twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for October 2011

A time to give thanks

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Three years ago this week, a good friend of mine was killed in a car accident. And what I remember most about that October was how bright and perceptible the light was in the darkness of the situation. We all wore yellow as a token of remembrance, and the community that came together was one of the strongest and most beautiful I had ever seen. As the yellow flowers are all over Facebook this week, I am struck with gratitude for how much we have all learned in the last three years, and how many beautiful things have grown out of the darkness. Three years ago it seemed everything in my life had fallen apart. Nothing was any longer constant, dependable, or safe. And I smile to think of how God showed up in that time, took my hand, and started to lead me into something better than all the fear and pain and disappointment I was then experiencing. It’s been quite the journey. There were many times when my stubborn-headed self tried to plow backward into the darkness rather than reaching forward into the light. But when I am walking towards the truth. It is truly beautiful and life-giving. What I am constantly reminded as I look back is that it’s still not about me. After all this time. I am continually reminded, at times gently and at other times rather forcefully, that I am not the central character in the story I am telling. Whenever I realize that my life is being directed towards this truth, I am struck with awe and gratitude that the burdens do not have to be carried alone and that the joys are meant to be shared and multiplied.

I went on a retreat a couple weekends ago. For those of you who have never been, Christian student retreats offer college students a chance to take some time away from the pressures of campus life and spend time connecting with God and sharing in fellowship with each other. Often there’s a bit of a formula involving a combination of large group worship with music, silly icebreakers and games, quiet times of prayer and reflection, a series of talks from a speaker, and free time to just hang out and connect with each other. This retreat was not unusual in that anyone could have perceived it to be a combination of these stock elements. And the cynical side of my heart used to have a very hard time with the idea of a retreat. You go up on the mountain and have an engineered emotional experience that leaves you jumping to your feet at an altar call on Saturday night and slumped in your desk Monday morning with no real intent to change. And if you were disconnected and disengaged, that’s exactly how this weekend could have felt. But again, it wasn’t about me, or how I chose to step outside and analyze what was happening. It was about God, how he moved, and what actually happened.

Saturday night, our speaker talked about the weights that drag us all down and keep us from realizing the life God has in store for us. (He also spoke about the Samaritan Woman at the well, a story which merits a whole ‘nother post of it’s own. Keep your eyes on the blog for that one!) He pinpointed four that, in his experience as a campus minister, he encounters most frequently.

  • Apathy – the feeling that you have fallen asleep on the job. You’re lukewarm about your convictions and prone to not follow through just because you don’t feel like it.
  • Habitual Sin – brushing off as no big deal something that is vitally important to your interactions with God and with the people around you.
  • Gossip/Slander/Grudges – we all love being mad instead of forgiving. This hurts people in ways we cannot imagine.
  • Guilt/Inadequacy/Shame – you are defined by the guilt of something you have done or by something that has been done to you. You feel you’ll never measure up. You’ve been hurt and betrayed more times than you can count, and it seems there’s no reason to keep going.

After calling to our attention what may have been weighing on our hearts, he asked us to write our weights down on a little piece of paper. Then he gave a series of three calls to stand. The first was to anyone in the room who wished to ask God for the grace to cast off these weights. Nearly everyone stood. Everyone wanted to be free. The second call was more personal. He asked those who felt they had gone through life telling everyone they were Christian without fully understanding or committing their whole hearts to stand if they wanted to recommit their life to Jesus. About 30 people, including 10 or so from our fellowship, stood. The third call was to those who had never entered into Christianity before but desired to connect to Jesus on a personal level. Two men stood. One was from our fellowship, a foreign-exchange student who has been coming to join us and asking questions and walking through the Bible with a good friend of mine.

The speaker then called us all take action. For the apathetic to engage and follow through on their commitment to faith. For those trapped in habitual sin to take stock of their actions and stand up against it. For those who gossip and hold grudges to go, whether they were the offender or the offended, to the other and make it right. For those overwhelmed by guilt and shame to find comfort in a savior whose love breaks through walls to rescue the lost and who understands what it means to be betrayed by his closest friends and beaten and killed by the ones he came to save. He asked us to tear our papers into shreds and drop them in the trash at the front of the room. A friend of mine didn’t even wait until he was done speaking, she just marched right up to the front and triumphantly tossed her pieces in the garbage. The whole room cheered in celebration.

As the rest of us made our way towards the front, tears were flowing freely. Some were experiencing this freedom for the first time. I was moved to see so much honest, uninhibited passion from so many people. I was in awe of the wondrous work God was doing in so many hearts right at that moment. And I was thankful in a way I’ll never be able to fully express that the God who has promised good to me will never go back on his promise. The lies and untruths and judgments and condemnations I had accepted as true and placed upon myself were simply no longer of importance.  As the worship team began to play, I was unable to return to my seat. I could do nothing at that moment but fall to my knees and weep for joy at the goodness and power and free flowing grace I was experiencing, not only in my life, but in the lives of others as well. Because God is so much more than a series of rules and values, proofs and principles that can be intellectually understood. He is truth, life, emotion, love, and passion, good in all things, willing to communicate with us in the deepest parts of our souls if we will only take a moment to listen.

After the service, our chapter (of 45 people. Hallelujah!) gathered together to hear the stories of those who had stood to dedicate their lives to this love. As always, I was grateful for stories, especially for the way that stories remind me of God’s power and grace and truthfullness. It is easy to see people stand up at an altar call and assume they’re merely moved by emotion. But that simply wasn’t true. They were all touched by a genuine desire to give their lives to Christ. That was so beautiful. And the more I listened, the more I desired to speak, to share the beautiful and radical revelations I had just experienced. But that night was not the time. Where my instinct would have been to talk, and process, and dissect what had just happened, our leader announced that our time was drawing to a close, and that we were all going to head up to a dance put on by one of the other campuses. This was another radical idea for me. So much good had just happened, and rather than talking about it and rationalizing it and categorizing it, we were just going to go and celebrate. And we danced that night with the joy of a people who had been set free.

But that was not the end. That can never be the end. We cannot simply accept this gift and lock it up and sit on it. We’ve got to share it. Take risks. Do stuff. On Sunday morning the speaker reminded us that if all Intervarsity does is gather to talk and pray and sing songs and feel good about being friends with each other, than we’re just another club on campus. We’re just another clique. And I think we can do better. I know we can do better. I’m seeing seeds planted in our hearts that would be the beginning of something big on our campus if we would only tend to them. I’ll confess I’m scared of what it might mean. But we can’t keep it to ourselves any longer. This love longs to be shared.

This weekend I saw the fruit. I saw the harvest. Some of it was from seeds I had planted intentionally, but much more came from seeds I never knew I was planting, or from seeds others had planted years and years before. What was most striking and caused me to fall to the floor in grateful praise was the knowledge that even in the darkest moments of these past three years, God was able to work circumstances for the good of those who love Him. Because when terrible things happen, people come together. In the moments when I felt dark and purposeless, I was unknowingly still bring hope to someone else. When I was wandering and alone, I was being directed towards purpose and community. The stories I could share are hard for me to believe at times. But it’s truly incredible. So in this season when the leaves are changing and many of our hearts are turned towards remembrance, hold on. Remember the good and the bad. And for all of it, give thanks.

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Written by Taylor Webster

October 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Where I am Today

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When I go for so long without writing, there is usually some sort of a reason behind it. In the months of June and July, I would say that I didn’t write because I was too busy living. Life this summer was abundant, blessed, unexpected, and beautiful. I want to write the whole story of this summer, and I want to do it well, and I want to be able to share it with as many people as possible. When you are given such an incredible gift, the best way to express gratitude is to share it with others. And so, for those of you with whom I have not yet been able to share the fullness of the experience, I promise I will. Before the month is out, I will be able to write that story.

Today is not the day for that. Today is a day I need to talk about another reason I haven’t been writing. In the months of August and September, I would say that I didn’t write because I was too busy trying to figure out where that life had gone.

A brief picture of the life I had experienced over the summer: I was in constant community with 12-20 people, all working from a common set of values towards a common goal. The core values of this family were community, Christian spirituality, and service, and no other way of living has ever made as much sense to me. This summer I was freed from a life that had been so much about myself, my concerns, and my abilities, and able to enter into a life where what was most important was how I could allow God to use me to serve the children and the other counselors. In short, this summer was not about me. And it was wonderful.

When I came back, I didn’t know where I belonged. Suddenly, everyone was asking about me again. It was back to my education, my friends, my dreams, my purpose. And that purpose was called into question. My heart no longer knew where it belonged. Should I have left my heart with the children of the mountains? Should I launch back into the campus ministry with my whole heart? Should my heart be focused on serving the theatre community well and on perfecting my thesis design? Should my heart belong again to the world of school and grades and academia? Should my heart be with the mission and purpose and programs of my beloved local church? Should I focus the energies of my heart on investing in those friends who were now time zones, countries, and continents away? And where in all of this was there room to reconnect to the closest relationships I had built the semester before but were in need of repair after a summer of distance? My heart was stretched, confused, and adrift.

It seemed as if there was no one who said “We need you. We are glad you have returned to us and want to walk with you in integrating your sense of transformation into our community.” To clarify. There were many who were asking much of me. But it was not me that they seemed to need. It was not a pilgrimage with me into my transformed and confused heart that they wanted to embark upon.  It was what I could do for them. What I could produce. What steps I could execute that aligned with their vision. I felt like a commodity. A convenience. It has been a long time since I have had a conversation that was not cut short, in which I was able to completely express the state of my heart. I want to be absolutely clear that no one took a direct action that hurt me or wronged me. But there was much that I did not understand about the rules and customs which now controlled my world. And so this fragile self which had felt so complete and free over the summer was confused and bewildered. For a good while, this self has been trying to extract itself from the smothering mire of insufficiency and unworthiness of being loved. When one is alone and overworked and confused, those lies are much easier to believe.

Having been so uncomfortable here brought up thoughts of moving away. Of saying “There is too much pain here. I will go away from this place. I will seek a place of peace.” But that is not an honest way to live. If I were to sever ties with my campus ministry, my theatre community, my church, and my city, I would be walking away from all of the growth and life and joy that has come from these places as well as the frustration and sorrow. Long hours of searching the internet planted dreams of changing majors, shopping for new communities, moving to Kentucky, studying in seminary, joining a convent, finding a perfectly fulfilling relationship, embarking on a worldwide mission of travel and adventure, following my favorite band around the country, picking and championing a pet cause, and finally finding the calling and purpose and mission of which so many speak of with such confidence. It is easy to say to myself “Just get through the next eight months until graduation. Then your life will begin. Then you will have a clear sense of vision and be free to pursue your calling.”

Most reasonable people will tell you that nothing is wrong with such dreams. That as humans, it is our right to keep searching until we find a perfect fit. That somewhere out there for each of us lies complete satisfaction. Perfect happiness in relationship, location, work, purpose, cause, and identity. That we should not give up on these dreams, that we should sacrifice everything to pursue them. Note: For some of you who are motivated by fear, this may be a slice what you need to hear. If you are trapped in an unhealthy situation, there is better for you out there. If you believe that you do not deserve a life of love, respect, and dignity, it is time to be told and accept and believe that there is hope and peace to be found. Do not shy away from risk or love or happiness simply because you are afraid. I would be honored to stand with you and help you seek resources in pursuing this journey.

But. In speaking to those of us who seem to live in constant dissatisfaction, who tend to focus on flaws rather than beauty, who are always searching for something more satisfying, a grander calling that falls more neatly into the lines of what we think a calling should be. What if we simply stayed put for a while? Accepted the journey that we’re on rather than seek the next great adventure or spiritual awakening. What if the still, quiet act of simply trying to live day to day in a posture of grateful acceptance for what has been given to us was enough? What if the reason we are so dissatisfied is not that what we have been given is insufficient for happiness, but that we are so persistent in being discontent that we can not see the beauty and potential for extreme hope and joy right where we are?

One of the things I love about my church is that we don’t have “niche ministries.” There is no Men’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Young Adult, Singles, Couples, Older Adults, anything like that. If you want to connect, you have to take the risk of connecting with those who are not like you. Life should be like that. In the extreme individualism of our culture, it is easy to find, or believe we can find, a place that is “perfect for our individual needs.” Rather than being challenged to grow in a church, we seek churches that conform to our established personal theologies. Rather than take on the hard work of investing in and connecting to and reaching out to those who are different from us, we hold on to the community that sees what we see, thinks how we think, and works how we work. Rather than accept our own unique gifts and allow them to flourish, we try to fit ourselves into the paths of ministry we have defined as acceptable. And when the going gets hard, when we are asked to take risks, when we are challenged and uncomfortable and no longer catered to, we move. We move and move and move, trying to find the movement of a spirit that is all the while compelling us to simply be still.

I want to commit to stillness. I will be in Fort Collins for eight more months. That is enough time to make a difference. Not through checking off a list of things to do, but simply by being. I want to honor the commitment to arts which has brought me here and continue to invest deeply and passionately in the arts community. I want to honor vital, life-giving connections to the body, to challenge and be challenged, to love and be loved. This calling, however anyone else may see it, is enough. How can I take on the problems of the rest of the world if I refuse to address the immediate needs of my community? If and when I move, I do not want to move out of restlenss or impulse or desire, but by a simple quiet nudging to continue along the path. I do not pretend to know where I am going, only that whether I go or whether I stay, what I have done here will have been good, and I can continue to walk free from fear of failure and restless inadequacy.

So. This is where I am today.

If you ask me how I’ve been, I can tell you honestly that I’ve been wrestling with demons of inadequacy and unworthiness. I can tell you honestly that there have been days when the smallest tasks seemed impossible. But I can tell you honestly that there wasn’t a moment in all of that where God wasn’t there, even when the people I wanted to count on couldn’t be.

If you ask me where I’m going, I will tell you in truth that I don’t know. I will tell you in truth that my life is not currently blessed by a grand sense of vision. But I will tell you in truth that it is the moments where the future is entirely unknown that I am most open to reliance on that which is greater than myself.

If you ask me where I am today, I will say that how I have been and where I am going is not what matters the most in this moment. What matters the most is that through continued trust I am being daily formed into his image and into a vessel of the love of the kingdom. What matters most is that I am committed to connecting and planting roots right where I am, roots that are not dependent on the past or the future for their strength, but are founded in the love and sustenance of a kingdom that will outlast every human creation. I know that these roots will not go untested. There will be times of rain and storm and growth and drought. But I have confidence in the one who gives shine to the stars and grain to the birds, the one who knows the orbits of the planets and the rings on the shell of a snail, the one who gave us the towering vastness of the mountains and the dizzying complexity of deoxyribonucleic acid. I have confidence that this one is more than capable of guiding my heart in perfect love that casts out fear. And so. Timid and tired, uncalled and unworthy, aloof and alone, I am putting my tiny little mustard seed back in the soil, with the thought that this is where it will stay, that this garden has been given as a gift, and that the roots already in the soil run deep enough to keep it from being washed away. I will guard this seed. I will tend it. And I will watch and rejoice as he makes it grow.
Amen.

Written by Taylor Webster

October 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized