Vitality

I think I expected college to transform me into some greater version of myself, to wake me up and revitalize me and just generally embolden me.

And while college changed me and grew me, it wasn’t in those ways that I had expected.

This blog is as close to a chronicle of those changes as anyone’s going to get, short of standing me up next to my past self and marking down all the differences between us, and I think it bears pretty clear testimony to the fact that the last three years have left me tired.

Tired and ready to run.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even come to Mackinac with the intent to run from what was hurting me. I just came because I needed a job and thought I wanted an adventure and liked horses.

Yet Mackinac has proven to be a more rejuvenating retreat than I could have known to request, if I thought to request a retreat at all. And it’s also a strange place to feel so deeply revitalized, because this isn’t your traditional mountain-top spiritual hideaway.

I am working long hours with people who, while kind, do not share my faith. There are no pastors daily pumping me full of well-considered interpretations of scripture or guitarists inviting me to join them in songs of faith-fueled praise.

Even so, I am more at peace than I have felt in a long time.

Possibly because Michigan air is easier to breathe.

Which I mean a little bit literally, because I grew up on Bakersfield air so dirty that you can chew it up, spit it out, and build a sooty sandcastle out of it. But metaphorically too.

Life itself feels more abundant here.

Even after nearly three weeks I find myself still silently gasping in delight when I catch sight of Lake Huron as I round the corner to stage along the point, still nearly laughing aloud when I pause to consider the fact that I am holding the lines to a team of horses the same way that my ancestors did.

Lately I laugh a lot.

And if you know me, you’re probably smiling because that’s what you expected. But if you’ve known me during school, when the trying to juggle classes and people and fear and exhaustion have transformed me into a snarling disaster of a person, then you might begin to guess how refreshing it is to laugh.

People smile at me because I am always smiling. They chuckle because I dash at new tasks with such enthusiasm, even though I’m tired and kind of just want to go home. And their amusement brings me more joy, which only increases the infectiousness of my laughter.

I truly do feel as though I’m breathing easier. As though life were painted in brighter colors than it was before.

Contentment and restfulness bring a certain vibrancy to the world.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t feel particularly well-rested. Even today, on my day off when I’ve slept in and napped and generally relaxed all day long, I am yawning with exhaustion before I’ve even eaten dinner.

Nonetheless, these few weeks in Michigan have brought me a certain level of restfulness.

There’s been heartache, too, and my tears have mingled with my desperate begging to the heavens for explanation of things I can’t understand.

But through it all, this peace. This knowledge that I am both where I’m supposed to be and where I want to be. And this almost audible song of celebration coming from everything around me.

I really don’t know how else to describe it, and kind of feel like I’m chasing my tail now as I try to explain.

It’s as though I’m alive again.

As if a person I’d long forgotten how to be is emerging from the storm of the past few years, and she hasn’t forgotten how to be bold or courageous or outgoing. (She has forgotten how to love to run and be active, but we’ll cross the exercise bridge some day in the maybe-never future.)

All that said, I am eager for this summer to end if only to end the torture of the crazy-early mornings. While I have settled into the routine of awakening at 5:30 every morning, I still don’t like it. And every morning I get a little closer to clinging to my pillow and sobbing at the thought of being parted from it.

I guess I don’t have much energy left for a well-worded conclusion. It’s taken long enough to just achieve anything like sense on this page.

My heart-song doesn’t much want to be translated today.

Anyway. Life is an adventure, and I’m so happy to be living this chapter of it. Feel free to come visit and write yourself in.

– Melissa

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. /Psalm 19:1-4a/

A Seasonally Appropriate Post

Christmas music makes me cry.

Not all of it, granted. And I’ll also admit that a lot of music makes me cry.

But pause for a moment and take in the concept that we sing about:

The omnipotent, omniscient God became a human baby.

What’s the average weight of a newborn? 6, 7, 8 lbs?

That’s nothing.

My backpack weighs more than that most days.

The Lord of Lords became a baby who weighed less than my backpack.

Like, what even? That’s humility beyond my understanding, vulnerability beyond my comprehension. It’s kind of taking my breath away just to even type that.

The God of the universe was cradled by a teenaged mother, who probably sang lullabies to help the King of Kings fall asleep.

I mean, come on! If that doesn’t blow your mind, then your head must be made of something other than brains and bones. (If that’s the case and you haven’t had some kind of surgery to implant a titanium plate in your skull, then I’d suggest you talk to a doctor because you might be a cyborg…)

One of my favorite pictures is from two years ago, when I was directing a goony bunch of high school and junior high students in a Christmas play, and we’d all gathered to take pictures in costume. My younger sister Gracie was playing Mary—and, let me tell you, she looked cute and she knew it—and my best friend was playing Joseph, and the two decided to make fun of each other rather than acknowledging how awkward it was for a thirteen year-old to be playing the wife of a seventeen year-old.

But…we weren’t too far off from being pretty accurate: it’s more than likely that Mary was, by our culture’s standards, just a child herself when she gave birth to Jesus. Probably thirteen or fourteen. Joseph could’ve been as young as sixteen or seventeen, though he might have been older. We can’t know for certain.

Jesus came into the world weighing less than my backpack and trusted himself to the care of a teenage girl from Nazareth.

Let me just say that I wouldn’t trust myself to raise a child, much less thirteen year-old Gracie (or even fifteen year-old Gracie.)

That’s what the Christmas songs are about. That’s what fills my eyes with tears.

The magnitude of the gift…it’s too great.

I don’t feel worth it.

I don’t feel worth anyone giving up the glories of heaven to lie in a feed trough and cough on the dust stirred up by a stable full of restless animals. I don’t feel worth anyone learning the pain of burs and splinters and skinned knees and the cruelty of other humans.

But Jesus did.

One most likely not-so-silent night, nestled away in a smelly little stable in Bethlehem, Jesus took his first breath of earth’s air and changed everything forever.

***

I think I’m failing at writing this post in the way that I want to.

I think maybe my heart’s too full and I’m trying too hard.

Let me try again.

***

Take a deep breath. Hold it for just a moment.

Okay, now rummage around your mind and find all that cynicism you’ve accumulated over the years. It’s okay that it’s there, your life hasn’t been easy, but it’s not something you need right now. Gather it up.

Now let that breath out, and exhale that cynicism, too. Like I said, you don’t need it at the moment.

Humor me just a moment more and go back into your mind palace (mine’s actually more of an attic, hence the subconsciously attic-y metaphor I’ve got going on here) and poke around in those cobwebby corners for that spirit of exuberance you retired years ago. Remember that glow of excitement that everything used to bring bubbling up within you? That’s what we’re looking for. Childlike glee.

Found it? Yeah, I know: the lens got foggy with disuse. But don’t give up on it. Because it’s Christmas, and you’ve got ample opportunity to polish that sense of delight.

Is there a Christmas tree around? Notice how the lights stand out against the green of the branches? The way the ornaments nestle in like they’re basking in the glow? Remember your first ornament? How proud you were to hang it from a branch and how you didn’t notice when Mom came along later to double check that it wouldn’t fall?

And the weather. Outside. What’s it like? Prayerfully it’s not a bajillion degrees outside, but I suppose it could be. If it’s chilly, though, check out the way the air intensifies everything, the way the colors stand out from each other in crisp perfection. Summer smears it all together, but winter clarifies the world. It’s pretty spectacular, snowing or not.

We’re going to try ignore all the department stores. They make me nervous because there are people everywhere. And too many of them haven’t read this blog post and are still clinging to their cynicism. (So it’s your job to be a beacon of joy and hope. Show ‘em what they’re missing and make ‘em wonder if maybe there’s something better out there.) But if you do end up in Wally World or wherever, look for the joyful people. The ones who remember what a joy it is to be alive in December.

Are you feeling any better? I hope so. I desperately hope so. I hope that you can spontaneously break into laughter because you remember what a beautiful world you’re a part of. I hope you’re remembering how it is to feel things instead of retreating back into the safety of numbness, because safe does not equal fulfilled.

Christmastime is such a roller coaster season for me, because—whether I like it or not—I approach life with a vivacious attentiveness that demands that everything be felt on, like, twenty-seven levels or so. And there’s just so much to take in! Colors and tastes and smells and feelings and songs!

The songs especially are big for me. There are the fun, peppy songs like Jingle Bells and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree that just make me want to dance. There are the popular songs like All I Want For Christmas and Winter Wonderland that make me just a touch frustrated and just a touch sad because I don’t have a significant other to share the season with and I wish I did.

But then there are all the other songs, my favorite ones, the ones that tell the story of the season. I know the traditional ones by heart, and I know most the new ones pretty well, too, and I basically sing along no matter how hoarse I may happen to be. And sometimes I cry. Because…well…what the songs have to say is pretty amazing.

They tell of a baby, born in a stable, heralded by angels, and greeted by society’s outcasts. But not just any baby: the baby who was God-become-flesh, come to earth to dwell among his creation and, ultimately, to redeem them from the fate they’d brought down upon their own heads. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a true story. And it’s a story with incredible implications in my own life.

Sometimes I wonder if we don’t forget to remember those implications. If we don’t just go on about our lives when, in reality, we should stop to let our breath be taken away by the beauty of perfect humility and perfect love.

I’ve actually put together a list of a few of my favorite Christmas songs. For you. Wherever you are. My prayer is that you’ll be able to carve out a few moments of quiet to let the words wash over you, to replace the bustle of preparing for Christmas with the peace of the victory Christmas has already accomplished. And I pray that, with childlike awe, you’ll learn something new about Christmas this year, and that you’ll live it in a way that makes other people notice.

I love Christmas, because nearly everybody is glowing with the magnanimity of the season. But the people who are glowing with something more…those people are truly a delight to encounter.

Have a joy-filled day.

– Melissa
Christmas Playlist on Spotify

Christmas Playlist on YouTube

 

 

in the Middle

Hi. Hello. I’m Melissa. But you probably already know that.

My speaking patterns are pretty Middletonian tonight. Thanks, Mr. Eno.

But seriously, my mind is still caught in the patterns of the play I’m currently on tech crew for: Middletown by Will Eno. It’s a beautiful piece, full of explorations of life and deep meanings that make me tilt my head to one side contemplatively somewhere or other every night.

If you’ve never been on a tech crew, never been part of a cast, then I don’t expect you to understand the madness of tech week. Sure, it’s great and all. Great and utterly exhausting. It’s madness, and exhaustion, and frustration, and elation, and it all comes together on opening night.

Tonight was opening night.

Coming into this show, I was incredibly nervous. After all, I am the kind of person who likes to know exactly what she’s doing and exactly how she’s doing it so that there is very little risk of looking like an idiot. I was talking with a friend tonight and this proverb came up:

“Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.”
Proverbs 17:28 (NIV)

But it’s hard to keep silent as a sound designer. The goal is kind of to…you know…make sounds. And I had never sound designed and I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it. It was risky.

Sometimes, though, you get assigned a job and you know it’s going to grow you and so you take a deep breath and say, “Okay.”

I said, “Okay.”

The long and short of the story is that I didn’t fail miserably, and I have fallen madly in love with bluegrass music. In fact, the hardest part of my job is probably having to not dance during all the transition music. I have to sit still and wait for the cue to fade the music out and that is so hard!

I really do love this show.

I love the thoughts Mr. Eno has to express.

For the past three nights, there has been one line per night that has reached out and entwined itself around my soul. And by entwined, I mean that it resonates so deeply that it kind of hurts a little bit. It hurts for me and it hurts for the people I know who have faced blackness. Who have stared into the depths of a seemingly empty life and longed for a glimmer of hope.

“…I wanted to be an emergency, somehow. I always felt like one, deep down.” – John Dodge

Don’t we all? I sometimes do. Maybe not always, but sometimes.

I feel the need to be someone’s emergency. I feel the need for someone to notice my silent screams and to drop everything to come running because I am worth it. I need to feel that I am worth it. That I have worth.

“We all have our dark nights. We’re probably never as alone as we think.” – Mary Swanson

‘As we think.’ As we fear. We fear—I fear that I am desperately alone. It circles back to that worth thing, and I look at what my life is and I know, without a doubt, that I am not good enough.

I am a mess of scars and tangles and raw places. I am rude and venomous and cold.

How can I be anything but alone?

How can I be worth it?

The night is dark, far darker than I think anyone can understand, and deep down I suspect I deserve it. I deserve to be alone.

It doesn’t have to be true. I am the girl who is loved fully and unconditionally. Who has been deemed so ‘worth it’ that a perfect somebody died to save me from myself. He died. I fear death, and maybe he did too, but he died for me to shout that I am irrefutably worth it.

I know that.

But sometimes, in the dark of night, I am still afraid.

Maybe we all are. Maybe you are.

You’re not alone. Know that, please, above all else.

You are not alone in your fear. You are not alone with your fears.

Truth runs deeper than what you feel, what you imagine.

The truth is that you are loved fully and unconditionally. You have been deemed so ‘worth it’ that a perfect somebody died to save you from yourself. He died to save you from your fears. He died to shout that you are irrefutably worth it. And now he lives and promises that you are never alone.

We’re never as alone as we think.

“There’re people like me in the world, I think. You don’t hear much from us because we usually don’t say anything. But we’re out here, trying to get a hold on the whole thing.” – The Mechanic

Us: the mostly silent messes.

We don’t talk about our failures enough, I think. We’re too quiet about our fears.

We dupe ourselves into believing that somehow everyone else has it together. That nobody else has as much to hide as we do.

Can I admit something?

I am a wreck.

That wasn’t really a weighty admittance. I’ve said it before. And I’ll keep saying it. Not as self-deprecation, but as hope.

I am a wreck, and you are a wreck, but we’ve been deemed salvageable.

My life is a salvaged wreck, and somebody’s putting me back together. Slowly, sure, but it’s happening.

Please don’t read this and think that I’m on the edge of crisis. I’m not. Tonight has been truly wonderful, and I’ve kind of been floating all day.

I jumped off of a couple of steps earlier and shouted for joy.

The world is full of joy.

Tonight isn’t one of those dark nights.

But my soul remembers them.

My soul remembers how quickly clouds can darken the skies, and it cries out for someone to understand those moments. I think Mr. Eno does.

I don’t know where you’re at tonight, physically or emotionally.

If you are physically in Abilene, come and see Middletown. No matter where you are emotionally. Please. We have six more shows, November 13-14 and 19-22, and this really isn’t something you should miss.

If you are not in Abilene, find and read Middletown. Especially if ‘dark nights’ and ‘being an emergency’ resonate with you. Read Middletown, and know that I am here to listen. I don’t claim to even begin to have all the answers, but I can listen.

I am good at listening.

And I never want you to feel alone.

Hit me up on facebook, or comment here, or—if you know me in person—come up and start a conversation. I don’t bite. And I’m serious: you never have to let yourself feel alone as long as I’m around.

Feelings are sticky. They don’t make sense. (Trust me. I am currently battling the Battle of the Unruly Emotions and it is downright ridiculous the lies I’m being fed. Like, um, let’s stop ignoring the perspective I am going to great lengths to try to attain, please. And that’s all totally beside the point.)

Fear is sticky, too, and it convinces us that its presence is justified. But it isn’t, and finding an Other to give you some perspective on what you’re fearing is really helpful.

It’s really important.

God’s love is sticky, too.

And it’s not an adhesive that you can escape. You are loved, more than you will ever comprehend. It’s okay if you can’t understand that tonight. But please know that. Know that your mess can never be too much. I promise. Bigger than that, God promises.

I love you. I love your humanity and your soul and your destiny for something bigger than yourself.

So goodnight, sweet human. Whether or not it is night where you are. It’s night somewhere, right? In some Middletown somewhere on the planet. Sweet dreams.

– Melissa
my anthem, on the dark nights