Monday, April 26, 2010

Butterfly Hope

When I was 15 and 16 years old, I didn't understand much about God, but I knew that I wanted to know for certain that He was real and that He loved me. So sometimes I would ask Him to give me something to assure me that He was real and that He cared.

And He started sending me butterflies-- which was exciting to me at the time, because I had specifically asked Him to send my butterflies. I remember the first time very well. I was working, and I remember praying God, if You're there, touch me-- send me a butterfly. I opened a door. A butterfly was sitting on the ground right in front of the door, gently fluttering its brown-orange wings as it rested.

This happened twice more, and each time was a little bit more meaningful. It was never in the same place, in fact once it was in a different state, but every time the butterfly looked exactly the same, and every time the butterfly left without me having any concept of where it had gone. They didn't fly away. They just were not anymore.

The last time it happened was in late June, the summer I was 16, and it was notable because that time I didn't ask God for it. I was on a walk. It was the first time I'd left the safety of my immediate surroundings in days, and because of that I felt vulnerable. I was waiting for my younger sister and a friend to catch up with me, and I was standing beneath some thick trees, because Texas summers are warm. Inside, I was in a place that seemed too dark to escape from. I felt locked in a cage, trapped in lines that seemed much too solid to ever be erased. I hadn't been sleeping or eating, and so my world was a gray blur.

A butterfly landed on a tree directly in front of me, a bit of orange against the green and the brown. I saw it, and understood what it meant, because I'd seen it before. It was God whispering I'm right here. Hold on.

It was the next day that I accepted that Jesus loved me for the first time.

Nearly three years have gone by, and I have never again seen a butterfly that looked quite like the ones I saw back then. But lately it has been on my mind a lot.

I think I have a twisted idea of hope sometimes. I often view it as being about happiness, or about looking forward to some event that I know for certain will happen. I think of it as some consistent, driving force that should make me forever smile and say "it will be OK." I've had that idea somewhat challenged over the past few months.

There's an interesting bit in Romans 5. I wrote a 13-page paper on the first 11 verses of this chapter when I was a freshman, but I missed this. Paul writes but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

What I find interesting is that hope isn't immediate. It's not "when you suffer you will still hope," or even "once you suffer you will learn hope." This may not be very scholarly, but I think there's a reason Paul wrote it this way. Sometimes we have to persevere before we find hope. There is something about holding on without hope that produces a character in us that can hope.

I couldn't hope, when I was 16. I had no concept of what it would be like to hold onto the idea that God is a constant in a world where pain is ultimately just a temporary curtain of rain. I couldn't believe that there was certainty that tomorrow would not always be like today. And so God sent me butterflies, even though He didn't have to. He sent me whispers-- hold on. Just a little longer. And a joy I had never imagined and could never have deserved came and took hold of my life.

Because ultimately, the only hope that rings true is hope in the Lord-- hope in His love, in His ability to rescue, in the idea that He is faithful and thus will bring sunrises after every night. Hope in His promise of redemption and resurrection. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit...

I don't know if all of this really makes sense. Towards the end of the semester, everything feels disjointed, chaos spilled onto pages. But maybe all I'm really trying to say is this: don't be afraid to hope in God's love, because it won't let you down. And for the moments you aren't brave enough to hope, hold on. Hope will come, even if you can't believe it yet.

"Idea of hope, I believe in you. I need it now: God, I need You."
- The Rocket Summer

Right now I don't know much about tomorrow, but for the first time in a long time I am daring to believe that it will be better than today. And even for the times I can't believe that, still I will cling to the butterflies as they whisper...

Don't give up.

- Elraen, Wandering Star-

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blue: A Poem


She'd be nothing but a pale page
without the blue songs.
The notes pulse through trembling veins,
running to overflow from bright eyes.
These liquid streaks are not skin, but skeleton,
supporting the hands lifted high.
Found in the silence and the song,
she lives and she dies with abandon.
To come too close is to be drenched in words
bleeding from her eyes, a stain
too deep to erase.
Watch her sing from a distance,
her cold eyes open,
a pale flame behind glass.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Beauty of Grace...

It has been a long, long while since I wrote a new piece for this blog-- I technically have not since February. It's time for some new words.

As many of you know, the past two nights have held a lot of beauty for me. On Thursday, April 1, I got to go to a Jon Foreman show that had been booked just the day before (for those of you who don't know, Jon Foreman is the lead singer of Switchfoot who also does solo stuff and has another side project with a guy from Nickel Creek). Jon Foreman is one of my heroes. If you pay attention to me on facebook at all, you've seen me quote him. For that matter, if you read this blog, you've seen me quote him. If you've been around me in person, you've quite possibly heard me mention him as well. To get to see him was one of those wild, storybook things that should have happened in someone else's life.

It was a small room, but it was packed long before Jon came in (he was 45 minutes late). And then it was just the room and the one guitar and our voices, close together, hanging thick on the air. Between songs there was often a breathless quiet, reaching towards sound and song. It was one of the best concert experiences I've ever had, because of the closeness and the songs and the words that were spoken.

Jon had already done far more than necessary (he had actually set the show up and offered to play for free, despite his hectic schedule). But afterwards he stayed to talk to some of us. I got to go and give one of my heroes and role models a hug. And even in the brief moments we had to say hello and goodbye, I felt an awe much like disbelief. I was shaking for a few hours afterwards, more because I couldn't believe it had happened than anything else.

The next day, I headed out to a Skillet and TobyMac show with two siblings, two friends from school, and our awesome friend Kate who is staying with us for the next two weeks. We got to the venue, and I immediately got to say hello to another friend who was also coming for the concert. A few hours of waiting in line followed. When the doors finally opened, the ushers weren't sure what to do with me at first (I had a spot in the front pit area, but it wasn't a VIP ticket), but eventually I was led up to the front and behind the barrier where I got a spot at the very front. I hadn't been that close at a Skillet show since my first, nearly two years ago now.

House of Heroes opened the night with four songs that felt far too short, as I knew they would. Even for an opening band, the set felt too short. When I heard Skillet's intro starting, I felt the usual intense adrenaline rush. The rest of their set was pure joy for me, which was more welcome than words can express after the stress of my last Skillet concert. I was so close, and I was having fun screaming the words along and headbanging and jumping. John Cooper saw me and starting laughing, and he pointed directly at me. He made eye contact with me and pointed at me several more times during the night, probably partly because I was very noticeable as one of the few Panheads in middle of a group of TobyMac fans.

TobyMac's set was fun, though for me I was ready for it to be over about a third of the way through. He is an excellent performer, but I don't really go to concerts because of the entertainment aspect of it, so I didn't really connect to it as much as the others did. However, it was fun to get to help carry TobyMac as he crowd surfed-- twice. That's one plus to having a spot in the pit. I had never had the chance to participate in crowd surfing before, and it was a first that was definitely a lot of fun and built up the energy in the room.

All of that feels a bit long for simply an introduction. It feels like it could be its own separate blog post: I could wrap it up here, say "I was given awesome moments and music," end with some encouragement or resolution that would make me feel like I'd done the two concerts justice. But I don't feel that would fit just now, particularly not since midnight wandered by 15 minutes ago, and I am now writing this on Easter.

I think more than anything else, these past two nights have reminded me to hope. They have reminded me that hiding and running only work for so long before God sends love to find you. When you think about it, that is the entire concept of Good Friday, of Easter-- the world rebelled. Humanity ran and hid in the darkness, clutching their own emptiness tight and refusing to let go. And so God sent hope to find us, in the form of Love. Jesus lived and died for love-- and He came back to life for love. And it is incredibly unright and unfair and undeserved. Grace always looks like that, which is part of what makes it so beautiful.

I spent most of my life thinking that grace was something to be earned or uncovered, that I had to somehow track down mercy if I ever wanted to be whole. I believe now that that is wrong. We don't find grace. Grace finds us. It tracks us down, breaks through walls, runs over stains, crawls through broken windows, and finds us when we least expect it. The only thing we have to do is say yes.

And I guess maybe I'm thinking about this because I have been once again struck by how unfair it is. Here's a bit of honesty for you: February and March were two of the most confusing and painful months of my life, and I can't talk about why. However, it was all my fault. And as I found myself stripped down to operating on just a shadow of who I should have been, I didn't feel like the kind of person who should get a hug from Jon Foreman or get to sit at the very front of a Skillet show. And quite bluntly, I really don't deserve all that. It's tempting for me to look around and say that everyone else deserves joy so much more than I do. But grace doesn't work like that. Grace has an odd tendency to track me down in the darkest nights and sing hope to me through the words of a song.

Remember today that grace will always be there to find you again. Jesus's love in stepping into our world promises that much. Don't be afraid to say yes. Don't be afraid to let grace light you up with joy again. It's God's beautiful, crazy plan to bring our dead hearts to life again.

And that gives me hope. Happy Easter.

- Elraen -