In Memory Of “New”

This May, I attended my sister’s high school graduation. It was very much like my own grad, two years ago. Most of the girls wore long, sparkling dresses, and struggled to fit dark blue caps and gowns over their beauteous hair and attire. The banquet spread was delicious, the speeches went on forever, and the dancing lively. It was all very familiar, though as different and new as the group of graduates were from me and my cohorts, two years ago.

As I listened to the 50 or so graduate speeches, amidst picture snapping of the familiar grads, I was reminded of my former self. The young girl who thought she was so very mature and grown up. The seventeen-year-old whose blue gown barely fit over the hoop skirt of her handmade, shiny purple dress. The young woman who gave a speech, which everyone praised, but that she herself did not even fully understand the meaning of then.

Oh, that girl. That dear little girl in the purple dress, clutching a red bible, and smiling haply. Where did she go?

Down the path of the hopeful to the little university she felt was so beloved. Through various first and second year university classes, where everything began so crisp and new that September and ended in bitter exhaustion come December. She began so gladly that first day, with hopes higher than the university bell-tower, for everything that had been, and mostly, all that was to come.

As grads recited speeches, I remembered her, in that eager anticipation, light of heart, and faithful spirit. Grads talked about their college, university, and job plans so solidly, as if knowing exactly what the road of post-secondary would bring. I remember talking like that, too. But really, everything was just a cloud of new, unknown, unrealized hopes and dreams back then.

I remember making my first schedule, utterly overwhelmed by course IDs, and fitting times and days together. I pronounced the professors names–Dr. Such-and-Such and Mr. So-And-So–imagining how good my first impression would be in their eyes. I bought books early, of course, planning to do pre-reading to make the course load lighter; all the while, I wondered what the classes would actually be like.

Eventually, it all set in. The schedule was up and down at first, but with a few weeks, I relaxed into it. Surprisingly, I found myself on a first name basis with most professors, though not all of my first impressions went as smoothly as I had dreamed. Not so surprisingly, I laboured over reading right till the bitter end of that first cold semester.

I shudder to think of some of the miserable days of my first semester. Cold nights traveling home, the staggering exhaustion, and the fear over getting things right. The deep and utter loneliness I felt. These were the not so good days I never bargained for, but surely received. 

Yet  now as I look ahead to my third year, I wonder where those first weeks and months went. Part of me believes I’m still that anxious freshman for the time has gone so quickly.

But the other part knows it can’t be true for the knowledge I have now. I look ahead dismally to the September leaves, knowing exactly what next year will be like. There’s nothing new or exciting about being an upperclassmen–you’ve already done the semester thing four times and the pattern gets old fast.

I’ve learned the rhythm of classes. In two years, I’ve mastered the beats, the rests, melodies, and crescendos of student hood.

Now, as I think on it all, I realize that I long for the new, in all it’s misery and brightness, once more. There are things I wish I could do over either for regret or just the pure joy they brought because there is something beautiful about the new. There is something lovely about having to get to know something, to learn about it, and come to cherish it. I guess that’s why we buy new clothes and trinkets, make new friends, and enjoy the passage of milestones like graduations, university, new jobs, marriage, and children. 

The new of university, I realize, is mostly gone now. Things may still change a bit as each year is a slightly altered song yet the newness I long for is that of freshman hood, when everything is kindly new for a few days of bliss. I know I won’t get that back.

Yet in my almost-upperclassmen-wisdom, I’m certain there will be other shades of new. Newness comes in seasons and I’m sure to experience a thousand more.

I appreciate the beginning of a journey, in all it’s excitement and uncertainty, much more now as I long again for that season of spring, knowing it was good to me. But I suppose there is beauty in the summer, the fall, and the winter as well. The middle and the end are just as important as the beginning for without them we could not see the results of our journey.

 

Recap & Dreams

2013 was a roller-coaster.

First year second semester didn’t pull me by the ear lobes like my first had done. It was stagnant at first; difficult, strange. I had to grab it by the neck and make it what I wanted and needed. I did just that. In the words of my professors and friends, I transformed in my art and I think also, in myself.

Summer came much too quickly. I put acting aside for a while, on a shelf though, to be found again, come September, no doubt. Core requirement books piled on my desk and for six weeks I devoted my time to completing courses in Old Testament, Self-Defense, and Human Kinetics.

June brought my first article to publication. One I’d worked at since January. It began as a tiny proposal forced from my hands. I never thought my first attempt at a magazine submission would lead to publication, but it did, somehow, beautifully.

My first real job, as a cashier at a Thrift Store, came and went. July and August were filled with long days and hard work, dust, unfriendly voices, interesting objects, and weird comments. But there was love and joy and peace and satisfaction there, too. And for those things and the lessons learned, I miss it every day.

Last semester boomed along. I played a small role in my first university play. I took hard classes. My professors pushed me and I pushed myself. And I forged friendships like never before. There was beauty and life, but at the end, I was burnt to the core.

More. There was always more. More to do, more to be, more to learn. It was exhausting.

My holidays have been quite the reverse. School flew away and I nearly forgot the little homework I did have.

I spent a lovely four days with a friend and her family, relaxing and celebrating the new year. I had a beautiful Christmas, filled with Christ, family, and sweet things. I’ve had a wonderful holiday, seeing fabulous people and creating to my heart’s desire. In everything, I’ve learned more about myself and the person I want to become.

And now, as I sit and think on January 3rd, I am hopeful. All of what happened, both the good and the bad, makes 2014, a new year, brighter to my eyes. Because we learned and we finished and came to believe in 2013, through every blot and beauty.

And this — why this is only the beginning. We’ve barely breathed on the new year yet. Hardly made mistakes. The days ahead are still coming and we don’t know what will fill them. And while unknowns can be scary, adventure lies in what we do not know or even understand.

It snowed this December. It rained a lot, too. And in it all, it “sunned” as well.

 043 (2)

2014 should bring similar weather, I believe. But who knows what the colour of the rain will be?

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Your Pain Is Real

You.

Yes, you. With tears in your eyes, waiting to spring. Or a lump in your throat and a heart that hurts. Or a million different thoughts that you don’t know what to do with. You.

You matter.

You are infinitely valuable.

And you, your pain is real.

No matter what anyone else has said to you or how many times people have tried to deny you of your words. Despite the lies that you hear everyday. Even though you feel lost and confused and denied. Your pain is real, it matters, and so do you.

What have people told you? Think carefully.

How were you hurt? In grade school. In grade 8. Last year. Yesterday. What did people say? What did you try to hide? What have you shoved behind in the garbage like a banana peel? What have you told yourself didn’t matter?

Because those are the things that do. Those are the things that should not be forgotten.

~~~

Almost a year ago, a professor sent me my Acting final exam marks and comments. He responded to what I’d written in my journals. When I write, I share anything and everything. And so, I’d shared a little bit of the pain that the scene had spurred.

I remember his response. He said that whatever had happened to me in the past was real. It had an impact on me. It should not be covered over or ignored.

I closed that email quickly, blushing, embarrassed at the feelings I’d shared. Yet I opened it just as soon to read it again.

Because my soul craved to admit my pain. I did not want to keep it hiding any longer.

~~~

You. Yes, you, again. Sitting there, listening, reading, wondering.

Are you still reading? I hope so.

Your pain is real. I’ve said it before, I know. But its true. And that’s why I’m repeating myself.

Whatever has happened to you in the past — whether it was ten years ago or yesterday — is important. It is real. It is part of you.

Do not deny it. Do not try to cover your pain.

Let yourself admit the scars of the past. Let yourself be healed. Find freedom.

Because you matter.

You are infinitely valuable.

And you — yes you — your pain is real.

The Sound Of Laughter

When I was a little girl, I distinctly remember people telling me to smile more. I don’t think I was a particularly grumpy child, but sometimes, I guess, I just didn’t look like I was having a great time.

Later, in my mid-teens, I went through a depressing and hard time. I don’t remember if I smiled much then, but I know that after I “cheered up,” I made the effort to smile. I thought maybe people liked you better if you did.

Last year, my department gave me an award for smiling. It read: “for always having a smile on your face no matter what you are doing.” I didn’t understand it. Since coming to university, I barely remembered smiling or making the effort to smile.

~~~

Needless to say though, last year — my first year of university — was an absolutely transforming time. I changed in ways I never though possible. I began healing for issues I didn’t even know required help.

I learned to use my ‘real voice’ when I act. I never even knew I had a “storybook-not-really-Elizabeth” actor’s voice.

I discovered impulses. And I tried very hard, over many tears and several revelations, to go with my impulses when acting.

I found the odd yet beautiful art of failing boldly. And slowly, I began to try to fall flat on my face and pick back up again.

Looking back, I wonder if it was from these strange yet lovely lessons that I learned to truly smile.

Because yesterday, I noticed that I was laughing for real. It wasn’t fake or forced like so many other occasions in my life have been. It was natural, brilliant, loud, free.

And sometimes I smile randomly. Things make me smile. People make me smile. I don’t even think or try. It just happens.

And my voice sounds and feels so calm. Not held back, but open, clear.

The commotion, somehow, created peace. The mess became beauty. And sorrow is fast turning into joy.

There are still hard things in this life. There always will be. Life can still be a daily struggle we try so hard not to fight. But, I have learned that there is hope beyond the shadow and life beyond the grave.

I have discovered the sound of laughter — and it is the most beautiful sound in the world.

He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:5

Chapter Two

A year ago today, I embarked on what I called a “new era.” I drank up the new so hungrily, basking in its greatness. I could only wonder then what this new era would really bring.

I’ve shared many of my experiences of what really did happen in that first year of university. And now, I’ve come to know the many people who were once strangers and the classes that were just expectations and the success that was only all a dream. It seems so different now, going into it, knowing, sure of myself, only wondering what one prof will be like instead of six, excited to see friends instead of imagining who those people were.

It should be easy. It seems like it would be by the Facebook statuses and the opening week events and even from the way my own face lights up when I hear the word school. I’m excited for year two. Its going to be great.

But to be honest, its not easy. As much as I am looking forward to today, this week, this first semester, and my whole second year, I am dreading it.

I have expectations. For other people, for myself, for this year. As much as I do know, there is much I do not know.

I finished first year, happy in my success but disappointed in myself. I didn’t make many relationships. I hid. I fled from meaningful connections. I didn’t love people. And I regret that about first year.

So now, as I go into year two, its like I have a second chance. And its brimming with possibility, hope, and life. I want to make the best of it. I really do. I have dreams and plans and expectations — almost more than I had last year.

But sometimes, I want to hide again. I’m not sure if I can do it. The dark overcomes me. The light is hard to find. The friendly smiles disappear and I am alone and I just don’t know where to look or even how to say hello.

Rejection is my greatest fear and to be honest, failure is still really hard for me.

But this is a second chapter. The first is gone, in all its glory and regret. This is a new time, a second portion of the era I began one year ago.

I like to talk about grace for others yet can I have grace for myself? I know that God has grace for me, but can I accept that? I believe I am loved but can I open up and live that?

This year will not be as easy as it is to buy books or find my way to classes as a second year. It will be hard, I’m sure. I’ll get sweaty and messy and cry a bit, too. I’ll be rejected and I’m going to fail. There are unknowns and who knows what kind of trouble they will bring.

But in the unknowns, the challenges, the mess, and the failure, comes joy. This is life. The life that God has given me and the life that He will provide for, even when I forget to ask. And for that life I am thankful. Its a second chance to love other people and learn and become.

So here’s to second year!

Learn To Walk Again

I don’t remember what it was like to learn how to walk. I don’t recall the crawling, falling, tears, or tumbles.

There are many things we forget, in life. Unimportant, unnecessary, needless, little, things, as we say. Memories that would be impossible to remember.

And other memories we push away, toss to the side, try to remove the hurt. Forget. Forget. Forget.

 

I started university last fall, signed up for a Theatre major. I thought I knew. I thought I’d be ‘safe.’ Safe from memories, hurt, too much thinking, and tears. I figured I’d be happy, doing what I love, and that I knew what it’d be about because I knew what theatre was.

But theatre, I learned is an exploration. An exploration of others, of course, but also, of yourself. And that exploration can be scary and strange — a lot like learning how to walk for the very first time.

 

One day, my professor told us to lie on the ground on our backs, feet and legs and arms and hands spread out. And she told us to learn how to walk again.

It was hard and a little strange. But I made myself fall and I got back up and fell again and tumbled to the ground. And I remembered so many things.

You see, we can forget things in our mind, but the body remembers. There are certain things, programmed it would seem for eternity. Your mind may forget, but your body will not.

The body remembers its scars and scrapes and bruises. It remembers each tumble and fall. The body recalls what you’ve done and said to it, the ways you’ve abused it, the times you’ve felt shame, the people who hurt you. It knows how you cried from the nasty words and the blood that you shed and the heart that was broken. And you tried to forget. You tried so hard. But the body remembers what the mind does not.

 

As Christians, sometimes I find there is this stigma attached to our bodies. We’re constantly finding fault with the flesh. They’re impure, passing figures, after all, liable to grevious sins, we’ve been told from the pulpits and in Christian books.

Yet if we truly believe that the Father created us, we know that our bodies are His good and perfect creations.

And if we admit with our tongues that He sent His only son, in flesh and bone, through the body of a woman, we cannot deny that our bodies must be for His glory.

 

So learn to walk again. Today, tomorrow, this week, this year. Learn to love yourself, to know yourself, and the body you’ve been given. Learn to be whole and know that God made you. And He made all of you.

For this is what I learned from going back and learning to walk again, tumbling a bit and getting up.

Fail Boldly

My first memory of failure is from Grade 9. I failed a Science test. I’ll never forget the shame I felt. Like I was stupid, unable to do anything well, an idiot. That’s how failure made me feel that first time.

I think I was always kind of afraid of being a failure. I think we all are.

I spent high school watching my step and setting unreachable goals. And hoping I’d never fail again.

Then, I started university. And they told me that I had to fail to pass.

I don’t remember when they said it — whether it was during orientation, in my first acting class, or when I went for my advising session. But I know I heard this strange and impossible quote: Fail Boldly time and time again throughout September, October, November, and December.

I didn’t get it. Failure wasn’t good. I’d spent my life striving for just the opposite and I couldn’t imagine why anyone else wouldn’t.

Maybe they meant that you just had to be able to admit your mistakes and show that you were humble. Maybe failing boldly was just being able to laugh at your self. Maybe it wasn’t really “failure.” Perhaps it was just an artsy phrase or a figure of speech, I convinced myself and continued to hope for perfection. Because I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would ever want to fail on purpose.

I didn’t get it. My first monologue mark in the beginning of second semester reflected that. And I hated my work, felt like a failure, and considered giving up. I just couldn’t really, flat on my face, fail boldly.

The rest of the semester unfolded in a weird, tearful mess of beauty and growth. And slowly, I learned. I began to undo, to understand, and to fail.

I can’t explain it completely. But I do remember when I willingly failed boldly for the first time.

It was the end of March. The day had been bright and spring like. I’d memorized and learned and cried over a monologue for weeks. And now I stood, a bit breathless, a bit tired, a bit nervous, after the group audition, in the middle of the stage. I was alone and absolutely vulnerable. Right there, I lay one of my greatest hopes out and put myself on the clothes’ line. And as I opened mouth and began the text, I lay everything I had down and just let it go.

I had that actor’s moment where you don’t feel memorized and the words just slide out of your tongue as if you’re saying it for the first time. I stopped thinking about my audience or how I looked. I let myself be, for a moment. I felt a strange peace in my soul and my stomach, instead of the butterflies that usually reside there. I think I let the Holy Spirit in and it felt like He carried me on His wings.

And I think I failed. Boldly.

And I realized that failing boldly isn’t really what I thought it was after all. Failing is allowing yourself to be human. Its giving yourself the freedom to live and breath and let yourself move. Failing boldly is finding rest and growing and trying again. Its submitting yourself to the gift of Jesus and letting him take control of your life and future. Failing boldly is about grace and peace and life.

I don’t know if this is really what my professors meant about failing boldly. But this is what I learned when I tried. And as I think about this coming year, I hope to stay in this state, to tumble a bit, and fall on my face and then get back up again.

I hope you’ll try it too — failing boldly isn’t so bad as we thought.

To Be Transparent

Yesterday, a word stuck out at me: transparent. I was reading unChristian by David McKinnon and Gabe Lyons.

That word has followed me throughout this year — each time I meet up with it, pounding at my heart’s doors to get me to submit to it’s meaning.

Transparency; to be seen right through your skin. That’s how I see it.

Letting your guard down. Flinging your arms out and not caring what other people see. Allowing others into your lives and letting them see your heart. Not hiding anything, not staying back. So easy to describe, yet so very hard to actually do.

I often live in a world of masks and make-up. I like to hide behind a thousand layers and pretend that is me. I forge relationships and I try to hide when people walk by, hoping they won’t see my soul, yet praying that they will.

It is strange, the way this works — this transparency business. I hate to let go yet I love the feeling when I finally do. I loathe to be transparent, but I’m so unsatisfied in this daily grind of pretending, lying, and losing.

 

I remember a conversation I had with a professor back in February. We were talking about acting; I wasn’t sure why it had suddenly become so hard, dissatisfying, and just not enjoyable.

She pointed out that maybe getting on stage and baring my soul, standing naked, was what I didn’t like. Because acting isn’t pretending to be someone else or hiding behind a character. In theatre, we must use our self, from the very depths of our soul, without holding anything back.

I think she was right. I didn’t want to do that. Or I was scared to. And that was keeping me from what I loved.

But I don’t want to be kept back any longer. I want to let go, to be free, to be transparent.

I did it a few times. For audiences even. For my professors on the night I decided that I wanted theatre and there was nothing else and that I was going to give everything I had to get what I loved. And though transparency was harder than anything, it felt better than every pretense I’ve tried.

 

Transparency is Biblical, too, I think. In that book I was talking about — unChristian — the authors talk about being transparent in our Christian lives. All too often, as Christians, we hide our sins with good works and pray that even God won’t see our short-comings. It’s a crazy double standard yet we do it. It’s hypocrisy and it doesn’t help anyone, including our selves.  And Jesus wants our hearts. He wants our whole hearts — not just half or a quarter. I think, after all,  that Jesus calls for transparency, too.

So let us be transparent. And let us start today.