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. In the Harry Potter series, Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, shocks Harry as he dies in a burst of flames and is reborn as a baby bird. This phoenix also has special powers of healing through its tears, saving Harry and his friends on more than one occasion.

And so the phoenix can be a metaphor for the rollercoaster of life.

By June, my internal phoenix had completely burned to ashes and the baby bird that timidly poked up its little beak was unsure of how to take flight, but it knew that it had to start over.

We made the most impulsive decision of our marriage and decided that it was time to go “home.” While we could still say that Texas had been good to us in six years and given us so much, in the end, we had lost a lot and we needed to be where we felt we really belonged.

We survived the most miserable vacation of our marriage and yet are still planning what we want to do next summer.

We bought a house, sight unseen, which has already become a hub of multiple family gatherings as our kids become reacquainted with cousins and we renew friendships.

I learned to say no to a situation that was harming me and my family and say yes to something better when I made the unprecedented decision to change schools in the middle of a semester.

We returned to Michigan for the first time in five years, first for a football game that caused our kids to fall in love with one of our favorite northern cities, and then at Christmas, when we finally got to see “our” lake again after far too long.

And through it all, I learned that, even when I felt weakest, I am stronger than I thought I was.

The worst year of my life was, in many ways, the start of something that we didn’t know we needed.

Because two things can be true at the same time.

I can still see my children’s grief and ache for them while knowing that, in the long run, the decisions we have made in the last year are what is best for them.

I can still grieve the loss of friendships while remaining forever thankful for the ones who stuck by my side and walked with me along the way.

I can be still be hurting and nursing my wounds while fully recognizing that those wounds brought me to a better place.

I can still be in the midst of spiritual trauma and have a stronger faith in the One who doesn’t forget His promises.

I can still feel called to the vocation of teaching without it defining everything that I am and allowing it to decide how I live my life.

And the lessons keep coming.

I have spent the last year in the wilderness, watching the old me burn to ashes so that I could be reborn into something that is still me, but better.

But the wilderness doesn’t have to be a place of desolation, it can be a place of growth that we often cannot see until we are safely back at home.

And now the phoenix is once again learning to take flight, ready to leave the wilderness for something better than was there before. As scary as that unknown is, I’m ready to see where it will fly next.

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