This morning, my grandparents’ pastor reminded the church congregation that it was the last weekend of 2015. He went on to share how this year had been wonderful for him, with new additions to the family and college graduations to celebrate. His exuberance over his 2015 experience prompted me to make a collage celebrating my year as well. While I was scrolling through the abundance of screenshots, selfies, group photos, and vacation pictures, I realized that I had too many happy moments to compress into one collage. If I wanted to include every worthwhile memory from 2015, I would have filled your newsfeed with all the mushy gushy, feel-good vibes of my year. I chose the picture above to represent my year because God bombarded me with blessings the way my buddy Steve bombarded me with color powder. My relationships blossomed just like the beautiful wildflowers I found in my backyard this spring, my pursuit of God was more vibrant than the red powder streaking across my white dress, and my celebratory moments surpassed what I could have dreamed or imagined was possible for one year.

This year was honestly the best year of my life, but none of that would have happened if I hadn’t dared to leave what was comfortable for the sake of the unknown. In January, I broke up with my boyfriend of two years after realizing that we were being crippled by the convenience of our relationship. Two years prior, we had started on a path together, hand in hand, overcome with the giddiness of puppy love and infatuation. But as time had passed, we had come to a fork in the road, and I went left when he went right. Our grip on one another was strained, our words grew distant and undistinguishable, and we simply couldn’t continue down our destined paths together. Leaving my ex was the most daunting, scary, and necessary decision I’d ever had to make, but it propelled me from the valley of complacency into green pastures.

February and March were filled with girls’ nights, books and hot baths, and almost-relationships that were classified with the ever elusive “we’re talking.” In April, I had my senior prom and it was the most fun I had in all of high school. I was ignoring God just as I had for the past year and a half, but I started journaling again. Journaling led to asking questions in prayer, and by April, I was more open to receive God than I had been in years. At a church conference, I heard a sermon about the immoral woman in Luke 7. The woman came to Jesus while he was eating, poured expensive perfume over him, and washed his feet with her tears, wiping them away with her hair. I had never felt so connected to a biblical character as I did to that woman. She and I were one, both pursuing the gazes of men and placing our worth in material things. Rather than washing Jesus’ feet, I wrote him a love letter in a dark corner of the sanctuary, hiding from those around me as I laid myself bare before my king. That was my first great blessing of 2015: reclaimed intimacy with God.

That spring, I started having quiet time every morning on my back porch. I worshipped, I prayed for others, I confessed my brokenness, I read the Word, day in and day out. The better part of my senior year was spent pursuing Christ and praying for those around me who were still stuck in the stagnant Christianity I had just escaped. Joy was easier to find in the everyday, and I truly loved my classmates and my church. I went to Sadie Hawkins with my close guy friend, I gave the opening remarks at graduation, and I left high school satisfied that I had made the most of my last two months there. Summer was just beginning though, and the path the Lord was leading me on was about to get a little more crowded.

Fresh out of high school and alive with summertime, I introduced myself to a cute stranger after church. For the first time in my life (honestly), I had no desire to date anyone, and was completely satisfied in pursuing Christ rather than boys. I didn’t expect anything to develop, but I started noticing him everywhere after that. I wanted to tell my friends about him, even though we’d had a handful of conversations and I barely knew him. I sensed a crush coming on, and so June and July were spent fighting it off, reading my Bible, going to summer camp, and preparing for college. Mid-July, my youth group went to Colorado for what would be my seventh Desperation Conference experience. My crush was there, as a middle school boys leader, and I fled from him at every opportunity. Not only was Tim handsome, but he was well-read, loved the Lord, and looked at me like I’d always wanted a man to. He had warm eyes, a kind smile, laughed easily… I was smitten. This was the beginning of my second big blessing.

Before that date came along, however, the Lord planted a seed in my heart for missions. Suddenly, I saw myself washing the feet of the Dalits in India, walking down the dirty streets, and loving on the unloved. Small, forgotten threads from my life were sewn together, and I could finally see how the various fabric swatches of passions, experiences, and goals fit together to reveal my life purpose. I was created to love the Dalit people, the most mistreated people group in India. Then and now, my heart swells when I hear them mentioned, when I come across a worship song or Bible verse about orphans, or when I see a mission trip advertised on campus. Oddly enough, I had an intense longing to tell Tim about my call, so on our second date, I did. Surprisingly, he had been called to missions too, just a couple weeks prior. An indescribable peace encompassed me as he described how he’d heard from the Lord, and over the next few weeks, we were inseparable.

Come August, I left my home of twelve years for my first semester of college. My roommate and I clung to each other in those first few days away from home, and we went from acquaintances to sisters in a matter of weeks. The spring and summer leading up to school were filled with blessings: intimacy with the Lord, healed relationships with my parents, unexpected scholarships, and Tim. Fall, however, brought different kinds of blessings: those that come with trial, struggle, and tear-filled nights. I hated school, I hated being away from home, I hated spending my time and money on what felt worthless. I met amazing people and learned more about the world and myself than I ever had, but I cried at least once a week to Tim about missing home. My blessings went from the abstract and spiritual to the everyday and minute. I praised the Lord for a good cup of coffee, for a stranger opening the door for me, for a 70 degree day. My path of life had darkened with menacing forests of debt, loneliness, and purposelessness. To combat the dreariness, I had to focus on the wildflowers on the forest floor, the tiny gifts God planted in my days to get me through my descent from the mountaintop of summer.

By November, I started going to counseling, cried half as often, and forced myself to enjoy the allotted time I had to spend away from home. The blessings were still small, but every visit home gave me a taste of heaven to get me through hell. I was able to lead the sixth grade girls at a youth retreat back home, and got to love on a special needs sweetheart in my group. On my last day of class at school, I got a call from Pine Cove family camp and was told that my counselor application had been accepted. I came home with a high GPA and a wide open Christmas break, and have spent every day with people I love.

This year, I gained invaluable friendships, met incredible people, and have the future I’ve always dreamed of within reach. There have been struggles, but my greatest blessing has been the joy to get me through all seasons. This year has been my best, because I know who I am in Christ, and have full freedom to walk in that identity. But all my blessings began with a tough decision. As the new year approaches, think about what your decision will be for 2016. Do you need to end a dating relationship or unhealthy friendship? Do you need to take time to discover who you are in Christ? Is it time to take a career risk, or transfer to a new school, or move to a new community? Whatever your decision is, know this: God is always calling us to higher purposes than our own. As you enter into 2016, find comfort in letting God’s word be the lamp on your feet and the light on your path. Pursue Him, and His peace will lead you through whatever triumphs and struggles come this year. But it all starts with a decision: what, or who, is holding you back from Him?

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