tramping through Narnian snow

Last month I had the privilege to assistant direct a play by the name of Christmas in Terminal B with a local community theatre group. It was, overall, a beneficial and worthwhile experience, but it was also a real struggle since tech week landed squarely on my finals week.

Last year I spent threeish hours underneath a table in the makeup room of the theatre during finals week because that’s where I was mentally. That was without tech week for a show I was assistant directing—a show in which anything that could go haywire did go haywire.

Anyway…tech week saw me barely clawing my way to the rehearsal space, dark circles under my eyes, random economic principles and facts about European theatre spinning around in my head. The entire cast and crew were awesome at cutting me slack over missed cues and spacey moments, and were also great about letting me go early so that I could study or sleep or whatever that night required of me.

Marlo, our stage manager, even brought me a box of chocolates.

Not just any box of chocolates, mind you: one of the boxes that has a key on the lid so that you know what you’re eating.

“Life is a box of chocolates.”

I don’t know who said that, but it’s so true, especially when you don’t have the chocolate key. But I had it and it was great because I could avoid the coconut ones and the ones with caramel so chewy that it rips out your teeth.

But, you know, Finals Week cannot allow anything so blissful as that.

When I took the chocolates home that night, the box came open just enough in my backpack that all of the chocolates slipped from their cozy little nests and pooled at one end of the box. So much for having a key.

That’s kind of how 2016 and the first couple of weeks of 2017 have felt: there’ve been some really great moments (and some really gross coconut moments) but life’s shook the box up and I have no idea what the heck is going on.

2016 brought the blossoming of unexpected friendships and the completion of the first half of my oh-so-difficult college career. It gave me the most amazing experience of my life to date: Scotland; and it bestowed upon me the most pressing dream of my life to date: to get back to Scotland. It granted me my own room for the first time since Abbie joined the family back in 1997, and that’s been unspeakably awesome. I got to join a small group at my church in Abilene, and act in my all-time favorite venue, and help direct a show for the first time in three years. There were at least three amazing concerts that I got to attend, all of which I got to attend with one family member or another.

But 2016 also saw me wreck my sister’s/my truck, as well as the wreck of a couple of really precious friendships. It handed me a move and some really tough goodbyes, health concerns for my horse (though, really, that’s a yearly thing), and a feud with my sister that didn’t really start to get resolved until a month or so ago. And just college in general, with all its stresses and heartaches and people…all the people.

So now it’s 2017 and there’s a lot to unpack, but I haven’t found time for it amidst the tumult that is this year. I’ve changed my major from two down to one and I’m going to graduate a semester early because I Hardin-Simmons is crushing the breath from my chest and I couldn’t see how I’d have the air to make it to graduation unless something changed, so I made changes and it’s great and also terrifying. Dad’s got to find a job and my family might be moving again and it’s all so upside down and turned around that I can’t follow it anymore or even guess where things are going to land in the next week or so. I have multiple possibilities on the fire for the coming summer, and I’ve shuffled them all around and we’ll see how things fall over the course of this month so that I can make some real decisions. No idea where I’m going to be living this summer or—more critically—this fall when I’m back in Abilene for just one semester instead of two.

And all of that since January 1.

But January 1…

We started off the year gathered around a piano singing Auld Lang Syne. Me and my best friends in the world, just…together. Ha. Now I’m about to cry because gosh I miss them so much and plus I’m tired and also I haven’t cried recently so I’m about due for a poorly justified meltdown. But, yeah, it was fantastic, and then the day was together and laughing and more fantastic. Pretty auspicious start to a year, right?

2016 was a box of chocolates that somebody had shaken.

I think 2017 is feeling more like Narnia?

You know, because it started off magical, and then it’s gotten cold and snowy and wintery, but still magical, and eventually I’ll come out on top of this struggle and it’ll be good awhile and then the next books will come along and life will get crazy and hard again, but at the end there’s the Last Battle and we all come out all right and together again.

Can 2017 be Narnia? And can we meet Aslan?

Maybe. Maybe there’ll be a pirate adventure in here somewhere, and maybe we’ll get to the last pages and come together to sing Auld Lang Syne again, and maybe we’ll harmonize even more closely and hold each other even more tightly because of the battles we’ve come through and the Lion we’ve looked in the eye to see our souls reflected back at us.

I am terrified of 2017. But I think the Pevensies were a little bit scared too. So I think it’s going to be okay.

– Melissa
check out this music inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia

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My Mirror Horse

Yesterday was remarkable.

The projected high was 88°F, and while I don’t know what the actual high ended up being recorded as, I am quite sure that the weather didn’t get any warmer than predicted.

It was overcast and breezy and there were occasional outbreaks of what we water-deprived Californians exaggeratingly refer to as rain.

Basically, it was impossibly gorgeous for June 9th.

As if the weather weren’t enough of a blessing, I had the marvelous opportunity to take a trail ride with my best friend in the entire world. (No offense to you two-legged folks. You’re awesome and all, but you don’t live in my backyard.)

Toby (my horse) can be an idiot even on his best days, but on our ride he kept the idiocy to a minimum and was mostly willing to trust me when I assured him that that terrifying noise or smell or whatever wasn’t actually out to eat him.

The pigs we passed got him riled up. But really. They’re pigs and they smell weird and they’re mostly lacking fur. Who can blame him for being afraid of those alien creatures?

Any time I get to go for a ride, it truly blesses me.

Because in my horse I see an unpolished version of myself, the version that lacks the self-control and the verbal skills that have been so carefully engrained in me.

And let me tell you what: if you’ve never had to deal with the tainted mirror version of yourself, you are both lucky and seriously missing out.

It’s humbling.

And also quite frustrating.

Toby gets up in arms about every little thing. Literally.

  • Yesterday we were frightened of a passing car. (Little car. Like, not quite Mini Cooper, but close.)
  • We were afraid of pigs.
  • We were skittish because of the orchard we’d been riding alongside for the past ten minutes but that suddenly became scary.
  • We nearly ran into a tree because we were so busy eying the house and driveway beside us. (Those things are pure evil, folks.)
  • We pranced at the sound of somebody offloading feed sacks.
  • We shied away from the wall because it was reflecting back at us the sound of the dirt bikes we’d already gotten over.
  • We were afraid of the dirt bikes.
  • We were nervous about walking on the gravel because it sounds and feels weird.

Most of these items we encountered are items we encounter on most of our outings. The pigs were new, the dirt bikes are rare, and the only place we usually encounter the noise of feed sacks is at home when he’s getting fed. Aside from those three, though, all of this should have been pretty normal.

But, like I said, Toby’s all about the drama.

Fact is, so am I.

I am afraid of the dark, of spiders, of insects, of being alone, of being in large crowds, of talking to cashiers, of talking to strangers, of talking to people I know, of talking in general, of fire, of knives, of guns, of dangerous objects that aren’t fire or knives or guns, of loud noises, of heights, and of driving.

I get anxious on a daily basis about things that, especially when handled properly, are extremely unlikely to hurt me. I let the ‘what ifs’ of life take control of my emotions and send me spiraling to places I’d rather avoid.

It annoys me to death when Toby does it, and I can’t get inside his head and change anything. Why do I approach the same behavior within myself with such a ‘such is life; can’t change anything’ type of attitude?

Toby is also exceedingly lazy.

Yesterday was better, but most days it takes us three times as long to go the .3 miles to from my house to the end of the neighborhood as it does to ride .3 miles anywhere else. Why? Because Toby doesn’t want to leave the house. Because leaving means working. Because working is hard.

Any time we get to a turn that turns back toward the house, my usually docile, doesn’t-need-steering horse becomes a tough-mouthed mule who takes every bit of natural and artificial aid at my disposal to get to continue in a straight line. I mean, it’s preposterous. We’ve walked this trail a hundred times; you should know that we don’t turn back homewards at this junction.

I should know the same thing.

How many times has that sister pushed that button? How many times have I responded inappropriately and had to deal with the consequences? So why do I yell at her this time and next time and the next time?

Why don’t I realize that the reason I’m struggling with this math problem is because I inadequately completed the last one and because I still haven’t bothered to properly learn the formula?

These are the sorts of things that go through my head when I’m applying leg pressure and verbally correcting and using my reins in the not-proper-riding-technique ways they teach you not to use unless your horse is being an absolute idiot the way mine is.

Toby points out to me my vanity, my impatience, and my lack of pliability.

Toby reminds me, as I struggle to remain patient, how much patience God daily shows me.

Toby keeps me humble, which is a remarkable feat considering my unerring tendency to be completely full of myself.

As pessimistic as all that may sound, I ended yesterday with a sense of wonder and bliss at the incredible blessing and opportunity that I’ve been given in this inexplicable bond that Toby and I share.

I would not trade yesterday’s ride for anything.

Well, maybe for a chance to join Mary in sitting enraptured at Jesus’ feet, but nobody’s invented time machines yet, and I somehow suspect that I’ll get that opportunity in heaven anyway.

Also, if you’re now kind of wishing for the chance to have a horse point out all your failings, I’m giving riding lessons this summer.

Now I think I’m off to bed. Because sleep is almost as beautiful as my beautiful, beautiful horse.

– Melissa
Lamentations 3:22-23

Lights and Glamour and Humility

Night and exhaustion combined turn me into a sort of half-crazed lunatic who says whatever comes to her mind in whatever order it may come. I think I’ve demonstrated that by now.

But there have been several things bouncing about in my mind that I’ve wanted to share, and so tonight I’m going to strive to accomplish just that.

Which may be difficult based on the way I keep spelling things.

Hmm.

Anyway…

Since the last time I dropped in to say that life was going well, life has continued to…well…go well.

Thursday, in particular, was one of those days that show me why people can preach a ‘health, wealth, and prosperity’ gospel, because it was so fabulous and it was super easy to connect the dots and think, ‘I’ve been doing my devotions and praying and talking to people about my faith and so now I’m being rewarded and why didn’t I start checking all the little boxes of ought-tos earlier so life would quit being so dadgum difficult?’

Except God’s blessings aren’t dependent on our level of surface-level perfection.

And God’s blessings are every bit as present on the days when I don’t get out of class early, find out that I did indeed manage to test out of a class, learn about a concert that my dad buys me and my friends tickets to, get a call from my mom saying that she gets to fly out to see me in the play Hay Fever (which everyone should come see…) and enjoy three full, nearly-healthy meals.

But yeah, that was my glorious Thursday that my suite mate and roommate and I spent quite a while squealing over.

And then Friday was, by all accounts, a fair day.

And then Saturday I had to get my hair cut…which is stated in a rather displeased mumble and accompanied by a face that communicates that this is not a matter that I am exceptionally pleased about and no, I would not like to discuss it further. I miss my hair but am grateful for the opportunity to be in a show even if it requires sacrificing my hair. I keep telling myself that.

BUT Saturday night my roommate, suite mate, and I all got to go see the concert that we found out about on Thursday.

A while ago I gave y’all my rather unimpressed/confused thoughts about seeing the Newsboys in concert.

Tonight I want to (briefly, because I fear I’m getting loopy) share with you my thoughts about seeing Tenth Avenue North in concert.

First off, I adore Tenth Avenue North, and have since my dad introduced the band to me long before they were immensely popular.

Of course, Dad couldn’t remember the numerical value of their name at first, or even which direction they claimed, so for a time I thought the band was Ninth Avenue West. But life goes on and muddles get sorted out, and the sound of Dad singing along to their Over and Underneath album while we detailed the van beside our rental house in Carthage, North Carolina sticks with me.

Also, I’m pretty sure that there’s no other band whose songs I have cried to as often.

And I’m not talking about those hideous ballads, like where the kid’s dying and his family pulls together so that he can celebrate one last Christmas in September before he dies. I detest songs like those. Because I know that life is depressing. I see it all around me and it breaks my heart on a daily basis. But can’t we fill the airwaves with songs about how great God is in that tragedy instead of singing about how tragical the tragedy is?

Sorry if I just insulted your genre. Maybe I shouldn’t post offensive things on the internet. But…yeah, moving on.

The type of crying I’m talking about is in those moments where I’m feeling lost or alone or broken, and I turn on my ‘shuffle all’ playlist and all of a sudden I hear someone singing right to where I am, whispering the words of God over me or murmuring the silent plea of my heart.

Like, seriously, when you find yourself in a place of spiritual desperation, listen through an album or two of these guys’ and you’ll almost without fail find a song that’ll let you breathe, ‘That, that is what I’m feeling.’

So that’s the basis of my thoughts on Tenth Avenue North. I already love them as singers, song writers, and musicians.

But I like Newsboys as singers, song writers and musicians, too.

Tenth Avenue North (gah, I love the band but I’m getting really sick of a three word long band name to type out all the time with no logical abbreviation that doesn’t strike me as totally tacky…TAN…?…10AN…?…yeah…no) last night won me over as performers.

Okay.

So.

Unpacking that idea:

The first song played, as the lights came up and the audience shouted for joy, was their latest hit from their latest album. Everybody knew it. Everybody sang. It was great.

(Side note: I get a tremendous emotional rush from being surrounded by like-minded believers joining their voices in worship. Church sometimes makes me tear up for this reason, and there’s always at least one moment like this at a Christian concert. Just the beauty of being together, of being free to worship, of being the collective Bride of Christ—loved more than we could ever begin to imagine…mmm…it’s just so beautiful.)

From there the band jumped around from album to album, playing new hits and old favorites, and constantly constantly engaging the crowd in family.

At one point, we were all instructed to put our arms over the shoulders of the people beside us. Because we were family. We are family.

It made me insanely happy to watch each of the rows of people in front of us in the theater (there had to be about ten) start to sway to the music. As a group. A body. (Like I said, emotional rush.)

We danced together—except for the people who didn’t believe in dancing and just did ‘choreographed movement.’

Mike (the lead singer) talked about the symbolism of raising our hands in worship: that it’s not a holier-than-thou position at all, but it’s a reaching up and echoing the words of his daughter when she cries out, ‘Daddy, hold you!’ I love that picture. And I loved being surrounded by hands lifted in surrender and desperation and adoration.

I guess what I’m trying to impress upon you was that it was a night of family.

Not family and a band.

Family.

Broken individuals united by our desperate need for a savior.

I paid to go to a concert.

Instead I got to be part of a worship service/party.

With impressive lighting effects and a bunch of normal guys who happen to be well-known for their worship lyrics.

And that normality? It just made them all the more impressive.

I still ache to have a platform, to get to make a difference like that.

And Tenth Avenue North is an amazing reminder to me that what I’ve visualized is actually possible.

God can be given all the glory through flashing lights and microphones and platforms.

So anyway, it’s pretty late now and I’m not in bed the way I told myself by the time I told myself I was going to be. I’m still pretty giddy from last night (obviously, I think) and all I can really leave you with is an invitation to check out the music of Tenth Avenue North if you never have, and a reminder just how great it is if you are familiar with it but haven’t played it in a while.

And remember…

We’re not meant to live this life alone.

– Melissa
No Man Is An Island by Tenth Avenue North