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Retrospective, part 1: The Decade

New Year’s Eve 2009. Ten years ago, my brother, sister, and I were spending the afternoon and evening in Nashville hanging out with our friend Jordan, right after seeing our older sister board an airplane to move to Zambia. We were in town for a family reunion, and Jordan and his dad drove up to meet us. We got rowdy in a Panera, laughing at the smallest absurdities that felt like the whole world at the time.

That night, I sat up on a frigid hilltop watching the city lights of Nashville crash like a wave against the dark. I felt the terrible contrast in my soul that around Jordan—I was the best possible version of myself, but those times were always short, and I could see no future where our paths might line up. I desperately wanted to hope, to believe I could be more than a scared, suicidal, slow-healing homeschool kid from small-town Texas. I opened trembling hands in the dark and invited God to tell whatever story He wanted in the next year, next decade, of my life. 2010 arrived in Middle Tennessee.

Since that night, Jordan and I dated, married, spent half the decade in Nashville, moved to Memphis, and navigated deep loneliness and heartbreak in both cities. We both graduated college. I gained and then lost my dream job; I am still rebuilding from scratch. He earned a PhD and then got his own dream job. We both lost people we love, and we held the newborn babies of some of our dearest friends. I deconstructed and reconstructed my belief system. I worked with every single one of the bands I would have listed as favorites in 2009. We traveled all over the country, together and separately, and he participated in conferences in Europe.

We have lost so many things. We have consistently spurred each other on to love this world and the people in it more deeply, to lean into the inevitable aches along the way.

When I gave Jordan a hug goodbye as an 18-year-old kid on December 31, 2009, then stood on that Nashville hill with tears stinging my eyes, I never could have predicted any of this. I couldn’t have known how costly the beautiful things would be or how much the painful things would teach me kindness and courage. I’m glad I couldn’t have known, because then I would have tried to contrive a life that refuses to bend to my selfish attempts at control.

And the parts I wish I could change? I believe more than ever that they were somehow still exactly as they should have been. Here at the beginning of 2020, on the other end of the decade, I am challenging myself to open up wider to my story as it is, to demand less and celebrate more. And in the process, I’m giving a nod to that scared kid: Yes. Your story will become so, so much more—more painful, more brilliant, more seared by this transformative grace.

—Mary

ALSO SEE: Retrospective, Part 2: The Year

By: Mary Nikkel

Mary is a fan of stories about grace—whether they show up in writing, music, or photography form. She's been listening to and telling those stories as a professional writer for over 10 years. Mary is the founder and editor of Rock on Purpose, where she talks about rock music centered around truth and redemptive justice.