Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lights on the Horizon

I initially wrote this as a personal reflection, but decided it was worth sharing.

Another decade is ending. The minutes slip away, leaving us with their faint echoes-- memories, mistakes, gentle joy and searing pain. Sometimes we are agonizingly aware of time, as it runs out for a person or a moment we love. Sometimes we let it slide by, effortless, meaningless, tasteless as water running over our tongues.

I am 18. I am writing this on my iPod with chilled fingers, standing on a cold hilltop, overlooking downtown Nashville shining like a nest of fireflies. It's been a long way since this decade began. I was only 8. I was imaginitive, reclusive, violent, creative, angry, and I hated school. When I see another decade begin, I will be 28. Done with college, probably no longer at home. And I have to believe I will be farther along this road-- that I will love my God more, love people more, and be more ready to accept this strange, awkward, confusing creation of God that I call "myself."

The past ten years-- the past year, even-- has held some dark, broken, empty chapters. But I have seen God's grace and God's love move in huge ways. I have been brought into a messy, bleeding, laughing, screaming, beautiful life. And I am so very blessed.

If God could take the child of ten years ago and bring me here, I'm going to believe that He has no intention of abandoning what He's begun. If God could take the brokenness of a year ago and mend some wounds and kindle new fires in my flickering soul, I will believe He can do so in this coming year. God doesn't give up on our stories-- not ever. He's into happy endings and nightmares fading and shattered things made new. As I face the dark times of a new chapter, I will hold to that. It's not over.

I can't wait to see the epic that God will write for my life and the lives of those I love. I will stand here, songs ringing in my ears, lights glowing on the horizon, and I will welcome the sunshine and the rain. Hello 2010.

- Elraen -

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of 2009

It's time for a bit of a more light-hearted, personal post.

I have a habit of being very much a "the glass is half-empty" kind of person. So, now that it's the end of another year, I decided it would be better to come up with a list of awesome things about 2009. It's going to be in groups of 9. I originally intended to do groups of 10, but then I realized that if I did 9 everything would be coordinated with the year, and that was too cool to pass up.

So here we go!

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The 9 Best [Or Most Memorable] Events of 2009:
1. The 2009 CleanPlace Moot
2. The Skillet/Red/Disciple/Decyfer Down concert at Sixflags in April
3. Hanging out with good friends Rivus and RT in May
4. The Barlow Girl concert in October
5. The Ferns's visit in October
6. Talking to my friend "Draug" late at night over coffee
7. To Write Love On Her Arms' live webcast of Heavy and Light in January
8. Meeting and talking to Trevor of Thousand Foot Krutch
9. Traveling all over California for two weeks in July

The 9 Favorite Albums of 2009:
1. Awake by Skillet
2. Welcome to the Masquerade by Thousand Foot Krutch
3. Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot
4. Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K
5. Innocence and Instinct by Red
6. Memento Mori by Flyleaf
7. Now is Not Forever by B. Reith
8. Dear Diary by FM Static
9. Confessions by Red

The 9 Best Places I Visited in 2009:
1. The beach in SoCal
2. Bear Trap Ranch, Colorado
3. Yosemite, California
4. Lookout Mountain, Georgia
5. Greenwood Cemetery in Marshall, TX
6. Porterville, California
7. Colorado Springs
8. That one Starbucks in California... then that other one here in town... and the other one in Colorado...
9. Any place that was not Kansas

The 9 Best Things About School in 2009:
1. Biblical Literature class and my awesome Bible professor
2. Draug
3. The Library
4. Free coffee at the library
5. Having my own mailbox
6. Getting to see so many epic concerts right on campus and getting student ticket discounts
7. The day it snowed while we were outside during Digital Literature class
8. Free Dr. Pepper at campus events
9. People who say hello to me in the hallways and remember my name

9 Awesome People I Met for the First Time in 2009:
1. Joy
2. Anywhere
3. Daeriel
4. Bree
5. Balto
6. Mylla
7. Celeris
8. Meldawen
9. pirateoftherings

The 9 Songs that were the Most Special to Me in 2009:
1. The Last Night by Skillet
2. Look Away by Thousand Foot Krutch
3. Therapy by Relient K
4. Never Surrender by Skillet
5. Beautiful Ending by BarlowGirl
6. Fully Alive by Flyleaf
7. Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot
8. Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape by Underoath
9. Take it All Away by Red

My 9 Personal Favorite Blog Posts I Wrote in 2009:

9 Good Books I Read in 2009:
1. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
2. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
3. Hero of Age by Brandon Sanderson
4. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green
5. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
6. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris
7. The Silmarillion by Tolkien (4th read-through)
8. Thr3e by Ted Dekker
9. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
[Actually, I think these are the only books I read in 2009, except the Bible and textbooks...]

9 Miscellaneous Things I Learned in 2009:
1. Sometimes we have to be willing to ask someone to come to us
2. Despite 1, it is one of the most beautiful things ever when someone comes to us without being asked
3. Traveling is awesome when I rest in the beauty of places and people rather than the fear of uncertainty and change
4. It's never better to be numb
5. It is possible to be too close at a concert-- like, when the lead singer's sweat is dripping all over you and you're scrambling to avoid a concussion from his rapidly descending headbang
6. I am allowed to smile
7. I am capable of being extremely loud, but it's alright that I'm usually quiet
8. Someone who can actually listen with a spirit of self-forgetful love is to be admired more than almost anyone else
9. Prayer is incredibly powerful. When His children cry out, God listens. Always.

And now that I've given you 9 lists of 9, here's a final list: 10 things I very much want to get done in 2010.

10 Things To Do in 2010:
1. Learn to drive (!!!)
2. Learn how to use photoshop
3. Go to less concerts and work more so I can save to buy a car
4. See Switchfoot in concert (I know, this somewhat contradicts 3...)
5. Learn to play guitar
6. See as many of my amazing friends as possible
7. Be a better, more accessible older sister to my siblings
8. Learn to love with Jesus's love, not my own (mine will run out pretty fast. His never will. You'd think this would be an easy thing to learn...)
9. Get to know more people at school
10. Let go of the fear of failure

I hope you all have happy times and beautiful places and good friends to look back on too, even if it sometimes takes some effort to remember. Early happy New Years!

- Elraen -

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Since Christmas Day will hardly afford much time for blogging, I'm giving you all my Christmas blog today. Hopefully you won't mind it being two days early.

It seems that a lot of people go through a phase (a phase sometimes lasting most of their life) where they are very jaded with Christmas. The sound, the light, and the stress become nothing but noise that seems far too loud and too annoying. And of course there is the endless complaint that Christmas has become too commercialized (which is a very valid complaint). More importantly, I've observed countless people who dread Christmas simply because it means being trapped with family for typically several days. Unfortunately those who we should love most (purely through closeness of proximity and the amount of opportunities we have to love) are often the ones who hurt us the most, and who we in turn are least loving towards. Christmas becomes nothing more than a day where all the stress, all the tension, and all the frustration of family life are thrown together in a relentless march of "festivity."

In Christian circles, we constantly talk about Jesus being a gift, about the purpose of Christmas being to celebrate His birth, and so on. But it's hard to find the "so what?" in that. What does this mean for us? What does the birth of a Jewish baby two thousand years ago mean to someone who's struggling with family and finances and stress today? Last Christmas was the first one that an idea really hit me: the concept behind Christmas is the concept of rescue. It's about a gift, yes, but that's too abstract. I want to dig deeper than this. The birth of Jesus was the act of God reaching down and touching the face of the earth in a tangible, physical way, a way that would result in redemption. And Jesus was no ordinary rescuer. He entered the darkness of our world without aid, without fanfare, without news networks and the internet to herald His daring deed. He stepped into a place of danger and pain as an infant, small, vulnerable, dependent on human parents He had created in the first place.

I've heard the analogy before that this would be like a human becoming a cockroach in order to save all the other cockroaches. Considering my loathing of cockroaches, this is a rather stirring analogy for me. But if we are to look at it more seriously, what God did is even more bizarre. He created us, and then watched humanity tear itself apart. He watched us hate, kill, murder, destroy, curse His name, and then wallow in the misery of our own emptiness. And in middle of all that, Jesus joined us. He left perfect light to walk in a world so greatly and terribly broken.

This is the greatest rescue story of all time, because Jesus didn't just enter the darkness. He defeated it, and in doing so left us the promise of redemption, the promise that our broken homes and broken hearts and broken souls could be made new. Christmas is the beginning of Easter. Christmas is the start of the rescue, the first lines on the page of the greatest love letter ever written.

Maybe this is why I'm so obsessed with Christmas lights: it's the idea of lights growing in the darkness, of something bright where there would normally be bareness and emptiness. And that is Christmas.

So what?

If we are rescued, then Christmas should come with a spirit of thankfulness and joy. It should come with a realization that we are more loved than we could imagine, that we are broken beings who find redemption in our Jesus. It should come with a question about what we believe about living and why we believe it.

And beyond that, there's an application that I've become more and more aware of this Christmas. If we are to look on Christ as the perfect example, then maybe we are meant to be rescuers as well. I'll admit to having borrowed that idea-- it comes from the quote that could basically be called my personal life mission statement.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don't get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won't solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we're called home.
- Jamie Tworkowski

That suggests something a little frightening. It suggests that Christmas should remind us to act as rescuers. And that means that instead of accepting the frustrating aspects of Christmas and trying to distance ourselves from the stressful situations, we are to dive into the middle-- to love. Instead of being frustrated with family members, we are to love them, to sacrifice for them, to give not just physical gifts, but to give of ourselves. It's what God did for us. It's the hope we are called to fight for.

I don't know where this Christmas finds you, or if my thoughts are meaningful to you or if they totally miss the mark. Regardless, I hope that you remember, right now, that you are rescued. And I hope that with time that drives you to strive to be a rescuer.

I am so grateful for all of you, and if you're reading this, I want you to know that there is an incredibly high chance that I've prayed for you over the past few weeks. May the 25th be truly blessed for you and for your family. Let's celebrate being rescued.

God bless!
- Elraen, the Wandering Star-

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Friday, December 11, 2009

I Will Sing

As 2009 nears its inevitable end, I have found myself looking back over threads and themes and events. A common thread woven throughout is that of music, and so I decided to post some reflections on the subject. It seems like with each passing day music gets more important and integral to the way I live. I've gone to ten concerts this year, more than tripling the amount I've been to in my whole life. I've bought many more albums. I did some calculations last night, and realized that I've spent about $600 on music this year total, which is rather a lot for a college student (though, to be fair, I've paid the school more than twice that much this year and have given at least that much money again to other necessary expenses-- living is an expensive business). Even though I often find myself digging through my drawers and the bottom of my backpack to find enough quarters to be able to buy a song from iTunes, even though I've missed homework time and been sore for days due to concerts, even though I could have flown to Colorado or California and back twice with that amount of money... it's been worth it.

Music is how God speaks to me more strongly than through anything else (see The Joys Of Our Hearts). Songs can sing truth into my life when all the other doors are shut and the lights go off. I think this is because songs have a habit of being honest. We say things in songs that we can't or don't know how to say in any other way.

An interesting side effect of this is that professional musicians are often some of the most real and honest people I've ever met. This year I have been able to talk to a lot of bands who others would give a lot to meet. I've met Christian rock heavy-weights like Red and chatted with Thousand Foot Krutch. I've talked to musicians who have defined the Christian music genre, such as Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline and Jars of Clay. I've talked to Superchic[k] about my heritage and BarlowGirl about my hair. I've chatted with DecembeRadio about the music industry, been teased by B. Reith about the way I said my name, and joked with VOTA about how tall I am. Ironically enough, I still haven't met my favorite band, but I've worked their merch table and hung out with their violin and cello player. I've learned a few things through these conversations, and not just about the music industry. I've learned that musicians are people who are trying to get through life just like the rest of us, and often the songs are as much to help them find their way as they are to help others.

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Any time someone takes the stage in front of a few thousand people, they have the opportunity to speak for change and for hope. I think sometimes we confuse this extra influence they may have for the people themselves somehow being bigger and better, but that's really not the case.

Another thing I've seen this year is that music, like anything else, can be taken and twisted. It's natural that something as beautiful and powerful as music would be an automatic target for darkness to pervert. I saw a secular rock band perform for the first time, and it made me ache inside. Between the profanity and the alcohol and the dark words, I saw a terrible, empty cry for help. And it was then that I really truly understood how important it is for there to be Christians prominent in the music industry. For Christians to shut themselves away in their own genres and their own labels and their own tours would be to give darkness an open door to control the rock music scene. People like John of Skillet and Trevor of TFK have no interest in letting that happen. They are fighting the crippling world of secular rock with words of light and of life.

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All this to say that music is an incredibly powerful thing. I don't care what genre your music is, it's powerful, because it has the power to move and to mean something on a level so far beyond skin-deep. Whether it's classical or blues or jazz or country or soundtracks or rock and roll, it has strength and beauty. It has an irresistible way of moving our souls, whether positively or negatively.

That said, this year I have also learned the power of silence. There are times when we can use the music to hide, when it's just adding to the noise (to quote Switchfoot). In a world that is busy and loud and blinding and never slows down, we sometimes need to seek silence. There have been a few times when I've gone and switched off everything and found a place away from my laptop, my iPod, even my piano, and simply surrendered my silence to God so that His voice could come in clear. I have never regretted doing that. What I do regret is not doing it more often.

I've seen music change lives in incredibly powerful ways. I've seen it bring life out of dying souls. It awes me, at times, that God would give us such an incredible gift... and then so often we misuse it. We worship the scene instead of the Spirit behind the songs, we focus on the stage rather than the human impact. But when we can get past that, when we dive into the heart of music, we are faced with brilliant, clear-cut truths that seem hard to reach anywhere else. If I were to stand on a hill top and yell "this is the last night you'll spend alone, I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go. I'm everything you need me to be," I would get a lot of odd stares and it would be meaningless. But when the words to my favorite song, The Last Night, are sung, they've saved lives. The amount of stories I've heard about that song saving and changing people is almost unbelievable. I think part of it is that music has an odd ability to detach itself from the musician and connect to the listener, to bleed passion over the edges of normal human interaction. As I said before, things can be said in music that can't be said anywhere else. Music is a channel for communication. I don't know any other setting where you can stand beside 4,000 people screaming "no, you'll never be alone," and no one thinks it's weird or awkward.

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Perhaps this blog is, in a sense, an explanation as to why I am so in love with music. As I said in Passion is Contagious, I am addicted to passion. I am also addicted to honesty, and to people connecting and moving together out of love. These things all combine in music. Also, music is something that cannot ever be taken away from us. Friends come and go, but songs stay the same. Situations change, teenagers grow into adults and move to new places, jobs ends and new ones begin, and still there is music. And it goes beyond that. Over the past several thousand years, technology has changed, styles have changed, religions have changed, wars have torn nations and homes and people apart, ideas and beliefs have crumbled under the weight of human failure... and music has survived. If you take my computer and my iPod and my concerts, I will play piano. If you take away my piano, I will sing until the very breath from my lungs is stolen by the silence of death.

"Yes, I will die one day- of this I am certain. But I'm not dead yet! No, tonight there is breath in my lungs- pushing, pulsing, yearning to break free... I will dream, for dreams are the seeds of what may be. I will wonder, for without wonder, how could life be wonderful? And I will sing.

Yes, until my pending death I will sing. In the face of indifference, I will sing. In the face of adversity, I will sing. I will sing about the pain. I will sing about the mystery. I will sing of the hope, the cage, the bullet, the winter, the dreamer. I will sing of all of these." - Jon Foreman

And in the face of all of this I find it necessary to ask myself: what songs am I singing? What songs am I allowing to be sung into my life? Am I clinging to songs of honesty and truth-- not songs that deny pain, but songs that show that hurt can be defeated by light? Or am I clinging to songs that lie to me about love, about people, about life, about hope? It's a question worth asking, for someone who spends a lot of time listening to music. Also, am I letting the music move me to turn around and speak truth and light into the lives of others? Because in the end, if it doesn't move me to hope and to love, then it's just adding to the noise.

I've asked God many, many times about how He wants to use my love for music, about why He's blessed me through so many conversations with professional musicians and so many concerts. I can understand and see music's short-term effects of encouraging me and teaching me and reminding me of His presence, but I can't see the long-term yet. God typically just answers "wait and see," like a parent planning some remarkable adventure and responding to a child's eager questions. So I will wait on His answers and His timing... and in the meantime, I will listen, and I will play piano, and I will let it move me to love.

I don't usually do this, but I'm going to ask for your input, since I know a lot of people read my blog now and I honestly want to hear answers. Has there been a moment when a song moved you? If you play an instrument, what's more meaningful-- playing music or listening to it? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of the effect music can have on people? Do you think I'm completely insane for being so obsessed with Skillet? Alright, so maybe that last question wasn't serious, and I'm not sure I really want to hear the answers to that one. But feel free to give me your input on a few or all of the rest.

Thanks for sharing in my thoughts. I hope today finds you well.
- Elraen -

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Innocent Again

I've tried starting this blog three times. The words aren't coming as easily as they usually do, so I apologize if it sounds clumsy.

Yesterday we got some very brief snow flurries, lasting for about 45 minutes. It didn't stick, and it didn't get heavy, but it was snow, and that was enough. We had to have Digital Literature class outside that day (I love how God puts things together like that). As we all walked, watching tiny pieces of white drift against the glowing scarlet of the Bradford Pear trees' leaves, snow caught in our scarves and brushing our faces, I allowed myself to be lost in its beauty. Snow has that effect on me. It always has, from the time I was a young child. I can clearly remember every time in my life that I've seen snow.

It is, for me, a piece of something supernatural. Its beauty, its purity, its peace, are like tiny pieces of the joy we were meant to live with. It's hard to even explain it with words, because words are earthly, and snow isn't for me. It never has been. It is, like rainbows and the sun when it's raining, a sign of God's faithfulness and His beauty. And it is awe-inspiring.

Aside from that, it pushed me to step beyond walls for a while. I can't say that I forgot about paperwork, and paychecks, and long hours at work, and finals, and grades, and responsibilities. I was still getting what I needed to done, and I had an awareness of it. But as snow caught in my eyelashes and melted on my warm skin, I felt innocent again. I felt that unhindered joy of a little girl seeing something magical.

I'm the same way with Christmas lights. I spent nearly three hours putting lights on our tree this week, because we have a complex and thorough way to put lights on that makes the whole tree glow from the inside out. I can still remember when my mother used to do the lights at night, and I would get up the next morning to find the tree glittering and shining. Several times it made me cry it was so beautiful. This year, even though it was me making the magic happen, and even though by the end my hands were scratched and my shoulders ached, I keep going back and looking at the lights. They're still beautiful. To say they make me happy would fall short. The lights are more like joy, more like hope. Not because of a holiday, or tradition. But because the constancy of the light, the way it glows in the dark, the way it transforms a shabby plastic tree and a worn living room, is something beautiful. Light can make ugly things beautiful again, can remind us of what it is to hope.

Sometimes I think I try too hard. I think I try too hard to make things work, to say the right things, to earn enough money, to maintain a high GPA, to mend things outside of my control. I think there's value in being innocent again. Some might call it being sentimental. Others might call it immature. I would call it joy. And I think God meant it that way. There are times to be mature, times to take on the weight of responsibility and consequence. Even the act of loving can be a heavy burden to bear. But He also meant for us to live, to accept the joy He so faithfully offers. I think He wanted us to love the starlight, the snow, the light in the dark, sunrises and sunsets and smiles and rainbows. I think it's even alright to enjoy nights at Starbucks with good coffee and good company. If you're reading this, I hope you have things like that too-- small things that are beautiful and feel like hope. More than that, I hope you know you're allowed to hold onto them and to let the light shine through weariness and hurt and frustration.

Joy is never too far away. God reminded me yesterday.

- Elraen -