A very honest end of year reflection on a year with some ups and a lot of downs. For my less emotional, much more visual photo essay recap of the year stayed tuned as that will follow on 31st December.

1) You can fall in love with a place

Oh Freetown I love you. Your chaotic, crazy streets filled with people trying to sell me stuff I do not want, your ridiculous driving, your hazy light over the ocean as Nigerian dance beats bring life to the night, your arguing market traders, your bad taste in movies, your good taste in food, your multicultural offerings, your loud Krio rows at midnight, your quiet firelight vigils, your tenacity, your resilience and your strength. I hate cities but I love you. I miss you too. You were my haven, my place of strength and restoration and I long to see you again soon. Get well soon Freetown, Sierra Leone.

I found this video by Good Morning Beautiful Films and it sums up a bit of what I love well.

2) People feel like they will be around forever, until they are not

 ‘A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.’ (George Moore)

Do not think I need to explain this one – except to say make sure those you love know you love them each and every day. You never know when they will be gone.

 3) Family are not always blood relatives (though sometimes they are!)

 ‘You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.’ (Frederick Buechner)

I have always valued my family and friends but this year I have really learnt what it means to carry people in your heart in a new way. I have also learnt who I can turn to when I cannot offer much apart from tears and sadness and myself. I have gained new friends, some who I know will be dear to me for life but mostly I have felt incredibly loved by the ‘old friends’, the wonderful people I have picked up on my journey. Those people know who they are.

Sierra Leone taught me a lot about family too. The concept and culture of family is different there and I always think it is good to be able to take that culture with us and take the good and healthy things from it to add to what we learn in life.

 4) The path we lay out for ourselves is sometimes not the one God has in mind for us

 ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ (The Bible – Jeremiah 29:11)

Sometimes people speak of having a Plan A and a Plan B. My husband and I have covered most the alphabet this year! Curveballs have been thrown at us from nearly every direction. We have left Sierra Leone twice, both times in difficult and painful circumstances, we have grieved the loss of my husband’s father, we have said so many goodbyes this year, we have faced the threat of cancer twice, we have had life-altering sickness in the family, we have had to seek new jobs…. The list really does go on and am not going to write it all here. We have honestly gone through the whole host of dark emotions this year too; anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, grief…. At the end of 2014 I cannot say I look back on it with a smile but I can say I am also grateful for a lot of things.

God gave us time with Steve’s dad that he would not otherwise have had if our plans had gone as we wanted them to, God gave us new friends in the strangest of circumstances and hope and grace out of the darkness, God took us through times of sickness and brought us out the other side, God has kept us safe and protected when all else seems to have been crashing in around us. Sometimes I have felt mad at God this year – but most the time I have just felt grateful. I don’t understand His bigger picture, but I do know He loves us and has sometimes protected us in His wisdom when we have lacked the strength to pull ourselves back up again.

5) It sometimes hurts to love, love anyway.

You had a lot of moments that didn’t last forever. Now you in the corner try’na put it together; how to love’ (Lil Wayne)

 A friend introduced me to the tune ‘How to Love’ by Lil Wayne; I love the song and connect with many of the lyrics. Like the narrator in Wayne’s song I still haven’t figured out how to love. I tend to throw myself in to situations, into relationships with people, into caring for others very wholeheartedly and sometimes without reserve. This then has the potential to be misinterpreted and misconstrued by some people who approach life with more detachment than me. This is as much my problem as theirs as when you so easily give away your heart to places and people it makes things so much more painful when you are let down, and we all get let down. All people are fallible and all people make mistakes. I have felt let down badly at times this year by others and sometimes by myself. I am pretty sure I have caused this feeling in others at times too and for that I am sorry.

Sometimes, especially when things were very dark earlier in the year, I felt like shutting myself away and switching off. To not love. As time has worn on though I have realised that the pain of losing those we love (and grief has taken many forms this year) only comes through loving those we have. I still love too fiercely. I still haven’t figured it out. I still get so emotionally involved with everything. Maybe I always will. The same friend that shared the song with me says I sometimes think too deeply about things, that friend is right! However with that fierce love come positives too – when we care passionately we can really change things in the world, we can make others feel worthy and valued and we can also sometimes find family and friends in the strangest of places. I have come to the conclusion I would rather love too much than not love enough.