I

 ‘ve always requested the window seat. Though I inevitably have to ask my two row-sharers mid-flight to rise and awkwardly shuffle to the side so I can use the potty. Though my legs be cramped and my bladder be full. I opt for the widow seat.

Flying has become a signpost in my life the last four years: transition, change, loss, excitement, opportunity, joy. And it’s created a rhythm. Between semesters, at holidays, at summer’s end. 66 bus to Blue Line all the way to O’Hare–relieved, exhausted, joyful, post-exams bliss.

And then back. Coming over the turn of 59, after what seems and endless series of winding and dropping Houston highways, hotels and shuttle busses beginning to spot the feeder. It means we’re close to the airport and nearer to the goodbyes. Collecting the bags and squeezing sisters tighter than I knew I could. And then off. By myself usually.

So I take the window seat. I nestle in, and though tears may follow (which have, thankfully, tapered through the years), I have landscape to watch and, approaching my destination, my temporary home, I see it in all its splendor. Glittering there over the lake. Inviting me, charming me.

I’ll never forget the view from the window seat in Ireland, lifting my shade and seeing that we were there. The green was unbelievable. Radiating up at us, a smiling and silly stereotype. And as we got closer, lovely fences, winding rivers, rolling hills spotted with cottages and sheep.

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Approaching Chicago, it’s always the same strange routine. Heading due East, we approach the city, pass over our little neighborhood and Wicker Park, over West Town and then the Loop. And you think it couldn’t get any more beautiful. But the plane doesn’t descend.

It propels on, going straight over Lake Michigan. The water looks like old leather from up there, shriveled and deep blue, the lowering sun casting a cylinder of glowing light over it. And then the plane turns, gently and dramatically, revealing the other side. You pass back over the city and enjoy her splendor one more time.

This ritual has welcomed me to Chicago dozens of times–always to start a new semester. But after spending last weekend with my family in Houston, I boarded United 1577 last night and went through the whole routine.

And I realized as I watched the skyline sink into the background that this is the first time I’m returning to no new beginning. And that it’s a funny coincidence I would be on that very same flight I normally take to start the fall semester, with classes commencing that next day. But I’m not taking on another semester. I’m not moving in with a new roommate. I’m not starting a new job.

And though this at first hits me with emptiness, something about that glitzy skyline glimmered with hope and potential. There’s not something new right now, but there’s the dream of something new. There’s the dream of when we get to live in the same city as our families–when I can invite Audrey over for dinner or go to Alex’s performances. When I can meet Mom or Dana for lunch or coffee. There’s the dream of when we’ll start a family, when our love and God’s grace will blossom into a new life. There’s the dream of when I’ll go back to the classroom. There’s the dream, sweet and full of potential. But not yet.

Right now, here’s what God has given us: the dream of today. The dream that has flesh and bones, that makes noise and talks and smells. The dream of our reality–our townhouse, and my commute, and Collin’s new coffee shop, and our cat. The dream of our community and neighborhood and fragile young marriage to nurture. That’s my new beginning, everyday something to witness and take in from the window seat.

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The Window Seat

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On Being a Listener

Emerging from a wild and wonderful season called college, I am starting to catch a tiny glimpse of how fruitful and stunning these four years have been. And I am trying to catch my breath. Approaching graduation, I was elated and relieved to have completed what often seemed an impossible task, but I’m seeing more and more that I am altogether heartbroken to see this abundant and crazy, fun, exciting, unique time in our lives end.

College wasn’t slowly taken away from us; it was severed. In the last few weeks we’ve graduated, moved, started new jobs, celebrated with family, watched them go, and seen many dear friends shipped off to new starts. We’ve been tossed in waves of change, expectation, and new beginning, and to be honest, we haven’t been riding them out very well. Unable to the grasp at what we had before, we’ve been reaching at different things, different visions of what this new time will look like. Excited and fearful and frantic, I have been running in a million directions, hoping to become the best version of myself, hoping to do everything well, to be everything I want my grown-up, post-college, real-person self to be.

And in my circles and my wild imagination, here’s what that person looks like: she’s intelligent and opinionated, vocal, yet everyone’s favorite person. She’s hospitable, warm, gracious, sassy, globally concerned and proactive, skinny, interesting, good at everything, and altogether enviable. Basically Mr. Darcy’s description of an accomplished woman with a southern and slightly-feminist twist.

But here’s what I’m learning: trying to be her makes my life all about me. I’m chasing her all over the planet to the top of every mountain of expectation, and in my effort to look and feel and be like her, I fold in on myself. She’s not the best version of me. I am my best when I am in a posture of reception–to what others offer and to myself. When my primary focus is what I’m saying and doing, how I’m broadcasting her to the world, how well I articulate myself online–when I’m caught up in talking–I have no time and space for listening.

It says a lot about me that I ended up with a degree in theology (which has equipped me with opinions) and a degree in communications (which has equipped me to fumble at articulating them). My natural inclination is to put myself and my feelings out there. But something in me is telling me to put a hold on that. Something in me is telling me that the end of college does not mean the end of learning and growing and preparing to be the best version of myself. Something is telling me that I don’t want to look back and think, “I wish I had slowed down and let myself grow a little more–let my self observe and listen.”

I refuse to believe that I–right now, this very moment, this very season–have to choose who I am going to be the rest of my life, what my opinions are going to be and how my lifestyle is going to look. I refuse to believe that this new season hasn’t much to teach me.

Four years ago, when I got to college, there was a lot of pressure to decide who you were going to be here. What clubs are you going to join? What friend group are you going to associate with? What professors are you going to favor? Who are you going to be? And I remember feeling about like I do right now–cornered and pushed and prodded to define myself. My natural inclination: strive. Strive in every direction. The only way to survive is to strive. But by some stroke of God’s intervention, I decided four years ago to refuse to do that immediately. I made myself take my first year of college to think about that, to explore options, to visit club meetings, to try different classes, to form new friendships, and to resist the urge to sign anything, to commit, to declare my identity. I listened.

And it’s time do that again. I’m declaring this a season of listening.

I want to put my hand over my mouth and listen.

I want to still my busy hands and listen.

I want to quiet my mind and listen.

I want to listen to what life abundant could look like for me right now.

I want to listen to what our marriage needs from me in a new phase.

I want to listen to Christ when he says, “You are enough. You are whole. You are plenty. You are mine.”

I want to listen when friends open up their hearts.

I want to listen when something in me says, “Be slow to speak.”

I want to listen to the examples of courageous women all around me who are battling cancer, and mothering bravely, and living triumphantly in ordinary situations.

I want to listen to how I can love and nourish and cherish my husband.

I want to listen when God opens the door to new relationships and connections.

I want to listen when my kitty curls in my lap, purring, with something to teach me about rest and wholeness and contentment.

I want to listen when Christ calls me like he did Martha, to put down my busywork and come sit at his feet.

I want to listen to what my body needs from me right now, to give it rest and nourishment and proper exertion.

I want to listen to the treasures on my bookshelf, to stunning works of fiction and the wisdom of their authors.

I want to listen when friends and family and neighbors are crying out for connection, for laughter, for time around the table.

I want to stop going boldly in the direction of my dreams, but allow myself to re-imagine what my life could be.

I dare to stop speaking and proclaiming and insisting and striving. I give up my decisiveness, my sense of formed self. I dare to be a listener.

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