That Feeling of Being Most Truly Alive

*An excerpt from the Emily Ley’s newest release, Growing Boldly: Dare to Build a Life You Love

In high school, I auditioned and was chosen to be part of my school’s color guard. At some schools, color guard was an extracurricular activity, something kids did just for fun. At Tate High School, however, color guard was life.

My junior year, I was selected as one of four girls performing the most difficult of skills: a “walking five” performed with a mock rifle. This is where the rifle is tossed into the air (while walking), spins five times, and then is caught steps from where it was originally released.

It was beautiful — art and choreography coming together at its finest to tell a story that deserved nothing less than perfection. When performed perfectly the moment elicited roaring cheers and goosebumps. When performed incor- rectly, well . . . when someone dropped their rifle or missed their catch, it was horrendously embarrassing. We performed this show for months. Some competitions we did better than others. But we worked up to the Winter Guard International World Championship in Dayton, Ohio, where world-class color guards from all around the world gather to compete. The days-long competition held many rounds, narrowing down to the few best color guards to compete in the finals.

This competition wasn’t like any other competition though. We performed in the Dayton Flyers basketball arena (a far cry from the high school gyms we normally competed in). Not only was the arena enormous, but the ceiling was black.


Now, imagine you’re tossing something high in the air, hoping to catch it perfectly, and the ceiling is black. The black ceiling always threw people off. And I just knew, deep down in my soul, that it would happen to me. The fear of dropping that rifle, in sheer silence, in front of thousands, the crack as it hit the floor, the devastation among my teammates at my one mistake . . . the pressure was thick and the fear lived with me all year.

During prelims, I was so scared of messing up that I was hardly able to enjoy myself out on the floor. I performed safely so as not to disappoint anyone. We scored well, but the performance didn’t have the same power as it usually did. And apparently I wasn’t the only one nervous. Everyone held back a bit.

This is it. I can either go out there and play it safe, hold back, and have a decent performance and experience. Or I can give it all I have, right now in this moment, this one solitary life of mine. I can expend every ounce of energy and put to use every skill I was born with and have developed over years of hard, hard, hard work.

The buzzer sounded that it was our time to take the floor. Rifles and sabers in hand, we high-fived one another and made our way out into the dim arena in front of thousands. We all took our positions and began.

My heart began racing.

You’ve got this.


Up. Up. Up.


Caught perfectly in my hands. I made an audible sound of relief, and shock, and pride, and somehow, a photographer snapped my photo at the exact moment. The feeling I had inside was written all over my face. I have this photo in my house now, twenty years later, to remind me of the time when I nearly let fear pull me away from my calling, from an experience I would carry with me the rest of my life. What a gift it was to be able to pursue such a thing, to do something with four years of my life and with my body that made me feel so very alive.

My calling, during those years, during that season, was to connect with that spark within me, that unique switch placed there by God, that would ignite my soul. What a miracle that I found it for a few brief years. And what an even greater miracle that I was able to leave all my fears on the floor that day and do a brave thing. I’ll never forget the way that made me feel. And I’ve been chasing that feeling of being most truly alive ever since.

I know you’ve felt that spark. I know you know that feeling, even if it’s somewhere deep, maybe hiding in your past. And everything we’ve been through together, through all the talk of goals and dreams, is just a way of going after that spark. Of building it into a life you love, day in and day out. When was the last time you felt that spark?

Our calling changes and evolves over the years as we grow and our circumstances change. My calling, during my high school years, was to connect with that spark, to develop a lifelong spirit of determination, and to learn grit, gumption, and scrappiness. Those virtues served me well in my callings that followed — as a wife, mother, designer, and writer — as a friend, leader, and creator. The key to realizing your calling is to be comfortable with the fact that it will evolve as the seasons of your life change. So often, we believe our vocation has to be our calling, that the service we contribute to the world has to be deeply rooted in who we were made to be. I’d argue that that’s not always the case. It’s wonderful to pursue your calling as your career. But it’s also okay to have a job that pays the bills and also have a calling that isn’t required to fund your life.

There is inherent magic at the intersection of God’s calling for our lives and what makes us feel truly alive. To discover God’s calling for our lives, at least in this particular season, we have to know ourselves and know God. We do this by embracing who we are, celebrating what ignites our soul, and actively pursuing a relationship with God. If you travel the path toward what makes you feel most alive, and get to know God along the way, chances are you’ll eventually find yourself at that magic intersection. 

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