Let me tell you about graduation.

I sit on my mentor’s couch, curled up with my legs tucked under a mountain of pillows, turning my pen around in my hands to have something to do, finally daring to meet her eyes as she sits across from me in the high-backed, floral chair.  The words come pouring out of me before I can stop them, a combination of frustration and exhaustion that I haven’t known what to do with for weeks, words I didn’t even know badly needed a home outside my own head until they had one. She nods slowly and tilts her head, interrupts me with a question here and there, driving me to explain what I mean by this or that, gently but firmly reminding me to take ownership over my own emotions and interpretations.  I feel scared, but I also feel seen; broken, but believed.  She has one piece of wisdom in response.

“The only thing we can know for sure is that nothing make sense.”

She couldn’t be more right.

It doesn’t make sense that I got to spend four years at Vanderbilt University.  Me, five foot four and on the small side, with a laugh too loud and two left feet – from a high school in small town Indiana, a reader who became a writer, who loved flying but let fear control the cockpit.  It doesn’t make sense that I got to go here, got to walk this campus day after day, got to learn and live and love with these people in this place.  Sure, I worked hard, but so do a lot of people.  Why me, why here; how did I get this lucky?  Nothing makes sense.

Another mentor, one of my closest friends, sits across the table from me at Starbucks.  She has seen me through all four years at Vanderbilt, since I walked into NavsNight without a clue what I was doing and she became my Bible study leader, to this year, with a teaching job of her own and a sweet little house where, as always, we curled up and talked truth, Bibles open on her bed.  We pull out our notebooks and she asks me to think all the way back to that first fall, and together we trace a timeline of the work God’s done, the people He’s pulled in and out of my path, the paths I never expected to set foot on that got me to where I am today.  When we wind down, we have a page full of words declaring faithfulness, fullness and fruit that I never could have seen coming.

It doesn’t make sense that so much could happen in four years, so many people and places, so many twists and turns.  Every class I loved and hated, every stranger I sat next to who became a friend writing papers on my floor, my internship and study abroad and student teaching, my sorority and study and discipleship and devos.  Why me, why them; how did I get this lucky?  Nothing makes sense.

Scripture tells us that He has a plan; sometimes that feels like cavalier Christianity at this point, thrown about in every hymn and construed in every crafty canvas.  It’s not that it’s not true, it’s just something I think at times we know too well.  It’s one thing to believe there’s a plan, but what in the world do you do when the plan makes no sense?

With both of my mentors, we talk through the logic and the lack thereof.   We pore over Hebrews at Starbucks, remind ourselves that the purpose to this plan is never perfection, never success, never what we may believe it to be – the purpose is to be ever making us more like Christ.  We pick apart the knots of our misunderstanding, plumped up on pillows – I am reminded that while we may never understand the what; our time is better spent walking with the Who, because His character is something we can trust the what to the better we get to know Him.

“It’s scary,” I say at one point.  “I’m not used to it yet, and it feels almost like I’m doing it wrong.  But I think things can not make sense, and I can be okay with that.”

My mentor is the right balance of sassy and serious, and she shoots me a aha! look and laughs.  “It’s almost like you’re growing! What?!”

She couldn’t be more right.

Growth doesn’t make sense, doesn’t always feel good.  It doesn’t always fit our definition of what we should have, but it is always what we need.  And the more I get to know God for God – not for what He expects or asks of me, but for who and how He is – the more I understand about how He’s making me.  And the more I get to know God for God, the more I know that the purpose of His plans is to pull us into love, to lavish love on us to the point where circumstances and challenges cannot change the way we turn that love over onto others.

Graduation is about growth.  Everyone wants to know how where you’ve been got you to where you’re going now.

How do I tell this story?

It’s a Sunday night in April and I’m positive something dear to me is coming to an end, I’m exhausted by the prospect of Monday morning, I’m overwhelmed by the idea of approaching any or all of it, I toss and turn and try and fail to breathe deeply until it’s 12am and I crawl out of bed, dial my mother’s number, and cry until I can’t catch my breath.  It’s dark and the world feels far away as she promises that I only have to make it through the next day, my roommate finds me on the floor in a panic and holds my hand while my mom prays over me in the dark from four states away.  I feel broken, but I also feel beloved; shaken, but seen.  I realize that this is not what I envisioned, that the perfect plan I had falling into place for myself is precisely what’s pulling me back from being the person God’s created me to be.  I do make it through the next day, I do my best and I do it well.  I go to an interview on my lunch break and successfully speak Spanish with a department chair and the principal and despite running on an odd combination of fear, faith and four hours of sleep, I’m offered a teaching position.  I get the job, and there’s no reason not to take it.

It’s two weeks later and as soon as my plane touches back down in Nashville from a visit home, the air begins to change.  My patience with my own plan is wearing thin and that’s a good thing, because God’s about to call me to step into faith in about eighteen different ways. Tuesday the sky looks like my spirit and I’m late to class and nothing is going my way.  It’s all sad songs on the radio, but I drive half an hour through the pouring rain to my favorite Starbucks in Nashville and I write until I have no more words and far more freedom.  The rest of the week is hard but my people show up in more ways than I could have asked for or imagined.  (I love them, I don’t know what I did to deserve them, it doesn’t make sense.)  They fill my time with unicorn frappuccinos, surprise picnics at the park, watching the sun go down hand in hand, late night laughter and sparkly pink greeting cards.  Then that Friday, in the middle of the school day, I get a phone call.

It’s my mom.  There’s a box on the porch.  It’s from a fellowship office, for an award I applied for with zero hope I’d ever win.  But I have, I’ve been offered an opportunity to study the Constitution for a summer at Georgetown plus the finances for two years of graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in history.  My dream for so long before other dreams crept over it and hid it under not-right-nows.

We keep it a secret from my extended family, that I’ll be spending two years at the family alma mater, and we surprise them with the news in person that Friday night, after I’ve walked the stage and shaken the Chancellor’s hand.  It’s one of my favorite memories because I still can’t believe this is real, that I’m going to graduate school to do what I love, to live in a place that has my heart, as a Fellow for a program I dreamed wildly of being in and never imagined I would actually achieve.  It doesn’t make any sense.

But then again, neither does love.

And the biggest way I have grown in these four years is in learning to see everything that doesn’t make sense through the lens of love.  Because I know there is One who makes sense of it all when I cannot.  And when it comes to His character, there will always be more to know, but it will always start with knowing love.

“But love doesn’t make sense! You can’t logic your way in or out of it. Love is totally nonsensical. But we have to keep doing it, or else we’re lost, and humanity should just pack it in. Because love is the best thing we do. And that doesn’t have to make sense… to make sense.” – Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother

Cost & the cross – let me tell you.

I no longer believe that love, like candy in a parade, is wasted if it falls through the cracks.  Service doesn’t require a willing recipient.

Love doesn’t either, not really.

But it does require great power.

And we have been given it.

“Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8)

I am reading Erin Loechner’s book, “Chasing Slow,” and it is unraveling me.

(Though let’s be honest, I was never particularly raveled to begin with.)

There is a quote I love from a Tana French novel – “Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.”  This was my mantra for a long time; recognizing that I couldn’t do much about my circumstances, but what I could control, I did. There’s nothing wrong with control, inherently.  Until it becomes your identity, your security, your pride.  As it was mine.

I’ve always believed there is a price to be paid when you say yes, when you choose vulnerability over security, when you ask for forgiveness and when you offer it, when you enter into disagreement.  I was proud of myself for willingly paying the price, especially as the price is often pain; before I realized that’s not willingness at all, but a resentful, bitter kind of love.  An oxymoron.

What it’s taken me time to learn in life is that there is also a cost to every flip side of the coin: to saying no, to ignoring conflict for the sake of security, to walking away from something hard to something safer.  Sometimes that’s what risk or right looks like.  There’s pain there, too.

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I keep flipping the coin like I’ll be able to make sense of which side is heads and which is tails and what in the world does that mean for me, anyway?

And also, which is more important: the cost, or whether you can pay it?

If you can’t answer the second without the answer to the first, here are two things I know for sure – together they answer both.  They are the only answer I have.

We are free to give love without fear.

Because God covers the cost.

It’s not that the price no longer exists.  Life will still wreck your head and break your heart.  Not on purpose; that’s just the way life is.  We live in a broken world, and sometimes we are broken, too.  The decisions we make and the things that happen around us will ask something of us.

But heads or tails, if you are walking with God, steeped in grace and seeking truth, God covers the cost.  We were never meant to bear the weight of every circumstance, every choice alone.  He has forever promised to enter in and carry what we cannot, and that is why Christ bore the cross.

And because Love has already borne the cross, I can walk into and out of any situation knowing that I love out of a place of power.  It’s still a risk, and it still might have a price, and yes, there’s a decent chance that the price is painful.  But it’s not a pain or price that’s permanent.

A mentor once showed me a diagram with two cylinders.  The cylinders are you.  They are also me; they are each of us.  There are two of them: there is the lie; and then there is reality.  Let me tell you.

The lie is that your cylinder has a hole in the bottom.  It can’t fill fast enough to stay full, because life is always dripping out, wasting away.  And if you could just be full – if you could just meet the difference between the top of your cylinder and the contents of your heart as life leaks out – you would be happy.  You would be free.

The reality – and oh, how you have to hear this – the reality is the opposite of the lie.  The antonym to “lie” is “truth,” and this is steeped in truth – but more importantly, it is what is actually real around you, if you would choose to see it and believe it.  The reality is that your cylinder is whole.  And what is pouring into you, filling you to overflowing, is the love and grace of God.  You lack nothing.  There is no distance between your fulfillment and the top of your cylinder; in fact, your cylinder is filled so full that it begins to spill over the sides.  This is when you begin to learn to love the world around you out of the same love that fills you every day.

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The story of the cylinders is challenging.  It asks us to step out of the lie, to choose to believe in what we cannot always see until we begin to see it.  I do not always feel full.  I do not always feel whole.  But when I call the lie for what it is, I begin to recognize reality.  And I learn what it is to feel full of a grace and love that’s beyond me because I am empty of myself; to feel whole because the pieces have been mended by the gentle hand of God.  He sits with us in our pain, He bandages our brokenness and weeps over old wounds on our hearts.  Then he calls us to step out of our lies and into His glory, because the ultimate price has already been paid.  And because I am ever learning this, I am learning I can care deeply without fear of the cost, and everything I get is so much better, richer, deeper than anything I might lose.

This is reality.  You are already full to overflowing.  You are whole.  The price has been paid, the cost covered.  You are free from fear. You are free to love.

By the way. Do you know who is having the most fun at the parades?  Do you know who is granted the biggest smile?

It is she who is throwing the candy, of course.

Erin Loechner, “Chasing Slow”

Get out of the boat – let me tell you.

John 21 is about another time that Peter jumped into the water, this time not in the middle of a storm, but in the middle of an unknown, which is almost scarier sometimes.  I do really well with planning ahead.  It freaks me out on a semiregular basis right now that my planner is a clean slate past June.  The latest date that’s set in stone in my life is my 22nd birthday.  After that, who knows? And that’s a little scary.

When Peter jumps into the lake, all he knows is that it’s Jesus on the shore.  Not how Jesus got there or why.  Peter doesn’t stop to ask questions – he just jumps in and starts swimming.  This is the same guy who started to sink in the middle of the storm, with Jesus strolling right towards him on the waves.  You can almost HEAR John rolling his eyes as he writes “For they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.” That Peter!

There are a lot of thoughts I have about this passage and the ways in which Jesus meets the disciples, and us, right where we’re all at.  But I keep coming back to Peter.  I like that the first time Peter encounters Jesus, Jesus renames him from Simon to “Rock.”  Actually, before he even renames him, Jesus first names him.  “You are Simon, son of John.”  He identifies the name he’s known by, and who his family is: two of the primary things that defined an individual in Jewish society, and in our world today.  Jesus always tells us who we are first.  Sometimes that’s hard to hear, because the names the world call us come with expectations and labels and responsibilities to live up to.  Sometimes the names the world identify us by bring out the sin and stresses, the fears and failures that sting and smart in old wounds.  In this case, it was just Peter’s name and his dad, but we don’t know what that brought to mind for him.  Jesus wants us to know who we are and where we started before He tells us who and how He’s making us to be, which is why he proceeds to name Simon, “Rock” with little explanation as to why.

I like the care with which John traces Peter’s transformation from Simon to Rock throughout his gospel.  It’s never the focus, but it’s consistent, a little side narrative.  It’s even the note John’s gospel ends on in chapter 21.  I appreciate that because I think John knew a lot of us would see ourselves in Peter.  When I was little, if my family could have renamed me, I’m pretty confident it would have been “bossy.”  Somehow as I grew up that lent itself to skills like teaching and babysitting and having sixteen cousins, and I slowly but surely learned to temper that spirit when it came to what came out of my mouth.  I grew to see these traits as “independent,” but if I were to identify those same traits for you today, I would call myself stubborn.

I’m a huge fan of discussion and disagreement and debate when it comes to the issues of life we differ on, so long as it’s positive.  And you can probably sway my opinion of anyone or anything with enough time and a solid argument.  But my interpretation of truth and my expectations for myself are two things you will not touch.

One of these is positive.  I took a survey last semester that told me one of my top spiritual gifts was wisdom.  I don’t really understand spiritual gifts yet so in the humblest of ways – because what I do understand is that it’s much more a gift to me from God and not something I intend on showering on the world without solicitation – I think that’s true.  I think that God makes certain pieces of truth very clear to me at particular times and other times He brings me back to the Word and the counsel of others.  But either way, I am very stubborn in keeping my interpretations of truth and my conversations with the Lord my own, because I believe that is absolutely what defines the relationship between Him and me as a relationship – something living and active – instead of a code or a creed that I follow.  Because life in Christ is a bit of both, but one is more important than the other.  The relationship is the context in which the rest unfolds.

Every now and then, or maybe every other day, I forget that while my interpretations of truth are my own and God’s, they are only His to orderI love control, friends.  Like a lot.  We’ve already discussed this with the planner issue.  The point is, I become very stubborn in my own head when I encounter some truths, or maybe most of them, that it is my responsibility to live up to them.  Wisdom falls somewhere to the wayside in these moments, I’m afraid, and I take it upon myself to paint truth across my skies.  The nice way to say this is that I am solutions-oriented; the honest way to say this is that I’m stubborn.

Let’s take teaching for example.  Some things about student teaching are just true.  There’s an established order for the classrooms I find myself in and there are certain requirements and expectations I’m obligated to meet.  There’s nothing wrong with these statements.  It’s when I start taking them as an ultimatum that I create a twisted truth and live by it.  And then I do the same thing in my relationships, and in my faith.  What’s more, these ultimatums start to cost something that’s worth more than the expectation, and I willingly sacrifice it.  I give up being genuine for the sake of appearing strong.  I give up who I am for a version of what’s expected of me.  Eventually, I give up what I need for the sake of what I should be.  A part of me knows that there is more to that truth than what I’m letting myself believe, but figuring it out feels hard and finishing the job feels easier.

The only way to not do this is to stop trying to paint my own skies with truth and start looking for the truth He’s already painted.  The only way to not do this is to weigh truth in my heart and not my head.  The only way to not do this is to speak the word “grace” over myself until I start to see it all around me.  Because when I feel like a failure from all the weighty expectations and obligations I’ve willingly tied myself to, it comes from this: I want so badly to believe truth that I being to work for it.

In this way I see a lot of myself in Peter, or maybe a lot of Peter in me.  He doesn’t crop up again by name in the book of John until 6:68, when he is the first disciple to call Jesus who He is.  The Holy One of God with the words of eternal life.  That’s truth.  That’s reaching out and claiming it, calling it true and speaking it out loud before God and others.

But goodness, is God funny!  We keep reading along and lo and behold, at the last supper, what does Peter do?  He pitches a fit when Jesus goes to wash his feet.  Yep, he’s up on this Holy One of God thing alright – that must be why he thinks he knows better than Jesus what’s good for him.  (Is the sarcasm coming through here?  *taps mic* Is this thing on?)  I can hear him now because I’ve thought it myself before.  He watches Jesus wash the feet of a few of the disciples, and thinks “No way. I can do this one on my own.  Jesus is going to be so proud of how dedicated I am to Him, that I won’t even let Him near this mess of mine.”  It’s literally contradictory as I write it, and still I have said it before.

To his surprise as well as mine, Jesus tells him, straightforward but not unkind: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Translation: unless you are steeped in grace, the work you work so hard to do is not mine for you, because I am not in it with you.  The more you try to take care of your mess on your own, the more messy you will feel, apart from me.

Peter’s response is wholehearted, and mine is, too.  “Wash my hands and my head as well!” Fix it all at once, Lord!  Make me whole.  Quicken the process.  My cry is always focused on the immediate solution, never the ways the process solves the problem in a far deeper way.

Jesus’ response is a little weird, but reassuring.  Just your feet, he says, you’ve already had a bath.

Then why do I still feel like a wreck, smudged and spotted, head to toe?  I can feel Jesus want to laugh and console me at the same time, moved by my magnificent misunderstanding.  Remember Peter’s earlier recognition of truth, when he calls Jesus the Holy One of God?  You know the truth, Christ responds, and I have named you as my own, and you are clean.  But this is still a road we’re walking, you and I, and you have to learn to let me wash your feet.  You must be firmly steeped in grace for you to see yourself the way I have made you.  And that looks like letting Jesus in, in the most simple, mundane, and grimy of ways.  Like my roughed-up, ragged feet that have wandered down all the wrong paths.

The storms and the simple: it’s where he finds us best, or maybe where we find Him.  But what’s the why?

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

In John 13:31-38, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.  But before that, he clarifies something for the good of the group.  All of this, this pain, this suffering – it’s for God to be glorified.

All for the glory of God.  We get to be vehicles of God’s glory, even when we’re more stubborn than the dumbest rock, like I am some days (most days?).  We get to be where the world sees Him act.  Steeped in grace.  Stepping out in storms.  That’s what gets me out of the boat, following Jesus to the shore.

Let me tell you about living loved.

When I was in high school, I had this friend from church.  We didn’t see each other very often; she was homeschooled and I was at a public high school, but we talked in Sunday School and we visited each other’s houses in the summers and we caught up on life when we could.  Somewhere in the middle of my senior year, amidst all the other stress and strain of college applications, AP exams and normal teenage angst, she started texting me every morning.  Some days it was “Have a good day!” but most days it was just “Good morning Allie!”  It was a little thing, and after a week or so I had to admit I was perplexed and a little bit flustered by the pressure to reply, day after day.  But despite my hesitation, it didn’t take long for that exchange – just that quick little “Good morning!” or “You, too!” – to become a part of my everyday routine rather than another item on my to-do list.  We’ve lost touch over the years and I’m still not really sure why she choose then and there to reach out to me, morning after morning.  All I know is that we settled into a rhythm of supporting each other in the smallest way possible, and every day, it made me feel valued.

Recently I reconnected with a boy who makes me smile and now that we’re dating, he typically texts me good morning, too.  About a month into our relationship, he was out of the country for eight days and I wondered at how quickly something and someone can become a part of the rhythm of your life.

I haven’t written in a long time and there’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most obvious in my mind is that there’s very little rhythm to my life right now.  Senior year is supposed to be the time when you enjoy the ride – I’m not sure what kind of ride everyone else is on, but mine is a roller coaster and I’m clinging to the handles of my seat for dear life.  Here’s the thing though: I love roller coasters.  They taught me a lot about life about a year ago and the context has changed since then, but all the important things have stayed the same.  Life is messy and complicated and I make mistakes a lot, I get scared a lot, I get in scrapes a lot.  But a lot of times the beauty happens when I’m flat on my back, because the Lord uses those moments to get my whole entire attention instead of just a bit of it.

And then those are the moments remind me to give my whole entire attention to the people in my life that are dear to me when I’m with them, instead of just a bit of it.  This coaster might have some loops that tear my sight from one spot on the horizon to another, but the position of the sun doesn’t change and that is the community in my world.  Last week I laid flat on my back under a tree and stared at the sky with my headphones in my ears and I just let my brain think until all the thoughts ran dry.  And by the end of my mental wild-goose-chase, all I had left in me was to thank God that there are sunshiney days and rainy days and that He shows me the beauty in both when I’m on my back.

This is what I’m trying to say, wrapping up all the thoughts I’ve not gotten down on this corner of the Internet in the past few months: When there’s no other routine to follow, we have to find our rhythm in loving the people around us as hard as they’ll let us, as long as we can.  And if we’re going to commit to that, we have to open ourselves up to the belief that we are loved back, and trust God to fill in the gaps going each way with a love we’ll spend this whole life chasing to comprehend more deeply and fully.

It looks like a lot of things, but right now, for me, it looks like jumping out of an airplane or daring to ride the tallest coaster.  It looks like doing instead of analyzing, speaking truth instead of sitting in fear, and writing for myself when I should be writing for school.  It looks like spur-of-the-moment Colony House concerts with brand-new friends, like matching elephant pants, like Oreo truffles, like learning how to use chopsticks, like driving down Natchez Trace with Ben Rector on the radio.  It looks like losing control for the sake of living loved.

When do I feel it?
When do I feel it in my bones?
That kind of breathing
Whispering mysteries to my soul

I think it’s when I lose control
I think it’s when I lose control
We can’t keep fighting for a steady life, so
I’ll ride the wind like a feather toward home

Lose Control // Colony House

It may be a while since I’ve written over here – but I actually had the beautiful opportunity to write a post on living loved for my friend Emily Conrad’s February series! Check it out here.

Let me tell you about Christmas 2016.

This is joy.  I stand on the sideline, not really sure of where the air in my lungs came from or how it got there, but holding it, harnessing it, hurling it into infinity as my shrill sound joins the cacophonous chord of the rest of the band.  The fans are on their feet, my friends are at my side, and fierce joy tears through me.  Nothing can compare to this moment, it shines sharp enough to cut the fog of time to pieces when I look back on it down the road. Too soon, but not soon enough for my lungs, the note is cutoff and we cheer.  I walk away from my last performance, and my eyes are bright, with pride and maybe, tears.

This is hope.  My eyes are bright, in the pane of the airplane window.  I squint past their dim reflection to the flash of light I caught on the horizon, my forehead pressed against the glass.  Lightening spiderwebs across the sky in the distance, illuminating mountainous clouds as we fly parallel, closer and closer.  My view improves with every moment, and I know they’re slipping by too fast: just as they get better, soon enough they’ll be gone.  I stifle a yawn, but I won’t miss this, not yet.  I watch the lightening strike again and again, watch it writhe across the sky, crack it wide open; watch it spread through the clouds, a muted, fleeting flash.  I think of flying home, to family and future, to finishing one chapter and falling fast into another without knowing much of what to expect.  I think of where I’ve been and where I’m going.  I think of how my God is big enough and bold enough to shoot lightening through the sky, and how good and gracious and giving He is to not keep it to himself, to give me a show on my way home.  I smile, and snuggle deeper into my stiff, narrow seat.

This is peace.  I’m snuggled in a high-backed armchair in my grandparents’ living room, with a book on my lap, hot tea in my hand, and a roaring fire at my back.  Football’s on the television, no one’s really watching; we’ve all taken up positions in various states of relaxed, on couches, chairs and cushions, and we pay no attention to the sound of sports on low, lost in whatever we’re reading and throwing the odd comment to another across the way.  We play Rook, four of us, and despite the fact that half the time I have a hand like a foot and not a clue what I’m doing, Grandaddy and I set them twice and win the game.  We laugh and high-five, then move the chairs back, bring some fudge in from the kitchen, and return to our previous positions, this time, with the news and a dog snoring as the backdrop for the living room to live on.  I curl up in my chair and close my eyes.

This is love.  I close my eyes, and I’m eight years old again, dressed in my best for the Christmas Eve service.  We sing from a blue hymnal, I hold my very own candle as we sing “Silent Night,” a circle of twinkling spheres throwing shadows on the sloping ceilings of the sanctuary.  The next morning, I wake up first and dart downstairs to see everyone’s presents from Santa, neatly arranged by our stockings at the foot of the brick hearth.  I smell my Granhannah’s cinnamon rolls, I take a toy from my pile and make my way upstairs, and we talk while she bakes, or lets me help her roll the sticky dough into shape. I open my eyes and give myself one more glance in the mirror on my way out the door. The same sloping wooden beams still support the sanctuary as we sing from the same blue hymnals.  Five days later, my sixteen cousins and all the aunts and uncles shepherding them will flood my Grandaddy’s house, and we’ll stack food on every available surface, with a person in every open seat.  The whole house will shake with laughter, and the only silence will come just before we eat, when we all join hands, the thirty-something, forty of us, and we pray.

Because Christmas is the coming of our Lord, of my Jesus.  Christmas is about the hope, joy, peace, and love He brought to the table when He was laid in the manger.  But Christmas is also the hundreds of memories that surround the day itself, and they are what immortalize that thrill of hope, that weary world rejoicing, that law of love and gospel of peace.

I hope your heart was full of gladness, and the peace that covered sadness.  I hope your joy was overflowing, and your many blessings growing.  I hope you had the time you’ve longed for, with the people that you love.  And I hope you know that even if you felt none of that this Christmas, you are loved, and this holiday marks the day He came for you.  I hope you had a merry Christmas.

Let me tell you about being single.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to a new post from one of my favorite bloggers and opened the email to read: “5 Questions to Ask If You Never Get Asked Out.”

I almost threw my phone across the room.  I have had it up to here.

Because I think we’re asking all the wrong questions about being single.

Because “5 Questions to Ask if You Never Get Asked Out” makes me think that something I’m doing or being needs fixing to be loved.

And at the other end of the spectrum,”5 Reasons to Love Living Single” or “5 Things to Do While You’re Still Single” puts pressure on my heart to make most of the this time and be grateful.  And when I fail, as I almost always do – when I wake up ungrateful, or lonely, or disappointed with my singleness – it creates a chasm of guilt that I fall into headlong, allowing fear and shame to tell me what is true about myself.

We live in a world where being single is hard.  It just is.

Which is why the main question I go to God with when it comes to being single is this-  How is this a part of your good plan? 

I cling tight to stubborn pride that my plan for my life – which would not involve staying single – is the right one.  Loneliness, heartbreak, disappointment – they don’t feel good, so how can their part in my story be good?

I have to admit that in those moments, I am denying God the opportunity to sit down with me and me alone, look me in the eye, and tell me what is true about myself.

Being single is so not about seizing the opportunity to travel or pursue your career or climb whatever other mountain that the world offers.  Those are all great options – they’re just not really the purpose this time is made to serve.

It’s a time to learn what it looks like to live truth.

I know lots of people who can do this in relationships, and I admire them greatly.  I also know that I am not one of them.  I need to be on my own to come to know who and whose I am.  I need my entire understanding of relationships – my expectations, my hopes, my fears – to be entirely shaped in this context.  Because single or not, I want to be ever living not out of a place of fear or doubt, but of fullness and freedom.

Knowing how God has made me lets me live out loud as the person He’s made me to be, with no hesitations, no 5-steps-to-fixing, and no regrets.

So if you’re anything like me, and you find yourself in this time of waiting – don’t miss the chance to ask God to wait with you.  You might be surprised at the conversations you’ll have with Him, and where it will take you.

It’s not deciding in my mind, “I  deserve to be loved.”  Or manipulating my heart to feel loved.  It’s a settling in my soul: “I was created by God, who formed me because He so much loved the very thought of me.  When I was nothing, He saw something and declared it good.  Very good.  And very loved.”

Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited

The song below is my anthem.  When I think about living out loud, about being the person He’s made me to be, and about how to share that with you – this is the song.

It has no words, only a feeling.  It’s me whipping past trees, flying straight and sure through the black night alone in my car, with the radio up and the wind in my hair.  It’s you, dancing alone in your room or stepping into the crowded coffee shop.  It’s each of our stories being written, crisscrossing one another, bringing new pieces and parts to life with every step forward that we take.  Even – and especially – the ones we take on our own.

Want more? Here are a couple of articles that I feel do ask the right questions about singleness.

The Five Main Reasons You Are Still Single

Is Chivalry Dead?

You are loved.

Let me tell you about the Spirit of Gold.

This week is all about breath. How much power can you harness in a single second of time? Can you stretch that second, suspend it until there’s nothing left? Your lungs will burn and your shoulders tighten, but when you exhale, a high, pure note soars across the sky of the stadium. You listen for its impact, only to realize it’s been swallowed by a tidal wave of sound that rushes by you, around you, through you. That second-long breath becomes a roar of sixteen beats, and you give until there’s nothing left. The drum major’s hands stop. The last note dies away, but the walls still echo. You turn in time with the people around you; together, you take the next step.

I always say that I stay in band because I love what I do.  I love playing my instrument, being part of something bigger than myself, I love SEC gameday, and I love putting on a show one set at a time, only to have it all come together at the performance.  And that’s why I’ve stuck with band.

But really, it goes much deeper than that.  Band is a family – especially our band.  So when I talk about taking that next step together, I really mean it.  We’ve been through three director changes in the past two years, but we’ve kept putting shows on the field.  Our alumni came back voluntarily to work the high school marching invitational we host while our band performed in exhibition.  Sophomore year when I broke down crying on the sidewalk after rehearsal, I came home to four or five messages from different people who wanted to know if I was okay.  And that’s what makes the Spirit of Gold so special.

In seven hours or so, I’ll step onto the field for the last time, and that breaks my heart a little bit.  The eight straight years I’ve spent in marching band have utterly and completely made me who I am today.

But I know that with the SOG, even when everything else changes, the people stay the same.  With that in mind –

Ms. Cindi, Queen of Bands, thank you for sticking with us.  Thanks for knowing our names, and solving any problem we could possibly come up with, and being so humble, gracious and kind in every situation.  We appreciate you so very much.

Mr. Murphy & Brad, thanks for taking on this season with us.  You led us so well, and we are so grateful that you are here.

Colin, my little, thanks for being the only other person in the band who takes the SOG Sibling program seriously.  But more than that, thanks for being my friend.  College wouldn’t be the same without you at all.

Piccoloves, past and present, wow.  Y’all are my section, my people, you let me be me, and that means more than I could ever put into words.  To the alums & past piccs – Caitlyn, Emma, Emma, Lucas, Paige, Tricia, Bobby, Catey, Neevi, Zoe and Rachel – thank you for being so sweet to me when I was a tiny freshman, and for being terrific leaders for our section.  Ryn, Bethanie and Barbara – your friendships have been so dear to me every year.  I’ve loved having three whole years to get to know you.  Ethan, Kirsten and Jerico – y’all are so FUN.  You make me laugh and you have stayed positive through two of the craziest years possible, which makes you absolute rock stars.  Erin, Maia, Raven, Braelyn, James, Jessica Jr. and Katie – I could not have asked for a better group to spend senior year with.  You all have some of the brightest personalities I’ve ever come across, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each and every one of you.  Every single year, I’ve thought that we’ve had the best group of freshmen in our section, and you’ve all been such a joy to grow alongside.  Y’all blow my mind with your community and camaraderie.  Never change.

And of course . . . Jessica, my best friend since day one of band camp freshman year, thank you for being my person.  Thanks for reading my mind and having the same brain as me.  Thank you for being there for every twist and turn in these four years, and letting me come alongside you for all of your ups and downs, too.  The heart you have for the world around you and your determination no matter the circumstance inspire me to no end.  This journey absolutely would not have been the same without you.

Spirit of Gold, I will always love the band.