Pursuing Stillness

My husband has been comparing me to horses pretty much since the day we met. (He’s a horse trainer; it can’t be avoided.) Fairly early on in our relationship, he told me I reminded him of one of the more sensitive of those creatures. He knew that if he pushed me too hard, too fast, I was liable to jump right through the fence.

He wasn’t wrong. In the end, it was his gentle persistence that won me over… even if he does insist on handling me like a horse.

It’s an apt comparison though, especially when it comes to his own personal project pony. If having a “spirit animal” is still a thing, Kismet is mine. In observing her, I learn much about myself.

Perhaps our similarities are what draw me to her, but also what make her difficult for me to ride. The things I struggle to control in her are the very things I fail to master in myself.

Stillness is hard for both of us. In order for me to maintain control of Kismet, I have to lower my energy and find a sense of peace. But peace is not my natural state of being. I like busyness. I enjoy multitasking. Slow and steady is a phrase I often interpret as dull and boring. Even when I am sitting still, my mind is racing in a hundred different directions because I feel like I should be doing something.

But Kismet is teaching me the Art of Stillness, not by example, but by the fact that Stillness is what she requires of me if I want to stay in the saddle.

Sometimes it feels like she fights me with every step. She wants to press ever forward, ever faster. Always moving, and always moving her way at that.

Last week, we took the client horses out and about for a ride to see how these green broke ponies would react to the great big world. It was Kismet’s job to take the lead—to walk fearlessly up to bridges and dumpsters and mountains of firewood so the others could see these things meant them no harm. Kismet got bored with it pretty quickly, never wanting to linger over any one thing for long.

My instinct is always to fight her—to force her into submission—but I know she only feeds off my energy and fights me all the more. So I took a deep breath and calmly turned her back around.

Peace.

Stillness.

Why are those things so hard?

As soon as we turned back toward home, the problems only escalated. She picked up her pace, eager to get back to her pasture and her herd. I wound her in serpentines to keep her from charging too far ahead. I intentionally guided her in a direction that was not quite where she wanted to go. Still, she kept her nose tipped to the east, pulling on me.

“I know what direction home is,” I assured her, “but we’re not going that way right now.”

She stomped. She spun. She struggled.

And I related with that horse all the more as she strived against Stillness.

A great big exhale of energy.

Peace.

Stillness.

“I’m okay, you’re okay,” I breathed, willing it to be so. “Whoa, girl. It’s okay.”

We survived our outing, much to my husband’s relief. Despite his more natural tendencies, I think peace is a hard place for him to find when I’m on that wild pony. If you ask me, he’s too hard on her, but I can’t begrudge him that. It’s his job, after all, to gentle horses, but despite all his efforts, this one refuses to be fully tamed.

Sometimes I think he forgets where she came from. After all, this horse would have been dead years ago had a friend not pulled her from a kill pen based solely on her looks.

Someone had given up on her potential. Someone had decided she was beyond redemption. Even the friend who rescued her from the throes of death quickly realized there wasn’t much she could do from this creature. She had no use for a bucking bronc so if Levi was looking for a project, he was more than welcome to take Kismet off her hands.

So really, when you look at where she came from, Levi has worked a miracle with this horse. He saw her worth and fought for it. He gave her purpose. It could almost be said that he brought her back to life.

But she’s still overreactive and highly emotional, and he can’t change that. Just like he can’t change me.

Sure, he can create the proper environment for breakthrough. He can coax her along. But he can’t make that change happen deep inside her where it needs to take place.

Because, while peace is something you can taste in the presence of someone who has mastered the Art of Stillness, it can’t become your own until you want it badly enough to seek it out for yourself. Maybe it can be borrowed for that moment when you need it the most, but possessing it—truly inhabiting Peace and Stillness—is a chore.

I don’t know if Kismet will ever put in the work for herself. I don’t know if horses are capable of the type of self-reflection it would take to overcome all of her past trauma and truly change. But God knows that I’m trying.

I’m taking deep breaths. Exhaling slowly.

I’m reaching for Peace.

I’m pursuing Stillness.

One day, by the grace is God, those things may come easily to me. Today, I strive for them with sheer willpower, reining in my thoughts and centering my focus.

Because there is something sacred about Stillness, and I want to know it better, despite my wandering heart.

Art by: David Roper

Here’s to New Beginnings

I was set up to believe that my wedding day would be a much bigger deal than it actually was. Sure, some of that was due to COVID-19 and realizing we would have to downsize (while also realizing that a small, intimate wedding in our backyard suited us better than the big production ever would).

But still…

I was waiting for that moment—anticipating the pre-wedding jitters as the magnitude of this decision sunk in. That moment never happened, because really the ceremony was little more than an official confirmation of a decision that had already been made, slowly, over the past two years.

On the day I read Levi Roper my vows, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That was not the case two years ago.

I remember that night so clearly. After three months of fighting feelings I did not wish to have, I found myself losing the battle. I had to address what was happening between us. I had to know.

And yet…

I had an entire list of reasons I shouldn’t pursue this. I imagined a hundred scenarios of things going wrong. In fact, I had only one reason to consider having this conversation at all.

I wanted this. Despite Logic’s attempts to reason me out of it. Despite everything I risked losing. Despite the easy path being to continue on with my life as it was before I ever heard the name Levi Roper.

Yes, despite all of that, one thought rang clear in my mind on the night of July 14, 2018:

“Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”

So I brought forth my questions and uncertainties and, one by one, he dismantled them all.

Now here we are—one month into a life I never dreamed possible. Mere weeks into a lifetime I almost never had.

All because I was afraid of new beginnings.

I still am. I have a hard time plunging into things where I cannot predict the outcome.

I’m practical, is all. You may not think a trait so simple and seemingly helpful as practicality would be the death of me, but it is, you see. Because pouring all that energy into something that isn’t going to last seems decidedly unpractical to me.

That’s why I find beginnings to be so daunting. Because choosing something worthy of cultivating is a challenge. Starting out and forcing myself into a rhythm is a chore. And knowing that I could work my hardest for naught… Well, that is disheartening, to say the least.

It is so easy, two years down the road, to look back on that pivotal moment and romanticize it:

Silly girl. Look at how things turned out. What did you ever have to be afraid of?

But I was afraid. Looking back on it now, knowing the ending, doesn’t take that fear away; it simply transformed it into something I can cherish with the gift of hindsight.

My favorite part of our story is that I chose him despite myself. Despite my fears. Despite the story I was trying to write for my life.

Levi was (and is) a new beginning. And I didn’t think I was ready for that.

The word God whispered to me as a theme for this year is Becoming. I am all too aware that I am in transition—that God is shifting me into a new season, despite my own plans.

Something new is beginning in my life and it scares me. It scares me because it is unknown and unfamiliar and not in the plan. It scares me because I can’t make out the shape of it quite yet and I feel like I’m walking helplessly into the dark. It scares me because everything I thought I wanted suddenly doesn’t feel like enough.

And I haven’t felt this afraid in two years, when I whispered my confession that, yes, I wanted this into the dark.

I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I’m becoming. And I could think of a hundred things that could go wrong. I can think of a hundred reasons to stay the same—to cling to the familiar. Still, I find myself whispering into the darkness, “I want this. I don’t know what it’s going to look like or how long it’s going to last, but I want this. Despite everything.”

So here’s to new beginnings and the adventures they hold in store.

@jessicahackerphotography
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Of Hypocrites and Grace

“But sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a person who is in the process of changing.”

It has been a couple of weeks since my fiancé sent me this quote from the book he is reading (Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson), but I cannot seem to shake these words from my mind.

I have been guilty of judging hypocrites too harshly more often than not. When I find that someone’s actions do not align with their words, I am more likely to write them off as insincere than leave room for the possibility that the person they have been in the past has simply not yet met up with the person they strive to be. And I wonder, as I fight my own battle of becoming, just how much of a hypocrite I appear to others.

If you have followed me for any length of time, you’ll know I tend to live by the words of Jesus and Hannah Brencher. I think we all know that Jesus is a huge advocate for redemption, but here’s what Hannah has to say about it:

“Leave space and room in every sentence you write for grace and redemption. The most beautiful thing about characters is their ability to change. Don’t ever steal that from someone by writing a story they can’t grow out of one day.”

When I look around my world today, I don’t see a lot of space for grace and redemption. While the potential for growth remains in the heart of each and every individual, it is as though the world in which we live has become the enemy of grace.

We are a people divided, each declaring the other side to be wrong, never stooping to anything so low as empathy. We cast accusations regardless of the lack of evidence and rally people to our sides because heaven forbid we hold our opinions alone. Now we have to feel justified in our hatred.

I was on Twitter the other day and stumbled across a post about a well known author who had allegedly admitted to an accusation of sexual harassment last year. The person sharing this post was appalled that the author in question was still publishing books and essentially called for a boycott of both this author and the agent who represented him. If that were the end of the post, I probably would have kept scrolling past without much thought, but it didn’t stop there. The person posting went so far as to call out the people who were seeing this post and not sharing it because apparently everyone needed to be outraged that this author was continuing to try to make a living despite his past sins.

According to that post, I am a horrible person for not forwarding this information to everyone I know, despite there being no actual information shared. I have no idea what this author said or did to merit such an accusation, therefore I have no idea whether or not this punishment fits the crime, yet I am supposed to blindly accept that this author is the actual worst and convince all my followers that they should hate him, too. (Interestingly enough, I had read one of this author’s books and didn’t love it, so I guess I’m boycotting the author anyway, but just because he isn’t my cup of tea, not because I’ve been convinced that he is a sexual predator.)

Sadly, this incident is not isolated. We are crucifying people for the sins of the past. Things that were said or done five, ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago are being dug up and judged by the masses to determine the character of the person in question. “This person said or did X. Proceed the public campaign to ruin their lives/careers!”

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I think sin should go unpunished, but I do sometimes wonder if the punishment the public prescribes appropriately fits the crime. I wonder if, after all that time has passed, the punishment has already been paid in some fashion. I wonder if the person being accused today does not also condemn the person of yesteryear.

Mostly I wonder if we have removed the space for redemption in their stories. If, by refusing to accept that a person can change for the better, we are molding them into the very villains we imagine them to be.

I fear we have become a society that would cast stones first and ask questions later. Worse yet, I fear we have become a society that casts stones without ever bothering to investigate the truth. That we blindly accept the cries of the masses to crucify an innocent man, never questioning his lack of guilt. Never regretting the role we played in his downfall.

Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Even as self-righteous as we’ve become, it takes only a little introspection to realize we don’t qualify for that privilege.

We are all hypocrites, trying to reconcile new beliefs and old habits. We are all on a journey of becoming, often failing to uphold our own standards, but pressing onward regardless of how many times we’ve fallen.

So please, for the love of all that is sacred, drop the stones to make room for grace. If we covet second chances for ourselves, I think we should afford others the same privilege.

Instead of striving against our perceived enemies, let us strive to redeem the world in which we live.

Everybody Does NOT Have a Water Buffalo… (and that’s okay)

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “Don’t instill, or allow anybody else to instill into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

I’m pretty sure William Booth wins Dad of the Century award, because I’ve never heard of anyone else from the 1800’s preaching about how women might be made for something more than marriage and motherhood. You, Mr. Booth, were ahead of your time. I applaud you.

In any case, that quote ingrained itself in my mind when I was researching Beyond Waiting and continues to occasionally surface in my mind. I think about it when I’m watching movies or scrolling Facebook or otherwise observing human interaction.

We are a culture obsessed with love, creating hopeless romantics who dare to dream that there is someone out there for everyone. We have turned our lives into a quest to find that perfect someone in hopes that they might complete us. Those who are lucky find their way to happily ever after while others…

Well, others might find themselves bouncing from partner to partner, always hoping that the next one might be The One. Perhaps they settle down, but fear they chose poorly. Perhaps they can’t shake the feeling that someone better is out there waiting. Perhaps they will go out in search of that elusive person, or maybe they will cling to the person they have because anything is better than being alone. Am I right?

All my life, I’ve been told that choosing a person to spend the rest of my life with is the most important decision I would ever make (aside from the decision to follow Jesus, of course). While I see the wisdom in this, I have to question why no one ever told me that I also had a choice in whether or not I would choose a person. Or warned me that I might really, really want a person, but not be able to find someone who was right for me.

It seemed like that was never up for debate. Because of course I would marry. Doesn’t everyone?

Remember that silly song where Larry the Cucumber sings about how everybody’s got a water buffalo and Archibald Asparagus rips into him about what a ridiculous claim that is while begging him to stop before they start getting nasty letters from people demanding to know where their water buffalo is?

*deep breath*

Basically, I think y’all should stop promising people that God will bring them a spouse because God is starting to get nasty letters from people who have been single longer than they anticipated.

I’m serious, folks. We are not doing anyone any good by feeding them empty promises of inevitable romance. Maybe marriage is in their future—heck, it may even likely be in their future—but it may not be. And we have to be okay with that.

We need to stop talking about marriage as if it is THE beginning and acknowledge that it is simply a beginning—that there are a thousand different roads you can take that will lead to a fulfilling life, and marriage is merely one of them.

A friend of mine recently shared his own struggle with prolonged singleness and talked of reshaping his perspective to see that marriage is the probably just the latest thing he is chasing in the age-old “if I can just have this one thing, I’ll be happy” cycle.

I think his heart is in the right place, but what I don’t think is that now that his heart is in the right place, God is going to come swooping in like, “Aha! Finally, you are prepared. Here is your bride, my good and faithful servant!”

It could happen, and I will rejoice with him if it does because that’s fun and exciting and full of possibility. But the thing is, I am rejoicing already because God is doing a new thing in my friend’s life and that’s what I’m excited about.

So often, I hear people talk about marriage like it is some kind of heavenly reward. People have long promised me that when I have my heart in the right place, God will bless me by bringing that special someone into my life. But you know what I think? I think God didn’t present Levi to me like some kind of gold star for a job well done; I think He chose Levi for me when he realized the area I needed to grow in was community. I was so good at functioning independently, and then God was like, “Yeah, but let’s see how you do with Together.”

This relationship has been one more way of God ripping the rug out from under my feet to show me a new perspective. This chapter of my life is just one more beginning—one more tool meant to reshape me. Same as writing. And traveling. And skating.

That’s something no one ever told me when they were singing about relationships like Larry the Cucumber sings about water buffalo.

Rewriting My Life

It was one of those silly online quizzes—the kind you blaze through instinctively. Simple questions with simple answers.

For anyone else, it may have been that easy, but as 2018 drew to a close, I found myself staring at a screen, feeling my whole life unravel.

“Do you prefer being single?”

Until that moment, the answer had always been, “Yes, of course!” But that was before I was five months deep in a relationship that was making me question everything I thought I wanted.

For nearly a decade, Singleness had not only been my state of being, but my calling. I found purpose in validating Singleness as a way of life. I read all the books. I championed the cause. I didn’t hold back. I made sure everyone who asked knew that I was whole and happy on my own, and that everyone deserved the freedom to feel that way.

I didn’t realize it then, but I had hung my identity on a relationship status. So it should come as no surprise, really, that God felt the need to rip that rug from under my feet.

“Do you prefer being single?”

My fingers itched to click “yes,” but I realized the honest answer was “no.”

Not anymore.

I remember confessing to my friend Brett that I felt like I was cheating on myself. I worried all over her inbox that maybe I was giving up too much by becoming something I had once scorned.

She lovingly and gently talked me down until I came to my own conclusion that, while I was perfectly capable of functioning independently, I wasn’t certain that I wanted to anymore.

“There it is,” she wrote.

And I knew she was right about that being the clincher, but I still didn’t know where that left me and the complicated mess I had made of my goals.

I felt like Rapunzel, drifting on the lake as she awaited the culmination of her lifelong dream.

“What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?” Or worse… “What if it is? What do I do then?”

Let me tell you, Flynn Rider was lying when he said the good part was finding a new dream. At least for me, it has not been quite so enjoyable.

Because unlike our perfect little storybook characters, I wrestle with the idea of a person being my new dream.

Lately, I’ve been quoting The Little Rascals to Levi, playfully reminding him that “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is ours.” But I think maybe I am more selfish than that. Maybe I want something that is still entirely mine.

I realize this isn’t fair of me since I have already wholeheartedly staked a claim in his dreams, but in my defense, he made it too easy, having been carving a space for me in his story all along.

There was no room for him in my story. He was never a character who was meant to play a role in my tale. But he showed up anyway, and when he did, it felt like there wasn’t a place for me in some of the pages.

I’ve missed blogging, but how could I continue writing Beyond Waiting from this side of Once Upon a Time? I never wanted to be the person who wrote about Singleness after being removed from it, but I’m also not quite ready to surrender this calling just yet.

So I don’t know where that leaves me. I don’t know what shape this story will take. I feel like a messy first draft with gaping plot holes, but I’m still here, claiming ownership of my story. I hope that counts for something.

The Rush

“I want you to try slowing it down,” Kim said. “It’s like you’re in a rush to get to the landing. I want you to be in a rush to get in the air and just kind of float there for awhile. Like a little fairy.”

She’s right, I realize. While there are multiple steps to a jump, I find my mind fixated on the last one—-gliding backward with arms to the side and one leg extended behind me.

Crushed it.

Except I didn’t. Because the jump itself was sloppy and haphazard. Rushed. Like so many other things in my life.

I love accomplishing things. I love drawing check marks on to-do lists. I like looking at the finished product and saying, “Look what I have done!”

And I rush the process trying to get to the landing.

I find Kim’s voice rushing through my mind a lot these days. I guess that’s what a good coach does. She trains you to hear her gentle commands even when she’s not there to deliver them:

“Slow. Don’t rush. Cross and hold. Now look back and hold. Whoa. Hold that position. Now step forward. Hold. Now UP!”

And the funny thing is that I hardly think about the landing anymore. Landing is the easy thing. The natural thing. It requires so little of my focus.

Savoring those in-between moments… From the first crossover to the landing position… That’s the hard part. Being aware of my shoulders and my core… Being intentional about each step… That’s what kills me.

I spend too many of my days in a rush to get to the end of them. I look at the checklist of things I need to do and, instead of savoring each one, I simply rush through to the next.

Quiet time? Check. Workout? Check. Grocery shopping, house cleaning, coffee date? Check.

And by the time I crawl into bed, my day is a blur. It feels as sloppy as my waltz jump. As reckless as my Salchow. I may have gotten to the ending, but I failed to infuse intention into each step, and I feel the lack of it.

So I’m learning to slow down, both on the ice and off. To savor each step. To be present in each moment. To rush into the next thing, but then just kind of float there for awhile. Like a little fairy.

I like to think that someday I will be content to live a step-by-step kind of life.

The Depths

“Take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

When Hannah Brencher gave me permission to #stealthisprayer a couple months ago, I gladly accepted. I posted it on my mirror. I scribbled it across multiple pages of my journal. It has become my daily battle cry.

“God, take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

I say it with all the sincerity my wayward heart can muster, longing for the depths while absently splashing in the shallows.

I think I like the water analogy because I don’t actually like water all that much. It’s easy to view this spiritual drought as something I’ve created for myself because of my aversion to diving in over my head. Like, Rebekah, you are holding back. Jump in, jump in, jump in.

My parents have a pond and I don’t think I ever swam in it until a couple weeks ago. I realize that’s ridiculous. It’s just that I don’t particularly like treading water and I really don’t like standing with my feet swallowed up in pond scum, so I guess I haven’t found a good reason to spend time there in the last twenty or so years it has existed.

I feed the fish, but I don’t swim with them. Thank you very much.

Even on the day in question, I had no intention of actually getting in the water. But since everyone else was hanging out there I figured, at the very least, I could change into my suit and soak up some sun. Which might have worked for me, except Caleb exists.

When I launched out onto that pond, perfectly dry on the pretty pink flotation device I mercifully found unoccupied, that little bugger came drifting over with an evil glint in his eyes. You know the one. It’s the look that says your fun in the sun is about to get flipped upside down. Literally.

“Don’t do it.” I tried to sound stern, but I probably sounded more whiny than anything. Because seriously, this was a little slice of heaven and how dare he take that from me? “Caleb, no.”

“What’s the point of being in a pond if you’re not going to get wet?” he pestered, splashing water onto my back as I helplessly protested.

And then he went under. And try as I may to sprawl my weight evenly across that raft, I was no match for Caleb’s determination.

“I’m sorry,” he lied, and swam away, leaving me in the middle of a pond with my arms draped across a raft that was no longer keeping me dry.

And you know what? It was really fun swimming around beneath the surface of that water. I might even do it again sometime.

So basically I’ve been asking God to play the role of Caleb in this story. To save me from the comfortable little existence I cling to by flipping my world upside down and immersing me in things I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for myself. I’m not saying I don’t protest. I’m not pretending I don’t often clench my fists around the things I’m hesitant to release to Him.

In a lot of ways, my prayer is more of a reminder to myself to keep craving the depths. To keep moving into the things that scare me until I’m not afraid anymore. It’s a cry for total surrender even as I hold myself back.

“Take me into the depth of who You are and change me there.”

Finally Fearless

I’ve just come back from traveling the world.

No, seriously. I took a month long road trip that spanned eight thousand miles and seventeen states. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences in which I visited a few friends along the way, but also spent a solid two weeks literally living out of my car.

I think it’s the whole sleeping in the car thing that has led to the general consensus that I might be insane. Mostly, I just wanted to take an epic road trip without completely breaking the bank, and, hey, I didn’t die, now did I?

As I detailed my plans and/or recounted my travels, the phrase that kept resurfacing from the lips of friends and strangers alike is, “I would never be brave enough to do something like that.”

I had nothing to say to this. Mostly because I know there was nothing I could have said to myself when I first had the idea to maybe take off four years ago. As much as I wanted to go, I wasn’t quite ready to tackle such a venture on my own. I may have been the girl who toted “fearless” like a battle cry, but there was still a whole lot of fear in me.

The biggest thing I learned about myself on this journey is that I’m not afraid anymore. The things that used to strike fear into my heart didn’t even make me flinch. They made me excited instead.

I didn’t feel brave packing up half of my wardrobe and leaving behind the familiar in search of new sights. I felt relieved. Like staying wasn’t even an option anymore because going felt so necessary.

I needed that week in Kansas. I needed the chaos of shoving 30+ people in one home where you whisper, “Praise Jesus” upon finding an unoccupied bathroom. I needed the hugs and the laughter and did I mention the hugs?

I needed to hit the road and drive across countryside that looks nothing like I’ve seen back East.

I needed to hike high altitudes, and venture deep into caverns, and walk along shorelines my feet had never touched before.

I needed the people I stopped to see along the way. I needed their love and hospitality and showers. God knows I needed their showers.

I needed to get out and live because sometimes staying rooted in one spot feels more like withering away.

So I don’t know what to say to those people who aren’t there yet—the ones who think they can’t be brave—except this:

What I wished as I sat overlooking a canyon at Zion National Park was that I would have been braver ten years ago. Maybe not to the point of packing up my life and hitting the road for a month, but in smaller, seemingly insignificant ways.

I wished I would have spent more time downtown. I wished I would have ventured deeper into the Blue Ridge. I wished I would have taken off on spontaneous adventures all on my own instead of waiting for someone to invite me to tag along with them. I wished I would have splurged a little on seemingly silly things.

I wished I wouldn’t have always played it so safe and smart and practical.

There’s a time and a place for that, but it took up so much room in my life. Letting go, leaving all of that behind… I feel like a whole new person. And I like this person a whole lot better than the girl from before.

She’s happier. She’s a heck of a lot more fun. And she doesn’t feel stuck in a life she never wanted for herself.

She’s finally fearless in all the ways she wanted to be all those years ago.

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Party of One: A Book Review

Listen, we all know that singleness is my jam, so it should come as no surprise that I still collect books on this little fascination of mine. Honestly, most of them say the same old thing, which is why I’m popping in here to gush about finding a fresh perspective on the subject.

Party of One by Joy Beth Smith is not about providing more cliche answers, but about making room for the discussion the church is not having about sex and singleness. (And might I just add, it’s about dang time.) I did my fair share of blushing and cringing through a certain chapter, so I can confidently say that I don’t agree with every opinion voiced within these pages. Heck, I can’t say that the author agrees with every opinion she presented on behalf of her fellow single women, but at least we’re finally having the conversation.

While I’ve heard a whole lot of complaints over the years about purity culture and Joshua Harris’ infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I didn’t understand how these things were to be blamed for a broken view of sexuality… until Joy Beth broke down all the things I was taught in youth group and so graciously explained how these teachings may have been harmful to me. Guys, it hurts how right she was. By the time I put this book down, I was feeling absolutely liberated.

My favorite concept from this book, however—the one that will stick with me forever—was the perspective a twenty-eight year old woman shared with Joy Beth on her ongoing struggle with still being single.

“It’s not what I was prepped for,” she said. “It’s not what I envisioned.”

She goes on to say that her whole life she was taught to be a wife and mother, but no one ever taught her to be a woman.

“My biggest struggle is knowing what womanhood looks like, what identity and completion look like, apart from the goal of marriage.”

And that, my friends, is why I champion the cause of the single Christian woman. Because we’re all struggling to find value in ourselves when church culture has taught us to find our worth in marriage and motherhood. Because we deserve better than to spend our lives waiting for a husband who may never come. We deserve to be validated as a Party of One.

So You Think You Can’t Dance

“Do you dance?”

It was perhaps the first question he ever asked me. I answered with a nervous laugh and a shake of my head. “No.”

Before I knew it, he had taken my hand, pulled me close, and started twirling me in a too-small kitchen.

Well, hello. Nice to meet you, too.

“You can dance,” he chastised me after a moment had passed.

“I can follow,” I countered, because somehow it didn’t seem to count as dancing so long as someone else was doing all of the creative work. While I’ve always longed to move my body with all the grace and confidence my sister displays, I simply can’t.

I can’t.

Two simple words. Five little letters dotted with the apostrophe of finality.

I can’t.

It’s hard to imagine a phrase so small could have the power to undo you, but it does. Over and over again, those words have confined me, strapping me down to a small existence where new limits are not reached.

My word for 2018, I quickly realized, is Horizon. Really, it’s a phrase: Bring Me That Horizon. (What can I say? I’ve always been obsessed with the pirate’s life.)

While the horizon is most commonly known as the line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet, it also refers to the limit of a person’s mental perception, experience, or interest.

In other words, it’s the “I can’t” moments. I think I’m supposed to conquer them this year. So I’m trying to face them head on—all those moments I instinctively greet with a, “No way, Jose.”

As I’ve been intentional about catching these thoughts, I’ve grown discouraged by the sheer volume of them. I had no idea how often I shut myself down.

“Really bend your knee and push that blade into the ice,” Kim coaches.

“My legs are not strong enough to hold that position. I can’t.”

“You’ve got to commit,” Gabe says as he instructs me through a front flip on the trampoline.

“It’s hard to commit to breaking my neck. I can’t.”

“Loosen your hips and move with it, girl!” Caleb calls as I’m tossed about on a mechanical bull.

“That defies every instinct of self-preservation in my body. I can’t.”

As I am my own worst critic, I don’t think it’s an accident that this challenge has come on the tail end of my Year of Together. I’ve gathered some pretty fantastic people (see above) who often give me that little boost of encouragement I needed. I’ve learned to take them at their word even when my doubts want to tell me they’re wrong. I am not a backspin prodigy; I can barely get my left foot off the ice for one rotation.

But I’ve learned to trust those voices. I’ve learned to lean into them and let them give me the strength I didn’t know that I had.

And a funny thing has happened to me over the last few months. I’ve become brave enough to dance in public—even when there is no one to follow. Because, surprisingly enough, my hips know how to move entirely on their own. Suddenly, they feel beautiful and confident and maybe even a little bit graceful. (And, if Shakira is to be believed, hips don’t lie, so it must be true.)

It’s amazing what a world of possibilities opens up when we stop telling ourselves we can’t and instead start whispering that we’ve got this. That this new challenge is going to be difficult, but we are strong and capable of conquering it.

I hope you’ll be brave enough to tell yourself you can.