Starting in 2015, I picked a song for each year. I actually have a playlist for each year with multiple songs that remind me of something that happened that year, either a lesson learned or an important event. But I always try to pick one song that encapsulates the strongest flavor I taste when I turn the year over on my tongue.
For 2015, it was Andrew Peterson’s “You’ll Find Your Way.” I was a sophomore/junior in high school in 2015, learning how to drive, getting my first job, stressed about the SAT, trying to figure out friendships and what I was going to do about college and this whole Christian thing. Andrew Peterson’s words were the perfect soundtrack for the frightening frenzy of careening towards adulthood. It was a lot of change, a lot of real-world important stuff that I didn’t want to mess up and that I couldn’t put off any longer.
Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken a hold of you
And you’ll find your way
Deep breath. Okay. It’s going to be all right.
2016 was the craziness of moving to Germany and starting senior year and with it, the arm pain.
2016 didn’t have a song. Which is probably just as good an indication of what it was like as a song would be.
In 2017, I graduated high school but I didn’t go to college. I started my part-time cashiering job and spent all the extra hours taking long walks through German fields or lying on the carpet in my bedroom, since that was sometimes the only thing that didn’t hurt. Because we were living in an isolated little town in Germany, I didn’t have any friends, any church, any community. I had my family, and they were my lone light in those dark days. But still, it was lonely. And quiet, quieter than my life had ever been. The bustle of school, of activities, of writing and creating and being involved in things—it was like the transmission had been suddenly cut off. Where there once was the hum of life and busyness and stress and plans and confidence that I could do it all, now there was only silence. It was just me alone in my bedroom, lying on my back, listening to music.
And that’s when I finally understood the meaning of the Twenty One Pilots song, “Car Radio.”
I had listened to it before and never really gotten it. Normally, it’s exciting when a song finally clicks. Not this time. I didn’t want to know what this song meant. Someone had stolen my car radio, and now I just sat in silence. The song was right: sometimes quiet is violent. Your thoughts make up for it, and they get so loud. ‘Cause this time there is no sound to hide behind, and there is no distraction to mask what is real. In the silence—and the stillness—you are forced to confront your thoughts.
I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep – please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound
Yeah, sound is nice, and safe. I think most people (not all) wouldn’t choose the frightening quiet over the numbing noise unless they are forced to. I always said I didn’t want a safe life, and I’m thankful that God held me to my young, rash vow. He turned off the radio and held my hand while turning me to face all the things I never had the time or attention or desire to examine with the sound on.
It’s a good thing, really, when your car radio is stolen because then the next year—
2018’s song is radically different. Its whole playlist is, if you compare it to 2017. Actually, it makes me want to cry for gratitude when I compare them. 2018’s song is “Control (Somehow You Want Me)” by Tenth Avenue North. All through middle school and high school, I struggled in my faith. The details are a story for another time, but the year of silence, and the year of pain before that, helped me finally work through the lies I was believing.
In 2018, I still wasn’t going to college. We moved back to America, and I moved to another part-time cashier job. Not exactly my dream. But my heart was still lighter than it had been in years, because I finally felt secure in my relationship with God. I finally felt that I could look someone in the eye and say “I am a Christian” and feel no trembling or doubt or sliver of shame inside at the words. I was finally able to believe that God doesn’t need me—but somehow, what glory, he wants me.
Like I said, in 2018 things had changed much circumstances-wise. This verse always hit me:
I’ve had plans
Shattered and broken
Things I have hoped in
Fall through my hands
You have plans
To redeem and restore me
You’re behind and before me
Oh help me believe
But now, finally, the chorus wasn’t just some cheesy Christian thing I heard on the radio and wished I could feel. It was something that, for most days, I kept coming back to for comfort and courage.
God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life
And the way it should go
And now, 2019. It was late 2018 that I got the thought that maybe I could still go to college even if my arms aren’t better. It was the beginning of 2019 (which feels like ages ago, heavens) that a doctor signed a disability form that enables me to request accommodations like dictating exams instead of having to write them out.
In March, a friend and I drove up to New York City to see Anastasia. It was a truly magical time, but as we walked through those bright, bustling streets that never sleep, I felt a chill breeze of doubt: Will I really be able to come? Will it be another dream that ends up not working out? There are five months between now and move-in. So much could happen…
And so much did happen. But it was so many good things. Meet-ups with friends I had imagined for years. Hanging out with new friends I made here. An early morning hike mid-summer full of deep conversations and stunning views. Floating on a boogie board in the ocean while the sun set, watching the light dance on the water around me and feeling, for one sublime moment, serenity. Watching Doctor Who with a friend all year long and reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer on our porch and letting these good stories shape my soul. Going shopping with my mom for towels and business casual clothes and preparing for the day I couldn’t believe was actually coming—
And then, the whirlwind of moving in and unpacking all my clothes and going shopping for groceries in Brooklyn and all the orientation and saying goodbye and falling asleep on top of a very tall bunkbed and sitting up the next morning and seeing the Statue of Liberty through the window across from me.
My life at school hasn’t been perfect. There is stress, of course, and my arms hurt a lot at the beginning. But to be honest, it’s been pretty close. I know it’s not that way for everyone, and that’s been a big lesson for me this year: not feeling like my good experiences invalidate me, not letting myself feel guilty that I’m not given the same trials other people are. For me, it has been almost pure joy. And I am so thankful.
Walking down Wall Street in black heels, getting rush tickets to a play and eating brownies by a fountain afterwards, studying under the grand ceiling of the New York Public Library, studying at a little coffee shop in Brooklyn, taking the ferry from New Jersey at night when you can see the skyline all lit up, late nights laughing hysterically with roommates, studying those bold yellow terms silly, talking with professors who really care about me, all of us gathering on Monday to hear the Bible read aloud (and to get free Chick-fil-A), a whole congregation on a Sunday morning turning to face the doorway and beyond that, the busy avenue and the whole secular city itself, and the preacher tells us to go out and live for the kingdom, to build it here.
I thought this year that there are not enough songs about joy. Actually, if you have any favorites on that subject, please let me know. The past few years I resonated more with songs of mourning and lament, of how long? and suffering. I hold those songs close to my heart. I needed them. They sustained me. But now I want songs for this season, songs that pull out all the stops and simply rejoice.
The close runner-up for 2019 song is “Scars” by I AM THEY. I mean, just this first verse echoes everything in my heart:
Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll use
But the official 2019 song is, fittingly, “In My Dreams” from Anastasia. It’s mostly because of this line:
I still have this faith in the truth of my dreams.
I look back over this year, over all the hard moments and the hurts, some of which I’m still grappling with, and new clarity about things I struggle with and still the arm pain—I look back over this year, and the one thing that arises from it all is this:
I will always remember this year as the one in which my dreams came true.
Thank you, Jesus.