Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This Is Your Life

I was a foot or two back from the barrier, there in the press of people eager to be nearest to the stage, leaning in as if to be the most thoroughly drenched in the songs pouring from the stage. I have seen Switchfoot more than I’ve seen most bands, and usually it feels new every time, but that night I was so busy feeling old that its newness couldn’t seem to break the exterior of me, to draw me in again. So it was an old song that finally got beneath my skin with a question I’ve heard Jon Foreman sing so many times:

This is your life. Is it everything you dreamed that it would be when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?

The lyric lodged like a bullet in my ribcage. As I’d stood in line that night, without anyone I knew, surrounded by groups of college kids who felt like ghosts of my past life, I’d been keenly aware of the feeling that the best of my life was over, my young years (such as they were) are gone, and the worst of it is that when I was still so rich with possibility and relationships and a painful, breaking, but loudly beating heart, I had no idea how much I had to lose.

I was also curiously aware, as I have been often lately, that I feel deeply guilty for these emotions. I don’t look back at my own stories objectively often, but when I do, I understand why sometimes people are amazed when I express that I might be struggling. I graduated from an academically exceptional college with highest honors and zero debt, I spent a year living the kind of vagabond, on-the-move lifestyle people make movies about, I’m married to the boy I’ve been in love with since I was 15, I work in the music industry and routinely hang out with rockstars, I’ve recently lost over 75 pounds and am in the best shape of my life. But it’s taken living these things and seeing so many of my old dreams become reality to realize that none of them satisfy me.

Of course this is in part because for every item I listed, there is an incredible story of struggle, sacrifice, loss, and often tremendous grief behind it that has taken years to turn towards where it is now, as is true of most people. This is not to say that I am deserving in the least of the gifts I live, but to clarify that I am not, by any means, unscathed or unscarred. But all that aside, the reality is simply that I am discovering more and more that even under the most ideal conditions on earth, the perfect combination of circumstances could not make my soul whole.

Since I moved to Nashville, I’ve been borderline blinded to all my other blessings by one simple reality: I am bone-breakingly lonely, so lonely I’ve often lost sense of self, lost the context of my life with the lack of other lives to be tethered to. And a lot of my prayers have been God speaking some truth to me about who He’s made me, how He’s purposed my life, and me simply screaming like an unruly toddler “but God, I’m so lonely.”

I don’t want to in any way reduce the reality that I need people, that you need people, that we need each other because we’re human and we’re built that way. But after being given so many breathtaking gifts, many of them things I didn’t dare ask for and know I don’t deserve, and seeing how my heart is still hungry, this much I am beginning to understand: if I were surrounded by the most supportive community in the world right now, I still would not be fully satisfied. There are different kinds of aches that would come with community, and I know that deep. There is the ache of grieving with those who grieve, of recognizing that our love will not always be received or reciprocated, of changes in relationships.

Forgive the repetitive disclaimers (they are perhaps a symptom of my rather cowardly desire to be liked, to be understood-- the truth is that I’ll never be able to cover all of the bases of human experience in a facebook or blog post), but I have to state again that this doesn’t mean relationships aren’t worth it. They are. But they’re not going to sew up the tears in my soul.

My faith tradition does a very good job of naming this longing, of letting it be known, of admitting that we’ll never really be completely comfortable as immortals bound to a mortal earth. A lot of weird beliefs come from that, but no matter where you stand on the theological playing field, this truth is universal: the skin and bones of this world will never be enough to satisfy our souls. Maybe temporarily, maybe for as long as we can medicate away our growing sense of unease, but not ultimately. I hear this same sense echoed by friends from other faith or non-religious backgrounds as well, this seemingly universal longing for something bigger than ourselves.

Switchfoot’s songs finally named this truth in me again, resonated with the ache that’s been tearing at my insides for months now. Because the truth is that I am not who I want to be, and I feel so far from whole and from home. But even as the songs voiced this internal confession, they pointed to the things that are eternal, the things that make living even in this shadowland beautiful. Even if the skin and the bones of this world feel empty to me, the Jesus I follow talked about a Kingdom of Heaven that can fill them out and eventually become the truest world-- a Kingdom instituted through His love, immortalized in our breathing hearts.

I’ve been leaning on shadows for a long while now, because it feels so much easier to me than facing the blinding light of the Grace head on and dealing with the questions it raises. I don’t entirely know how to change this.

But I know that it means looking ahead at what will be instead of looking back and regretting that I’ll never get back what was. Nothing I’ve encountered in this world can meet the neediness of my soul. But every spark of hope I’ve ever had in my life stems from beyond this world, from the person, the mystery, the incarnate life, that is Jesus Christ. And so for me, knowing rest is going to come not from circumstances, but from knowing Him-- and figuring out again what that looks like for this stretch of life, in the highs and the lows.

Until I die I’ll sing these songs on the shores of Babylon
still looking for a home in a world where I belong.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Poem: Roulette

She looks at the future like
she once looked at monsters in the closet, like
to not see is so much worse than
a calamity she could name.

Adrenaline drugged,
strung out on apprehension,
she plays calendar pages
like Russian roulette--
teeth clenched against a bullet
she feels must come.

But if who she is
could talk to who she was
with the wisdom gifted by
so many bullets missed or
monsters survived, 
she could tell herself with
that monster-slaying smile
that the future can be

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Poem: Restless Peace

[title in flux]

"We wept, we fled in terror, the iron entered into our souls-- and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace."
- G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

If you would just give me
some hard-hearted mandate
and watch with blank idol’s eyes
as I wrestled your mercilessness
to its inevitable silent conclusion--
and only then,
could I understand you,
for you would look so much
like me.

Oh, the violence of your justice
met my stomach so much sweeter
than this bitter-gilded grace
that burns away my old skin
as it boils down my throat.

And yet
my deepest gratitude comes when
you are unswayed
by my righteous 
your quiet like a healer’s compress
held against my soul’s delirium.

I have known
you in your command.
May I learn to drink deep
of Your peace.