Sunday, December 11, 2011


Earlier this semester, the band Icon For Hire released an album called Scripted. I have listened to it countless times by now. A major theme on the album is the way we hide behind our sicknesses, our heartaches, our masks, and use them as excuses not to move forward and heal. The song “Get Well” in particular hit me like a bullet to the chest.

I like hiding behind things, things that give me some sense of security and worth and validation. I also like hiding behind my imperfections. Some of you who have known me for a while might remember the time I was incredibly ill for 6 months when I was 16, right before I started college. It got bad enough that for a while I was too weak to climb stairs or carrying things or live like a normal person in general. I remember one day realizing how much of a crutch it had become:

“I can’t socialize, I’m sick.”
“I can’t get a job, I’m sick.”
“I can’t be brave today, I’m sick.”

And after I realized that, I realized how selfish this was. Only then I began to get well, because I wanted it and actually started taking care of myself.

I don’t know how often you played games like hide and seek as a child. Games of that sort were my favorite. I learned how to wear the right clothes depending on the environment, how to scope out areas ahead of time (yes, I was pretty hardcore when it came to hide and seek). Most importantly, I learned how to be absolutely still, hardly breathing, not disturbing anything, so that no one would know I was there. See, hiding effectively means being more or less paralyzed. That’s part of the game.

I’ve been hiding behind both sicknesses and pretended strengths for a very, very long time-- well over a year now. Looking back over a year of these blog posts I see snapshots of the soaring highs and aching lows that I’ve visited in the past year... I see the places where God was faithful and it changed me. I also see the places where He loved, but I ran away and hid behind my sicknesses again as soon as possible.

I’ve spent a semester sleeping about 4 hours every night, eating maybe one meal a day. I’ve been taking a full load as a senior in college while working three jobs and trying to keep up with my family and my friends. I’ve been trying to work past some things from the past while facing some major changes in the near future. And all of these things have become walls I can hide behind when it comes to my relationship with God.

“I can’t talk to You, God-- someone needs me.”
“I can’t rest, God-- I have to be a good enough student.”
“I can’t trust You to handle this, God-- I can’t stand the thought of failing.”

My trip to Wisconsin taught me just how paralyzed I have been, in a lot of places. It also taught me that there is still hope for me anyway, that there is so much joy waiting for me. But I have felt an ongoing pressure, compelling me to be willing to actually come out of hiding and take hold of truth again. Because another thing the Switchfoot shows earlier this semester and then my trip to Wisconsin taught me is that I had lost so much of myself. I was reminded of that even more over Thanksgiving when my boyfriend visited and I saw broken places in myself that were, quite honestly, terrifying. So here is me saying the absolute hardest thing for me to say, something that desperately needs to be said:

I can’t do this.

So I’m stepping back for a while-- leaving the grid, moving off facebook and twitter and forums and away from the noise. It will probably be for a few weeks. I’m dismantling some of the things I hide behind, disrupting the cycles I get trapped in. I’ve been praying about this for weeks, and God has made it blindingly clear to me that this is what He is asking from me. It’s incredibly counter-intuitive to me, and I feel like I’m letting a hundred people down, and I feel like this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Most of my friendships are long distance and maintained online, and this will be effectively isolating myself for quite a while. But if I’m honest, the past month has proved to me that I can either be obedient in this and continue to heal, or else completely lose myself behind my sickness. I know which one I want.

“Denial doesn’t need to be my friend when I’m a healer that’s in need of healing. Is it okay to not know, not have the answers, and simply be someone who is searching for Someone to save me?” - Disciple

So for the details. I will only be using the internet for uses related to work and my NewReleaseTuesday writing until sometime in January. This means that if you desperately need to contact me, I will be checking e-mail, but I can’t promise answers or that I’ll see it quickly. My basic goals involve reconnecting with God, sleeping, spending some long overdue time with my family (particularly my sister, who is visiting for the first time in two years), getting a photography portfolio assembled and coded, playing guitar a lot, translating Greek... oh, and probably watching Return of the King (because it’s still the best movie of all time, even if it is over 4 hours long).

I’ll be back though. I promise. And I’ll certainly be actively praying for many of you. Since I won’t get a chance to say it-- have a beautiful Christmas, friends. Remember that it is about rescue.

Thanks so much to so many of you who offer me so much kindness and grace and support-- I am so very blessed. Peace to you tonight and in the days to come.

- Elraen -

“Burn away the pride, bring me to my weakness, until everything I hide behind is gone. And when I'm open wide with nothing left to cling to, only You are there to lead me on.” - Sanctus Real

Friday, November 18, 2011

Songs of Strength: Wisconsin 2011

“I want you to listen to me.”

I looked up. It was late January, early 2011. I was standing in a dark and grimy venue after a show, wearing the worn out skin of midnight. I tried to meet the eyes of the lead singer of one of my favorite bands as he gently said “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I didn’t cry then, but I would for hours afterwards, curled up shaking in my room. I was in middle of one of the darkest stretches of my life, and he was the only person who saw through my pride enough to speak light into it. He said a lot of things to me that night that I would carry with me, even when things grew darker. After that night I wrote (there is a blog post you may remember) and I thought and I was changed. And I would finally admit that I could call Kevin Young a friend.

I have a lot of friends, a lot of beautiful, brave, wonderful beating hearts who choose to let me share the ride with them. That’s why my plane was touching down on the chilly blacktop of the Milwaukee airport at 8:30 p.m. on a November Thursday a few weeks ago-- I was there to see a friend. We’d walked through countless battles together, seen the world break, seen God put broken lives back together. And Liz and I had never met. The internet is odd like that. I had felt like God told me it was time to change that, that my long stated promise to go see Skillet and Disciple with her was finally ready to be fulfilled. This was a chance I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

I got to spent time with other friends right away, friends I’ve known for three and a half years. Cara and Joelle were there with Liz to greet me at the airport, and even within the first ten minutes what surprised me most was simply how at home I felt.

The first full day was spent in adventures. Liz, Joelle, and I picked up our friend Jen to head to the venue (with a detour to Build-a-Bear on the way and almost a detour to follow Family Force 5’s tour bus-- it was tempting). We got there and were welcomed onto a tour bus as if the whole thing was a family reunion. When it was time for the show, thanks to Trent we all had access backstage, and thanks to Joelle and Scotty I was handed a photography pass.

I will never forget that night, dashing back and forth in the photography pit with Joelle, so close that I felt ice spray across my skin when Skillet’s cryo rigs went off. I will remember so vividly standing beside Liz and singing out words of truth to shine in the dark, the songs breaking over us like the sparks of fireworks on a clear winter night. Sharing those moments with her was indescribably beautiful.

I was not expecting to be as strongly impacted by the music as I was, after so many times seeing these bands live, but the reality is that some truths will always break down walls. I think one of the moments I remember most vividly is Skillet’s song “Savior,” how raw and real it felt that night: “Everything’s going to crash and break, but I know what you got, what you want, what you need. I’m going to be your Savior...”

I will always, always treasure memories of time on the bus after the show, crowded in with two full bands and my group of friends. We laughed, and it reminded me that laughter is OK. Even if I am a college senior with three jobs and a reputation of responsibility to maintain. Sometimes, when there are friends and songs and everything feels safe, I begin to understand that it’s alright to stop. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop trying to fill the right role. Simply to be, and to know it is enough.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A long night of driving and honest conversation followed, then a few hours of sleep to recharge us for doing it all over again. Liz, Jen, and I sat outside the bus and then on the bus, laughing despite the chaos of our spontaneous decision to go to a second concert. I was stressed at first, unsure how things would work out, but my worry was quickly proved groundless. Kevin looked out for us, and before long we were watching Disciple play an acoustic afternoon set.

After the events of the day before, I was unusually vulnerable. I was turning over some new ideas in my head, some challenges to things I’d been clinging to for a very, very long time. I knew what Disciple would play beforehand, so I should have been able to brace myself. But the reality is that even before they had finished introducing their song “After the World,” I was hunched over sobbing.

God has worked on me a lot, these past few months. The refining process has at times been almost unbearable (it’s never fun to see how selfish, bitter, unfaithful, and arrogant I really am), but it’s been necessary. The reality is that I have been struggling with terrible doubt, in everything I once so ardently believed in. I remember where it started. It started sometime this last winter, in the midst of what I perceived as an avalanche of failure, where I began to believe that redemption doesn’t work. I began to believe that love does not change anything, that my love is worthless. Instead of the steady voice of hope that used to pulse under my skin, I got a new voice: guilt. Guilt dictated every action, every moment. And no matter how much of my soul I sold into slavery to guilt, I couldn’t get better. I was still the same broken child straining under the weight of the world, the self-imposed burden splintering my shoulders.

When Kevin introduced “After the World” and then the band began to play it, this song that I have heard almost every day for three and a half years, something in me that I’ve been trying to force to a breaking point finally cracked. It was like I was beginning to realize, after the events of the day before, that the things I once thought mattered didn’t matter at all. “Please, God,” I begged, as I have hundreds of times this year. “Just let me know if You love me. Please, please, let me know.”

And I was answered. I understood in that moment, as the words of the song flooded every hollow in the room, that God wasn’t just sending me half-heard whispers, as I had been thinking for all this time; He was practically screaming at me, so loud, but with the gentleness of a Father. Oh, Mary. I have seen everything. I have heard everything. And I love you, child.

And that was why I was sitting on the steps backstage beside Liz and Jen crying like a scared little kid who has finally felt their Father’s arms wrap around them after a long nightmare. These places where I have poured myself out until I broke-- God saw those. These places where I have screamed truth into the deafening silence until my lungs went numb-- God heard me. These places where I have worked myself into a weariness of the soul that clings like a dull ache-- God felt that. They were not wasted. I was sitting beside a living picture of redemption in my friend Liz, I was seeing His love in the incredible kindness of so many friends. And for the first time in nearly a year, I was beginning to hear Him again, hear Him say I love you. And I knew then that as long as I can hear Him say He loves me, it will be enough. Every moment of doubt and fear and pain will be worthwhile for even one fraction of a moment where I hear His voice and know I still belong to Him.

I will love you after the rain falls down, I will love you after the sun goes out. I’ll have My eyes on you after the world is no more.

That night Liz, Jen, and I stood beside the stage, sometimes joined by Kevin. I was fighting with what I’d heard, trying to decide if I could accept it. I remember the words in Skillet’s songs cutting deep for the second night in a row: “I hate living without You, dead wrong to ever doubt You.” And I remember deciding that I would step out and take the hand of hope, even if it still seemed shaky to me.

That night we laughed a lot. It was like an alternate reality after the blur of life in college. I will never forget the kindness of friends, that whole weekend. Liz eternally providing for me, singing with me, laughing with me, sharing with me. Jen’s calming presence and share in our adventures. Joelle’s conversations and help with the photography pass and the way she reminds me that it’s alright to enjoy things. Brian and Lindsey letting me crash in their house in the first place, letting me drink their coffee and get to know their beautiful children. Andrew getting me a Monster when Liz told him I was running out of energy. Trent setting up backstage passes and throwing red vines at us on the bus. Israel giving advice on bypassing security (who would have thought “we’re with the band” really works?). Amanda’s hugs and constant smile, no matter how much she had to do. All of the We As Human guys for taking our presence in stride and getting to know us. Jonathan for taking time out of his schedule and standing in the freezing cold to catch up. Kevin, who spent an entire weekend looking out for us, talking with us, and giving selflessly when he had a thousand other things to balance.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The next morning we went to church. I got to see Cara and Joelle again, got to meet my friend Heidi. The church there is unbelievable. If we had more churches like that, our world would be a very, very different place. I went in and was quickly completely blown away by what God was doing. At first I felt like an observer, able to see the beauty but not break through the wall and be part of it. That very quickly got turned inside out.

This is one of those moments that can’t be fully hammered into correct boxes and packaged on a blog. Suffice it to say that God took every barrier still remaining in me after the day before and absolutely shattered it. No more defenses then, nothing left but the raw reality of who He is and what He has done and how deep His grace is. He radically changed something in me, and I felt the faith and joy that I’d been fighting to know come flooding back into me, too much to contain. I knew almost right away that I would never be the same person again. I would go home, but I would be different. I was overwhelmed. I was joyful.

If I had to attempt listing everything I took away from the weekend, it would be too much for words. It’s been hard to write even these words because I want to respect people who read it. I want to honor my friends in bands (who, in case you wondered, really are real people, and I would very much like to respect them as such-- I could write a novel on that alone). I have chosen everything I share here with the hope of honesty.

The reality is that everything that entire weekend reminded me who God is. I saw Him living in the kindness of friends, I heard Him breathing in the songs. I saw hope in places I once thought were hopeless.

And I was reminded that I am seen. The places where I have been broken were not wasted, there is still grace for these terrible failures, and love is still so very, very much alive. And it was like my heartbeat was restarted. I began to fully feel things for the first time in a long while. This is what things earlier this year were leading up to-- so many things. Even in the times of the worst heartache, God was working. I was never forgotten.

And this is the beginning, not the end. This is where I can finally find the freedom to step out and know that God is who He says He is, to let Him have full Lordship over my life again. This is where I can begin to learn that failure does not define me, and indeed God redefines failure.

There are things to come, even for this blog. There are some stories that I feel are finally going to need to come to light. I am not afraid of what doors He might open. I have been reminded again what it is to see God’s beauty so fully, to feel His love so deeply, that I forget to care about anything else.

The words that Kevin spoke in January echo back through my mind over and over, and I finally feel I can claim them as my own-- “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Certainly, I’ve tried every other method of strength I could find in myself, and it has fallen short. But now I find the place where I am made alive every time I start to die, this strength that absolutely cannot come from myself and yet has become so deeply embedded into who I am... His joy is my strength.

As so many have said, this is where we begin to live... when we reach the end of everything we are and find that He is still there, and He is enough.

Be blessed today. Know that you are seen, you are heard, and you are loved.
- Elraen -

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Redemption Has Stories to Tell

For most of this year, this blog has held thoughts, but few stories. But tonight I have a story for you... maybe more than one.

Last weekend, I had the chance to go see one of my very favorite bands. Twice, actually. The first time, they were at my school. Early afternoon, my friend Joy arrived, and we set off for the performance center together.

Despite the fact that Switchfoot has held a steady position in my top five bands for years now, I had only seen them once before, a year ago at a tiny show in Tyler that impacted me deeply. So when we got to watch soundcheck with the rest of the fanclub, it was with a beautiful feeling of awe. We sat to listen to them play Souvenirs and Afterlife for soundcheck, and I closed my eyes and felt the bass pulsing through the wood handles on the chairs. I closed my eyes and soaked it in.

Afterwards, we got a brief chance to talk to the guys. You might remember my story of meeting them a year ago, how I said a grand total of one sentence the entire time. This time I had things to say. Even in talking to Jon Foreman, who I have an extremely deep respect for, I wasn’t afraid this time. I had them sign my favorite hoodie, the one I wear almost every day, the one that carries memories stitched in the cloth.

That evening I worked merch, behind the table with one of the most chill, kind guys I’ve ever done merch for. I hadn’t worked merch in close to a year now, so it felt so much like coming home. We helped hundreds of eager fans. I answered questions about the band. I made a few people smile, but many more of them made me smile.

And when the lulls came, we got to go in for the music. First it was during Anberlin, another of my very favorite bands. At my university’s performance center, there are two sets of somewhat soundproofed doors separating the massive auditorium from the lobby. Past the doors are two long tunnels that curve beneath the second orchestra before spilling you out facing the stage. Every time I work merch it is the same. I shove the doors open. Immediately the music hits me like a wave. No matter how much I brace myself for the impact, it still sends shivers rushing over my skin. I run down the tunnel, seeing stage lights flicker at the end. It’s like diving into the ocean, deeper and deeper into the overpowering pulse of the waves.

And it was beautiful. I am prone to forget. I take a lot of roles in the music world now, wear many different faces, and I always carry the fear of failure in each. Photographer, writer/reviewer, merch volunteer, dedicated fan. These are names I wear. These are labels I struggle with at times, trying to learn to fit the job descriptions more fully. It’s terribly uncomfortable trying to slide into a partial skin never meant to be a complete shelter. So that night I let go of the skin, of the shells I hide inside until my soul dwindles to a sullen spark. Instead, I did the best job I could as myself... as someone who loves the music, who sees the music as a vessel for unimaginable beauty. And that freed me. I stood near the stage, singing along, every word familiar as it left my throat.

After the concert, many of us gathered around Switchfoot’s bus, as is tradition. Jon came and told us to meet him out front. After a few location changes, we gathered on the stairs facing the front of my campus. Jon came with his guitar, standing on a low brick wall, all of us gathered on the grass. He played and we sang, sending melodies into the face of midnight. And it was easy to believe then that sometimes life is terribly beautiful.

There was a day to recover before the next time. On a Monday morning I left work early and Joy left class early and we piled into a car with my sister Mercy and our friend Caleb to set off for Dallas. We reached the venue early, and soon Joy and I were in for another soundcheck and meet and greet. This time the group was small.

I had brought a Starbucks cup for the guys to sign, something I had planned a year ago. It prompted conversation, more places for memories. We had time to talk to each of the five guys, who remembered Joy and I from two nights earlier, despite how many faces they see every day.

When we talked to Jon, he asked us what they should play that night. I have never made a request of a band before, partly due to my almost painfully sharp desire to be respectful-- I never want to be “that one fan” who is eternally convinced that they know the setlist the band should be playing. But since he asked, after discussing the setlist for a few minutes, I mentioned a song called The Shadow Proves the Sunshine. We talked about it for a minute, and I faced again the complete impossibility of telling someone how a song they have captured can in turn capture me. He listened with so much kindness. He said they couldn’t play it that night, but they would try to soon.

Afterwards it was time for hours in line with new and old friends. It’s incredible, how many beautiful, broken, shining people you meet at rock shows. I was there as a photographer, but I didn’t want to separate myself, even when we got into the venue. There were good conversations. Even once I was in the photography pit, a place I never would have dreamed I would be able to go, I walked along the barrier talking.

And then for the music. Even in the mad dash of the first three songs, scrambling through the photography pit, learning the ins and outs of a beautiful camera loaned to me by a very kind friend, trying to capture the songs, I found myself singing. I couldn’t help myself.

After I left the photo pit, I stood near the front on the side, cradling two cameras. Switchfoot played one of my favorites, Thrive, for the very first time that night. And then I heard them begin playing an older song, We Are One Tonight. Jon climbed off the stage, slipping to lose himself in the crowd, as he often does. I know their habits well enough to know what they were doing with the song. They almost always play it as a medley. And sure enough, soon they slipped into a different chorus, and from deep in the chaos of the crowd I heard words saturating the thick air:

“We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight, dry eyes in the pouring rain where the shadow proves the sunshine. Two scared little runaways, hold fast to the break of daylight where the shadow proves the sunshine.”

A lot has happened in the year since I last saw Switchfoot play that full song live. There has been so much beauty and so much heartache. I would venture to say that this past year has held most of the deepest hurts and the most indescribable joys of my life, and it has been very, very hard. There have been deaths and friendships lost and dreams buried and shades of doubt threatening to drain the light from the sun. And so to come back, to find that the songs are still beautiful, still true, and still reaching...

Many of you have heard me quote Thrive over the past year, since Jon first played it at aftershows. There is a beautiful line there: “I come alive when I hear You singing, but lately I haven’t been hearing a thing.” I claimed that as my reality before these shows. I begged God simply to let me hear Him singing again, to grant even echoes of His true song. And it was in that moment, as Jon walked by me in the crowd, singing one of my favorite songs, that I heard again. I heard redemption singing in the incredible kindness of a band who barely knew me, in the gift of the pictures and the provision of a camera, in the conversations with friends, in these songs that the guys poured every drop of their souls into. The best music happens when the musicians boldly climb on stage and bleed. Switchfoot is good at this. They breathe hope from the deepest places of their lungs.

And so several minutes later when a sold-out crowd sang the lines of a song that continues to follow me through these long college years, I could believe it again, let the truth own me: “maybe redemption has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can you run to escape from yourself? Where are you going to go? Salvation is here.

Rain often comes on the days that mean the most to me, and tonight the rain found us and poured over the venue’s worn-out roof. We stood in the foyer talking with new friends until they closed the venue down. Then one of our new friends allowed four dripping almost-strangers to ride with him so that we didn’t have to walk the several blocks to our car.

Some of you reading this know me well, some of you barely know me at all. For those of you who don’t know much of my story: I have spent significant seasons of my life battling depression, a fight that has been crippling at times. It does not own me now, despite the most severe relapse in years swallowing the first half of this year, but the reality is that I can count the number of times that I have been honestly happy without being held back by a sense of guilt on one hand. This past weekend was one of them. And I could attribute it to many things. I could say it was the band, these songs that mean so much to me, that I sing to myself over and over again. I could say it was my friends, Joy, Mercy, Caleb, Emma, and William, these people who shared the beauty of the evening with me, who contributed more than they’ll ever know. I could say it was getting to talk to Switchfoot, I could say it was simply being away from school. But the reality is that all of that was simply a vehicle for carrying a deeper gladness.

It is the joy that comes from understanding beauty is still a possibility in middle of the deepening cold. It is the peace that comes from seeing that I am hopelessly flawed and yet my God is still good. It is the hope that comes from finally admitting I don’t have answers, and sometimes that’s alright-- sometimes simply knowing that redemption is real and that it knows my name is enough.

It was like my heartbeat restarted. I can hear the Song again... and I am more than ready to sing along until my lungs cave in.

Blessings tonight. May you hear redemption’s song... may you sing along.
- Elraen -

P.S. - I owe endless thanks to Mercy for dealing with her older sister’s over-excited behavior, Caleb for the ridiculous conversations on the way home, Emma for the conversations and sharing her beautiful camera, William for navigating crazy downtown Dallas streets in the pouring rain in middle of the night, every stranger who high fived me, hugged me, and sang with me. Nights like these are never mine alone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The True Song

Jon Foreman has written before about how his songs seem to be converging. He says that maybe eventually he’ll just be playing one long song, a song expressing whatever one thing all his songs now are trying to say.

That came back to me today after I had been turning a new concept over in my head. I love working in analogies, in pictures that are more than pictures. Maybe because I am an artist. My stories and poems and songs mean more than the words say.

I am in a doctrines class this semester, studying the most basic issues of the Christian faith. A consistent theme is that even within Christianity, there are many viewpoints, and many of them are equally defensible. Today the topic we discussed is one that has divided the church for centuries, and one of the reasons is because the core of both viewpoints can be supported as true, even though they seem to be in contrast with each other.

I have been thinking a lot about truth the past few months, fighting hard to find it. I have fought with a lot of doubts this year. It has been a crushing, humbling, and ultimately incredibly productive experience, because it has pushed me to pursue truth with a hunger I have never known before. A frustration I have run into countless times is this simple truth: every human being is fallible. To say that my intellect is an absolute standard for truth is very foolish, because that must mean that my neighbor’s intellect is also an absolute standard for truth (providing we are equally intelligent), and if we disagree, what then? Maybe a good way to say this is simply that if it were possible for humanity to determine absolute truth on their own, we would have done so by now.

So if humanity is ultimately fallible, then there can be no understanding of truth without influence from outside. Even then, the understanding will only be partial, because it has to filter through the dark curtain of our own ignorance and imperfection. No matter how bright the sunlight is, if a creature is born with a thick film over its eyes, it will not see the fullness of the sun.

And what this means is that I cannot ever hope to understand all there is to know about truth. I can understand parts of it, definitely, because in the Bible God has revealed to us everything we need to know (not everything that is because we cannot grasp everything, but everything we need). God in His mercy has chosen to show us who He is, and even though we are so imperfect, we recognize Him. Even the creature with partway blind eyes still knows what light is, even if it does not see its source or see how bright it really is.

So now for my analogy. I have terrible rhythm when I play the piano, and before I started playing guitar it was even worse. When learning a new piece, how I played it was dependent on how I wanted it played. I would turn quarter notes into half notes and slash whole notes in half indiscriminately, and even then no two quarter notes were held for the same amount of time. Time signatures became irrelevant. I just wanted to play. I was incapable of playing with metronomes, and I didn’t feel any need to learn.

In 2009, I performed on the piano for the first time in many years. Beforehand I was practicing, trying to put myself in sync with my friend Ruth’s violin so we could play together. My then close friend, Jordan, was (and is) much better on the piano than I will ever be. He listened to me fighting to get the rhythm right on the second verse of the piece we were playing, and eventually he came over and started helping me. He would tap the rhythm out on the piano or else hum it and I would struggle to match it, fighting to play in sync with him. Eventually we were called to lunch, and he sat beside me and tapped the rhythm on the table as we ate. Afterwards I went back and worked on it some more, forcing my fingers closer and closer to the right rhythm.

After that, my outlook on playing notes correctly changed considerably. There is a beautiful freedom within the rhythm of music. The more you learn the constraints, the more open and free it feels. I cannot explain this, but I know it to be true, for myself at least. I began changing the way I played songs, relearning old songs with the right rhythm. I am still terrible at it, but the point is that I started trying... chasing down the true rhythm of the song, fighting to get it closer to the original. Learning to play all the right notes within the constraint of the rhythm.

I am coming to feel like truth is very much like this. It is not a whole picture that I find and posses. It is an absolute so much bigger than myself that will possess me, and I will always be working to let it possess me more fully, to fit myself more completely within its constraints. I will always be fighting to live closer to the rhythm and melody of Truth.

It takes more than a lifetime. I will fumble sometimes, and my fingers will ache sometimes from the effort. But I will keep playing, keep falling deeper into the endless depths of the song. And of course at times I need the reminder that yes, I am learning how to better move my fingers in time with this rhythm, and I will be able to play so much stronger once I do, but I should never, ever lose sight of the inherent beauty of the Song. Even when I sing along imperfectly. Even when I don’t know all the notes. Even when I have forgotten entirely what the time signature is. The Song is still beautiful.

May I ever seek to sing the true song better... and may I delight in its beauty every step of the way.

- Elraen -

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


A theme I have been strongly reminded of lately is one that used to be part of the foundation of how I operated, and yet somehow disappeared over the past two years. The idea is that we are all terribly needy people.

Maybe sometimes it takes failure (or the ever-present threat of failure) to prove how greatly we are in need. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we need things. We need food and sleep and shelter from day one until our frames our lifeless, our eyes asleep. On a less tangible level, we need love, we need something to hold on to. And if you’re Mary, you also need significant amounts of coffee and music.

And a symptom of need is often pain. It’s like the dizzying headaches I get when I don’t drink coffee, or the slow, steady ache when I haven’t been sleeping. There is a need (whether legitimate like the need for sleep or self-imposed like my need for coffee), and it is not being filled. We feel an emptiness. We feel an ache.

I think there is an inclination for many of us to see “I need” as an unforgivable sin. And definitely in some cases, it is wrong. Most would agree that a heroine addict’s withdrawals do not justify the lengths he will go to in order to get a hit, and most would even say that severe coffee addiction is probably unwise. Many of our needs are self-created, self-imposed. But I am beginning to understand that some needs are necessary. We’re supposed to have them. They are built into who we are.

I find it interesting that in the Biblical account, before the fall, before things break, Adam and Eve are not independent. They are actually more dependent on God then. They need Him, and they know that. But after the fall they hide... after they tried and failed to do anything outside of God (and indeed in opposition to Him).

C.S. Lewis says that we were created to need God, and that part of loving God is needing Him and recognizing that need (reference The Four Loves). God does not need us, but we desperately need Him. It is in that embrace of utter inadequacy and complete sufficiency that wholeness is possible. No more hollow places. No more aches.

I don’t like being dependent, and if we are honest, I think most of us would say the same. I did not realize how fiercely I guarded my independence until I started dating. There were times when I would be incredibly upset for no discernible reason, and then I would realize I was simply angry that for the first time in years I was doing something that by its very nature required another person. It was not entirely of my creation. For this relationship to exist, I had need of someone else. And that was a terrible (and absolutely necessary) blow to my pride.

And so I am almost beginning to enjoy, on some painful level, watching God dismantle the things I once thought I had achieved. There is a quiet peace in the breaking that happens when we realize how absolutely we need and how incapable we are of filling that need on our own. I am a terribly prideful person. I am finding that one of the best antidotes for pride is being confronted with how deeply, endlessly, and painfully I need God. It is a paradox that we feel our need for Him more the closer we get to Him. We often understand it least when we are most broken, in the coldest places farthest from His warmth.

The place where my faith begins is in the place where I notice that this world is broken. Cracks run through every moment and experience, flaws like darkening veins beneath white skin. If it is broken, outside of the state intended for it, there is a need for it to be put together again. This is where I live. I am terribly broken, and I am terribly in need of the Healer.

Come, Lord. You are welcome in this hollow of me. You are the endless fulfillment to my endless need.

- Elraen -

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nothing is Wasted

I am going to attempt to break the silence on this blog, the longest silence it has known since its creation in 2008. I have written many posts these past two months, but none of them have found their way here yet. Maybe some will in the future, but tonight this is the one that needs to be here.

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of suffering. I have been turning it over in my head, trying to find some clarity, as every human does. We are creatures eternally stranded between joy and suffering, almost incapable of reconciling them, fighting the things we should be running to in our frustration.

Several weeks ago in one of my classes, we watched the older movie adaption of The Shadowlands. It had a profound impact on me, enough so that I am still working through the idea a month later. I could write many blog posts on it, but for the purpose of right now I want to focus on one thing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it follows C.S. Lewis's relationship with and very brief marriage to Joy Gresham before her early death. After she died, C.S. Lewis went through a time of intense mourning and doubt (which we glimpse in his book A Grief Observed). In The Shadowlands, towards the end, C.S. Lewis makes a statement that struck me very, very hard.

I'm so afraid of never seeing her again. Of thinking that suffering is just suffering after all. No cause. No purpose.”

I relate to that very, very deeply. I won't make excuses for myself. The simple reality is that I had begun to believe again that suffering is just suffering. No cause. No purpose. We make mistakes, and we bleed. Maybe, I have told myself, the wounds never really close. Maybe there is no hope for it-- better to lie down and give in.

Jason Gray released an album last week. There is a song on it titled Nothing is Wasted. It is a painful song for me, a song that I still can barely listen to, because it makes the incredibly brave statement that these terrible things that happen— these tragedies, these failures, these disasters outside of our control, these wounds we bear with us— these things will be worth it. Spring will grow from the cracked earth that has groaned under snow for too long.

From the ruins, from the ashes, beauty will rise. From the wreckage, from the darkness, glory will shine. Nothing is wasted.”

This is enough to break down walls of self-defense, walls of hurt that I cling to. If nothing is wasted, if suffering is not just suffering but rather a doorway to a brighter joy, a better chance for Love to be known and made known, then I have reason to hope. I have reason to believe that things that have felt unbearably hard will become unimaginably beautiful.

And that is a hard lesson, because it means there is a reason to try again. To find joy in even the darkest places, knowing that the night will be worthwhile. Knowing that suffering has an odd tendency to run towards redemption. We are not travelers set adrift on a storm-tossed ocean with no destination. We have a Harbor, a Home, and a Guide we can trust to lead us there.

This is such a basic concept. I understood this stuff as a 16-year-old. One of my favorite ideas then was this concept that maybe a life surrendered to Christ will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Maybe others need the reminder, and maybe this is simply a reminder for myself. Regardless, the encouragement is this: your scars do not have to be wasted. Your failures do not have to be wasted. Your heartaches, losses, stress, these endless struggles and sacrifices that no one else sees... they do not have to be wasted. He takes these things and makes them beautiful. He takes these aching hearts, these brittle heartstrings, and teaches them to sing.

Be blessed.
- Elraen -

When hope is more than you can bear, and it's too hard to believe it could be true, and your strength fails you halfway there— you can lean on me and I'll believe for you. And in time, you will believe it too.”
- Jason Gray