Steve & Sara //
Six years ago I was kicking the dust by my car after church in Tennessee and a blond guy walked up and made some crack about my "Yankee license plate." I got my dukes up, ready to fight this dude, whoever he was. "Easy, easy," he said. "I'm from Connecticut." Then he introduced his girlfriend, a tall strawberry-blond goddess. There's no way I could have known at that moment what these two would become. There was nothing easy about that first year we all meshed and became what we call The Makeshift Family now; but I will tell you that of all the people I know in my life, and especially this year, Steve and Sara are on my list of heroes. They will deny it, make excuses for it, laugh it off, but it's true. Their story isn't mine to tell, so I won't, but rest assured—if you want to see faith exercised, wrestled, grasped, and lived, these are the people I know who do it best.

Coco //
Part of the difficulty of choosing my heroes is that their stories aren't mine to tell, so they will only be cute, patronizing accolades to you, but trust me, there are deep and real reasons these people are on my list. Coco is one of those heroes. I tell her that to her face fairly often. I think every time I see her. I want to make sure that she knows that because the fight she is fighting is real and raw and difficult and painful and she fights is so beautifully and so filled with faith. When I ask her how she is feeling, how she is doing, she tells me. She looks into my eyes and tells me. But the very next thing she tells me is how GOOD God is to her and how bountifully He has dealt with her. To hear those words from her mouth, she can't help but be my hero. She'd be yours too, trust me.

Daniel //
My brother Daniel has been in Afghanistan for a year. He lands on American soil this morning and I can't even tell you what a sigh of relief that gives me. And I'm selfish, yes, but I'm also honest when I tell you that my brother is on this list because though I hate war, I love freedom. And Dan represents, to me, a host of men and women who are giving their lives (not in death, necessarily, but years of their lives) to defend freedom. Regardless of politics, I'm grateful for those individuals. Those people. My brothers, their best friends, my sister-in-law—these people are putting things on hold that most of us never would. That's a hero to me.

Jennifer //
Almost exactly two years ago two of my friends got married in a magically lit wonderland. Almost a month later she was pregnant. With TWINS! Nine months later, two little girls were born. And, surprise—baby number three was on its way shortly after! He was just born a bit ago. So, married less than two years and they had three babies. I saw my dear friend in October and I asked how she was and she was honest. She and I stood outside a stone building, while a wedding reception happened inside, and she poured out her heart in a beautiful honest realness that is rare. Rare. And I prayed for her. But when we walked back inside, I felt like the blessed one. Here's why: it is a thing of beauty to share the burden. Jen teaches me that there is no burden too heavy to share. And whether you are the one needing to share, or the one shouldering part of it, you are blessed.
You, the pilgrims //
Well. I had the list compiled, save one. I just couldn't pick that final person. Who would it be? Her? Him? Them? Who was hero number 5 for 2011?  I went into facebook and began scrolling through, waiting for that final face to surface.

Here's the problem, I couldn't pick. Your stories this year were such a myriad of beautiful and painful. Bittersweet and difficult. Life-changing and stalwartly faithful. You got married. You had babies. You fought cancer. You traveled all over North America. You moved to China. You moved to Korea. You moved to Texas. Your dad died. Your mom did. You lost three babies to miscarriage. You lost one. You gave a baby up for adoption. You adopted two. You wrote a book. You picked up your pen and started writing one. You got divorced. You almost died. You were baptized. You lost your job. You finally got one. You got a 4.0. You dropped out of college. And so many of you began a journey that a year ago was a terrifying thought.

So, not to cheapen the previous four heroes, but I need you to know that you're all heroes of sort. You and the story you're living is beautiful and painful, shaped and crafted for you to glorify Him.

Even if you feel like deadweight, a rock, unmoving, unchanging—know this, even the rocks will cry out and it's on the rock that the church was built.

And if you feel like your life is water, a vapor, fluid, changing so quickly it feels like constant whiplash—know this, we are all on a pilgrimage to Zion and your story may have more stops along the way than others.

Wherever you are, make those stops count. Make where you are count. Pursue wildly. Love deeply. Hurt fully. Laugh loudly. Trust intimately.

Write Zion on your heart and make it count. You're my hero if you're living that story.

Love you all, catch you on the other side,

Read the rest of The Best of 2011 here.