the world behind me, the cross before me.

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// The window light is all white. My spoon dug into a grapefruit, my eyes scanned a book of poetry in front of me. It was January, 11:15 in the morning, and I felt quiet and small. I didn’t know then, although I desperately hoped, the New Year would be everything I wondered if it might be. But it all began quiet and small in the window light.

// It’s March, and I had just arrived in New York, the Subway shook the earth around me. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world, when the train dives into the earth and comes back out and you can see Queensboro bridge and the approaching city. It was the first time I’d gotten to the city when it was dark, and it seemed entirely different, yet it also felt like coming home. The next morning, I would wake up and follow a map to buy a warm bagel and find a hidden coffee shop. I’d feel dizzy and worn, absolutely wrecked with the thoughts a city gives you and makes you feel wild and alive. Before that day or the next two, I fell asleep in New York, feeling it must be valuable for every girl ending her High School years on the cusp of all things new to walk around in New York and know just how beautiful the world is.

// I graduated in late May, so my brother invited a few of my friends to all jump in our car and drive on top of the only parking garage in Knoxville where you can see the whole city. In a circle, we drank sparkling cider out of solo cup shot classes and laughed at stories from High School. I thought, looking out to the tiny skyline that had brought me my first eighteen years, that somehow, of all the people on the earth, it was grand I ended up here. It was good to have a home, one tucked away in mountains. It was good to say goodbye to one time and hello to a next all in one city.

// It was a rainy June day in Nashville, and I sat reading a Fitzgerald novel, listening to all the conversations happening around. Summer was a time of traveling, and ending up in coffee shops most day with a book in hand and a draft of some sort on the computer in front of me. Beside me, I overheard two aspiring writers discussing their future novels. I sat, almost wanting to pull a chair. I didn’t, but I felt strangely comforted hearing them speak. And after they left, it remained with me. That day I started a rule to never listen to headphones in coffee shops. It’s part of the gradual process I’m learning to let my thoughts out, and others in; I long for a constant flow where I lose track of where my stories end and those who weave in and out of my life begin.

// I’ll never forget last July in Romania, those memories are some of the kindest time’s given me. I’ll never forget my Dad telling me, “This is a different kind of work, it’s an eternal kind.” I’ll never forget the airport when we left: perhaps the most joyful moment I hold in my heart. So much remains with me. I’ll never forget the feeling of reunion, or when we took a seven hour bus ride when we were told it would be two hour one. I’ll never forget the exact winding pathways that led to the mountain sides. I’ll never forget the exact angle from my balcony or the wood table I sat and read my bible at each morning. I’ll never forget how it feels to see people come together so fast as inside jokes and life-changing conversations unfolded within days. I’ll never forget the moment it all made sense: I was sitting in the Church building, the strum of guitars playing as we worshipped together, two communities I had been knit to my whole life in ways deeper than words. Serving there, and never knowing anything else seemed enough.

// We were in the car when my brother asked me how I was doing my first week of college. I had a thousand things on my mind as we drove and listened to the CDs he always keeps in his car on low. How was I doing? The question took me off guard. In contrast to days before, I felt rest. Time and I are always at war: it goes too fast, I go too slow. Sometimes we catch up, and it feels right.

// On the last day of my first semester of college, I found myself standing on top of the parking garage, the same one I came to the night of my graduation. It’d been a safe place in many ways the past semester; it was a place to come and look out and think. I tried to sum up my thoughts on that semester. It was full of late nights eating donuts and road trips to the same mountain tops I love most and cities I’ve never seen. It was full of weak coffee and strong coffee. It was full of feeling tired, in the good ache kind of way. It was full of not forgetting my senior year I thought was lonely, but learning to cherish every second of that year that molded me. I had wanted that semester to echo all of my 2016, I wanted it to be ripe and whole.  And it had. Yet, that semester I came to understand in the kaleidoscopic seas, I have a fixed anchor. A few words from Luke 10 became my anthem in my best days and my emptiest: “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” In the roaring  of life, one thing is necessary. When life takes the shape of waiting, one thing is necessary. As the world around me fights for meaning and logic, one thing is necessary. For my life and the things I long for and am called towards, one thing is necessary. One of my favorite things Amy Carmichael ever wrote were the words: “it is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desires which He creates.” One thing is necessary, and in that, I have a secure trust. And whether the Lord fulfills His desires for me tomorrow, or in thirty years, or if like Abraham, I am called to bring my answered prayer up a mountain, with faith to sacrifice it: I long for that one thing alone.

// It was the morning before New Years Eve, and I was in a car driving out of Indianapolis. The city sits still, the wind cold, the sky a light blue. I think to myself how tomorrow is the last day of the year. While normally panic and sadness follows, I felt strangely content.  The past year was a full to the brim year. It was to-the-brim whole, seeping out of the edges year. I told myself to never lose it: the wild wonder, the will to go anywhere, the trust to do anything. In that car, thinking back of the people I cherish and the moments we’d shared worshipping the past few days in the city, I realized I wasn’t afraid of losing it. I don’t think I could if I tried.

// It was the new year. I sat, starring at the sun hiding beneath the Tennessee hills. Over break, I longed for fires and familiar faces. I missed the old stomping grounds of campus and the places I found myself everyday. Looking out to the fading light and the fire roaring, it felt like home. It had been a warm winter break, but when it finally grew cold, I took out my coat for the first time in December, and found a folded up map of Manhattan. I remembered the feeling of wind on my face and the thought of being rocked to the bone alive. That feeling settles in a bliss as I stared at the setting sun, ready for the next chapter. My thoughts echoed the words of an old hymn, “the world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back.”

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eighteen.

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Then: I dreamed. Of the wide skies of something great, I dreamed and longed to run free without weariness. Of the simple rain drops, I dreamed, counting them as they fell upon the car window panes, pretending to imagine life into them. For my entire life, I’ve thrived on the imaginary. When I was young, I filled homemade paper books full of it. At night, my brother and I mapped out stories for hours. During the day, books and movies and music fed the hunger tearing me apart, aching to take the world around me and then create.

I began to live my own story, too. I grew to make friends; even those whom I no longer recognize became apart of me. When I was seven years old, my mother started homeschooling my brother and I, which would change our life tremendously and for the better. All along, I would feel a connection with my body and mind: finding freedom in dance when I was making peace with myself and when I grew anxious, pulling my own hair as if I was to blame for the feelings that trapped me. And when my body changed and I grew to hate it, I burned my confidence and began living in the ashes of self-loathing. Those were dark days, and thankfully, not long-lasting. For there was a beautiful day in its time when I was set free. At the age of thirteen, I learned grace and it was graciously showered on me. I was finally running free, with no constraints.

Oh, and the days that followed. I made friends, so many different faces and stories that would blend with my own. The sum of the experiences my parents allowed me to live would form the magic in which I now view the world. I would learn my passion for photography, a journey that would transform me both as an artist and as a human. Books would fill my spare time and my days would be spent reading about lives from long ago, lives painted by people such as I, the world around me, that beautiful force that drives us all, love stories tragic and tragically happy, and the issues that unite us and divide us. Sorrows would come into my life; I’d lose my Grandma in an unexpected blow of Autumn, forever touched by our days together and missing the way she loved life as simple as seashells on the shore. Never said goodbyes would haunt me and the heartbreak of ones I love more than myself would come slowly and surely. The city would fill my heart, pull me under its spell, and knit my desires to be swallowed whole by its wonders. And all along as I grew, I dreamed.

Now: I am eighteen years old. Today, I woke up and everything was golden. I got in the car to go to a new city, thinking to myself on how fine it all is.

I was afraid to turn eighteen. It seemed old and unfamiliar. Yet then, I thought of the city I so love, and how it is beautiful because it is worn, wasted, built by those who bypass and those who make a home there, tattooed by street art, and full of unfamiliar things coming every second. The city writes that orchestra every day, and I know it well for that song is my own. Now I know eighteen is another chapter to live and learn and be worn, wasted, and built.

The other day, one of my best friends and I were sitting in her car in the pouring rain, eating ice cream and talking about the future. We got distracted by the song that was playing in the background and one particular lyric: “from the day I started crawling, I was on my way to find you”. Isn’t it amazing, I thought, how there are asleep stories and people I have always been destined to find? My entire life has been a pathway to those exact stories: the people I will meet in college in the Autumn, all the people I will love and laugh with, all the people that will break my heart, and all the people that will cause me to think thoughts I can’t imagine now. They are living right now, walking their paths and I am on my way to find them in perfect time. We have such wonderful things waiting for us, don’t we?

One far-off day: I will be worn. Tiredness will overwhelm me, and time will have numbed me into a deep steadiness. I will rise and see the cracks in the windows where light is pouring in. There will be few treasures in that house, apart from the ones received from the true treasures: drawings from children, tidbits from travels, my own photographs mounting the walls. I will wash white plain dishes and let the light from the window be golden bright to my eyes and remember a time when I was so young and so full of wonder I could explode. I pray I think fondly of my past, yet thankful I know all that I will know, for I found that which was waiting for me. Nothing in my story was safe: it was blurry, cracked, oozing. It was uncertain, chapters spent on the edge of life. But beautiful things grew, died, and grew back. After it all, I hope I still have the wonder. And in that day, still I will dream.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up” – Louise Erdrich