Every month, I partner with Emily P. Freeman and writers around the Internet to talk about what we learned in the previous month. This practice helps us to appreciate and absorb what has happened before moving on into the next season. For the month of December, we’re writing about what we learned in the entire year of 2015. Writing this post was so much fun — I loved looking back on the year and seeing the ways I’ve changed and grown. The Sara that enters 2016 is massively different than the Sara that entered 2015, and for that I am so grateful. I’m excited to see the ways God moves in 2016, but for now, let’s celebrate the old before moving on to the new.

What I Learned in 2015

1. Grace. Grace, grace, grace.

I think every year is about this in some way — aren’t we always learning and re-learning the grace of God? This year was full of it for me. It seems that every time I turn around, I’m discovering that I don’t have to earn my way to want-ability, or to the favor of God. He loves me, and that’s that. May we rest forever in that glorious truth.

2. I am fundamentally desired and desirable, wanted and want-able.

Because God desires me, I am desirable. Because He wants me, I am worthy of wanting. It’s part of my identity. Amen and amen.

3. How to write more. And how to write for other blogs.

Around April I began to focus more attention on my writing than I had ever done before. Before that time, my posts were infrequent, but in the spring, I began to write more and more, because I had things I wanted to say. As time went on, though, I started to notice what writing did for me — it helps me to process the world around me. In addition, I have something to say about adventure, and because Jesus gave it to me, it’s my job to say it.

In October, I took part in the Write 31 Days Challenge, in which I wrote a blog post every day about adventure. Writing every day is definitely a discipline, but it does so much for my soul as it helps me to process the world around me and view it through my adventure lens. It’s a discipline I want to continue in 2016.

This year I also wrote my first guest post! A fellow 31-Dayer, Alisa Stoner, asked me to write a post for her blog Dreams Running, and I was honored to do so. It’s called “You Were Created for Adventure,” and you can find it here.

4. COURAGE: How to step out in faith into the fear.

It all started with the original Courage post.

I’m not naturally courageous, but since I wrote that post in May, God has shown me about ten zillion opportunities to step into the fear while refusing to listen to the fear voices. The ability to do this is a direct result of knowing that I am safe in Jesus. I write here about the journey of bravery that I’m on. Jesus is doing something in me, waking up the courage that He’s already given me. What’s been dormant for so long is coming to life.

5. I’m not really a mezzo. I’m actually a soprano, and it’s beautiful.

For about a year, I and the rest of the faculty at Texas Tech thought I was a mezzo-soprano, a lower voice. In June, I went to CASI and rediscovered that I was actually a soprano. Everyone else agreed. It’s been great to come home to my real vocal range. I finally get to sing roles I’ve always dreamed of singing, and my voice fits them like a glove. But my voice benefitted from my short stint as a mezzo: I have low notes now! Who’d have known?

6. How to read more

My New Year’s Resolution in 2015 was to read at least one book each month. I had neglected my reading habit, but I wanted to pick it back up. I’m very happy that I’ve persisted in the fulfillment of this resolution. Reading does so much for my heart, mind, and soul: it renews me, and in the case of certain books, shapes my soul. A lot of what I’ve read this year has also shaped my writing. Look here to see what I read this year. 

7. How to be more intentional in my relationships (Subtitled: Just go up and talk to people; also: People like me!)

This fall I began co-leading a GC (our small groups) at my church. Part of my job in this capacity is to build relationships with the girls I’m leading. Making time for this relationship-building is a tough task, but I’ve found that it is absolutely worth it. Meeting with these wonderful, precious girls even once a week brightens my day. It also teaches me to be a better listener.

In addition, as I learn how to be more courageous, I learn how to approach people that intimidate me. I don’t have to fear rejection, because I am desirable (see #1) and because I am safe in Jesus (see #4). But I also have this freedom to just go up and talk to people because of the very strange and unforeseen fact that people like me! I am always surprised and delighted by this discovery. It’s so reassuring to find that I have something to offer, and that people receive it.

8. Your sphere of influence doesn’t have to be big for you to be able to influence others. In other words: say something. Say what you have to say.

Case in point: this blog.

9. It’s really not my problem. Really.

And if it’s not my problem, I don’t have to touch it. Probably one of the most freeing things I learned this year.

10. The value of resting my voice/how to take care of my voice

I went through several periods this year in which I had to really pay attention to the health of my voice. One was last winter; another took place this fall. During these periods, I have felt vocally fatigued, due either to poor technique or overuse (or both — though I’m particularly guilty of overuse), and I have been forced to rest my voice for an extended period of time (read: longer than a day). During these periods, I have been forced to learn the value of resting the voice. I have had to learn not to whip my voice around like a slave. Paying attention to my individual instrument (as my choir director says) is the only way I will have any kind of longevity, and I count myself blessed that I learned this now, when my voice can bounce back easily, rather than later, when I (hopefully) have a career.

11. How to pay attention.

To the world around me, to what brings me joy, to the state of my soul — paying attention and being observant clues me in to the way God is working and how He might want to work in me.

12. I hate technology.

Okay, maybe that’s a little overdramatic. But this year, I deactivated my Netflix account (gasp). Absorption in the screens for too long makes me feel like I’m not truly living — and adventure is all about abundant life. I wrote a whole post about this phenomenon: find it here.

13. How to apply for graduate school

This was my main project this fall, and I very nearly lost my mind over it. There are only about 568 steps to each application, including personal statements (a different one for each school to which I submitted an application) and prescreen recordings. At this time, I’ve heard back from almost all of the schools to which I applied, and I am grateful for all the time spent applying. I am beyond excited about the next step in my musical journey, whatever it might be.

14. The value of sleep/rest

I love sleep. Is there anyone who doesn’t? Singers need to get at least eight hours of sleep a night, to maintain the health of our voices. This fall, when I was struggling with vocal fatigue (see #10), I became absolutely committed to those precious eight hours. I am an early riser/morning person, and this requires me to go to bed at what most college students would consider early hours. Paying attention (see #11) to my sleep patterns is a way to take care of myself, voice and all.

15. Just ask for it.

I read a blog post in which the author essentially told her reader the following: “You want it? Ask for it.” And it rocked my world. There is absolutely no harm in asking — as many people have told me, the worst they can say is no. This concept is changing my life, especially in prayer — who better to ask than God? But even outside of my walk with Jesus, the ability to ask freely is so valuable to me. It liberates me to go after what I want in a whole new way. And it’s another way of being brave.

16. I’m actually an artist!

I’m an opera singer who writes on the side. I can actually start calling myself an artist. Who’d have thought? I wrote a post about my sudden discovery of what it means for me to be an artist -- find it here.

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s to 2016 and all we learn in the year to come.