Ot(hello) Lessons

I’m not a confident person.

I know, I know, I could have fooled you.

But it’s an act.

Me being confident is only ever an act. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there or when or if I will ever arrive.

If we’re supposed to do things that scare us, it often seems like that’s all I do every day. I open my front door even though it scares me, and I stare out of the world that expects things from me that I don’t know how to give.

And it terrifies me.

When I auditioned for Othello in October, I mainly did it because I knew it scared me a lot. It scared me more than any auditions should, because I’m a thespian. I have been since the day I was born.

I directed my first show when I was 4 years old, and even though I made the dumb casting decision to cast my 9-months-pregnant mother as the angel Gabriel and my three-year-old sister as the virgin Mary, I’ve always been a part of the theatre. Theatre has always been a part of me.

But when I auditioned for Othello in October, I wanted to be anywhere but the theatre. I barely got out of my car. I barely walked up the steps into the building and open to the door. The audition form was overwhelming. Sitting in my chair, I felt as though the whole world was staring at me and telling me just to go home. You don’t belong. This isn’t your home anymore.

How did that even happen? How did I get to a place so lost and so broken that the stage, my first home, became such a leering monster, a presence that filled me with dread?

It’s funny, but sometimes I don’t realize how much something hurts until it starts to get better.

“What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

 That’s one of Iago’s lines in the play, and for all that Iago is an absolutely despicable human being, he manages to speak the truth here.

Wounds heal by degrees. And a lot of times, I think those degrees are people. People who don’t realize how important they are, and that’s a tragedy. More of a tragedy than everyone dying at the end of Othello. (Although, in fairness, not everybody dies. Just most of them.)

The cast of Othello has been exactly what I needed in my life, the balm that has helped to heal the wounds on my heart that I didn’t realize theatre had left there.

When I left theatre a year-and-a-half ago, I didn’t want to look back. I didn’t know exactly what was broken, but I knew that it was beyond broken. It was shattered. Theatre had left me absolutely shattered and exhausted and never never never wanting to go back.

Sure, I sat in the audience. I’ve seen some awesome shows, and I didn’t intend to stop doing that. But the stage? No. That wasn’t for me. I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t good enough to belong there. I couldn’t be good enough. And then, lo and behold, this show comes along that I want to audition for.

Even though I am so scared to want it. I am so scared of how badly I want it. And then I get cast. And it doesn’t make sense because I’m not good enough. Everyone and everything have told me that I am not good enough. I am a mediocre actress at best.

But I got cast.

And then rehearsals started, and people trusted my acting instincts. They didn’t tell me I was wrong when I made a decision. It was…novel. It was confusing. I didn’t know what to do with it. It terrified me.

So everything inside of me started screaming. Started telling me that I needed to go home, that I didn’t belong here, that I wasn’t good enough to belong here. The director had made a mistake. I had made a mistake for thinking I could step onto a stage.

I honestly have never experienced anxiety like I have had for the past month and a half. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, and it wrenches away my appetite. It steals my rest and twist my emotions into something I don’t recognize. I am all jitters all the time, and if by some miracle it got a little better during rehearsal, this heaviness was there waiting outside of the theatre doors.

You’re not good enough. You’re dragging the show down. Everyone wishes someone else had been cast. Anyone but you.

Those voices in your head gets so loud sometimes. You don’t want to listen, but you do, and the more you hear it, the more you believe it. Even when you know it’s a lie you believe it.

Monday at rehearsal was the worst. Anxiety was acting up something fierce, I hadn’t slept well in weeks, and I’d barely had an appetite and had to coax myself into eating dinner. Which then made me feel sicker. And then on stage I was a disaster. (Or, at least, it felt that way in the middle of my personal tempest.) I dropped lines, I missed cues, and I walked away so so discouraged.

I never want anxiety to win. I never want fear to win. And yet, here I was, acting less than my best because of this sickness that was living in my belly.

God listens. He listens so hard and so true that you can’t help but sense that it’s so safe to pour out your soul to him.

And I did.

On Tuesday I told God exactly what was going down. I told him that I wasn’t enough, but I needed to be for this week, for this amazing cast that He’d surrounded me with. I told him that I needed anxiety to quiet down so I could hear the lines and hear my cues.

God is such a good father. He speaks so much louder than the lies.

Tuesday, God spoke loud. He spoke through people, who reminded me that, impossibly, I am more than just someone who goes around pretending to be confident when she’s not. More than someone who pretends to know what she’s talking about when she doesn’t. More than someone who somehow fools the world and makes them believe she’s not afraid.

I’m an actress, not for the mask I wear, but because God made a little girl who loved theatre so much that she started making it before she knew what it was called. Because he’s gifted me in such a way that I can step onto stage and make connections and trust my instincts. Because I have a capacity and the heart to tell stories that need to be told. Because it was never about whether I could make it on Broadway.

I’m enough. That’s what keeps echoing in my head: I am enough. It’s written on my front door. I am enough. It pulses through my veins. I am enough.

My father says that I am enough.

But I’m not.

I am so full of inadequacies and broken places and rough edges that have yet to be smoothed out.

I am so full of anxiety and self-doubt and fears that don’t make sense.

But that’s not what my worth depends on.

That might seem like a leap, I don’t know. This show has been a journey that I can’t quite put words to, despite spending the past three hours trying to set it all down on paper. It’s been bigger and deeper and wider than I could have possibly imagined on that Sunday in October when I stepped into a dusty auditorium. It’s been bigger than I can ever make known to my castmates, to whom I owe so much, or to my director, who has quietly built up my confidence without even realizing that she did so.

I had no idea how deep my wounds were, but God did.

I had no idea that I needed a community theatre show, a stupid Shakespearean tragedy where everybody dies, but God did.

It’s been such a long two months, and I haven’t been able to see where this journey was taking me. But this week…this week it feels like things might finally be coming into focus. Maybe the reason that this healing season has been so confusing is because I didn’t realize yet what was broken.

Wounds heal by degrees. With balms and ointments and tenderly tied bandages.

With Shakespearean prose, and backstage giggles, and words of kindness that mean more to me than I can ever say.

This weekend we opened Othello, the first show I’ve opened in almost three years.

And here I am:

Actress, student, daughter of the king.

Enough.

Despite myself, enough.

Hallelujah, heavenly father, you have made me enough.

– Melissa

Zephaniah 3:17

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weariness

Do you ever get thoughts that scream so loud in your head that you can’t even think? The lies that are so loud, that you know aren’t true, but that just take everything over?

Right now, my mind is trying to convince me that I will always be tired. That this infernal weariness will never go away and I will forever live in a fog of not being able to accomplish the things that I need to.

I have seven things left on my to-do list for this week. Only seven.

One is due tomorrow, four are due on Friday, and the other two are not time-sensitive.

It’s a doable amount. It’s nothing I can’t accomplish, and yet I lay on my bed as the overwhelmingness of it all washes over me. It feels inescapable. Like I can’t do this anymore.

I am so tired.

I have been so tired for so long.

Even when I rest, I feel guilty that I’m not going. That I’m not running head-on at this thing called life and tackling it in a way that makes a difference.

Seven things on my list.

I know, it was a long weekend. I didn’t get much sleep. I hit the ground running as soon as I got back. I’ve rested, but not too much. I owe myself some grace here.

And yet…

And yet still I feel guilty. Still I feel so tired and so guilty and so overwhelmed and so…well…hopeless.

Not hopeless in an eternal sense. There’s still a joy there, still an assurance of where I’m going in the long run, and a building confidence in who I am. (Building because it’s been a long, hard three weeks.)

But hopeless in the sense that this tiredness will never go away. I’ll never catch up on sleep. I’ll never find the strength to the important things. Or the unimportant things. Or just to climb out of bed.

It’s all a lie. I know that. I know that full well.

But it’s so loud.

It is so loud in my ears and my heart and my mind. And fighting it is exhausting. Tuning it out is exhausting.

I won’t rest. I won’t rest because even when I have down time I still feel the need to move. To do. To accomplish.

How do I learn to rest? I can rest in God’s love, but not in my own skin.

I’m tired.

I am still so tired.

– Melissa

September 13

September 13, 2012 was a Thursday, too.

Mom and Dad got home around seven that morning, and they looked even more tired than I felt. I’d spent the night sleepless on a blanket on the living room floor. They’d spend it at the hospital.

We had a family meeting, gathered around the bar in the kitchen long before most of us would usually have been awake.

Brain tumor. That was the diagnosis. Probably not malignant; they’d know more soon. Dad wouldn’t work that day. I’d still go to co-op.

I remember being so hollow in the hallways that morning. I doubt I learned a thing in any of my classes. I know I barely said a word to my teachers or friends. Salvation was the moment when I was done and could climb back into the car next to my best friend and let her hold me. Thank God for best friends who know when the world’s too scary to talk about.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I just kept waiting for whatever horrible thing would happen next. I called my best friend from the bed I’d made myself on the haybales in the horse trailer. She told me I’d be okay, and I believed her. But I wasn’t the person I was worried about.

I think it was that night, Thursday rather than Wednesday, in uneasy calm rather than total chaos, that God first whispered it in my heart:

“I know you’re learning that I’m big enough to trust with your life. That is great. That is essential. But can you trust me with the people your guard-dog-heart thinks are yours to protect?”

It was a simple enough question. And model-church-girl, champion-of-sword-drills me knew the right answer.

I just didn’t know if it was my answer.

It took me months to make it my answer.

(Sometimes I realize that I’m still learning to make it my answer.)

September 13, 2012 felt terrifying. It felt too big and too tired and too alone even in the midst of family. But the months following were full of God uniting us as a family so that we wouldn’t have to stand alone. They were full of God proving bigger than the trials that faced us and strong enough to carry our tired souls.

And I learned so so many things over those months, about letting go of control of me and letting go of control of my mom. About resting in the fact that the promises I claimed about the way that the Lord cares for me were every bit as applicable to the people I loved.

There is something incredibly empowering for those of us who want to protect everyone in having to come to terms with the fact that someone’s already doing it better than us.

Something incredibly freeing.

Because I don’t have to be anyone’s savior. They’ve already got one.

I don’t have to be anyone’s foundation. There’s already a better one.

I don’t have to hold it all in my hands.

Thank you, God, that I don’t have to hold it all in my hands, because my hands just aren’t big enough or strong enough.

Last night as I was lying in bed talking to God about my day and my heart, clueless to the fact that it had been exactly six years since he’d flipped my world, I did something that I often do lately: I lifted open hands to my ceiling to remind me and God that I was intentionally letting go of whatever scary/out-of-control/impossible thing was on my mind.

I don’t think I was capable of that six years ago.

I thought I was. But I wasn’t really.

And then the new day dawned.

– Melissa

just a 5 minute meltdown

There is something unspeakably beautiful about the fact that I live in a place where I can sit in a public place with my hands open and lifted to the heavens and not have to worry about who might realize that my hands are lifted because I’m burnt out and my brain is fried and I need as much Jesus as I can possibly get right now.

Now, the fact that I’m having (yet another) meltdown in the library isn’t quite so beautiful. Grad work is kicking my tail, and Mom and I agree that I deserve a plaque marking this little cubicle in the corner of the second floor of the HSU library as my property. I live here sometimes. Like this week, when I have a massive group paper and homework and two finals due.

Yep. There are little freshmen running around outside for orientation as I sit in here and work on finals.

(They’d better stay outside. If they come in here, I’m going to snarl at them. Like, full-on crazy-person snarl. And then maybe they’ll rethink their decision to devote themselves to higher education. Or at least their decision to exist on the second floor of the library.)

But anyway. Praising Jesus.

Yeah.

It’s pretty great.

Now I’m gonna get back to letting Jesus music wash over my soul as I keep loosening my white-knuckle grip on my ever-present fear of failure. If you need me, you know where to find me.

– Melissa

waiting for the sunrise

Observing what type of ads Spotify chooses to play amuses me greatly. And I get lots of chances, because living at home with a collection of musical individuals means that I end up hearing several different mixes.

For example, for a while the Spotify account connected to my mom’s facebook account was convinced that she was the target audience for ship stations. Like, when you’re running your own business and you need a convenient alternative to going to the post office all the time? It was super weird, because every other ad seemed to be about that, and no one in this household has any need to meter our own mail.

My Spotify is currently a mix of career advancement opportunities and higher education plugs, hair care, and jewelry advertisements. Spot-on on the one hand, but way off on the other. I don’t even have a boyfriend to elbow meaningfully when Jared is advertising their latest collection of Valentine’s Day diamonds.

So, thanks, algorithms. I now feel more single than ever.

Life lately has been full of a lot of music and a lot of choosing to smile. Because the past month-and-a-half of my life has not worked out at all the way I’ve expected. Despite plans to the contrary, I am still living at home. Despite plans to the contrary, the only construction projects I’ve undertaken are the tiny meaningless ones that I sometimes do on a whim when the family’s all gone from the house. (I built shelves where there used to be a trash compactor, and now my poor dad tries to close the cabinet every time he passes it, except there’s no door to close… Whoops.)

It’s been a rough month.

How does one get through a rough month?

Well. It takes a lot of music. It helps if your favorite artist releases an album full of joy in darkness. There might be a playlist full of the songs that quiet your soul and refocus your trouble mind. You’ll have to dance sometimes, wild and abandoned and unobserved, because it reminds your soul to dance. Sometimes you’ll hate driving because it means that you can only throw one hand to the heavens in worship if you’re going to keep holding onto the steering wheel.

It’s going to take some friends. Sometimes they’ll be close enough to wrap you in a hug, but most of the time it’s going to be their words that carry you. Because you’re alone in a town full of strangers, and as much as your family loves you and you love them, there’s nothing quite like your peers who’ve peered into your soul and identified with your struggles. Late night phone calls will get you through and coax laughter from your aching chest.

It’ll probably take some art. If you can create for someone else, so much the better. But there will be paintings. Videos. Sketches. A rabbit hutch that looks like a castle, the one you’ve been dreaming up since you sat those long afternoons on a carriage in the middle of Main Street, Mackinac. And bake. Bake a cake and cover it in the messiest layer of frosting ever, because art is a little abstract sometimes.

Keep your chin up. Maybe you’ll eventually learn which seat at the table is yours? (But probably not, because it’s constantly changing based on who’s visiting whom and who has rehearsals for what tonight.) Perhaps someday you’ll learn how to not be terrified navigate the six-way death-trap-of-a-stop-sign when you pick kids up at the end of the school day? (Who are you kidding; that thing is a nightmare and always will be.)

Most importantly, dear one, cling to your great God tighter than ever. He’s still here as he teaches you to wait, still here as he teaches you to listen. There are still great plans for your future, even as you sleep in a corner and scavenge the garage for dresses to wear to the church that you can’t make yourself fall in love with. Keep looking for his fingerprints on the messy canvas of your days—you’ll find them; I promise. Keep a prayer on your breath.

It’s alright that this time of life is hard; it just means you’ll come out stronger.

It’s alright that tomorrow seems uncertain; it just means you can focus on today.

It’s alright that plans change and things don’t seem to work out. It’s alright.

The sunrise is going to be spectacular.

And in the meantime, Spotify will keep mixing up a steady dose of hope and diamond ads.

– Melissa

 Life feels fragile. God is not. (A Spotify Playlist That Refuses To Embed Correctly…)

my soul magnifies the Lord

Here we are: on the other side of another leap in time that isn’t truly that at all.

2018.

And, just like a year ago, here I sit: sentimental and utterly in awe of all the ways my God has carried me throughout the last twelve months. (In fairness, it’s been a bit over a year since I did this; my top-of-the-year blog post for 2017 was several weeks into the year because that season was crazy.)

What you’ve probably forgotten if you follow this blog, and didn’t know if you don’t generally, is that last January I declared that 2017 was Narnia. Then I forgot all about that declaration and just lived life to the hilt, not remembering my metaphor until just recently.

Well.

2017 was Narnia in all the ways I’d hoped and never known to hope, and while last night was no “Last Battle,” it was an amazing culmination to an amazing year.

2017 was also a song. It began with one, and the sound reverberated through nearly every step, and it taught me something about myself.

My soul sings.

It sings a song so loud, so intense, that sometimes I don’t think I can bear it. There is a passion within me deeper than anything I’ve ever known, and my words can’t tell it and my tears can’t release it, and it’s so beautiful that sometimes I want to swan-dive into the sunset so that the radiance of it can wash over me.

And I don’t think it’s just me. But that’s hard to say because…well, the whole concept is just hard to say.

Soul-songs are one of those things that I can’t quite linguistically pin down. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t been trying for days and weeks and months. I totally have. I still am. And while I’m not sure how well it will go, here goes.

I believe our souls sing a song. It’s a song unique to each of us, and it’s shaped by who we are and who we’ve been and where we’re going and where we are. And, I think, it’s exquisitely beautiful.

In fact, if I could invent a world exactly to my liking, it’s one where we’d know our soulmate because we’d be able to hear their soul-song. Like, the brush of a hand against yours and you’d hear a song that would take your breath away and you’d know.

But that’s a rabbit trail.

I think our souls are constantly singing a song of us, but we don’t notice it because it’s so constant. However, there are things in my life—and hopefully in yours, too—that make the music swell up and fill my chest. And it aches a little bit, but it’s a good ache.

One of the (many) things that stirs my soul is the golden hour. You know what I’m talking about: those fleeting moments when the world is gilded in magic and it seems like anything can happen and might happen and will happen. And anything that happens…it’ll be good.

A few days ago I found myself gliding across the New Mexico desert on what could be called anything but a peaceful drive. My family is many things, but harmonious is not one of them, so put any number of us in the cab of a truck for five hours, and life’s bound to get at least mildly unpleasant for at least most of us.

For a bit, though, the sun was in that perfect spot and outside everything glowed and the shadow of our pickup truck raced along beside us and entranced my soul. And, despite the bickering behind me, my soul sang of freedom and vitality and all the things I’ve been learning to celebrate loud this year.

Of course, eventually the world faded back to normal, a transition fast followed by dusk, and the stars appeared, and we followed our headlights into the night. And my soul-song faded to the background and colored my dreams.

Since I live for those moments when my song swells, this year has been amazing. Because while 2017 has been some kind of year, there have been so many of those crescendos.

It’s incredible.

Perhaps not so startling, though.

After all, my year started with a song among friends, with my back pressed to a piano so that the music could drive deep into my soul and stick.

So why should I be surprised that it stuck?

My year has been so full of music. Concerts and corporate worship and late nights curled up on Gracie’s bed with the guitar and our voices. Unabashed dancing on my way to work. Radio hopelessly loud as I chased life all over the country.

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

That has always been one of my favorite verses. Because it tells me that this song inside me, the one I’m just beginning to discover, it’s only echoing the one that’s being sung over my life by the one who’s put the breath in my longs and the blood in my veins.

In some ways, it makes me really sad that I’m not a musician, that my fingers will never be able to coax the music out of me and into the world through an instrument. Yet I find that so many others—the true musicians of the world—have so beautifully captured the various melodies of my heart that I can’t feel too sad about it.

In fact, there’s a lot of hope and security in knowing that, while our soul-songs are so unique, they’re also so similar. We’re not alone in our hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities.

2017 was Narnia and it was a song, and it was staring deep into the eyes of my Aslan and knowing myself better for it.

Now I stride into 2018, stronger than ever, ready to learn more and love deeper.

Last year started with a song among friends.

This year started with food.

Hallelujah.

– Melissa
|my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior|Luke 1:46-47|

our make or break words

There is a small insect flying around my room, and it’s about to drive me insane. It hasn’t done anything to me. It’s not biting me or trying to get in my ears or entangling itself in my hair. But it is distracting and aggravating and it needs to find a new home.

(I know I could just kill it, but dead bugs gross me out more than live ones annoy me, so…here we are with me starting off my blog post with a gripe about bugs.)

In all reality, I don’t know what I’m writing about. I have started this blog post no less than half a dozen times just in the last twenty minutes, but I’m getting nowhere.

Believe it or not, I drafted this post on black paper in white text in a font that I never use. It’s an odd method for trying to overcome this block, but hopefully it worked and you’re actually reading a blog post right now. If it does work, then all the oddity is worth it.

Some people probably would have the sense to just stop trying to force something to be written that clearly does not want to be written, but I have very little common sense and so here I am, plugging way at trying to unpack my summer.

I’ve been back in Texas for…almost two weeks now? Yeah.

It feels much longer than that, but not in the “OH MY WORD, LIFE IS AWFUL AND SLOW AND ENOUGH ALREADY” kind of way. More in the sense that this feels natural, it feels normal, it feels established.

Not like it should feel to have lived in a room for less than two weeks after spending fifteen weeks in a different time zone.

Already Mackinac feels pretty remote, which just adds to the weird time-displacement thing that I’ve got going on.

Has it really only been two weeks since I clocked out for the last time? Like, two weeks ago right now I was sitting on my carriage, about to give my last tour of the summer. I was talking to my mom as she stood on the side of the street that I’d travelled many times a day for the last 100 days.

And somehow those 100 days weren’t long enough for me to feel as though I’m out of place now that I’m back in Abilene.

The whole muddle of it is doing a top-notch job of messing with my head.

I know I didn’t really blog much about the last half of my summer. Much of it was a lot like the first half of the summer: joy and growth mingling with exhaustion and heartache.

The highlights were, as is so often the case in life, sweet people and the heartfelt kindnesses they spoke over me.

Like, one day an older gentleman handed me my tip with some joke that I found genuinely funny, so I laughed aloud because the sun was bright and the grass was green and I was alive, and he met my eyes and said, “That giggle: I like it. Do that often.” And then he smiled and was gone.

Just quiet kindnesses like that.

So many blessings were spoken over me, and luck at school wished, and meaningful clasps of my hand to convey that I was a human and I was real.

I wasn’t just some driver to them.

I was a human.

That’s the real takeaway here: let’s just treat each other like the people we are. None of us are faceless. None of us are nameless. We have backstories and hurts and fears and loves.

Duh.

So let’s act like it.

On the flipside, the definite lowlight of my summer was when my favorite horse died and I spent two days giving tours around a lump in my throat, fighting with varying levels of success to keep the tears from flooding my eyes and washing down my cheeks.

The worst day, the first day of knowing that I’d never get to drive my sweet boy again, I pulled up to drop off a load of tourists, gushing at the crew to ‘have a fabulous day’ and ‘thank you for taking my tour’ and the thousand other things that I usually meant but meant a little less that day, and one of the guys who was helping unload my carriage remarked, “Wow, you’re in a good mood today.”

Thinking he was serious, I cooed back with my smile firmly in place, “Oh, it’s all an act. Today sucks.”

And he quietly replied, “I know. Your eyes tell it.”

Which was exactly the right thing to say. It was the exact nod to my humanity that kept me from losing my mind.

So if you’re reading this, Daniel, thanks.

…I think that might be what I have to say.

What I had to say.

However you want to put that.

Huh.

It took all those words just to come up with a few simple points:

  1. Time still feels weird and irrelevant.
  2. My summer was neither all bad, nor all good.
  3. Our words can make or break humanity.

– Melissa

let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. [psalm 19:14]