Friday, October 15, 2010

I Dare You

This is possibly the hardest blog post I have ever written. And also possibly the longest, even after serious trimming.

Here’s some lovely, raw honesty to start us out: until the past two months, I had been living out my faith backwards. The moot this year was what started the change, and it was cemented at a Tenth Avenue North concert I went to a few weeks ago, and then through a conversation with a friend. Basically, I had my priorities mixed up, which is sort of silly, because Jesus told us outright what our first priority is: love God with all that you are. The second most important (which is similar) is to love people. Loving people is a natural result of loving God. However, I’d been living it backwards. I had gotten it into my head that if I didn’t love people first, my love would not be accepted by God, and He certainly wouldn’t love me. In my desperation to do, to serve, I was missing the entire motivation and the most important purpose for what I was doing in the first place.

Over the past two months, God has kind of wrecked me. He’s broken down walls and dismantled my silly, human systems that had become nothing more than chains. It’s been glorious and tragic and beautiful and painful and hopeful... much like all the best songs are.

But it’s meant looking at things in my life in a new way. And it’s meant going over some bumps in the process.

On Saturday, October 9, my dear friend Joy drove up to my house. We got into her truck together and set off down the highway, chasing songs. We picked up her friend Heather and then went to a small club in one of the busiest areas of Tyler. Joy and I are both part of Switchfoot’s official fanclub, which meant we had early access to watch them soundcheck and then to meet the guys. Later we would also be admitted into the venue to claim our spots first.

We were late, but fortunately everything at the venue was running a little late too, so we didn’t miss it. The fanclub members were given wristbands and then let into the venue. Switchfoot played Bullet Soul for our small group. They usually soundcheck longer, but The Almost didn’t have any of their stuff set up yet, so Switchfoot had to stop and let them set the stage.

We all moved into a back area for an informal meet and greet. Tim walked in first, a coffee cup in hand. The other guys came in one by one, and they all scattered to different areas of the room to start talking to people.

Joy, Heather, and I all stood in a corner, watching. I had been incredibly nervous leading up to this point in time, and it got worse once we were actually there. I was shaking uncontrollably.

Chad was the first one to come over to us in the corner and talk to us. I think I said maybe one word. Tim was the next one who came over to talk to us. Joy and Heather had him sign their hoodies. I wasn’t going to say anything at all, but Tim saw that I had a camera with me and asked if I wanted a picture, which I most definitely did.

Usually, after I talk to the first few people at an event like this, it gets easier. This time that wasn’t the case. Even as we met them and right afterwards, I was analyzing the event. It’s always been hard for me to talk to bands, just like it’s hard for me to talk to anyone I haven’t met before (and even most people I have met before). But why is it the bands that have written things that mean the most to me are hardest to talk to?

Telling myself that “they’re just normal people” doesn’t help. I know that. That actually makes it worse, because that means that I have at best two minutes to connect with a person who has hopes, fears, dreams, passions, ambitions, and struggles, just like me. And to make it more complicated, I already know a lot about many of the band members I meet-- I know pieces of their story. But they know nothing about me, except that I cared enough to show up that day. How do you connect with someone in just a few minutes? How do you tell Jon, Tim, Chad, Drew, and Jerome that these tunes that they wrote from where they were became an important part of where I was? In two minutes, how do you tell them about the awful, terrible first semester of college where some mornings the only way you had the courage to go to school at all was by turning Stars up way too loud and dancing in the kitchen with a mug of coffee in one hand? How do you tell them about being stranded in an airport, 17 years old and alone, 700 miles from home, and finding the strength to just keep walking because Dare You to Move started playing on the airport’s speakers? How do you tell them about letting their songs play every night on a battered iPod in an effort to chase away the nightmares?

And more than that, the fact that they had given me something that became a part of my life, but I had given nothing to them, made me feel absolutely and completely vulnerable. This goes back to what I said at the beginning of this post. For a long time, the only way I knew how to handle relationships was through the lens of what I had to do and how I had to act and what I had to give and the constant, endless battle to meet everyone’s expectations of the person I should be. But these guys had no expectations. They were totally willing to give me their time and their songs and their smiles. And I had nothing. And it was absolutely and completely terrifying.

I was so certain that they were just going to talk to others and ignore me entirely, and I was OK with that. But they didn’t. I never had to ask to get a picture with any of the guys-- they all asked me. I think I only said one complete sentence while we were talking to any of them. Even when I was with Jon, who I had met before, I couldn’t speak. I could only smile and say thank you.

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After the meet and greet, we went in search of coffee. I was still shaking. I downed the coffee in like 60 seconds flat. I was thinking and re-thinking and over thinking the experience of meeting the Switchfoot guys. And above all, I was angry at myself for being quiet. I kept telling myself that that I must have looked ridiculous, that I had been the only person in that room too afraid to talk, that all of my friends would never act like that... and it went on.

A local act started us off. As it was time for The Almost’s set, the area at the front got more and more crowded. I grabbed onto the barrier and held on. They played a really great set-- you may remember that they were in my list of top 5 bands to see live. Their lead singer, Aaron, is a hero of mine. He is amazingly loud and energetic and blunt on stage. It was awesome to finally get to see him perform. But we were all waiting for Switchfoot.

To see Switchfoot at all in a small venue was an incredible privilege. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow Joy, Heather, and I all ended up with spots at the very front, pressed against the barrier, holding on, with a surging sea of people pressing in tight behind us.

And then came the music.

I’m not sure I have ever spent so much of a concert with my eyes closed. And it was simply because it was so beautiful it hurt, and I wanted to fall into it, regardless of everyone else around me. And I have never been at a concert where I sang so much. I sang until my voice cracked, and still I sang, hoarse, unafraid then, because the songs were so very brave.

One famous thing about Switchfoot shows is that Jon is incredibly good at connecting to the audience. He reaches out to them in every way possible. One thing he often does is to literally reach out and take peoples’ hands while singing. Early on, Jon came over to my side of the stage and reached out and took my hand. He held it while he sang.

This is not about me being singled out-- that action was normal for Jon. But for me it was more an image that was forever cemented in my head. There in the song and in the contrasting light and dark and in the sweaty, singing, pulsing crowd, Jon simply reached out and took my hand. And it was a moment of connection, a moment that was more than any words that could have been spoken.

And as the setlist continued, complete with almost all of the Switchfoot songs that have meant the most to me, I sang and I cried and I wondered who I was and why in the world I was invited into something so beautiful.

The encore came quietly at first, with their song Twenty Four (a song that has been special to me since I heard Jon play it live when I saw him do a solo show in April). And then Jon played the simple opening chords to Dare You to Move.

Something in me shattered, then. And it was a brokenness that was beautiful. Because as I heard them play one of my favorite songs, a song that has been my cry and my encouragement and often my only reason for waking up, I heard other things singing through it, through the haze of my insecurities and the wall created by the lies I had believed. Do you really think this is all, Mary? Do you really think that I’m going to leave you here and give up on you? This is just the beginning. Move. I dare you.

There was a final moment to end the night. As is tradition, the guys all came out together to thank us and wish us goodnight. They were starting to head off stage. Then Drew (who had been in front of me the whole time) turned around and hurried back to the edge of the stage by me. Everyone lifted their hands in the air in response. He sort of glanced at everyone else, then met my eyes, smiled, and high-fived me. Then he left the stage. It was a brilliant, random moment that I haven’t been able to talk about much since then because it doesn’t seem like it should have happened. But it was, again, a connection.

And things began to wind down. Joy, Heather, and I sat and talked together for a while, all of us still energetic, living on the aftershock. We went out and sat in the parking lot beside Switchfoot’s bus with a few other dedicated fans, waiting to see if Jon would come out. He did.

A fan had brought him a homemade banjo. Jon tuned it, and with all of us crowded around in the parking lot after midnight, he played and sang a song for us. It was one of those amazing, unreal moments. After that, a lot of people talked to him. I was too afraid to, and I didn’t want to bother him since I’d already met him before. I did get a picture of Joy with him though, which excited me, because I had been concerned that I hadn’t earlier.

It was much later still by the time Joy and I said goodbye to Heather and got back to my house. By that point, there were already a thousand thoughts floating around in my head, and I was over thinking again. I slept uneasily, and woke up finding myself questioning who I was again, still angry at myself for being so quiet.

And as the days went on, I stayed that way. I lay the joy aside and wrestled with the pain. I finally came to some conclusions. One of the major ones was that the reason why I was struggling with it so much was because I felt that by being quiet, I was not only failing Jon, Tim, Chad, Drew, and Jerome, but I was failing the expectations people have of who I should be. I thought of all the stories I’ve heard of my friends meeting bands, and none of them were like that at all. I was different. I was not the way I should have been.

I finally heard an answer to my thoughts when I was listening to On Fire (which has become one of my favorite songs ever) and vacuuming at the daycare I clean with my dad. I was thinking through it all, and thinking about how incomplete I am and how much I have to change before I can be like everyone else, and a simple, quiet thought broke through-- who told you you were less?

And then I cried all over the vacuum cleaner. Because what I heard in that simple statement meant the world to me. It was God saying who said that saying less words means that you and who you are is worth less? Who said that the people in that band thought less of you because you were shaking? Who said that you are worth less because you are taller than the others? That’s not what I think. You don’t see what I see in you.

And it was then that it occurred to me that I was missing the point. It wasn’t about what I had or hadn’t done. Wasn’t it just recently that I learned that there are constants greater than my own failures? It wasn’t about failure this time. It was about the simple moments of the guys asking me for a picture even when I was too scared to step forward and ask them. It was about Jon reaching forward to take my hand as he sang, and Drew randomly running back to high five me even though he totally didn’t have to. It was about the fact that no matter how I see myself and how much I mess it up and how dark and confusing and chaotic our painful, broken world is, there are always going to be people to reach out and take my hand in the middle of a song.

And in light of that, I am beginning to wonder if there are a lot of things I’ve had wrong. Am I more than what the world tells me I should be? Am I more than barely scraping by? Am I more than a 19-year-old kid who is too quiet all the time? Because if I am, then that means that I don’t need to live in constant fear of motion because I’m afraid that I won’t be moving the way everyone tells me to. It means that I am more than college and grades tell me I am. It means that scars are not the final moment, but the starting point. It means that where I am now is only the beginning, rather than the total of who I am. It means I have a reason to keep going, even when it’s dark. It means that I can burn bright, that I have another chance.

It means that the constant song I’ve heard since my freshman year is getting louder, not quieter... that there is a song of redemption and broken things made new calling out simple, beautiful, earth-shattering words: I dare you to move.

And so I will.

- Elraen -

Maybe redemption has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can you run to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Salvation is here.


Liz said...

dearest mary... may i be the first one to say that it blows me away and totally gives me chills how insanely our lives and stories are so drastically different yet parallel each other in such a beautiful, frightening way? i am 100% behind you in understanding, well, maybe not that much but VERY CLOSE to understanding how you are feeling. this quote you wrote i think SO accurately describes it all....

"more than that, the fact that they had given me something that became a part of my life, but I had given nothing to them, made me feel absolutely and completely vulnerable."

i think that is why there is such healing and why we are so moved. i also am SO happy you are moving and not being afraid to stand still. if you move, He WILL guide you, that's a promise.

i love you so very much and wish i could say more but i don't think i need to. ♥

meg said...

i have so much I'd like to say about this post but it's late and I cannot believe i just got so sucked into it and read it all. :) this was amazing, thank you.

(I really am glad you shared it. It inspired me. When I was younger I had posters covering my door and on one side of the doorframe i had "Welcome to the fallout..." and the other "Welcome to resistance..." and the lyrics to the song were on either side. It's inspired me to put those lyrics back up in my room somewhere, because they mean a lot to me. Thank you.)