Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Song I Didn't Expect to Make Me Cry

I went to a Rob Thomas concert last week (that's the concert I was talking about in my previous post), and my goodness, it was absolutely incredible. Rob is my favorite recording artist and hearing him peform his songs live that I know and love so much was a wonderful, moving, and emotional experience. I expected my response to be that way for the songs that I already loved, like "Cradlesong," "Someday," and "Her Diamonds."

And then there was this song, "Ever the Same," from his 2005 album "Something to Be." I've heard this song so many times before (on the album, it comes right after "Lonely No More" with its amazing bridge lyrics) and until that night I'd thought it was pretty good, yet not really one of my favorites or anything. I don't know why, I can't really explain it, but when he sang this song that night last week, something about the music and the lyrics and the hush that fell over the crowd and the way he sang and standing in that ampitheatre and where I am now in my life and everything that's happened in the last weeks and months and year came together, and quite unexpectedly, I just started crying.

Thank you, Rob Thomas, for that song, and thank you, God, for giving me the opportunity to hear it. It was just what I needed.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Surprising Symphonies

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Two years ago, I never could have imagined.

Two years ago, I drove down from my hometown in Pennsylvania to visit my best friends who'd just gotten married and made their new home in Raleigh. I went to a concert at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. I drove there myself, white-knuckled but determined. I sat on the lawn, pressed up against the iron fence that separated us in the "general attendance" from the people with real seats. I spent most of the concert praying. And God spoke to me there, that night, through the humidity and the screaming fans and my paranoia that my straightened hair would be, like, totally ruined - He spoke. He said, "Move here. Now."

I thought I knew why. I thought I knew what I was getting into. More than that, I thought this was just going to be a stopping point along the way to my ultimate destination - Los Angeles and a career as a screenwriter, with my own sitcom. I'd be fulfilled, content, happy - at the pinnacle of my career. It was a plan! Raleigh was just a minor distraction - time to spend with my friends, time to write, time to prepare. It wasn't supposed to matter. It wasn't supposed to change my life.

I could never have imagined that God would use Raleigh, and, even more so, a little Southern Baptist church with no more than 60 people in it at any given time, to grow me up in ways I didn't even know I needed to grow.

But He did. It has. Unbelievably so. And oh, my goodness, did I need to grow.

When I was younger, I used to sit in church and look at the people around me and wonder how they could all bear to lead such mundane lives. My parents worked hard to provide for us, but all I could see was the structure and the schedules and the stress, the minivan and the complaints about their coworkers and the feeling that they'd given up on their dreams. I vowed that my life would never be like that, controlled by other people doing what I didn't want to do. I wouldn't be fenced in by a small town or a 9-5 job - not me! I couldn't look forward to a life where the highlight of the year would be a five-day vacation to Busch Gardens.

This is not to say my childhood or my family was perfect, but there was so much that I couldn't see.

I remember lying in bed at night listening to my parents whispering and laughing together from their bedroom through the wall. It didn't even dawn on me to notice how close they were, and how much that really mattered. I didn't realize how much my mother supported my father when he was working towards his Ph.D., or that he was, in turn, working that much to support her and me and my younger sister. I got tired of listening to them talk about their jobs - both in the same school district, my goodness, the discussions were endless - when really they were (mostly) building each other up in love. To me, their lives were dull and monotonous - I couldn't see how much of a difference they were both making in the schools, my father as a principal and my mother as a counselor. I didn't recognize that hundreds of kids' lives were changed - possibly even saved - by the work they did. I thought it was all just dreadfully boring.

I couldn't see it, but their life together was - and still is - a meaningful and exciting adventure.

When I moved to Raleigh two years ago, it was big and scary and exciting, but if I'm being honest, it wasn't for adventure. It was more of an escape from my parents’ house and from my tiny Pennsylvania town. As I said, I thought this was just a stopping point, a place to bide my time. I was in full-on waiting mode - waiting to get good enough, waiting to get to LA - waiting for my life to really start.

God led me to start a drama team in the church my friends and I happened to sort of fall into (heh, like one ever really “falls into” anything when God is involved) about a month after I moved - I thought, to simply get better at directing and writing for the stage, to prepare me for Hollywood. It was just a little church, after all - hardly anyone would even see the plays we performed. It wouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

I was fully prepared to bide my time - that my time here would be doing just that, and nothing else. What else was going to happen to me in Raleigh, North Carolina?

But let me tell you, I have never had to fight for anything harder in my life.

Ever since I moved, it’s been an uphill battle. I’ve fought to continue living down here, through three jobs and three apartments. I’ve fought loneliness, depression, heartbreak, and spiritual ridicule. I’ve believed for something that it seemed ridiculous to believe for – many things, actually - including something as simple as mere survival on my own, and as complicated as relationships that God just won’t let me give up on no matter how much I may beg Him on a weekly basis to let me throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

It’s been a whole lot of fighting for just a stopping point…and that’s probably because I’ve come to realize that, duh, it’s not just a stopping point.

This is life. It’s happening now, and it’s been happening the last two years that I’ve been here in Raleigh. It’s partly been a time of preparation, yes, but for an adventure far more unexpected and yet more real than anything I ever dreamed up sitting in the pew at church as a little girl. It has also been a time of intense spiritual growth, close friendships, seeing the fruit of the Spirit, watching God work, and, more than anything else, learning how to trust in more powerful and necessary ways than ever before.

All of this has made me realize that the greatest scheme of all is simply doing God’s will in my life, every single day. It’s about letting God speak through me in whatever capacity He chooses to affect the people around me and bring them closer to Him. It’s about allowing Him to use me, use what He’s put in me, to show Himself. And it’s not about where I am or even really what I’m doing, but it’s about the people that I’m close to, the people that I’m with and the relationships I have, that make life an adventure even in the most seemingly mundane of circumstances.

Even just within a little Southern Baptist church with no more than 60 people in it at a time…God can and will work. He will work through me. He will work miracles. He will heal, change, restore, and love.

I may never get to LA, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I trust God. I know He has my life in His hands and He has a perfect plan for it. If I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned to trust Him and that He knows exactly what He is doing every step of the way.

On Monday night, I went back to the Koka Booth Amphitheatre to another concert. I went to see a different musician, and I am a totally different person than I was two years ago. The lyrics to songs I’ve heard since 2005 had new meaning. The artist's new songs from this summer had a poignancy they wouldn’t have had when I was first there. I cried at things I’d never have noticed before, and before the concert, during the sudden downpour that soaked all of us at the outdoor amphitheatre, I clung to my jacket that I held over my head to try to protect my perfectly curled hair (why does my hair always get ruined there?) and prayed in Jesus’ name that the rain would stop and that the concert would be able to continue. It did. Praise God.

And God spoke to me there, again. This time, instead of “Move. Now.” He said, “Just wait and see what I am going to do.”

Two years ago, shortly after I moved (right around this time, actually), He spoke to me during the first Homecoming service I attended at my church. He interrupted the sermon and kept repeating, “You can’t do it. I have to do it. Let me do it.” I thought I knew what He meant at the time. Turns out, He had an even greater plan for me than I thought He did.

Like I said, I’ve learned to trust God when He speaks. So I am - waiting, that is, to see what He is going to do.

Lord…it’s all Yours. Do it!!