Darkness is all I can see. It has it’s own depth and weight. I blink a few times to make sure my eyes are open. Yep, they are open. Without the precious sense of sight, my other senses become heightened. I hear nothing except the rhythm of my own breath echoing off the space. This strange sonar gives me a sense that my prison must have some height and depth. I hear no natural sound. I am not outside, or even near to an outer wall. A cave? I hear no water dripping or trickling thru fissures in the earth. No mustiness lingers in the air caused by the constant presence of mist and dampness. In fact, I smell nothing at all. If I am underground, it is not a natural structure.
What am I laying on then? Oh, yes. I’ve just noticed I’m laying down. Strange. Complete darkness is so very disorienting. The floor is smooth like granite except, wait a minute. What are these? When I move my hands metallic clinks echo throughout the chamber. The cold, oval structures appear to be interlinked. Chills cause the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end as I recognize the shape: a chain large enough to anchor a ship to the bottom of the sea. With the same hand, I follow the links, the size of my palm, toward me to find their origin. The chills shoot through my body as I find the chain is not attached to my wrist by any kind of strap. It is growing from or was implanted there! With a gentle tug, pain shoots up my arm. An involuntary cry, the mixture of physical pain and rising panic, escapes my throat. Quick inspection reveals the other wrist in the same condition.
Momentarily incapacitated by fear, I evaluate my situation. Giving in to the panic will get me no where. Breathe. Just breathe. Get a hold of yourself. Chains have two ends. So, let’s see where the other end is. Yes, by now I have resorted to referring to myself in third person plural. You find chains coming out of your wrists and see how long you hold it together! With plans to investigate by way of crawling, I flip over on my stomache. Gripped by horror again, I gasp as pain shoots from my feet up my legs. I suck in air thru clenched teeth, willing the pain to subside. I try to control my trembling hand as I slowly, carefully, reach down to inspect. Though motion shoots fire through my body, I must confirm what I fear to find. Identical chains protrude from both ankles. With as little pain as I can manage, I scoot up, put my face on my knees, and succumb to all manor of deep despairing emotions. Time means little in complete darkness. I vacillate between why I am here and how I came to be at such a miserable place and condition. When I cannot reason the answers, I wallow in despair until it circles back to the questions of why and how.
A gentle touch on the crown of my head startles me out of my black revelry. So focused on my thoughts, I had not heard anyone approach. I look up, expecting to see only blackness. Instead, I find myself squinting at a man. My eyes had grown so accustomed to the dark, it hurts to look where any light exists. He is not holding a light, but he seems to be lit by daylight. It is strange. The light is radiating from within him. He is not gleaming or glowing. It’s like soft warmth in his being that needs no light. Instantly I notice his eyes. They are old with wisdom, filled with more knowledge and understanding than one human being should possess. His face holds an expression of peace that frankly, makes me want to slap him. As I consider if I should think this, he chuckles, shakes his head, and begins to sit along the wall. I gasp, afraid he will fall. He looks up with concern as he rests comfortably on a ledge I apparently did not see before he began to sit. Maybe it was a trick of the shadows.
“Hi.” I smile sadly as my eyes meet his again. This is not how I would have expected to greet the King of the Universe.
“Hi.” The warmth of his voice washes over me. I close my eyes and listen to it echo.
Glancing around I see my burdens are four round weights, roughly two feet in diameter, at the end of a five-foot chain. Etched in each weight is the name of an affliction I carry.
I look back at him with concern. He returns my concern with sadness. Unable to stand the distance any longer, I stand and gather up the chains to protect myself from pain as much as possible. With my head down I lean into the weight, bear the pain and pull with all the strength I can muster. The cavern is filled with the screech of metal on the floor. White hot pain courses thru every cell as sweat beads across my forehead.
“Please don’t,” he urges through gritted teeth.
Desperation in his voice causes me to look up, but I don’t stop. With each step, pain surges up each arm, each leg. Muscles spasm. With each stab of pain, I can see his face twitch, the muscles in his back, arms and legs convulse. It’s like looking in a mirror that transforms your reflection into the most precious person you can imagine. It is worse than any pain I can feel.
“Please stop.” He whispers again.
With relief for both of us, I drop my chains. There is still so much distance to cover. Still so little has been accomplished. Frustration sets in. “How do get there? What am I supposed to do? I can’t go anywhere when I’m weighed down like this. And it hurts. It hurts so much.” Tears fall, only now do I realize they have been falling thru the entire struggle. I turn my wrists over to show him where the chains enter my skin. They are now bleeding and bruised.
“I know,” he says and turns his wrists over, “the scars never really go away.”
I laugh through tears and cock my head to the side, “That’s not the same.”
“No?” He looks up from his wrists with just his eyes and wrinkles his brow. “Child, I did this for you.” Indicating toward the weight I claim as mine with a slight head tilt, he continued, “Those burdens I will take, when you are ready to give them up.”
“But I have asked you so many times to take them away. They are still here.” Tears run freely down my cheeks. This is a touchy subject, and we both know it. I turn away and begin running my fingers over the etchings in the weights.
“Sometimes giving me your burdens doesn’t mean they disappear. I will make ALL things new. Your scars, like mine, may have been made by horrific circumstances. But I can transform them into something beautiful. Let me have it. Let me do it.” These words are said with the gentleness of love, the authority of a command, and the want of a beg.
Tears still streaming down my face, “I do. I will. But I can’t promise I won’t steal them back.”
He stands. At the sound of his movement I jump, but I have no desire to run. After all, where would I go? He puts his hands on my shoulders and turns me to face him. With a rough hand on either cheek, he wipes away my tears. Forcing me to look into those wise old eyes he tells me, “I know. So until you are ready to give them up again, I’ll be here with you. Waiting. When you are ready, I will take it all over again.” He smiles. It brightens the whole room.
He kisses me on the forehead. I whisper, “Take it,” and I start giggling. His laughter is deep and full, filling the room with joy. With each breath the darkness surrounding us grows lighter. The sharp burning pain in my wrists and ankles has replaced the dull, bearable ache of healing. The weights have turned into balloons, each a different color. The chains are now strings. They are still attached to me, but the pain is substantially less. On each balloon is still written an affliction, but there is also hope, possibility, change, and potential written there.
I am sucked dry in a 40 hour desert then pouring anything that is left into building a business out of my passions with no monetary return. Seeking purpose I scrape the rest of the hours from my weeks and offer them up to my spiritual family with hopes and prayers of rewards in the form of souls bent toward Heaven. All the while the mess and chaos in the brick and mortar of my own house remains neglected and the One I claim to follow sits…waiting…under all my clutter and mess. Waiting for me to stop running. He longs for me to be still and listen to his teachings. This I know, not that He would force me to do it, because that’s not what He’s about. But I fear if I stop, that all these plates I’m spinning will fall in a jagged, splintered mess at the foot of my Savior. But not just the plates. Me too. That’s what he wants I guess.
So I sing this song from the deep, dark, confused, tired, pain-filled, corners of my soul.
And He understands because He was there once too, in The Garden.
It usually starts with the desire for inspiration. A band I follow posts a picture from a show or a photo shoot. I look at the photo. If it’s one that I like, I research the photographer a bit. Who do they work for? Who are they? What does some of their other work look like? During this entire research escapade, the dominating thought in the back of my mind is not, I am ashamed to say, only to appreciate the quality of someone else’s art. Oh no, I am constantly evaluating their talent in comparison to my own because they are living my dream. Sometimes, after I have looked at their photography of other bands, I think, “I could do that,” or even worse, “I could have done better than that.” Proud much? Well…yeah. However, which is most often the case, I decide the work is far superior than mine, I feel defeated, jealous, and baffled as to how that person got that position. Is it who they know? Did they take classes? Do they have some personality trait that God left out when he formed me? Then why, oh God, why do I want this so badly that my soul writhes in agony?
Ok, maybe that was a little overdramatic. But, that’s what self-reflection can do to you, can it not? This morning in the shower, I was thinking about God’s will verses my will. It occurred to me that there is a lot of pride involved with placing my will, my wants, my dreams equal with God’s plan for the entire universe. Even that sentence sounds ridiculous. Perhaps more accurately…It was revealed to me that contrary to all the advice self-help quacks will squawk at you, it doesn’t matter how much you set your mind to achieving your dream. At the end of all things, you will just run yourself ragged trying to stubbornly get to where God does not want you to go. It’s like constantly running yourself into a plexiglass wall. You can keep doing it, but you’re going to get beat up in the process.
I am reminded of the story in Numbers 22. Balaam is riding his donkey when all of a sudden she won’t go. God put an angel in the path that would have killed Balaam had his donkey kept walking. The donkey could see the angel, but Balaam couldn’t so he beat the poor animal. Finally God granted the donkey the ability to speak so she could explain the situation to a misguided prophet. Ouch! Balaam realized his mistake and repented. It may not happen quite so miraculously, but God puts obstacles in our way, ones that we don’t always recognize, to stop us from attaining a dream or a goal. I have been struggling with this for a long time. Why would God give me a dream if he didn’t want me to chase after it?
The answer is simple. Well, it’s simple to write, not so simple to hear, even more difficult to correct. God will put obstacles in the way of your dreams if they become your god. I think we can all agree that dreams are good things that come from God. However, they can easily become idols. A few weeks ago I heard this in a sermon, “Idols are good things that become god things and become bad things to us.” May be why God would keep you from your dream. I fell in love with my dream and I use God like a genie. I make wishes and try to fool God and myself. Here’s the genie prayer, “Ok God, I’m giving you this thing I’m in love with. I really want it. But I want you to have it. I want to trust you with it. Here you go.” Sounds good right? Except in the back of my mind and the depths of my heart I was like a kid with my fingers crossed behind my back thinking, “I hope you give that back. I don’t really want you to have it. I think you’re going to break it. I’m really not sure I can trust you.” First, how many theological issues can you find? What does that reveal about the lies I tell myself? Let’s all be honest, God is omnipotent. Omnipotent means all knowing. Who do I think I am, tricking God? Seriously? If I let go of my dreams, it can’t be a trick. It has to be true, honest surrender.
Sounds good. How do you do that? A lot of people would say, “Love God more than your dreams.” But that’s more like a nice quip. You can’t make yourself love someone. Go ahead. Try. It’s empty and you end up going through the motions, pretending. Surrender is about a true, honest relationship. To get there, you have to have the right priorities. From that same sermon, “Give weight to God and all other things will float up.” The relentless pursuit of dreams without God will leave us bitter, tired, beaten down, and broken. By giving God the weight he deserves the unimportant distractions will float away. Then God’s Spirit can be a guide in what to do with your idols/dreams (you fill in the blank). Otherwise you’re running around, trying to balance everything, or beating yourself up on an invisible plexiglass wall. If that Idol floats away, you are still left with the One Thing that has weight, gives true joy, and has everlasting meaning. Find joy and astonishment that the Creator of a universe, larger than any man-made vehicle can travel, is willing to include any one of us, a speck in that universe. Joy springs from every fiber of my being that I am included in the story at all! When I tend to think I can write it better, or get confused about my part, I know I’m not as close to God as I need to be.
What is a dream God has put in you? Has it become an idol?
This is the last of 4 shows I was privileged to attend this year. It took place on the campus of Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan as part of a campus event to kick off the school year. I thought Seabird was playing first, so mom and I didn’t hurry to get there by the beginning of the first set. We had no idea where the stage was, so we drove around a bit with our windows down. As we pulled up by the stage, I first heard, then saw someone announcing a band. When I caught a glimpse of Tim Skipper’s Les Paul, I got butterflies in my stomach because I realized House of Heroes was going on first, and my camera wasn’t ready yet! So we missed the first three or so songs. I was bummed, but I didn’t feel like hurrying because on the 2-hour drive to the show, I started to feel a little funky bad. It was all good, because we parked close and could hear the music just fine!
Being on a college campus was rather surreal, I suppose even more so for my awesome mom. For me, in so many ways I still feel so much like the girl who walked onto that little campus of Kentucky Christian College in Grayson, Kentucky more than 10 years ago. I mean, did I really look that much younger then?! I like to think I’m close enough to the college-age generation that I can connect with them. Sometimes I feel like I have more in common with this crowd than the many stay-at-home moms that are my age. But, I don’t know…watching those kids have so much care-free fun at that show, I couldn’t help but think how much I’ve been through and how much I’ve changed in the passed decade. The differences between them and me became apparent as well. No, I didn’t quite fit in here either. But I found great joy watching them enjoy this great music. And I couldn’t help but wonder at the potential waiting to be discovered or possibly crushed by experiences on this very campus. Regardless, they would all grow and change. So I prayed for all of them to come out of it all as better people who will change this world. Those who were jumping up and down in front of the stage, I prayed for you. Those who were just standing by, wondering what in the world was going on, I prayed for you. The tall guy with the fantastic camera (I think it was a Canon?), I prayed for you to get great shots! They guy next to me who knew all the words, I definitely prayed for you! All those who were in their dorm rooms, I prayed for you.
And I took pictures…
I welcome comments for sure! In addition to comments about the pictures themselves, let me know if you have an opinion on formats for multiple photos. I’ve always done a “slideshow” in the past. Would a different size of photo be better? I don’t know what this looks like on different monitors. Just trying to make this a more viewer-friendly blog
I was listening to Spotify this morning. I love it because it’s a great way to preview music before purchasing it. I was recently introduced to a band originally from Canton, OH called Lovedrug, and I can’t get enough of their music.
I also went out last night with a few friends and had a blast! There was lots of walking, lots of fried food consumed, and best of all, lots of laughter. On the way home, we had a conversation about some young guys who I have watched from a distance with sisterly love. I’m not a stalker, I promise! For reasons I really can’t explain, maybe just because of this conversation, this song made me think of them.
I find this video encouraging. So I dedicate this to my favorite band of wandering dreamers, and all of you who might feel the same.
I spent the last weekend in Indianapolis with 9,999 other women at the Women of Faith Conference in Indianapolis. When you put that many women in one room, God better show up, or you’re asking for at least five cat-fights, Christ-followers or not! For this woman, God certainly showed himself. Of course, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I suppose I should expect nothing less, He is God, Creator, Director, and Producer of the Universe, after all. What I didn’t expect? The means of communication and the content communicated.
Let me back up for just a moment. You may need a little context. See I’ve been wandering lately. Or perhaps that should be wondering. I don’t know, maybe a lot of both. I took a job right out of college to pay the bills and hopefully be responsible enough to save up for what I really wanted to do: Photography. Over the passed six years (has it really been that long?) I have discovered many things about myself, about God, and about the fact that what I thought I wanted to do may not in fact be what I want, or what God has planned for me. And I, in the words of Savage Garden, truly, madly, deeply want what He wants for me. I have all these things I love to do. These creative, imaginative gifts and dreams I have been given all seem to be pretty much unrelated and it’s maddening. What do I do with this? What’s the point of these dreams when the job that pays the bills utilizes none of them? That brings me to now, and my current condition of Now What?
Then my husband and I went to a concert in Farmland, IN to see Disciple. During this concert, the lead vocalist, Kevin Young said something that really struck me as profound. He said you love others and give of yourself. You may wonder, well what about me? If I’m always giving and loving others, who’s going to worry about me? God will take care of you! Don’t you believe that God loves you, and if he loves you, he will take better care of you than you can take care of yourself?
Well of course! Duh! I purposely committed this concept to memory. Love others. Let God take care of you. He can do a better job of it anyway.
A month or so later, six other ladies and I bought tickets and climbed into the church van for two days of amazing speaking and fantastic singing with other women of faith. Let me tell you, I met God. To all the questions I had been asking, His only reply seemed to be: “I love you. There is not a moment in your life that I have not loved you without condition, no strings attached.” This is the message I heard from every speaker. This was the harmony threaded through all the songs we sang. “I got you. I know where to find you. I know where you are, and I have been there too. So take my hand, let me love you. We’ll walk together.” Every time I even began to pray, “Ok, but what about…” God cut me off with the reply, “I love you.” I suppose the most powerful being in the universe has all rights to interrupt me, especially with such a profound answer as this. Through this entire season of my life, I’ve been feeling a lot like Moses. This is just another time where I can draw a parallel. I’m reminded of the burning bush when Moses keeps coming up with excuses and God’s reply is, “I am.” Different reply, but I needed to learn a different lesson. Growing up in the church, I’ve heard all the Bible stories, I know all the illustrations. When a speaker starts an illustration, I pretty much can guess where they’re going before they get there. So I’ve always KNOWN (intellectually) God loves me. But on the weekend of August 19-20, 2011 at the Conseco Fieldhouse, perhaps for the first time ever, I EXPERIENCED the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit deep down to the core of my being. It is a beautiful thing full of peace and joy. I still have questions. I still have no idea where my life is going. But I know with the kind of knowledge that no one can shake that because God loves me this way, he knows what is best for me. He will take care of me. I know that I can trust him to guide my path, even though I can’t see farther than the next step. My job is not to know the future. God owns that. My purpose is to love God and love others. So that’s what I’m committed to do for now. We’ll see what comes from that.
As always, this bit of poetic vomit (for lack of a better word) was hastily spewed out of my fingertips last week when I was feeling rather low. I debated, with myself obviously, about whether to post it. The subject is very personal, as these sort of moments tend to be. My fear is that those few who follow this blog, those of you whom I know care deeply for me, will be offended by the words in this piece. Please understand that these words represent feelings I was having at a moment in time. Yes this is an ongoing struggle I have. But it is not how I feel all the time. Emotions are fleeting, be it blessing or curse. My hope is that some will read this and understand on some level. Or maybe you will understand me better. Perhaps some of my readers will be able to answer some of the questions asked. At any rate, my hopes triumphed my fears. Don’t judge me too harshly.
What does this all mean?
Who am i?
I’ve tried so hard.
And for what?
To get noticed.
To make a difference.
To make a living.
To make a life.
Get a life.
Just to be worn out and hurt.
No one notices.
I’ll write this,
A public proclamation to deaf ears
Seen by blind eyes.
With all effort I run the race.
To see the new as I breeze pass for the millionth time.
Bleed the wonder from the mundane.
Drain contentment from the dreadful.
All this is meaningless when others look right through me.
Just watching the dollhouse.
Others filling their roles,
She fits in this room.
Observing the potential of everyone else,
He was crafted for that.
I am always outside looking in.
Never quite right anywhere.
Left out on the fringe.
All the spinning is inside.
In my head.
In my heart.
In my soul.
Is there a way to get it out?
Get it to people who feel the same way.
Are there people who feel this way?
Is there anyone else out there who feels this way?
Is there anyone else out there who feels?
Anyone else out there?
Is anyone there?
Trying is getting me no where.
Like a rat running on a wheel.
If I stop running I will still be in the same place.
Just maybe not as tired?
Either way I am left not quite right:
Dissatisfied, unfulfilled, disappointed, and empty.
I don’t think I can fix this.
From this moment on, when the Spirit convicts and I feel moved to turn that entire span of time from this moment until some vague unspecified time in the future we label “My Life,” or “My Future,” over to God, I will stop. Yes, stop. Reread that first sentence a few times if you must. See I think we have become somewhat lazy here. We are convicted that something needs to change, that we need to give something over or something up to God. Instead of changing or surrendering that one aspect by surrendering it moment by moment, we say “Here’s my entire life,” or “Here’s my entire future.” What is our life and future but the sum of present moments, and the choices made in those moments strung together until it builds a future that is a life. C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that the present moment is when we are the closest to touching eternity. The idea being that we are no closer to God than in the present. So from this moment on I will not say, “God here is my life, here is my future. Take it and do whatever you want with it.” That seems so passive anyway. Instead I will ask a more active question with this change or conviction in mind: God what do you want me to do with this moment? or What do WE do with this moment? Quite a difference huh? Try it the next time you feel God prompting you to make a change. It will be more difficult, but eternally more rewarding. You wait and see.
Her many legs methodically dragged her swollen abdomen along the smooth cool cement floor. Surely somewhere in the distance would be an ideal site to build a safe home for her family. Ahead she could see some promising structures. Her body informed her that time was running out. Suddenly a shadow flashed over her and was gone, along with it a violent earthquake, moments later, another quake and repeated slower thuds. BOOM…BOOM…BOOM. Instinctively she knew whatever this was, she needed to find shelter. She gathered all the strength in her legs and pulled her encumbered body toward a large structure. Almost there, a large being blocked the light. A shadow covered her small frame. Though she moved as fast as she could, her burden hindered her otherwise quick reactions. The light grew darker as she realized the gigantic creature intended to crush her. In the space and time of a snap, she thought of the children she carried, her own life and survival, and pushing harder to escape the destruction of them all. In the next second all she knew ended in darkness. As her body was crushed, the burden she carried was not destroyed, but released. Hundreds of her offspring scurried in as many different directions. A few of them were killed with her, but many more of them were propelled into a new wonderful, dangerous, fascinating world. Though not identical copies, they will go into this new world as similar imitators of their mother. Instilled in them, down to their similar genetic code, are instincts that will guide them through lives which imitate that of their creator. Thus out of the death of one, sprang the lives of many for generations.