2016 in Squares

I always dread January 1st. There's something cold and raw and empty about wintery beginnings. The warm yellow lights of Christmas disappear along with our temporary civilization built on celebration and cheer. I'm trying really hard to like New Year's Day, but I'm not quite there yet.

Until I get comfortable with new beginnings, I'll continue to flip through the thousands of beautiful mental (and digital) snapshots I took in 2016. Here is my year in squares, specifically squares from my life in England. Ringing in the new year means placing the last full-stop on my life's chapter in the United Kingdom.

This sure was a gorgeous year. One I didn't deserve. I am thankful for 2016.

I am choosing to be thankful now for 2017 and the rainbow of snapshots it holds.

Dear June



Thank you for…

(1) Showing off for our out-of-town guests during a perfectly timed cable car ride over the Thames. (2) Introducing British friends to the wonders of the skillet cookie and the intricacies of the Southern drawl. (3) Hiding Union Jacks in the most charming places. (4) Yielding a rainbow-colored bounty of produce for the farm shop shelves. (5) Afternoon tea straight from a perfect pink dream and the cutest pal to share it with. (6) Accidental hikes and stumbled-upon views that make an old park new again. (7) Bringing the best company and the best scone together in Surrey once more. (8) Evensong beneath the breathtaking dome of St. Paul's. (9) First meals in new dishes sent from my very favorite brother who has always believed I could set my own table. (10) #BritsInEnos... again. (11) A good sunset that became a great sunset when a sea breeze, a sister friend, and a full moon were added in. (12) The best surprise of 2015. (13) Grecian rainstorms. (14) Sunbathing and people watching at Primrose Hill. (15) Homemade pizza crust and quality time. (16) The dreamiest evening with Taylor... and 65,000 of our closest friends.

Let's do it again next year!

Love, Alex

Journal | In Remembrance

Note: In an effort to be more transparent, I'm writing about homesickness. This adventure is incredible, but it is also hard. Strangely, my homesickness has almost no bearing on my happiness here in England. I am falling in love with this place and with this life. Perhaps I've sprouted a second heart. That's the only way to explain how I can so deeply long to exist both here/now as well as there/then. These words are gut-level honest, but rest assured that I am hope-filled and content in this new place.



It is altogether possible that I've spent more hours of my life in a daydream than in reality. While my body sat in a calculus classroom, my mind was in  Narnia. Feet planted at the ballet barre, thoughts soaring through Andromeda. Eyes directed toward the lecturer, brain seeing the pyramids of Giza. I accepted my condition and blamed it on my hardwiring as a creative. Planting my life in Europe seemed a surefire cure to chronic wanderlust.

Instead, a strange reversal has occurred since I arrived in England. The daydreams of strolls along the Seine, Turkish coffee in Istanbul, and jaunts to Marrakech have stopped. New dreams have come.

Between my mom and dad, walking the well-worn three mile loop around our neighborhood. Mary Austin in the driver's seat always, laughing always. A Culver City sunset from the porch of a tiny blue bungalow. Strawberries and chocolate muffins poolside at Caroline's. Soybean fields and fireflies and a red front door. Alabama air unbearably heavy with heat and humidity and summertime. A father in the pulpit, a mother beside me in the pew. Biscuits and bacon and a standing weekly breakfast date with best friends. House bursting with family and hammock laden with cousins in small town Mississippi.

Home. Home. Home.

Lately my daydreams aren't actually dreams. They're memories. No longer do I pine for travel and adventure and romance. I pine for the quotidian. I fantasize about my own life, the life I left.

This isn't just homesickness. It's past-sickness. Life-sickness.

Here is the terrifying distinction between missing a home and missing a life: I can return to my home. Homes are made of bricks and mortar; homes have doors for coming in and going out. But lives are fluid and wild, built of time and people and change. I can't return to the life I knew. Even when I'm back on American soil, my old life won't be waiting for me.

Sometimes my chest just aches at that thought. My head bows and my hands hurt and my throat knots and I ask myself over and over: How do people do this? How do people grow up? How do they move on?



The past weeks have been confusing. You're so good with change. You're so adaptable, I keep telling myself. I downplayed the stress of an international move. I altogether denied the shock of transitioning from child to adult, student to employee. I ignored the trauma of being ripped from one community and dropped into a foreign one in the span of a plane ride. To cope with all these feelings, I popped the daydreams of home like pills. I used memories to escape this reality, to preserve my old life by disengaging from my present life. I became addicted to my past. I twisted God's gift of a wonderful home into an idol.

Sometimes I think about those who first followed Jesus, about the homes and people and lives they left behind. On cold nights in strange homes during an unclear quest, they must have longed for the goodness of family and familiarity. A time or two, they may have bowed to the idol of memory. But day after day they chose to follow the One who called them. They refused to allow the haze of golden memories cloud the present miracles.

Calls to remember pervade Scripture. Festivals and feasts institutionalized remembrance in the Old Covenant. Ebenezers were raised as a physical reminder of God's help. History's crowning act of remembrance came with the Last Supper, in which Jesus established a recurring mechanism for His redeemed to remember His sacrifice for the rest of time. We are made to remember!

Change is a prerequisite of remembrance because change creates memories. It logically follows that He who made us to remember also made us to change. Our very bodies testify to this truth as they grow and wrinkle and freckle and stoop. This planet hurtles through space and time. Nature cycles endlessly through the spectrum of seasons. Water morphs from sea to cloud to river to snowflake. We are born and we die. Change is in the DNA of creation; remembrance is the command of the Creator.

Holy remembrance leads only to the magnifying and glorifying of a God whose faithfulness never changes. God-ordained remembrance never results in idolatry, self-pity, or discontent. I must learn the art of true remembrance.



Today, I speak these words to myself: Worship the Life Giver, not the life. Worship the Home Maker, not the home.

I look forward to the day where my present contains a bit more of my past. In the meantime, I'll offer up my goodness-filled former life to Jesus as a sacrifice of worship because it is my most precious gift to give Him. With thanks for yesterday and praise for today and hope for tomorrow, I will embrace my new life in full.

His promises and plans are good. That will never change.