There is a vast landscape between dreams and surrender. I've come to a middle ground on my journey where the valley is mysterious and dangerous. Behind me on the distant hillside like an abandoned carnival rest the old dreams. Some of them are broken down with caution tape around them. Others of them are still and lifeless with the wind howling through the spaces between the bars. I can still smell the popcorn machine when the wind is just right. The occasional wisp of cotton candy floats by and beckons me to return. I've come too far in the right direction even if the child inside of me has no idea why I would leave behind the good old days.
I remember riding the dream of being a rock star until I made myself puke. Around and around with dizzying drive and ambition I stayed on for another turn. Finally when I stepped off and tried to walk, I collapsed into a vomit-scented pile on the grass. So much for the promise of glory! I remember weeping as the ride that had been a classic and my favorite started to sink into the soggy ground right before my eyes. As I look up now to that hillside I can still see the half-circle of its remains sticking out of the earth and looking at me like a big, drowsy eye.
Dreams have left their litter along my path, too. Mostly it's trash from a photo album of time spent up on that dreamy hillside. There are pictures of me smiling and laughing; sharing good times with friends; building the dreams with the help of my parents and mentors. The sorrow was so great when I looked at the pictures at the beginning of my journey. But as I walked on I discovered things in the frame I hadn't noticed before. The sky was menacing in one of them and there appeared to be a fanged cloud above us in another. We were having a great time as we were oblivious to the demons that supervised our work. Where was God's blessing on all our endeavors? Where was His hand?
On the distant mountain ahead.
The place that lies before me now is further away than I know and closer than I can imagine. There is no poster or brochure to give me an idea of what to expect. I haven't seen a vision or even heard an ad on the radio about this place. The only clues I've been given are in the form of promises. God's constant reassurance that He knows what's best for me. Sometimes that seems like it isn't enough to keep me moving forward. I've found myself walking in circles like the nation of Israel in the wilderness, grumbling.
What I didn't realize was that in all the walking, things were falling off of me. I had no idea that I had been carrying a ten gallon bucket full of resentment until I stumbled upon it during one of my aimless circular tours. Another item I'd packed for my journey was a backpack of vices and unhealthy coping habits. I have scars on my shoulders from where the little creatures had escaped their confinement on my back and scratched at me for sustenance. Who would've thought that bad habits would be so starved for attention all the time?
I understand some of why I am made to endure such a long trek. I see the mountain ahead of me and it's far more steep than the hill I came from. It's going to take some strength and stamina to conquer the climb to surrendering. I used to think surrender meant lying supine, gazing upward to a benevolent puppeteer in the sky. I actually like that thought sometimes, especially when the terrain is harsh and unforgiving to my sore feet. But it's after those days that I am given the cup of living water that never runs dry, the bread of life that fills you with one bite, and the fruit of the vine that gives my sleep a deep supernatural peace. I forget the pain and anguish of the day before and awake with songs of worship filling my mind and mercies like sun rays shining upon my sleepy face.
Sometimes Jesus, Himself visits me on the path. Usually He is smiling and cheering me on but sometimes when I am especially weary He lifts me up with His arms and walks in step with me. There have been moments when He just embraces me and lets me cry. I say things like, "Please, my Lord, tell me that it's all worth it. Show me a vision of things to come." He gently reminds me that my fallen nature would begin to build rickety dreams loosely based on those visions. He flashes images of the tragic and self-indulgent projects that left me empty and hurting. He turns me back to see the ghostly carnival of selfish ambition and I blink at a glint of sunlight that stabs at my eyes from an old metal structure. I change my prayer into, "Lord, help me trust You. I'm still carrying too many pictures of what I think is best. I feel dragged and pulled at by voices from that dream-ridden hillside. Thank You for being here even when I long for the Egypt of my old ways. Thank You for being patient and never leaving me alone."
As we all make progress on our unique pilgrimage to total surrender, I hope we can find one another on the way. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not meant to journey alone. We become the oasis and the place of safety for one another when we reach out with Jesus' love during times of faltering. Thanks to all my friends and family who help pick me up when I am down. Thanks most of all to my Lord who rescues me every single time and without fail.
Three enemies of my creative self-worth:
The World, the Flesh, and The Devil.
The world has been lying to me through all of it’s powerful influences. Media tells me what I must be, secular humanism tells me what I should be, and hypocrite religiosity tells me I can never be good enough, clever enough, or amazing enough. Still, I did try to break into the elite creativity of their god.
The flesh cries out for instant gratification and so practice making perfect is out of the question. My body with all of its learned habits of thinking and behaving has deceived me through lies I believed as a child. The vicious cycle of spiraling thought that plunged my soul into despair had kept me from producing any fruit, especially creative fruit.
My adversary the Devil that prowls around like a roaring lion has devoured too much of my hope in the past. He is the power behind all of the enemies of my creative self-worth. The creative nature of mankind is one of the most beautiful reflections of the Father. Satan’s job is to squelch it and keep it buried by any means.
One horror story of how the enemy kept me from expressing my creativity was when I was a young girl in ballet class. I remember vividly when all the other girls could put their noses on their toes while doing the butterfly stretch, but I couldn’t do it. The enemy whispered in my ear, “What is wrong with you? You’ll never be a dancer now.” Funny, I didn’t even know I wanted to be a dancer until I just wrote that sentence. I always put on dance shows for everyone and even danced in the eighth grade talent show, but that was it. I love to dance! I can sing well, I can write decently, but I can only dance because it's fun.
Rebuke of my enemy...
“Enemy of my soul! My victory is in Jesus Christ. If the Lord of my life wishes me to dance for Him then that is what I’ll do. My joy will be to master this body with the power of His Spirit. You may have had me fooled for most of my life but the truth has set me free! Your lies no longer carry the weight that they once did. Only you would prey on an innocent child’s mind when they are most vulnerable. You are experienced in battle and not to be disrespected, but God is bigger than you. I am His and He is my Protector. I will step out onto the palm of His hand and take flight. You, enemy, will not be able to bring me down.”'
Letter to the Editor in my defense?
I have no defense but the cross of Christ. I find my worth in Jesus' choice to die for me. I will not attempt to justify myself or my choices. I am a sinner that has been saved from death by the amazing grace of God. Any creativity or expression that has any worth will only come from the place in me that is walking by the Spirit. The rest is just dress rehearsal and only fit for the fire. All of that egotistical striving for approval was merely the means by which I was brought to brokenness. I won’t defend myself or rail against the Accuser. He will always seek to destroy and I will fight against him only by the Spirit of God and submission to Him, my Creator.
Three champions of my creativity (other than Jesus, or course) are my mom, my dad, and my best friend/”blood sister” Emily. My mom is forever the critic that will find the holes and inconsistencies in even the best-presented expression. I would sing while doing chores and here a “Woah! Are you listening to yourself honey? You’re off-key.” Little did I know that she was helping me keep my voice on a musical path. I saw it as a challenge and when I would correct the phrase of song she would praise me immediately. There were some great times when I would dance for her and make hideous faces that would leave her in tearful fits of laughter. She always read my writing with great interest and paid such close attention to detail that my story was her world for those few minutes. She was appropriate and gentle with her correction of my creative expression, always delighting in any performance I put on for her. She provided the safest, most forgiving yet challenging audience. I always kept her in my sights when I would get stage fright in the middle of a song. She always laughed at my silly and albeit obscure jokes, even if she also shook her head at the same time. What a blessing it is to have had such an audience to grow up in front of. She truly enjoys my gifts like no one else can, my dear Ma.
Dad is the source of so much of my creative genetics. He is a muralist and a guitarist that could rival the greatest who ever lived. I say that with complete sincerity and anyone who has experienced my dad’s expression knows that it’s true. I grew up in the type of creative environment that was fun and talented thanks to my dad. He, being completely self-taught, didn’t know how to teach me to read music or draw a figure. But he would gladly collaborate with me on a children’s story or an impromptu jam session banging on the coffee table. We’ve basked in each other’s talent my whole life. I learned that I could be excellent by watching my dad practice. He would practice every day and make his guitar songs so complicated that he would spend weeks perfecting the same phrase. He made a profession out of painting murals and that is what he still does, rendering life-like art for only a blessed few to enjoy. The most encouraging thing I received from my dad was freedom to be excellent. While I will never be as good at guitar or painting as he is, I hope to someday honor him by being excellent at what God has gifted me with.
Emily is the sister I never had, except she IS my blood sister thanks to a silly rendezvous by a stream with a couple of sewing needles and pre-teen devotion. From the moment I first went to her house for her ninth birthday party we have been creative allies and partners. She has always been better than me at things that I love to do. But, thankfully I take the cake in a couple of areas we won’t mention. We provided healthy competition as children and sisterly encouragement as adults. There’s nothing so motivating as seeing your best friend do something you wish you could do, especially when she’s two years younger than you! We used to put on “dance contests” for ourselves and “dance shows” for others. Our last show was for our boyfriends only about five years ago. I’m thirty-three now and I would still choreograph something to a favorite pop song if she lived in my town or even came for a visit. We’ve had our own television show where we acted like the free-loving creatives that we are. She will always be by my side in spirit and we will be changing the world together.
The one happy piece of encouragement comes from Emily:
I thought, “I could never jog. My thighs are too big. I’d probably die of a heart attack if I tried. I’ve run from my brother and one time even from the cops, but that was sprinting. I could never jog.” I wasn’t halfway through with speaking that thought when Emily invited me again to go jogging with her. Something inside me ignited at the thought of the possibility. One of the most motivating thoughts in my life has been, “If Emily can do it maybe I can.” I chose not to follow her into joining the army, however, or being deployed to Kuwait. She has always been so encouraging and has been the wind beneath my wings on many occasions. This one day, though, I was terrified. We went jogging and she slowed her pace for me a little. I’ll never forget her legs running in front of me and the rhythm that we kept together. It was the same rhythm that we’d kept our whole lives. I found myself comfortable and the next thing I knew we were up to jogging four miles! Then she got swamped with nursing school and quit our routine, but I kept on. The words that stick with me are, “You said you couldn’t jog!” and yet there I was. I still love to jog when I get the opportunity. Thanks Emily.
If I had five other lives to lead I would be: a missionary, a foster mom to many children, a gospel dancer, a horse ranch owner for rehabilitating broken teens, a children’s ministry director. Things I could do associated with the above: visit my acquaintance Julie who takes in abandoned horses, visit the foster-parent family that goes to our church: the Lunas, volunteer in the children’s ministry at church, donate to a missionary organization; ask my gospel dancer friend about one of her dance classes.