Song for a New Year

I opened this dialog box to write this because I felt a whisper of winter wind in my heart, kicking up flurries of snow.

There isn't snow here, but there is in my mind. It's the magic, the crystal. How is winter quickly becoming so beautiful to me, even as I freeze my toes off?

(Welcome back, writing brain, I say to myself. It's good to see you.)

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It's New Year's Eve as I write, and I'm between the finishing of one book and the beginning of another, and my eyes are beginning to drift closed, because hashtag exhaustion, and I keep checking Instagram and Facebook and seeing...

All of you, all my friends, posting and commemorating your year.

And I look back on my own 2017 and something in my heart grows and swells. I am not overcome by emotion, but I am filled with something.

I don't really think of myself as someone who is possessed of a desire to talk about her year -- except this year, I am, in a year in which nothing really happened. But at the same time, everything happened.

The other day I told Mom that: that this year, I hadn't really done much -- not anything you could put on a resume, anyway, not something that looks good on a marquee. But I know that at the end of the year, I am different. Mom said that she thought I had done more this year because of all the growth I'd been through. That's not to brag on myself; it's only to say the thing that's been turning over in my head for the last few days.

This year has almost been a circle. A circle of seasons, of birth, of trepidation, of fecundity, of deep, throat-burning, dry-heaving despair that makes you feel like you're going to vomit up your entire larynx. Last winter, nearly a year ago -- through January, February, and the beginning of March -- I auditioned for graduate schools. Again. I was admitted to three of the four schools at which I sang, and received a scholarship to the most prestigious. This is nothing to sneeze at; it's something to be very proud of (especially for a soprano)! It was a time of winter's feeble dawn: the hope comes in pinks and cloudy-crystal blues, and it doesn't blaze, but it sparkles, and you can feel it coming.

I felt my dawn coming.

Except. Wait, no. No "except." I'm not about that nonsense here. Throughout this entire year, even when I felt like my soul was trying to vomit itself out from the pit of my stomach, I wouldn't change a thing that has happened to me. I know that Jesus is writing me a better story than I could ever have written for myself.

I gave it up, you see -- I was willing to give up the chance to go to grad school. Partly because I truly believe that God told me to. Partly because I fell in love for the first time, and I didn't do it for him, but I didn't NOT do it for him, you know?

I gave it up. And cried.

And then he was done with me.

And then I really cried.

But before he was done with me, a crack. Along the old, weathered stone of a Grecian urn.

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What a confused time. What a confused Sara. I remember sleeplessness and tears and a spinning head. I remember a sweater dress that somehow I associate both with springtime and with last Christmas. Funny that springtime should be the time I was descending. God did a funny reversal with me this year.

On a Monday I was rocked onto the floor of my bedroom by the C major strains of a Bach cantata that was really the beat of angels' wings. I didn't know they sang in German, those feathered wings that will both stroke your check with the tenderness of a lover and also blow you back until you cannot resist the current. Till you are beating, flailing at the air.

And BWV 51 was the sound of my undoing.

And I knew I needed to go to grad school.

That was a Monday.

That Friday he ended things with me. And I lifted a hand to Heaven and said, "Heard."

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That was July. The 14th. I hope I always remember.

It was the day I felt myself again. It was the day the castles in the sky came crashing down and I knew.

I knew a lot of things.

The next day, July 15, was the day I sucked it up, got a haircut (not a post-breakup haircut, but an I-just-need-a-trim-please-clean-up-my-ends haircut), saw a musical, cried my face off, and went home and did some yoga. That was the day I knew I was a woman now.

In September I told my parents I wanted to go to music grad school after all. That's all really a story for another time.

It might seem absurd if I told you how much I cried over him, especially in proportion to how long we were an item (even now, I cannot say "together" in public places).

For many days I would hold my little stuffed pig (eight dollars at my Market Street when I was feeling particularly low and needy and like I was drowning in old-lady clothes too big for me) and listen to Falsettos and just sob for him and for what I was sure could have been.

Whenever I talk about this time -- the summertime, when the livin' was certainly NOT easy -- I refer to it jokingly as The Dark Night of the Soul, but that's only when I catch myself because I'm hesitant to say the word depression out loud. It feels like too big a word for whatever I experienced, but it was enough that my counselor suggested medication, so you tell me.

But this depression was the axle on which my whole year turned. It was my pivot point. It burnished me.

This period of intense depsair and lethargy and not really wanting to do anything at all was bookended on one end by winter's dawn and on the other -- by a new winter's dawn.

Because, you see, as I write this, it is winter and I am alive and well and living in a new state.

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Why did I move three times in five months? Two words, friends:

Grad. School.

And here we are again, and we have come full circle, and I am finding that I am not whole, but better.

I am new.

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Over the past few months, this idea has been fulminating in my brain. Christians learn in church that the ultimate purpose of all creation is to bring glory and laudae to our God.  A follow-up question: How does our wickedness, how do our ultimate screw-ups bring honor to God? Friends, I do not know (four little words I'm becoming more and more comfortable with: the silence of not knowing. Like snow).

I do not know.

But somehow I know, in my deep, quiet places (place? singular?), that in some way, God gets more glory through our crappiness (I was going to use a more vulgar word, but on the Internet I shall refrain) -- God gets more glory through our manure than He would if we had never sinned.

I do not know how this is so. All that I can think of is that it makes a better Story.

And God is our ultimate Storyteller. He's the reason we tell stories to one another.

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In some way that I know deep in the fathoms of my soul, down through my pelvis into the floor, I know (because the Holy Spirit has whispered it to me in the dark of mystery-night) that it is better to have fallen and been made new than never to have fallen at all.

I want to say it again:

It is better for us to have fallen and been made new by the blood of the Lamb than never to have fallen at all.

(Someone please check me for any blasphemy I may be committing thanks so much.)

It is better that I stray from whatever path I was on and come back to it, because I am richer for it, full of fecundity and -- oddly, I have the sensation of being like rich dark chocolate. Like those Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares with raspberry filling. The deep, dark valley.

And somehow it is better to have taken the circuitous route than the straight, plain road, because I saw more constellations on the way, and because I come back to the road different. Softer. There is a softness around my eyes and in my irises. I think the edges have been filed off. They no longer glint -- they sparkle. Like the moonlight and the starlight on the fresh-fallen snow.

In 2017 I was accepted to three grad schools -- 75% of the ones I sang at. I gave two recitals in two months, of my own planning and motivation and execution. I moved three times -- the last time was a seventeen-hour drive across the country. I wrote more. I got so much better at singing it's insane. I read at least 41 books, beating last year's record by five. I fell in love for the first time and went through the Trough of Despair that was so terrible it just feels like gray mist and that awful raw sensation you have at the back of your throat when you cough too much (how does air flowing backwards over your trachea hurt so much??). I supported myself financially. And not a lot happened -- but also everything happened.

Everything.

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What does one say to a new year?

I have very few expectations. And I am not making resolutions. I am not looking for ways to make myself better -- at least, not in the New Year's way.

2018, I am actually sorry to leave 2017 behind. It has been a strange, unexpected friend to me, coming to me out of the corners and into the shadows and the nooks and the crannies. In the silence and the solitude of the year, kindness has come to me, and His Name is Jesus, and He has been with me from the moment I took His Name when I was seven, but this was the year I sometimes realized He was actually there. And that He loved me.

My world is about to explode in the phenomenon of Grad School, but I will tell the truth: I have loved the wintry quiet.

Spring is rushing forward, but I have bloomed in winter, a white lily breaking through the white snow -- camouflaged for a time, but then you see her.

With a lily in her hand.

The Advent has been long, and I have grown in the silence, in this kind of womb that has lasted eighteen months. A double pregnancy, as it were; I have had to wait for grad school twice in this calendar year.

But 2017 has been my friend, and I'm not sure I can bear the weight of my expectations. My shoulders are not broad. I am small.

Be with Me, I hear You say. Be with me, I say back.

And You say, Sara, darling, I Am.

And as always, all I can ever say is Okay.

Okay.

The snow is crunchy underfoot, and Aslan is on the move, and now I know His coming is not just manifested by the springtime, by blood pumping through our veins. We know Him by the pad of His paws in the silent winter woods just as much as we know Him by His roar at midday.

Look over the black trees at the blue and pink cotton-candy horizon. How did the sky catch without clouds, without its kindling?

We are home. We are free.

it is winter, and we are saplings, and we are alive, and dawn is coming.

Dawn is here.

Amen.

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