Let me tell you about my people. 

Did you know that it’s possible for night to not be dark? At Cedar Lake Camp, a couple hours after dinner, we straggle over the arching wooden bridge that leads to an island in the middle of a lake, where a bonfire is beginning to blaze. The sparks shed a little light on our circle of sisters, but it’s the stars that take your breath away, and the edges of the horizon back behind the wooded hills that glow in the dark. Hundreds, thousands of pinpricks of lights – God’s confetti, my sweet friend Katie and I call it – sparkle in the expanse of blues and blacks above our heads, reminding us of the Creator who brought us all together.

Because what shines even brighter than the stars – what makes the night, light – are the people around me. My chapter, my tribe. I realize tonight that I could spend the rest of my life creating and pouring into spaces like this one – full of promise and prayer and pursuit of the Lord alongside one another – and never get tired of it. Phi Lamb is my people, it’s where I found community but it’s also where I found Jesus, living and active and transforming lives, and that’s what got me to stay for six semesters.


Out of everything we do as a chapter – from the devos that mark us as sisters for the Lord to the events like formal and big-little that make us a sorority – retreat is my very favorite thing. We leave everything we came here carrying at the door, unpacking it slowly as the weekend goes along with God and with each other, then we leave what we need to here and take what we need to home. For me, that looks like unpacking expectations and obligations, leaving fears and failures, and taking grace upon grace. Along with the reminder that this may be my last retreat, but my sisters aren’t going anywhere. We can’t do it all alone, and the Lord knew what He was doing when He brought me this community to do it with.

Let me tell you about the storm.

Have you ever walked straight towards a storm?  Your first clue that it’s coming is the lightening that splashes the night sky in front of you with cracks and creases of white.  The clouds are still and somber, but the trees are rustling a particular kind of warning as you pace beneath them.  Your stomach clenches and your shoulders tighten, but your spine is made of steel and your path is straight ahead.

When I was seventeen I stood on a cliff call Lover’s Leap and stared into a clear sky knowing I was walking into a storm.  That image got stuck in my soul, reminding me that sometimes when you jump, you fall, because you don’t know what it takes to fly.

I think a lot about flying and falling because I’ve done my fair share of both.  I care deeply and sometimes care can cut you wide open, sometimes you think it gives you wings only to find that it was a gust of wind that can only carry you so far.  And if you fall, then you risk not being able to pick yourself up or worse, put yourself back together again.

And there are days where I stare at the storm, painfully aware of all my broken, bruised edges where I’ve mended what I could from what I was left with when I fell, and wonder how I’ll walk through this rain and wind and sleet without coming undone.

Faith will give you wings, but fear will let you fall.  It’s all a matter of how you see the storm. Peter stepped out on the middle of a lake in the pouring rain by the moonlight because he saw Jesus just clearly enough to believe he could walk to Him.  And isn’t Jesus where we want to be in the middle of life’s storms, even if it means getting out of the boat and stumbling across some waves?  He will always be where the storms are with the promise: “It is I, don’t be afraid.”

So I walk into the storms, shattered sometimes, but spine straight.  Sometimes a rainstorm doesn’t make you damaged goods, sometimes it makes you clean.  Sometimes thunder is music is lightening is the strobe lights at the concert and God is putting on a show to show that storms can be scary like second chances and spreading your wings at the edge of a whole other cliff,  but you better jump, girl, cause this time, you’re gonna fly.

Let me tell you about my bench. 

My bench is situated next to an old, old tree, with roots that snake into the ground around it and a trunk that stands like a monument to the passage of time. Except it’s actually two trunks, backed up against each other, one faint groove running from roots to branches as the only evidence that they were once separate. As I sat staring up at its branches today, cicadas thrumming in the background, I started to notice for the first time, after three years, that the leaves on each side of the tree were different. That’s the thing about some place we’re familiar with – sometimes we still only see what we want it to be, not the details that make it what it is.

My bench is weathered, the stain has peeled off in places. Across from me stands a magnolia tree, magnificent and bold, fanning its leaves over a statuette of a woman I don’t know, but I like to think by now we’re old friends. The bell tower of Kirkland to my left, the circle flower garden on my right, the history department building at my back. My bench is the center of campus, for me: it holds this world I’ve built here together. It’s my stopping point, my stillness. It’s where I do most of my talking to Jesus, or maybe where He does the most of His talking to me. 

Back in Chicago, my bench is the bird sanctuary down the road from our neighborhood. In the summer, the trails are beaten down and weathered by the rain and the increase of horses and runners. I’m not much of a runner, but I run them all the same. There’s a particular stretch, where you come to the top of a hill and watch the grass ripple in the wind below you, herons skim across the surface of the pond, and I breathe it all in. 

In Buenos Aires, my bench became a little coffee shop by my houses, El Montañes. It was the kind of place only locals visit, but I lived local so I acted local and the waiters knew better but by the third time I was there, they’d learned my order anyways. I brought my Bible and some homework and I took a spot by the window and ordered a pot of black tea. I stayed as long as they’d let me some days, and on others I stayed just long enough to steady myself before leaping back into the lifeblood of the city streets. 

I’m only just starting to realize that everywhere I go, I find myself a bench. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that means we’re seeking solace, and I think that’s just a fancy way of saying us alone with God. Sometimes you need a certain setting, a distinct disconnect from the things of this world weighing on us, in order to say it that way. 

I don’t know where I’ll be living next year, but it’s comforting to know that my bench will always be there. My cafe, my trails will always be there, even though I’m not.  I’ve found my bench before and I’ll find it again, because I can’t stay away from sitting alone God for long before it starts to show. That’s what the benches in our lives are for: not for us to be alone, but for us to be known. 

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 Hamilton. 

Songs that made me cry seeing Hamilton Chicago last night:

Burn

Satisfied

It’s Quiet Uptown

Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story

One Last Time

It was April 2016, and I found myself with a roommate who couldn’t believe I hadn’t listened to Hamilton yet and a half hour commute by colectivo to and from class in Buenos Aires. So, begrudgingly, I jumped on board the trend train and downloaded the soundtrack. And my life has never been the same.

Think about it: music, history, and intricate writing all put together on the same stage (or in the same songs). It unites some of my strongest passions, and it quickly became my soundtrack to the city during my time in Buenos Aires. I listened to it on the busses, as I walked, as I got ready in the tiny bathroom in the morning, and at night when I couldn’t fall asleep. I lived and breathed the characters and the lyrics of Hamilton at the same time that I was living and breathing a new, truer sense of self that God was calling me to step into. My friend Dawson spent two weeks calling me Aaron Burr, Sir. The Schuyler Sisters reminded me what I loved about the city. I listened to Wait For It as I slogged home in the spitting rain one day, and it sums up that moment perfectly in my memory. Obviously, songs like Burn and Stay Alive and The World Was Wide Enough and my all-time, hands-down favorite, Satisfied, pull at the heartstrings.

Yep, the whole album is flawless. But there’s one song that stands apart in my mind. Non-Stop was my song for confidence, because of this one line-

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?

How do you write like you need it to survive?

How do you write every second you’re alive?

The music hits its peak here, the full ensemble backs up Burr’s voice, and the words couldn’t speak more deeply to my soul. I am telling stories in my head every second that I move through the world, for better or worse. Writing is the same basic function for my brain as breathing, and I love that.

One song that never clicked with me until last night, when I saw it live, is Hurricane. It’s the only solo song for Alexander Hamilton in the entire production, and it essentially establishes that he’s about to dig himself deeper into a hole he’s already tripped into headfirst. Yet watching it unfold live- with the lights, the pause between each note, and the ensemble’s choreography – it’s really a song about why Hamilton writes. In the face of every obstacle, throughout his whole life, he’s picked up a pen. And when there weren’t even any obstacles, he was so bent on leaving a legacy that he wrote his own problems into existence. It was an escape that only sucked him deeper into whatever was holding him captive.

Maybe that’s getting a little deep for Broadway, but in the moment I processed that, I flashed back to the climax of Non-Stop and wondered – why do I write? Why is this thing so ingrained in the who and how I am in the world?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t ever written my own problems into existence, or written myself deeper into one, inside my head if not out loud. Yet I don’t think the reason I write is to escape, or to leave any sort of legacy.

I write to get to know my own mind. I tell stories because I believe they matter, and I want to know why and how. At worst I write for the sake of writing, but at best I write for the joy.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical Hamilton, has described it as a “love letter to writers” in its own way. And it is. Every moment has its worth in capturing, in putting words to, and at the end of it all, you have to know why you’re doing it for it to be worth anything at all.

And I know that I’ll see that show a thousand times more in my lifetime. To relive every moment and memory that I’ve connected with the songs – and to remind me why I write.

Huge thank you to my wonderful parents for the tickets!!! 

 

 

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 2016.

Today marks two years since I started my blog, time that feels very long – stretched thin over hundreds of memories and moments – and very short at the same time.  I’m so grateful I still have words to say that you’re willing to read.  There are more years of this ahead for us, don’t worry.

One of the reasons I started writing was to dive deeper into the person I was becoming, and to create a space to process that.  I’ve found in that nothing can put words to who and how I am in the world the way music can.  Better yet, the right balance of chord and comment can sum up a sequence of events or mark a moment in time with accuracy and resonance far beyond anything I could say or write.  I think God is constantly finding ways to use the things all around us to tell us who we are and whose we are, and music is that thing for me.

Without further ado, here is my 2016 in songs.

1 – Letting Go – Sawyer

Looking up from ten feet deep
Solid ground’s been sinking
I lost you and half of me
This is not an ending, no

Even when I’m left to stand alone
Even if you never come back home
Still, I know I can feel it in my bones
There’s a light at the end of letting go

2 – Deliverance – Strahan

This is my deliverance, hands held high as you deliver it
Oh, you have made me a child of God
My feet on the ground, my heart in heaven
I am bread made without the leaven
Oh, you have made me a child of God

3 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975

4 – Hollow – Tori Kelly

‘Cause I’m paper-thin
And you, you make me whole again

So hold me
Wrap me in love, fill up my cup
Empty and only your love can fill up my cup
‘Cause I’m hollow

5 – Wild Horses – Birdy

Our human hearts forget how strong they are
And they get lost along the way, hey
It’s not giving up, it’s letting go
And moving to a better place

I will survive and be the one who’s stronger
I will not beg you to stay
I will move on and you should know I mean it
Wild horses run in me

6 – Non-Stop – Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda)

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write every second you’re alive?

7 – Free – Broods

Cause the freest I have ever been
I had nothing to show or be seen

8 – Testify – Needtobreathe

Give me your heart
Give me your song
Sing it with all your might
Come to the fountain and
You can be satisfied
There is a peace, there is a love
You can get lost inside
Come to the fountain and
Let me hear you testify

9 – Waiting on My Time to Come – Colony House

I can give a little time for this dream to grow
So I’ll wait here when my light is low

I’m just waiting on the seasons to change
Waiting for the curtain to fall
I could lose my cool
Like a restless fool
But I’m waiting for my time to come

10 – Next in Line – Walk the Moon

City in the rear view
And nothing in the distance
We laugh at all the talk
What do you think of getting lost?
What do you think of you and me?
This lion is in the garden
Let’s go way back when
Before this ever started

Well push me honey to the up and right
We’ve been waiting but we’re next in line

When the city shines like the sun at night
And I feel it in my heart and my hips, I feel it
Won’t you stay shot gun until the day I die?
Stay shotgun until the day I die