Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

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Permission to Kill

Lately, I’ve fallen in love with the book The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. The tale follows a busload of humans traveling from Hell to Heaven, and includes many short stories about the “Hell” the people cling to which keeps them from embracing Heaven.

One such story involves a man and a lizard. You see, this man managed to get on the bus bound for Heaven, but he’s got this annoying red lizard on his shoulder that insisted on coming and whispers constantly in his ear. The man doesn’t like the lizard, he knows such a creature has no place up there in Heaven, but he just can’t seem to make it go away, so he decides to turn around and go back to Hell. Before he can get very far, though, an angel stops him, and asks him if he’d like for the angel to make the lizard be quiet. The man agrees, but soon the angel explains that the only way to do so is to kill the lizard, and the man starts to freak out.

He falters in doubt and fear, saying, “I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here — well, it’s so damned embarrassing.” The angel insists that it’s the only way, and asks again if the man will let him kill the lizard. “Please– really — don’t bother,” the man says. “Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

The angel continues to offer this man complete and total freedom from his sin, but he’s too afraid to accept it: “Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

Foolish man! That is so like us, isn’t it? We ask God for help in a sin, and He says He’ll take care of it, but then we back out and say we can control it on our own, that we’ll handle it, keep it in order… When all He wants to do is take it out of our lives forever. Of course, the man says that sounds like a great idea, but he’d rather come back and do it later, he’s in no shape to handle such a thing now.

The key point in this little interaction between the man and the angel is that in order to free the man, the angel has to kill the lizard, and he must do so only with the man’s permission. He cannot kill the whispering lizard against the man’s will. But the man is too afraid, afraid that if the lizard dies, he will die too. He’s afraid because even the angel’s close proximity to him is burning him, hurting him.

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you,” the angel explains.

As the angel comes closer, the lizard whispers fervent lies into the man’s ear, promising to bring him only good things, pleasurable things, natural things such that the angel could never understand.

But the man has had enough. He’s afraid of dying, but he exclaims, “It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature,” and so he asks the angel to kill it.

The angel closes in, a scream of agony echoes through the Heavenly landscape, and the man collapses. But then he rises, a new and glowing Being, full of joy and brightness. The lizard is thrown away, broken and defeated, but then it starts to transform too, changing into a shining white stallion. The new Being jumps onto the horse, the thing that once controlled him, and rides off into the eternal sunrise.

If we give our unclean desires to God, if we let Him kill every inch of us that is not of Him, that has no place in His eternity, He will transform all of it into glory and majesty. Yes, it will hurt, but when we submit ourselves fully to death, we join in the splendor of resurrection.

As the man rides off in peace, Nature rejoices in song, saying: “Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves.”

God, I want to be overcome by You so that I can fully become who You made me to be. Take these sinful desires, take this lizard off my back. I give You permission to kill it. Please, kill it, destroy it, transform it, and lead me into new life. I don’t want to hold on to any part of Hell, but instead I want to leave it all behind, embracing every inch of Heaven that lies within my grasp.

Chains be Broken, Lives be Healed

Our God is a God who restores.
I love that.

A year and so ago, I wrote about Counting up my Demons when I came face-to-face with a choice to confront my own brokenness. A month or so after that, I wrote more about the process of being broken and our inherent desire to bring restoration, to say I Will Try to Fix You.

Today, on a God-driven whim, I attended the Adventures in Missions Kingdom Dreams workshop. I learned many great things and connected with some awesome people. We also talked a bit about brokenness. For me, though, in trying to figure out my heart and listening to God, I talked about how I want to loose the chains of those held in bondage, whatever that bondage may look like (bondage to religious law, to the lies of this world, to an addiction or sinful practice, to anything, really — let’s bring freedom!).

But right now, all I can think about is how great our God is, that He seeks not only to offer us freedom, but to restore us to new heights we never thought we’d reach.

He will break our chains, He will lift us to our feet,
But He will also heal the cuts and scars from where the bonds dug into our skin.
He will restore.

Through some connections I made today, I started reading Make it Mad, and fell in love with one of Max’s posts on brokenness. He writes:

Listen up, folks.  No one is too contagious to be loved, too broken to be rebuilt, or too sick to be healed.  But just because you’ve been rebuilt does not mean you will never break, again.

This was so encouraging to me. I love that God is in the business of restoring, but I have been struggling lately with the fact that I’m not living up to my restored potential — that even though I’ve been working through this for more than a year, I’m not fully rebuilt, and it feels like I’ll never get there, because I keep falling and shattering over and over again.

But Max says, All that can be asked of us is that we remain authentic.  That we live the lives God created us to live to the best of our abilities.  And if we fall along the way? Grace, baby! We’ve got grace! … “And just in case you mess up tomorrow, your sins are forgiven, again.  And again.  And Again.  Forever and ever and ever and ever because My love for you is relentless.”

Amen. Our God is in the business of restoration, of reconciliation, of fixing and rebuilding. And He is such a wise and patient Builder. Though the creation is clumsy, and slips often, He knows exactly what He is doing, and He’s in it for the long haul. He will not give up on us.

My God is a God who restores. And restoration starts with the freedom to step out of your chains and stand broken before the Lord, knowing that He loves you so deeply and will build you into something you could never have imagined.

Chains be broken. Lives be healed. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

When I counted up my demons…

I have been told the best advice to aspiring writers is to “keep writing, keep writing!” Not that I would necessarily “claim” to be an “aspiring writer,” but I do like to write… So, here is attempt number two at my “keep writing” plan:

Dear blog,

So, I’ve had some difficult issues to deal with lately, and I want to put it this way…

You see, we all have demons. (We count them up and hope that everything’s not lost.)

Sometimes, one or more of our demons can hide away for a little while, and so we think we’re okay:  It’s alright, I haven’t seen that particular demon for a while now, so I’d rather just push him out of my mind and move on with my life.  Everything’s good, everything’s fine.

Usually, this is when he likes to rear his ugly little head again. He’ll pop on by, just to say hello, and remind us that we are still human and fragile, prone to making mistakes and highly susceptible to temptation.

Now, we have a choice:  Do we push the demon out of our mind again and keep telling ourselves that we can get through this, it’s an out of sight, out of mind kind of deal … Or do we face the demon head on, grab him by the horns (if your demon has horns) and throw him out of our life?

Herein lies the problem. If you try to keep living your life free of the demon without ever actually facing him, you will carry around this weight, this shadow. And while things may be sunny at the moment, the shadow – that you’ve probably never actualy told anyone about – can always creep back in.

But you could live with that. Why?

Because your second option is far scarier. You see, in order to face the demon, you must look into his eyes, and, chances are, you are going to see yourself, and that terrifies you.

This is especially difficult for those who don’t like confrontation (like me).

It’s not that you’re afraid of hurting the demon’s feelings. I mean, let’s be honest, you would love to see him destroyed and done for. But the thing is, you’d much rather forget you ever had a problem, than go about trying to fix it. Because fixing it requires internal research, digging deep, and remembering that you were the one feeding that pesky demon all along. It is not the demon you have to confront, it is yourself. You see, in order for something to be fixed, it first needs to be broken.

And being broken is much MUCH scarier than having to shoo away a pesky little demon every now and then.

And yet, we are called to be broken. For it is only in our brokenness that the Ultimate Restorer can overwhelm us with His power of love and redemption. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” -Psalm 51:17

When we are broken, He is close, and He will not reject us. The Lord will always love us, restore us, and make us new.

And yet, sometimes I think we would still rather just burry that little demon deep in the recesses of our minds where no one will ever find him and just go about our business. Of course, that probably won’t work too well because other people come ready with shovels. They will dig, and dig deep, until they find that demon, bring him back to the surface, and leave you covered in dirt.

And now how are you supposed to feel?

Like dirt, you would think. Obviously.

But the thing is, those demon-miners were probably doing you a favor.

But you still have a choice:  You can reach for the shovel and bury your demon again. Maybe you have more than one. Bury them all so deep, deeper than before, and maybe, just maybe, they won’t resurface, at least not any time soon.

Or,

You can grab that demon by the horns, look him straight in the eyes, and allow yourself to be broken. And after that, let go, and lift your eyes to the One who restores.

It’s going to be scary, and it’s going to be difficult, but in the end you will be so much better for it. …Right?