What are your nine?
Like the rest of Instagram, I downloaded an app today that showed me the top photos from my year. One click and there they were: photos from my life. Some I have forgotten about, and some I wake up thinking about on most days. In that little square were moments from every corner of my life— every person in every month and stretched from here to Asia.
Am I really supposed to look at that and not wonder, “Is this really my life? That I get to do these things and know these people?” Because as I stared at my phone, I lost my words. I had nothing romantic to say. Nothing inspirational to share. Only awe and wonder for the things my good, good Father crafted out of the chaos of 2016.
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Plans changed in 2016. That’s a lesson I’m going to keep learning.
The thing about that top nine is that, honestly, some of my favorite moments of the year weren’t captured. My phone wasn’t around. The camera was tucked away in my bag. My sweetest moments were so far from distraction, that all I had was my presence to keep them burning in my memory–
1. I had to tell one of the most respected, Godly men I know that I couldn’t accept the summer job at the camp that showed me Home. As soon I spoke the words, “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” and hung up the phone, I fell. I turned around into Travis’ arms. He caught me. We stood as the coffee brewed beside us, as my shoulders shook from crying. “This is like a break-up. This is so hard,” I sobbed. It was a hard moment, but he was there and I saw that. I was glad he saw me too.
2. There were times when my dad showed up to church, and I wasn’t expecting it. My face lit up and I threw all my stuff on the floor, just so he could sit beside me in that sweet, country church’s long pew. When he sat on the couch on Christmas, flashlight in hand and shining on the pages of a new Bible, my heart broke.
3. Every party my mom planned. From my surprise birthday party, where granny gave me exactly what I needed to purchase my passport, to the party before I got to put that passport to use. Momma believes in people and believes in celebrating them. I love that about her, because those parties came in moments that encouraged me, inspired me, and filled me brim-full of complete recognition that people are so, so good. And not only me, but the parties and love she shows everyone. Pictures don’t do those kind of celebrations justice.
4. There was the night that Travis and I sat behind Polston for nearly two hours as he told me about a missions retreat he led music at. Prior to going, he had been anxious and unexcited. But, by the end of the weekend he was so full of what the Father had done there. He was so eager to tell me about it. I listened to his stories, and watched in admiration as his heart moved closer.
5. And Hong Kong— more than I’ll ever be able to share with you from beginning to end. But if we were going to start from the beginning, I’d tell you about flying for the first time. It was a moment of complete surrender to my Father and confidence in His good, good works. It was a moment that challenged the beauty of creation I have known in sweet Cheatham County, as I watched the world below me and knew: He did this.
6. Every single day overseas. The day my teammates got up on stage to dance in front of the entire camp. There were those times when my students told me— acne ridden and curry-stained braces—, “Teacher, teacher, you’re so beautiful. And Travis is so handsome.” And every time they asked to take selfies and every time they let me play a round of uno. When they asked me why I seem so happy, and I rejoiced in the chance to tell them about my Jesus. Those aren’t moments you take pictures of. They’re just moments you replay in your head, and hope you never forget.
7. Saying goodbye to Asia. I hand wrote every student in my class a note, and told them why I think they’re important. Special. Valuable. Worth it. Most of us said goodbye that day, as we cried, hugged tightly, and promised to see each other again one day. The next day, some of us went to the beach. And I dreaded the clock hitting the early afternoon. But it did, and once again: goodbye came. My best friend, Amy, and I walked toward the train heading in the opposite direction as our students waved behind us. I couldn’t look at them. They were so precious, and my heart broke as I stepped on the car and found a seat. My eyes welled as the train moved forward, “I hate this. Even more than teaching for three weeks, getting over jet lag, dealing with the humidity— this is the worst part of this entire trip. What a cost to love people.”
8. And when I got back to the States, I met with my hometown friends, Han and Kay, for the first time in over 6 weeks. I met baby Rhonan for the first time, and heard about Kay’s engagement. We sat until the queso got cold, and the people came and left around us. We sat for three and a half hours, and I still felt like it was too soon to leave.
9. Seeing Nashville for the first time since my plane landed broke my heart because it didn’t sparkle like it used to. I realized my dreams were changing, and that fill me with fear and excitement like I’ve never known.
10. When I met refugees in Nashville for the first time, and it gave my heart a home since Asia. As we left the apartment, the leader I was with looked at me in excitement and said, “That was the best first visit I’ve ever had.” And I got to keep coming back.
11. And I can’t forget the innumerable times I’d scramble over after class to Erin’s Lipscomb apartment, just to sit on her floor and catch up on the week. The night we both talked about marrying our boyfriends, we walked across campus completely giddy at our plans. We stood at my car, and she hugged me bye, telling me, “I’m so glad we can be in this together.”
12. Everytime my baby sister tells me, “Sissy, I love you.“
These are the moments that didn’t make it in that top 9, but they shaped me and made this year something special. I’ll cling to those pictures, but my head is spinning at the memory of these people, places, and things– who am I that I get to know them?
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2016 was a fire. Her flames were strong and quick, and she refined me like gold so that I could write on December 31st: I am closer to who I was made to be. I’m closer than I was last December, closer than I was on my birthday in February, closer than I was when I flew over the Pacific in June, and closer than I was before I began packing up my dorm room in November.
I am so, so close to the girl I was made to be— and it’s all because of 2016.
She led me to difficult questions where I stood face to face, grappling with answers that could either hurt or heal. She showed me what real anxiety looks like, and with tears in her eyes, showed me how it smothers any grace, peace, or joy I could hope for in my life. She fearlessly taught me about love— all the hurt, goodness, pain, and indescribable joy that comes with it. She gave me people to call a tribe. She gave me prayers in the loudness and even more prayers in the silence. She gave me more uncanny coincidences that I could remember, and led me closer to my Father. She gave me some great pictures, long talks over coffee, and moments that led me to scribble across innumerable pages in worn journals.
There were good days. There were bad days. Some that left me so hungry to keep climbing the mountain, and others that brought me to my knees. 2016 was the greatest adventure I couldn’t have penned word for word— and if she taught me anything it’s that plans change and the greatest moments can’t be compacted to a little collage.
Who knows what next year’s collage will look like— I couldn’t guess it now, even if I tried. But, I’m so eager for it. I’m so eager to fight more. Love more. Serve more. See more. Do more. Have more conversations that change my heart and fill me with the words I wholly believe the world needs to hear.
And if that’s all she had to offer— changing my dreams and my own soul in the process— it was worth it and it is propelling me faster, faster, and faster into January 1st….
Hey, 2017, get at me. I’m so ready for you.