I just read the 2012 wrap-up post. I read about how it was my best year. About how our past can be an asset or a liability depending on how we use it. About how if we are living the right way, the best year of our life should always be the last one that we lived.

Here I sit in a cozy coffee shop in Salt Lake City at the end of 2013. Thousands of miles away from where I was when I wrote those words last year. Thousands of emotions away from where I was when I wrote those words last year. Thousands of heartbreaks, laughs, tears, and growing pains away from where I was when I wrote those words last year.

2013 was the most difficult year of my life. And because of that, in some ways, 2013 sort of feels like the first year I ever really experienced life. The good and the bad. The beautiful and the sentimental. And the strange.

In 2013 I swam with sea turtles. I fought a large rat named Leotrix. I skyped with a 4-year-old. I walked some teenagers home through the jungle. I was lied to in ways that really mattered. I cried. A lot. I lost 30 pounds. Twice. I got ringworm in China. I wrote a book. I fought to keep something that mattered to me, but lost it anyway. I cried. A lot. I was hypnotized by a waterfall. I ran a marathon across an entire country. I reconnected with a very old and very dear friend in a very meaningful way. I bought a blanket in Mexico. I dance-walked two blocks with Jolyn. I said goodbye to a group of teenagers that I'll miss forever. I held a cat. I watched sunsets from beaches and rooftops. I gave away food and clothes. I cried when I did. I decorated an office. I struggled to understand a very ugly disease as an outsider. I emailed TMZ. A lot. I had dinner with Mexican celebrities and didn't understand Spanish. I threw up into a bowl. I thanked an angel for nursing me back to health, even if that angel did think I was overly dramatic. I bought current juice at the farmers' market. I found out how old I was at a theme park. I got to see my family again. I watched Gone with the Wind on a plane. I cried. A lot. I learned the difference between love and hate. And how sometimes they're sort of the same. I searched for a haunted tomb in the middle of the night. I read six more pages of Crime & Punishment. I felt lost in Korea. I made some really big mistakes. I became indebted to a mentor who opened a very important door for me. I learned how to forgive. I accepted myself.

I really don't know what to say about this year. I don't know what to say about how it affected me. About how it hurt me. About how it helped me.

This was my best year. This was my very very best year.  In 2013 I laughed more sincerely than I've ever laughed. I ached more profoundly than I've ever ached. And I can see now how this year has changed me.

I've changed.

I'm different than I was. I'm different than that child who sat in the quiet Pacific one year ago and reflected on a year of Ironman training, European travels, and moving across an ocean.

I care more about things that matter and stress less about things that don't. I feel empathy that I never before knew. I have patience that I desperately needed and a better perspective on how much more patience I should try to obtain. I'm different.

And I'm proud of that.

You've read Stranger and have kindly watched my journey unfold throughout the year. I'm like you in that way, I guess. I am also just watching my story unfold. Yes, in some ways I'm in control of what happens in it. But in other ways I'm only in control of how I respond to what happens in it.

In recent years, the story that has unfolded has been an interesting one. It's been a story I never really expected to unfold. Sometimes that has been fantastic. But all in all, it has been so much harder than I ever anticipated.

And you know what I learned this year?

The really hard thing about being in the middle of your own story is that you don't really know whether you're in the middle of your own story. Maybe you're at the end of a very important part. Or at the beginning of it. Or somewhere so far from the climax that what you're experiencing now is almost completely irrelevant to what will ultimately happen for you. And sometimes it's really difficult to get a sense of your placement when you're in the thick of it all.

It's hard to know how to hang on when you don't really know what you're supposed to be hanging on to or how much more effort it will take.

But no matter where you are in your own story, even if you can't figure out where that is, you can always get yourself to keep moving. You have to keep moving. You have to keep living, learning, loving, feeling, and doing everything else that you've always done in order to get to and past all of the important parts. And keep in mind along the way that sometimes only later can you look back and see what you did and really understand why what you did was so important.

There is always a silver lining. Always always always. It's just that sometimes that silver lining looks like rusted metal at first glance.

Sometimes these sound like empty words. Because sometimes it's really difficult to live. But anyone who has ever learned anything from experiencing anything hard knows that these words are not empty. They contain some of the fullest lessons we'll ever know.
This was a strange year. A strange year in the middle of a strange life. And thank God for that. Because the strange has brought us together, made us think, made us feel, and taught us a thing or two along the way. And because of that, we won't wince when It Just Gets Stranger in 2014.~