Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yet to Come

[I actually wrote this several weeks ago, but wasn't sure if I actually was going to post it. I decided to go ahead and do so. It's not entirely cohesive or coherent, because most of my thoughts have been so hard to make sense of recently, but I thought it might be worth sharing.]

Recently, I was talking with a friend who was staying with my family for a while. We were talking about our various college experiences, and the way that people have always told us that “your college years will be the best years of your life.” And we both joked that if this is as good as it gets, we would hate to see what comes after this.

At the time it was something to laugh about, but even as I laughed I was afraid. It’s a thought that has occurred to me over and over again— what if this really is as good as it gets? What if, from here on out, it’s all downhill? If that is the case then first of all, my life is really rather worthless, because I consider college to be the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to me. And if it’s only going to get worse? Better to give up, if that is the case. The temptation is to ask God what in the world He’s signed me up for, and why I wasn’t asked for my opinion on the matter.

And I think that’s a mindset not confined to myself, or even to college students in general. I think it’s something that occurs to people whenever they find themselves in a situation that’s supposed to be everything they hoped for, but instead still feels empty. I think it’s probable that a lot of people feel like that a few years into a job or even in relationships. We get used to the way things go, and we accept that it’s as good as it’s going to get. And sometimes that’s comforting because it means we don’t have to work for anything else, but I think a lot of the time it’s terrifying. For example, I’ve talked to countless teenagers who felt like they’d never get out of their house, that the family issues they were dealing with would not get better, that where they were would never change.

I think there are some flaws with that idea. I think that it assumes that we are helpless, first of all, and I also think that it leaves the very nature and character of God entirely out of the picture. He is not a God who takes into account only this moment or this season or this year. He is outside of time, and in His hands our lives are not a series of random highs and lows, but rather a song with verses and a chorus and a bridge and a break-down and a build-up. He sees it as that whole... and maybe some of the best moments are dependent on the lows coming first. The most hopeful songs I have ever heard don’t start out that way. You have to get to the bridge usually before you ever see it-- and that’s towards the end of the song.

More than that, I think it is also true that the constantly repeated theme that God works for our ultimate good (because He loves us) means that He never says “that was it. I’m done. Do the best you can now.” That’s not who He is or what He’s about.

And this applies even to the concept that when we become Christians, it is somehow the apex of who we are, right there. It’s like Jesus only died for us in that one moment. I lived that belief for a while, and it didn’t work. I have come to believe instead that the redemption is not just for the 16-year-old kid I was. The redemption is for the 19-year-old college student I am and the 30-year-old I will one day be. He redeemed every piece of us, every moment... because again, I don’t think He sees it in pieces, but rather He sees a whole. I don’t think that the idea that we are “fully known” means simply that God knows our personality.

Some of the most encouraging words I have ever heard are not the ones that tell me that now is the best it’s going to get, that I should suck it up and get over these things that keep me awake at night. The hope is what tells me that these moments are not forever, that there are better moments coming... Brian Reith captures it with the words “now is not forever.”

And so I am going to believe that God is still working, that He is still making things new, that, as Samwise Gamgee would put it, “it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.” Or, while we’re on that vein, I could quote Faramir: “it is but the damp of the first spring rain. I do not believe this darkness will endure.”

The best is yet to come. It’s the story, the song, that God has already written for you, and it’s not over. It’s still in progress, and you can’t see the whole of it. But God’s already seen the ending, and He seems to think it’s beautiful and worthwhile. And that is enough.

Be blessed.
- Elraen, Wandering Star -

And after all that we’ve been through, and after all we’ve left in pieces, I still believe our lives have just begun. Now the past can be outrun, and I know You are the reason-- I still believe the best is yet to come.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow (Shelter)

Humans are funny individuals. We get life handed to us as a free gift, and in turn we offer God our love, which results in obedience. And then when He continues to shape our life— the life He gave us to begin with— we so often complain that it wasn't the way we thought it would be. A few weeks ago, with a sort of bitter smile (realizing exactly how childish it was even as I said it), I told God “when You called me to love people, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.”

I went to Colorado to visit some of my dearest friends over my break from work. I was with my older brother and younger sister, as I usually am. We drove the 16 hours in a single day, which was an adventure in itself. We spent a lot of time in Northwest Texas, which is a very empty place. It's all straight lines and sky and silence. I had no idea what I was looking for out there, but I knew I was looking for something.

I was staying with one of the CP mentors, Mangy. Her house has become one of my favorite places in the world. I feel incredibly safe there, which is an unusual feeling. I felt like I was riding in on the wings of a storm. I was afraid of bringing darkness with me to settle into that house, but I'm really not sure I am big enough to cast a shadow over that place.

It was hard to get used to being there. It's hard every time, because I can never quite believe that I am lucky enough to be with friends, but this time it was hard in a different way. It highlighted for me exactly how isolated I had been, exactly how unhealthy some of my thinking was, and the fact that it had mostly been my choice. I had kind of forgotten that I had friends, and that they wanted to talk to me and interact with me. It was a little overwhelming to be reminded, but in a sense I think that's why I was going in the first place— to remember.

I have been fighting this idea of friendship, of community, of the kind of sacrificial love that I have talked about so often without ever understanding. One thing I have had to learn is that yes, sometimes touching other people hurts... but some things were meant to hurt, and some hurts are worth it.

As a necessary sidenote: this does not mean that we are supposed to dive headfirst into destructive relationships. I've tried that, and it's nowhere near as heroic as it sounds. The point I am trying to make is that those relationships that are destructive, or even those that are simply hard to maintain, do not invalidate the value of community.

I have a tendency to drag things around that I was never meant to pick up in the first place. One of the times when this hit home for me was when I was gathered with a lot of my friends for what we call a mini moot. I ended up going off on my own to sit in a dark room with my iPod for a while. This is the kind of thing I did all the time when I was younger, but I hadn't done that in years. I thought I had outgrown it, learned to look past myself more than that. Apparently not. Sometimes, if only for a few minutes, I am 16 again, because that is who I choose to be. Slightly sobering.

On Thursday, it snowed. Not the light, slow, melting snow we get every few years in Texas. It started snowing, and soon it was more like a storm. It was fascinating to see the cold feathers falling thick, clustering over trees and cars and sidewalks. Only minutes were necessary for it to stick, unlike the several hours needed in Texas. I decided I wanted to walk in it, since it is an opportunity I rarely have. So I bundled up in more layers than I've ever had on in my life and set off, singing.

I walked to areas I hadn't been to before. I reached a major street that was sloped (like most of the streets in the Springs are). More and more cars were stalling out or sliding into each other. There were about 20 cars stuck there in one big barricade as the snow continued to fall. I walked past small knots of people talking loud on cell phones. As I pressed on, I reached up to push my hair out of my eyes and found that it was frozen solid.

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I had a lot of time for thinking, out in the snow by myself. One of the things I was realizing for the first time is that snow is more than I had thought it was. Before I have associated snow with innocence, joy, and beauty. When it comes to us in Texas, it feels that way. But here I saw what it is like when the snow freezes to ice and sends cars sliding away from firm ground. I felt the piercing cold of relentless wind and snow on my forehead and fingers, and thought about people who wouldn't have a warm place to go home to.

And it started to occur to me that sometimes the most beautiful things are also the most dangerous. Yes, snow is beautiful and somehow makes me hopeful of things washed white, but it is a great risk to even try to go out in it. Admiring it from a distance is the only way to stay safe... but then you don't see the way the snowflakes sit in their almost perfect complexity on your skin before burning away. You don't feel the touch on your face or hear it under your shoes.

It brings to mind a hike we took back in August. When standing on a rough rock precipice overlooking a spectacular view, I asked my friend Justin if the view was more beautiful or more terrifying. He responded that it was both. I added that all the best things are. The thought has stayed with me.

For fear of rambling, maybe I should wrap this up. I guess the point is that going to Colorado and spending time with some of the most beautiful people I have ever known did not so much teach me that I was safe. It taught me that some of the most beautiful stories are never written because we're too afraid they will be a tragedy... for that matter, some of the most beautiful stories are tragedies in places. Friendships are like that. I could choose to live all my life locked inside looking out a window... or else I could stand singing in the snow, freezing cold, skin burning, but alive.

All of this pointed out to me again how much everything is changing. As I said before, the moot in August absolutely and completely wrecked me, more so than any other event in my life aside from my initial decision to follow Christ. Everything after that has been the process of watching old habits and thought patterns burn away under the steady pressure of truth. It's not a fun process. Actually, it hurts and makes me feel so tired and numb sometimes... and yet somehow it's beautiful, like being made clean. Like walking in the snow.

- Elraen -

If our hearts are turned to stone, there is hope— we know the rocks will cry out. And the tears aren't ours alone, let them fall into the hands that hold us. Come away from where you're hiding, set aside the lies that you've been living... in the shelter of each other we will live.

- Jars of Clay

Saturday, January 1, 2011

You Tell Me to Live

I am spending the turning of a year’s page far from home for the second time in a row. A year ago right now I was in a hotel in Nashville. Now I am in a friend’s house in Colorado Springs. This seems to help to mark the transition.

Occasionally there is a year that seems to be marked, gilded with fire and with ice, crashing like a meteor on the shell of my world. 2010 was one of those years. So much of me wants to call it one of the worst years of my life, and yet I can’t make myself do it, because I can only think of one other year that has ever impacted me more.

If I were to describe 2010 in a single phrase, it would be “the year that I learned I was wrong about everything.” About friends, about myself, about God, about faith, about the very concept of what it is to be alive... I was so completely wrong.

Some of the absolute worst things that have ever happened to me all managed to cram themselves in together in one year. I had to fall hard enough to figure out that I had lost my footing in the first place.

I have found myself weary and worn over the past two months, abandoning the principles I have fought so hard to uphold-- ideas of community, that honesty is important, that it is possible to be safe with people. I tried to find my way back to where I once was, the person who once could easily go days and weeks without a full conversation, who would commonly sit alone in a room for hours on end. I tried wandering paths that once owned me. I tried to find the start, maybe with some idea in my head that if I could do that, I could figure out who I was again. And yet it didn’t work. I had grown too much for the old molds to contain the pieces of my soul.

Throw myself back into the ocean, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. Throw myself back into the ocean, but it wouldn’t take me back-- no it wouldn’t take me back.

- Quietdrive

I looked forward to 2010 with hope. Some of the greatest things I had hoped for came true. Almost all of the things I feared most also came true. As I sit now in the early hours of 2011, I do not hope. I do not dream. I do not even fear anymore. I grit my teeth to hold inside the song burning still in my lungs, and I hold on with a white-knuckled determination that will not give up, even when I beg myself to.

And I am beginning to realize how much of faith feels like this. I will not give up, even when I am not particularly sure how to stand up anymore.

The temptation to regret parts of 2010-- most of it, in fact-- is extreme. If I could erase the first eight months and then the last two, I would be a much happier person. I have not known regret like this in three years. And yet part of me also recognizes how useless that would be. I grew more than I could ever have imagined. Yes, maybe that was mostly because I saw so many things fall apart, and in the process learned so much about the only thing that is whole. But if that is what it takes to break through this iron shell around my heart, so be it.

Heaven knows, I’ve tried to find a cure for the pain. Oh my Lord! To suffer like You do-- it would be a lie to run away.

- Jon Foreman

I will not regret, for to do so is to deny the reality of forgiveness. Where I go from here is uncharted. I stood singing on the side of a street in a snow storm yesterday. In the frigid cold and angry wind and the blowing white powder ghosts, I began to remember exactly how vulnerable humanity is. I began to remember how useless all of this if we choose to believe we were meant to rule our kingdoms alone.

I don’t believe in friendships. I don’t believe my life will amount to anything. I don’t believe there will be anything redeeming about 2011. I don’t believe in hope. But I am beginning to want to believe again.

Perhaps what I want most is to be alone. And that is the exact thing that I am coming to understand is not possible. And it makes me feel angry and helpless and terrifyingly human.

New beginnings. The idea of trying again just makes me feel inconsolably tired right now. And yet there is this heartbeat, this song, this pulse, that will not give up-- this idea of things that outlast me, this idea of hope and love and light pulsing behind the tormented skin of a broken world. Tomorrow will come, a sunrise for every night. And so I hold on. And so I choose to live.

When dark clouds cover the sky like there's no hope, You are the light. You tell me to live.

And when You heal my broken wings, yes You heal my everything. You tell me to live...

You tell me to live.

- The Rocket Summer

May you know the hope of new beginnings. May you know what it is to hold on. Thank you for staying with me through another year, another chapter. The road goes ever on and on...

- Elraen -