When I went to England in May of 2011, I fell in love with the idea of benches. We share them with so many strangers, coming and going–all on our individual journeys. During my quick trek through parts of England and Scotland, I noted that many of the benches had been dedicated to specific people. You know, a sort of to our loving mother who always made us jam and juice sort of thing. Being the sentimental that I am, I loved this. Loving children or doting husbands might memorialize their mothers or wives by inscribing their name on the back of the bench. My favorite was on the Island of Iona. I found it while walking towards an old, famous church. And there, tucked against a backdrop of green hills, I sat on a bench that reminded me of something simple.
Rest and remember.
There’s a bench in Cleveland that I love. It’s one of the few benches on Lee’s campus that hasn’t been replaced yet. It still has original, nearly rotting wood. And I love that it’s marked with weathered stains and missing chunks and moss.
My bench rests in-between two large trees and sits at just the perfect spot–right near the sidewalk and the main road (to people watch) and far enough away that most of the time, people would respect the fact that I was reading or praying or writing. I used to go sit there when I needed to recenter myself–on those days when I just wasn’t sure if I was doing life well. I’d sit and rest and often read from one of the many literature anthologies I was lugging around. And when I walked back to my Livingston apartment, I always felt at peace. Calmer.
When I turned 21, I decided to start a tradition of remembering. I’ve never really been into new years resolutions. It makes much more sense to me to begin each birthday–each new year of life–with a time of reflection and visioning. And so, here on this bench (right before taking a spanish exam) I [in the nerdiest way possible] made myself a mission statement. I set goals for what I wanted 21 to look like. Prayed for what I thought God needed to do in my heart and my life that year.
And it was the best thing I could have ever done.
So, It’s become a thing I do. Sunday, when I turned 24, sat back and imagined I was on my bench. [Because really, it’s what I did while sitting on the bench that mattered.] So I rested and remembered everything that happened during year 23. And I prayed for what 24 needed to be.
This past year was hard—in all of the good and stretching ways that a year should be hard. It made me better.
I started and completed my AmeriCorps term [where I met tremendous, big hearted people]. I was given new eyes [and a new heart] for the city of Nashville. I was in five weddings of very dear friends [three of whom I’ve known over 15 years. Pretty special!]. I watched numerous other friends say “I do.” I buried my great-grandmother on a hill in Kentucky. I welcomed January in Chicago for a golden light reunion. I tramped in snow. Drank steeping cups of coffee and tea and made a really special new friend. I deepened old friendships. I learned to drive a 15 passenger mini-bus around downtown Nashville. Learned that discontentment is often mistaken for loneliness.
I took road trips. Wrote letters. Wrote blogs. Wrote stories. More importantly, I became confident in the things I had to say.
I grew to like who I am–comfortable in my own skin. Grew content with my circumstances. Grew to love Jesus more than I ever have.
I tried new things and met new people and mostly, I lived with intention. [Which was one of the main things I wanted for this past year.]
And this year, I want to be brave. It’s the word that kept coming to mind every time I prayed. Brave. I don’t think I know what it means to be brave. I mean, not really. Because I feel like it’s so much more than doing things that scare you or pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. And for whatever reason, I feel that this is what I need to walk in. This is what I want to discover. This is what I want to be. And I’m excited for you to discover it with me.
So, at the beginning of this new year of life, I raise my Nalgene bottle to a year of being brave. A year of new adventures. A year of new friends and new faces and hopefully a lot of good hikes and camping trips and novels. Here’s to a year of learning to ballroom dance and bee keep and make bread like my momma.
[And here’s where you all say…..”Hear, hear.”]