In December 1986, I came to know life. In December 2013, I came to know death. And in December 2016, I will come to know the full extent of God's redeeming love and grace. I had a difficult time in late 2014-early 2015 admitting I was happy. There was a part of me that felt guilty. How could I be happy with my life when it was a life I knew that I only had because of loss? I slowly came to see (with the help of Freedom Conference 2014, another December life-changer), that my perspective was wrong. Instead of feeling guilty about having my life as a result of loss, I began to feel grateful because I also knew I had my life because of life - the life of a young man who changed mine forever. Enter dating. Talk about being unsure how to admit to myself just how happy I was! It was a little confusing to be so happy, to fall in love with Dustin so quickly. I straddled a line internally for a while of feeling overwhelming joy but being almost hesitant to admit it to myself because I didn't want to diminish the happiness I once knew. Like, to admit that I am happier and more fulfilled in my life now than ever before would somehow betray those memories from years ago. Eventually I came to see that, much how love is different for me now, so is joy. And this is because 2012-2013 did not exist in a space vacuum. Those years and those memories make up part of who I am, so I don't need to feel guilty for being so happy now; instead of essentially comparing happinesses and feeling guilty, I view my life from a more comprehensive perspective. I am happier now because of my whole life. There is no comparison. I look back on the happy memories from that season and I am grateful for them. Those memories and those moments of joy and happiness allow me to appreciate my life better now. It's hard to explain, but here is an illustration that I hope helps. Imagine you are climbing a mountain, but you do not know how high the mountain goes. After many years, you reach the top peak... or at least, the top peak that you can see. What you do not see is that you haven't actually reached the top; instead, the top peak is hidden behind clouds and fog. In the meantime, you celebrate the peak you have reached. It is the highest you have ever been, you have an amazing sense of accomplishment, and oh, the view! In your mind, nothing could be better. Now for the sake of my own story, next comes an avalanche that completely covers the peak you are on so that you can no longer even see it. It takes time but slowly the snow and ice begins to melt and suddenly the fog also clears and you see that there is an entire other peak! When you finally reach the height of the mountain, you look back on the previous peak, knowing you would never have made it to the top without it. Even though you are more joyful at the top peak and have a more robust sense of accomplishment, none of these feelings diminish what had previously been your ultimate high because you know you would not have these feelings if you had not spent time on the previous peak. And if you're like me, everything about that high peak is better because you know what it took to get there. The journey between peaks one and two is hard, y'all. Really hard. But in the trenches, the memories of how great the first peak was push you forward as you imagine just how much better the new peak will be - how much more you will appreciate it. I have a more thorough understanding of love and happiness, of joy and empathy, of passion and grace now than I have ever known. I have feelings of fullness and satisfaction with my life as a whole now that I know are special and unique. I feel both lucky and blessed to have gotten to know the joy that comes with arriving at the peak - twice. I also have to take a moment to brag on my soon-to-be husband. One of the major things I prayed for when praying for my husband in 2014-2015 was that God would send me someone who would be understanding of where I've walked. Last December - at the two year mark - I went down to Enterprise and to the cemetery. When I left, I didn't come straight home; instead, I went to see Dustin. After he patiently listened as I talked way too much that evening, I told him that I was glad that I had him to come back to. With obvious heartfelt sincerity, he told me that he would always be there for me. We hadn't even been dating for two months at the time, and I knew in my heart that he was my answered prayer. And in two months, one year after that December revelation, my life will change again. As I sit on the top of my mountain, happy, grateful, and more in love than ever before, I can see the glimmers of new experiences and memories to be made. Where my life once stood empty, my cup now overflows. For Decembers to come, I will celebrate all that God has done.