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So I think it's about time I talk about what's been going on in my little heart since March 31. There's been lot that's going on in my life, and I haven't written it down (hopefully that will change; I want to start writing more). These past three-ish weeks have been one continuous heart lesson for me. I was trying to describe it to a friend this morning, and as I was driving home, it occurred to me, "Sara, you need to write this down." Maybe it will help you the way it helped me. So, March 31. It was a Tuesday, and the reason I know this is because we had studio that day (anyone who was in my studio class knows where this post is going). Dr. Brookes, my teacher, was out of town, so one of our fabulous DMA students, Rebecca, worked with us. She's the bomb. At that point, it was less than two weeks out from my recital, so I sang my favorite aria, "Non so più", which, if you've kept up with me for any length of time, you know is a constant in my life. I sang it rather breathlessly, in the spirit of the character, but it actually affected my breath, and I felt that. Rebecca came and started working with me on body mapping in the aria. For those who don't know, body mapping is, essentially, the art of how to use your body better when you sing, since what we do is so physical. Unfortunately, I was having none of it. I was kind of defensive, though I couldn't figure out why. She coaxed my very tense, very stiff neck and body into a more relaxed place, and then, BAM, out came this very easy, wonderful sound. All my studio mates cheered, but I was still standoffish. Rebecca told me, "You're doing great." And at that point, y'all, I lost it. I dissolved in a flood of tears in front of my studio mates. Everyone was incredibly confused. "You're doing such a good job!" Rebecca said, but I told her I had absolutely zero idea what was going on. That was the truth, y'all. I was happy with the sound I had produced, but here I was, weeping for seemingly no reason at all. I managed to pull it together long enough to finish my portion of studio class, and Rebecca told me, "Sometimes when we get our bodies and all the physical stuff to relax, all our emotion can come to the forefront." Then she asked, "You have a recital in two weeks, right?" Nodding and more sobbing from yours truly.  "Yeah," she continued, "that's a big deal. Plus you've gone through a Fach change really recently. That's a lot." After studio, I couldn't stop crying. I clung to Meredith and just sobbed for a while. All my studio mates were so consoling and encouraging -- some of my best friends are in that studio with me -- but I wept for a long while. And as I cried, all the pressure I hadn't know I was experiencing melted away, bit by bit.

It was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time.

I keep telling my people that I think that day was the first day that I actually believed that I don't have to be perfect. All of you know that it's a thing I've had to tell myself for a good chunk of my life, but I think that was the first day I really believed. I realized that I've been putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself. It may not seem possible that I could feel stress and not know that I felt it -- I've had that outlook for a while. How could I be stressing out if I don't know I'm stressed, I ask people? Y'all, it's a real thing. I realized that I've felt that I had to be all these things, but that day I really believed that it would be okay if I wasn't perfect.

That was Step One. Step two was not quite as dramatic as the breakdown (hence the title of this post). For the next week or so, God started to introduce me to the truth of His freedom. You know, it's so funny that I should say that. I've been a disciple of Christ for a good chunk of my life, since I was seven. And I've heard verses about freedom in Christ all my life. I can pretty safely say that even if those verses held meaning to me before, that meaning is nothing compared to the one I see now.

There's a verse in Galatians that says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). I realized that I had been voluntarily submitting to a yoke of slavery. Yes, I was set free, and I was redeemed, but I didn't believe it. I can say to you that for most of my life I've believed that I had to perform in order to be loved and accepted. I wasn't traumatized as a child; I have no dark stories of a past fraught with fear. But somewhere along the way, I learned to fear. I started to believe that the only way for me to be worth anything was for me to be the best at everything. That's where my need for control has its roots: I want so much to be liked and admired and approved of and loved.

Step Three was my recital. I had my junior recital about a week ago, on Sunday, April 12. Two days before, on Friday, I freaked out. I was convinced that I couldn't do it -- that my technique would fail me. I was afraid I would never be able to let go and just sing and have fun. My mom showed me some tough love and told me that I was living in self-defeat. I was convinced that in order to do well or to escape the nastiness of pride, I had to abase myself.

Recital day dawned, and I was surprisingly calm. I kept waiting for panic to strike, but it never did. Meredith and I shared our junior recital, so it was good to have, you know, a person with me. Before I walked out on stage, I turned to my friend George, who turned pages for our pianists, and said, "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks." My need for approval needed me to say it out loud.

I walked out on that stage, and as I prepared for my first song (no prelude, you just start), I started to giggle. It was as if the Holy Spirit had come up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and said, "SARA. It really doesn't matter." It hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe it, and I was laughing in the gorgeousness of it.

I have never sung as freely as I did that day. I let go of all my micromanagement, and I just let it all out: everything I had within me. It was joyful, it was otherworldly, and it was so much fun. I was free last week, guys. I pray that I can sing that way every day of the rest of my life.

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Because of my pre-recital freak-out on Friday, my mom bought and sent me two books. One is called Boundaries. She's had this book for as long as I can remember, and she's been telling me about it for the better part of a few years. Recognizing my constant hunger for approval, she's recommended it to me many times -- and she finally bought me a copy! But the one I started first -- and the one that has totally rocked my world -- is called Grace For the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life. In other words: "Sara, Please Read This." A few pages in, I started sobbing. This book read my mind. In it, the author, Emily Freeman (who I think could be my new best friend), tells her story of trying to always measure up in order to win approval. The girl you feel like you're supposed to be, she says, is always out of reach. The Sara I feel that I'm supposed to be always feels so close -- but then she evades me. We can never rise to that standard we've set for ourselves. It just isn't going to happen. But the beautiful thing is that Jesus has already been all those things for us -- so that we didn't have to. When I try to be all these things in order to be my version of "enough", I am trying to add to what He's already done. But no -- He has done those things so that I could be free. 

So I don't have to be all the things I feel that I need to be. I don't have to be the perfect student with the 4.0, the perfect girl who never gets tired. I'm imperfect, and I can own it. It's not about the things that I do -- it's about who I am. And because I don't have to be perfect, I'm free to be who I am.

This realization has brought me a lot of hope over the past few days (it seems so much longer than that). I've realized that I'm free to do the things I love because I want to do them, not because I have to -- not because they give me worth, because they don't. I'm free to chill the heck out. There's absolutely no pressure to be anything except who I am -- and that requires no pressure. I don't even have to stress myself out in my attempt to be fifteen things at once, because I'm free. I can't explain to you what a gorgeous realization this is for someone who has willingly, voluntarily submitted herself to a crushing load for the better part of (not quite) twenty-one years. It's like someone opened a window in a stuffy room, letting in a beautiful breath of fresh air. It's like I can feel the wind in my face.

This freedom is beginning to permeate my everyday life, too. Even though, looking back,it feels like a new concept, I can tell that I've longed for this all my life. And I've had it! I just never, you know, saw it. The door was open the whole time, but I was too busy cowering inside because I can't control the wind and the sunshine and the rain. I'm free to sit here and write this post, free to not be working all the time -- free to rest. I'm free to buy myself flowers (which I did). I'm free to actually celebrate my recital (which I did, by purchasing what I know will be my next life-changing book, Let's All Be Brave). I'm free to be tired and I'm free to own the fact that I'm tired. In fact, I'm free to own the fact that I'm imperfect. I don't have to pretend anymore.

I don't have to pretend anymore. I can be who I am. And who I am is free.

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