Friday, July 29, 2011


Every year since 2009, my brother and I have made a point of getting to Sixflags to see Skillet play (they have played there just about every year for a very long while). It is always one of my favorite shows in any given year.

This year we set off early enough to spend a full day riding coasters in the park, as well as picking up my friend Joelle. Though the day was the kind of heavy, sticky hot that makes the air feel dirty, it took me maybe 15 minutes to remember how much I enjoy roller coasters and to realize how much I had needed the time with friends.

There is a ride in the park that has been one of my favorites since they built it. This is primarily because most of the ride consists of free fall, which I am a big fan of. Of course there is always the sick twist of fear at the beginning, the feeling that you left part of yourself somewhere above as you plummet towards earth. But after that first split second, it feels like flying.

I tend to be very thoughtful on roller coasters and similar rides. This probably seems like it wouldn’t be the best place to play the philosopher, but I have found that the least conventional places are usually where the best thoughts are born. In this case, as we were free falling, I was thinking hard, and holding one of those quiet dialogues with God that often happens in moments like this.

You see, I realized sometime last year that the reason I love roller coasters so much is partly because I have no control over them. I have had friends tell me that this is why they are scared of roller coasters. There is a set track, and the car moves along it, but you can’t always see that far ahead and you certainly can’t stop the car once it gets started. If a free fall proves too terrifying halfway in, there is no going back. And for some this is terrifying. For me, it is what makes it exhilarating. It is one of the very few situations in my life where I feel like I am allowed to relinquish control, to know I cannot change anything and no one expects me to. I am strapped in place and set moving far too fast to stop.

I used to close my eyes when I rode rollercoasters. I couldn’t stand watching what was inevitably coming. I was fine with putting myself in that position, so long as I didn’t have to handle any more than what I felt at that exact moment.

It’s probably pretty obvious where I am going with this. If I am honest, I am probably the biggest control freak I have ever known. I don’t know if this partly comes in reaction to the fact that I have had extremely little choice over the direction of my life, particularly in the past few years, but the reality is that I struggle with it a lot. I want to be able to lay out everything perfectly, write a list and check the items off. I want dates set in stone and I want a system in place that I know how to operate. When situations prove themselves to be out of my control entirely, I get discouraged and disheartened. I often give up.

I have found that when I surrender my false sense of entitlement to control situation, that is most often when I can actually find peace. When I recognize that I can’t be the perfect friend to everyone, but I can certainly act in love wherever I am placed. When I recognize that I can’t plan out my life perfectly, but I can definitely take one step at a time as God directs it. When I recognize that I don’t even have enough control over my life to save myself... but He knows that, and that’s why He offers grace.

After the free fall we got off the ride. I was incredibly lucky in that Joelle enjoys that sort of thing as much as I do, so we looped around to do it again. I was still thinking. I realized how much joy there is in surrendering control. I realized that there is often that sick feeling at the beginning, the feeling when gravity falls out. And then it feels like flying. As I have said before, it is like falling up.

That night we met up with another friend to watch Skillet play. I tend to follow very specific formulas at shows, but this one broke a lot of my usual habits. I ended up leaving my assigned seat so I could spend the show with friends, which was more important to me than following some idea I had previously carried in my head.

The songs that night were a reminder, these tunes I have heard more than any others, played by a band that has shaped my life for so many years. That night they reminded me that even when I have no control, even in those sick moments of fear at the beginning when the world seems to fall apart, there are truths to hold onto. There are some things that never change. There are still things that are bigger than my life and the plans I lay down.

And though there have been so many times when I’ve closed my eyes tight, afraid to see where God would pull me if I really let go, between the rollercoasters and a rock show I was reminded that I long now to let go with wide-open eyes and an eager heartbeat. It is there beyond the desire for control and in the heart of surrender that I find joy.

- Elraen -

"Peace [is] the absence of fear and striving in the place of utter vulnerability. Absolute trust."

- Korey Cooper

Friday, July 15, 2011


What other duty would you have me do, my lord?”

Duty? No. I would have you smile again, not grieve for those whose time has come. You will live to see these days renewed... no more despair.”

- Return of the King

This has been written over several days, and it is perhaps part two of a post I wrote in February (Answered). Midnight and music are filtering and weighing these words, bringing them to what they should be...

For the past two months I have been turning ideas of change and renewal and healing over in my mind. I have reason to do so. The seven months that came before these ideas were some of the absolute hardest I have ever lived through. Though I strive for honesty here, there are places where I can only summarize, and this would be one of those times. In brief, I lost some things that I had been using to define my identity, and I lost them in very painful ways. I saw people I love hurting in ways that to me were unbearable because I could not heal it. I had some of the goals I'd held for three years taken forcefully from my hands. I lost the primary thing that gave me any kind of hope at my school. My older brother moved out and my grandfather died and I was struggling with some terrible weights on my soul. For over 6 months I had nightmares almost every single night, nightmares that left me breathless and exhausted when I woke up. I became irrational. I became numb.

I reached that point where I began to feel like I had nothing left. It's a place I've been before, but it was different this time— it came on like a void and like a fear, like believing with everything in me that I would never be better again.

There is something I found then, a resolve I had known before but never with such intensity. In all the nights that I spent awake until 3:00 a.m. curled up in the dark on my room's floor with my headphones on, I prayed prayers that became impossibly brave because I was so desperate. I told God that He could feel free to keep taking, that He could take away everything else I had. I could watch more things fall apart, I could lose the people I loved the most, I could fail in every possible way, but I would not let go of Him, even when I barely knew Him anymore. No matter how much guilt I felt, no matter how many stars blacked out, no matter how much I lost, I absolutely refused to give up. Even when faith felt more like screaming in pain then like singing, I would sing. Until my lungs caved in and the last shallow heartbeat faded, I would hold on.

There are moments I remember from those months that still make me regret, and there are moments that speak of redemption. I remember driving on highways I had never been on before late at night by myself right after I got my license, with the windows down and rain pouring over me, singing along with Phil Wickham's Heaven and Earth at the top of my lungs. I remember sleeping with the lights still on, suddenly somehow afraid of the dark. I remember standing on top of Stone Mountain and finding healing in unexpected places. I remember curling up on the floor in empty hallways at school and crying like a child. I remember a long conversation that changed my life, late at night after a show with a lead singer who had been my hero since I was in highschool and somehow now decided to call himself my friend. I remember leaning close over my guitar and playing until my fingertips wore blisters and cuts.

Two months ago things began to turn around rather drastically due to a single phone call (refer to my last entry). There are no words for how badly it shook my world. That was the first shadow of what has turned out to be a tidal wave.

In those months where I lost so much, I often told friends that God does not take something away without having something better to give in its place. But even when I said the words to encourage others, I did not believe them for myself. And yet God has begun to gently prove me wrong. Things have begun healing in ways I could never had planned or imagine. I have been handed some opportunities that are breathtakingly bright. Some of the exact things that were taken away were replaced, except made better than before.

I have been expecting things to go wrong any second now, because I know these times never last. I went to Ichthus Festival in Kentucky with one of my dearest friends last month, and beforehand I was sure it would be a disaster, because life had been working out much too well. And yet everything fell into place perfectly. We didn't get lost, we didn't run out of gas or break down. We didn't get sick and somehow, magically, neither of us passed out. I got to see almost all of my favorite bands, and I got to have conversations that would stay with me. I learned some things there that need a separate post in themselves.

A good example of the general structure of all of this comes with the moot. Most of you who know me know that every year I go to Colorado to spend a week with friends from the Christian writer's forum I've been part of since I was 14. It is the highlight of every year and a massive time of growth. But I had been sure I would not get to go this year, due to various circumstances. This was terribly hard for me to accept at first. If I am honest, I sulked like a thwarted toddler. And then I realized that if it was taken from me, God would still provide. I let it go. I told God He could have it.

A week after Jordan visited and after my sister left for Japan, I had some conversations with some friends that sparked thought. Which turned to prayer. Which turned to an earnest evaluation of myself and my motives. And somehow very quickly I had bought a plane ticket and totally rearranged my August plans. I had to let go my sense of entitlement before God could give it to me as a gift.

Again in honesty, I am only beginning to understand where to go from here. I am beginning to understand that it will take me a long time to get over some of the things I lived through last winter and spring. I am beginning to understand that a part of learning grace is starting over... again.

But the beautiful thing is that when we burn clean, it opens up so much space for green to grow back again in the ashes of what we thought we needed so desperately. Yes, the fire hurts. But there is life, even afterwards, and even hiding beneath the soil in the places where the heat is blinding. When you have things taken away, when you feel like a part of you is dead... expect God to show up. Because He's in the business of taking things that were dead and breathing them to life.

- Elraen -

Take this heart of darkness, I give it up. And all the emptiness, You fill it up. The times that I feel nothing You bring enough so I can live for something— You lift me up. And all these bad dreams, I wake up to the light. And when I can't see, I wake up to You eyes. Wake me up... There's a light up ahead.” - Further Seems Forever