Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before it Can Get Better...

[Warning: An absurdly long blog is about to hit your computer. You might want to run now.]

It's hard for me to know how to start this, but even harder for me to know how to finish it. So the best I can do is dive in and start with just giving details about the experience of working the merch table at a Skillet show, since so many people have asked me about it.

In the days leading up to the show, I spent a lot of time with God, just praying, reading His word, singing to Him, and just talking. I hadn't done that in far, far too long. I tend to forget how much healing there is simply in the process of interacting with Him. The opportunity to work at a Skillet show was a special one for me. When I had first been presented with the chance, I prayed about it for a long while before accepting it. Basically in the end I went for it because I wanted to be able to serve them. I believe in what they're doing, and I've seen their music work beauty and change in my own life and the lives of so many others, and I wanted to be able to give back, if only in a small way. So I prayed for the heart of a servant, and for God to be my strength to serve.

My brother volunteered to help with unloading and set-up (and take down), so he was at the venue for most of the morning and early afternoon. While he was gone I messaged a little with Jonathan Chu, Skillet's violin player, over twitter. He told me that the merch tables were set up in the hall that night, so I would get to see all of Skillet's show, even if I had to be at the table. I was really excited about that.

There was a huge mess with transportation, which I won't go into just now, but suffice it to say that although it challenged me, God worked it all out in the end. My brother, sister, and I arrived at the venue, and my sister went to stand in line while my brother and I went to find where I was supposed to be (no one gave me any information regarding that... it was a little unnerving). We wandered around back to where the tour buses were (my brother had a pass already, so we could go just about wherever we wanted), and found a crew member. My brother asked where we needed to be, and he directed us to the right door. Once we got in, I asked another crew member where I needed to be, and he basically said "ummm... we need to talk to Scotty" and ran off (Scotty being Skillet's tour manager). So I waited, telling myself that if I didn't view myself as being out of place, I wouldn't feel out of place. So I focused on looking at the equipment. My brother went to help tape down a bunch of wires.

Eventually Scotty sent Tate out (Tate is Skillet's cello player and is also in charge of all the merch). A few of the other volunteers arrived at this point as well. Tate introduced himself to us. I found out later that none of the other volunteers but me realized he was Skillet's cello player, which made me laugh, although admittedly he looks rather different in normal clothes with a hat and glasses on. Two of the girls asked to work at Hawk Nelson's table, and I requested Skillet's table. Tate chose two other students from my University to work Skillet's table with me, and sent the others to Decyfer Down and The Letter Black's tables to await training.

Tate showed the other volunteers around and explained the whole system to us. Part of the way through a few other volunteers arrived, so he had to catch them up as well. Then he left us his cell number in case of trouble and took off.

I was trying not to be intimidated by using the credit card machine (I use a cash register every day at work, so working with money doesn't scare me, but credit cards terrify me). Aside from that felt pretty sure I could handle everything. My brother was done helping, and now was just waiting around. I had to go and get my identification, which they'd never gotten to me earlier. Then I waited at the table.

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The question and answer session happened on the stage, on the other side of the room from me. It was fun to listen in. Listening to them talk always makes me laugh. I sent my brother in to get pictures. He was enjoying it too. I didn't want to leave the merch table, because the other volunteers had, and someone needed to stay with the merch and the money. Chu came out of the catering room and sat quietly in a chair, eating dinner. I kind of wanted to go and say hello, but I was too afraid, and once again, I had to stay with the table.

As soon as the question and answer session ended, there was a mad dash to the merch tables. The first time we tried to use the credit card machine, it froze up, so one of us had to text Tate. That was really unnerving, but after that everything went more or less smoothly, even once all the general admission ticket holders got in and lined up at the merch tables. I love being able to help people in general, and it's getting a little easier. It occurred to me how odd it was that I was able to just chat and interact and be friendly to like a thousand people. I never would have dreamed I could do something like that a few years ago.

The stream of people was pretty steady for a long while. My brother was nice and brought me a water bottle because I was really thirsty, but I didn't have time to even take a drink from it for at least another ten minutes. People continued to buy stuff throughout The Letter Black's set, so I didn't pay much attention to it, though it was just on the other side of the room. It was really hard to hear what people were asking for over the music. I got very good at reading lips and facial expressions.

People kept coming through the first break, and then into Decyfer Down's set. Finally it slowed down enough that I could run down and get a few pictures. I had wifi, so I could update my twitter from my iPod as well. During Decyfer Down's set, my friend Joelle from Panheads Online came by the table to say hello and buy some things before going backstage. I felt kind of ridiculous because it was so hard to hear anything so we both had to be yelling to be heard.

We had another stretch with more people between Decyfer Down and Hawk Nelson. I mostly stayed at the table during Hawk Nelson's set or twittered people on my iPod, since I'm not terribly interested in them, but I did get a few pictures and videos. It was the first time the flood of people really slowed down. It was also about this point I started to feel strangely lost, and like I didn't really belong. It was a weird feeling, and one I didn't understand at the time. I can't really say I understand it any more now, except that there was a serious cognitive dissonance going on. More on that later.

The break between Hawk Nelson and Skillet flew by, yet again. Set changes go a lot faster when you're working merch. When Skillet started, absolutely everyone left the tables, including myself. I ran down to the front for their opening song, Whispers in the Dark. It was like diving deep underwater after being in full sunlight for hours-- the immersion was complete. And it was then that I understood why it was that I was feeling so lost and out of place. In the past, I've listened to Skillet's music and claimed what they sing about as my own. I've heard and believed the theme of God's unconditional love for me, His promise that I wasn't alone. And there, as I listened to my heroes sing "no, you'll never be alone, when darkness comes I'll light the night with stars" I realized I didn't believe it for myself anymore. Hence the cognitive dissonance. It's what I tell other people, but it's not mine anymore.

Better Than Drugs followed, then It's Not Me It's You. After that I ran up to the merch table to ask the others if I needed to stay. They said no one was buying anything then anyway, and they intended to just stay at the table, so I could go back to the front. I thanked them and ran back in time for The Older I Get, Comatose, and Hero.

John added something unexpected to his usual speech about power ballads before Yours to Hold. He covered part of Flyleaf's song All Around Me. He'd never done that before. That was exciting. After Yours to Hold was The Last Night, my very favorite song. I don't think it's ever going to lose any of its power for me.

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Those Nights followed, and then Awake and Alive, Savior, and Monster. On those last two songs I headbanged enough to guarantee a sore neck for the next few days. After that Skillet went off stage, as traditional, to wait to be called back for their encore. I decided now would be the time to go back to the merch table. I stood there again to deal with the first few people as Skillet played their encore of My Obsession and Rebirthing.

The after-concert buying crowd was much smaller, thankfully. I had to tell a lot of people that Skillet wasn't signing, which made them rather unhappy. But overall it was fun. Throughout the night I had a lot of people come up and say they remembered me from past Skillet shows, and they were impressed by my headbanging. I even met the mom and her kids who stood beside me at my first Skillet show. By the time the crowd died down a large chunk of our volunteers had left. One other guy and I were still left when Tate came back, and we started helping him count everything and put it away. I was tired enough that I was just praying for a clear mind so I didn't mis-count.

We were working on this when I saw Chu walking over, still in his stage clothes. He looked up and called over to me "I think I've been tweeting with you!" I confirmed this, so he came over and we chatted for a while about past Skillet shows and other random things. He was incredibly nice. I was too afraid to ask him for a picture, but honestly, I'd rather talk to someone than take a picture with them. After a while he left to stop distracting me from helping Tate. That was by far the best part of the whole evening. If Chu hadn't done that, I would have left feeling like a failure. I felt rather isolated for most of the evening, so the fact that he would come to seek me out to talk to me was unbelievable. He didn't even know me. He had no obligation to do that. He had to be tired. But he came to talk to me, without me asking. It still absolutely blows me away when anyone actually talks to me on purpose. There's no place in my head for that.

After that it was a matter of getting everything packed up. Tate let the other volunteer and I choose whatever shirt we wanted, since we'd helped. I was really grateful for that, since I hadn't had any time to actually buy anything, and I'd really wanted the tour shirt. We finally wrapped things up, and I went to find my brother, who'd been helping take the stage set-up down. We went out together (my sister had gone home with a friend earlier) and climbed into his car. We shared stories as we drove to Wal-mart, where we picked up chocolate and Dr. Pepper before heading home. It was midnight. I'd been at the venue for about 8 hours. I ate something quickly before sleeping.

The most interesting part of this to me is the aftermath. At the Skillet show, I was forced to come face to face with my own mindset, and it wasn't a fun experience. In fact, it made me pretty miserable, and it made me feel completely inadequate, insecure, and very, very alone. For the first few days I was frustrated and confused. It was the oddest thing in the world to go to a Skillet concert and come away feeling more worthless instead of less, but that was the case this time. I've picked through those hours over and over again, trying to think of things I'd done wrong, trying to tell myself that I hadn't actually served the band in any way, I hadn't actually meant anything. Over today, after spending a lot more time reading the Bible and listening to worship music, I've forced myself to a conclusion. I did what I could to serve the band. I did the best I could, and I didn't hold back even though I was afraid. Whether or not I was happy doesn't matter. Whether or not I enjoyed it doesn't matter. What mattered was being able to give pieces of my time and myself to the people who are the reason I am who I am, even though they've never met me, even though they don't know who I am. What I did was worth something. What's left to me now is to make the best of here and now, without dragging myself down with "should have." And honestly, I can't even think of any rational reason to be mad at myself over the Skillet show, which is incredibly annoying. It's so much easier when I can blame myself for everything.

Regardless, the whole experience helped to force me to stay awake, to keep living, even when it means bleeding. I find myself going back to what John has said about the cover of Skillet's newest album, Awake-- the idea of waking up after being in a coma for a long time, afraid to take off the bandages and see what you look like. That's been this semester for me, after the moot in August woke me up. One thing I heard very clearly from God while I was listening to Skillet play was sometimes it has to get worse before it can get better. But I also heard the promise of I'll be there, if only you'll be brave enough to want Me.

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I'm leaving huge chunks of thought out of this blog post, partly for length reasons, partly because I'm still not very good at being completely honest. Most of the reason I'm writing this is because so many people have asked me "how did it go," and that's not been something I could answer. This post, in all its length, is my answer. I apologize for it. Usually the things I try to write on this blog are meant to encourage, inspire, or at least provoke thought. I don't know if this post has done any of that. It's probably convoluted and confusing (as it is in my head), or just plain self-centered. But here it is, in its gory detail.

I'm so glad God's not finished with me yet. I have a long way to go.

- Elraen -


MangyCat said...

I'm not going to go into all the build-up details because I'm sure you can imagine all that stuff I would say. (I've said them enough.) ;o) What I will say however are two things:

1. Have respect for the beauty that God made you.
2. You ARE worth it.

Liz said...

i love you. and i am proud of you for being SO honest in this blog. i believe it's the most honest thing i've ever read. and wow that is go a skillet show and walk away feeling like a failure is horrible, but that is and was an attack on you. satan does insane things to the mind when we let him and you're right hun, you DID do everything you could have. you may have changed someone's life just by looking them in the eye or offering a smile. or maybe skillet's words changed them and you just made that possible. i'm so proud of you for serving the band. i know we both feel so strongly about them & this was quite a different experience for us too but i know we will look back on this and not regret a thing because of Who we were serving. not only skillet, but God and ultimately that's where the importance lies is it not? *tighthugs* ♥never.surrender♥

Manwariel said...

I know well the lost and alone feeling, which is a strange one when the circumstances are ones that generally cause happiness. I haven't figured out what to do with that feeling yet. If I ever I found out I'll let you know :p

Thanks for blogging.