twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for February 2012

Full Circle: A Tale of Two Conferences

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God’s timing is unpredictable, inconvenient, and absolutely impeccable.

A week ago I was off the grid almost entirely. Our theatre department was selected to host the regional conference of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. What this meant for us was that we were working the festival, attending workshops, and presenting our entries in the competition for an average of sixteen hours a day. It was a heady experience indeed, spending a full week sharing ideas, seeing work from visiting schools, and saturating ourselves in a full spectrum of theatrical offerings. It was inspirational and challenging to see so many different perspectives on our art form and to hear stories from professionals all over the field. I’ve been dreaming of attending such a conference for two years, and I went in with high hopes.

This whirlwind of duties and activities didn’t leave much time for maintaining anything resembling a healthy rhythm of life. In removing me from the life to which I had become accustomed, the festival also brought me to a personal breaking point that had been a long time coming. In spending so much time in the theatre culture where I had once found the seat of my identity, I felt strangely out of place. In an environment that prides itself on being open and accepting, I had a hard time meeting other folks who were like me in much of any way at all. I didn’t find the sense of connection and community I’d been hoping to find with the other scenic design students. I watched a series of plays in which faith was always in the wrong in theaters where the audiences were palpably rooting against religious characters. And maybe most challenging of all, I was not accepted back into a certain community within our department in which had held the seat of my heart and my identity for so long.

And so, my starved-for-validation self melted down entirely at the end of what felt like a fruitless week. Clinging to the remnants of misplaced hopes and burdened by an overworked heart, I felt utterly alone and steeped in failure. Which was a complete pack of lies. I made some remarkable unexpected connections during the week, and am thankful to have been supported by some wonderfully encouraging individuals. But my selfish heart still wanted to come out on top and be just like the cool kids. So I allowed self-pity to take over and descended into my own weakness. It was a terrible way to end what should have been one of the most exciting weeks of my life.

Here’s where I went wrong. In any community I’m in, I seek out peers and role models and folks from whom I can take behavioral cues. I figure if I can do what they do and be who they are, I’ll be accepted. I spend a great deal of time and energy trying to be like these people, and when I find I’m not, I feel I’ve fallen short. But the problem is not that I’m not enough Alice or Erin or Charlie. The problem is that I’m not willing to just be Taylor. I can’t accept who I am when I’m all alone, even less accept that who I am may be exactly who my community needs at the moment.

And who is Taylor? Where does my identity lie? I am a scenic designer and a theatre artisan. But I am not just a theatre person. I am a person who is educated and capable in theatrical crafts, but that is only a part of this radically transformed heart. A full sense of my identity is something I can’t quite express in writing or out loud yet, but I can tell you that when I am spoken of, “scenic designer” is only in the comfortable middle of how I’d like to be described.

The festival sparked a lot of ideas of future in my head. Aspirations and fears collided into a general sense that I’m simply not strong or well qualified enough to handle my future. But I’ll tell you a secret. Today, I didn’t have to deal with my future. I had to deal with today. I was given today in all of its glory, and today was a gift I could choose to accept with open hands and experience fully, or cautiously mull over  and return unopened. God knows where I’ll be six months from now. But if He told me I would probably run screaming in the other direction, trying to reason my way out of his will. And since He knows that about me. He gave me an entire weekend of beautifully wrapped individual days.

This weekend was like festival week turned upside down. If last week my overconfident expectations were disappointed, this weekend my humble expectations were overwhelmingly exceeded. Two years ago I attended winter retreat with InterVarsity. I was alright with God at the time, as long as I could follow him by myself, and our relationship could form entirely through books, and I didn’t have to deal with people at all. That retreat was a dive into the deep end of Christian culture, and at the time I had no idea how to swim. I didn’t understand the love behind the conversations and actions, so to me it all felt empty. I had no idea why people would raise their hands while singing songs, why they would share their deepest hearts and hug and cry all over each other, why it was acceptable to follow an intense session of teaching and worship with a tubing run and a broomball tournament, and most of all why they felt any compulsion to do this with people who weren’t their best friends or in their major or like them in the slightest. In short, I didn’t understand the kingdom.

Needless to say, that was before I had accepted the grace and dignity that God brought into my life through other people, people who accepted me exactly as I was in that shell-shocked moment, but who also spoke redemption and hope into my broken heart, and invited me to walk with them in following God together. God works through us. Those people answered his call to bless my life, and they will never know this side of heaven what an impact they made simply by committing to walk through hard times with a broken person.

Two years later, I no longer see God’s love in my life as running upstream. I’m not trying to stand as close to the source as possible and catch as much as I can for myself before it gets to anyone else. I realize that I’m just one of many pebbles in the stream, being washed and smoothed at a rate that its unique from any other pebble. I’m content to be downstream with everyone else, and rejoice in the fact that all of the pebbles are receiving the same gentle but firm, refining and merciful flood.

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this weekend. From a sarcastic, pseudo-intellectual, well-read teenager standpoint, it was pretty lame. The broken parts in myself have always wanted to run from groups of people for fear of being hurt or let down. But this is no longer just a group of people I know and see a couple times a week. This is for real. This is my family. This was our time together. A time to unite under a sense of shared vision, take stock of where we have been, where we are now, and where God wants us to go. A time to rest in God’s presence, delight in the glories of his creation, and be at ease with old friends. A time to accept the challenges, embrace the changes, and celebrate the victories. And by grace far exceeding my will or inclination, I felt at home and loved, accepted and challenged, and free to live into an identity that no one can take from me.

So, how did this weekend speak into the identity that had felt so broken after the festival? This weekend I met someone almost exactly like me. (That hasn’t happened in a long time. It was delightful.) And I met several more people who could not appear to be more different from myself.  I was surprised to find that I took as much joy in celebrating the differences and disagreements and diverse perspectives as I did in finding someone with a similar affinity for sarcasm and singleness. Instead of being validated because at least one other person out there thinks like I do, I was validated by seeing that perspectives we bring to the table have to be different to mean much of anything at all.

I was validated by seeing that there is work that has been done through me in the last two years that no one else could have done, and that others have done work I could never have dreamed of stepping into. It had to be me. It had to be them. And it had to be us. All together, as individuals united under a common sense of purpose. In the body, we may not all be hands. But it sure is nice to have a spleen and a nervous system and some lungs every once in a while. And in order to keep this body alive, it’s going to take a willingness on each of our parts to embrace our gifts and submit them to the common good. That’s who I am. I may not be a designer in the very center of my being, but the center of my being is part of something greater. The light is overwhelming the darkness. And when I close my eyes and look to myself, that’s all that I see. Mercy raining like a flood. Love that is unending. And grace that is absolutely, completely amazing.

Don’t let the conversation end here. Even in all of my verbosity, this story would take at least a conversational hour to tell properly. I will buy coffee for anyone who allows me to share my story and shares a personal or spiritual story of their own in turn. We’re all in this together, and the only way we’ll ever get anywhere is by sharing our stories, lives, and experiences. Together. 

Written by Taylor Webster

February 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm

(Sling)shots, Maturity, and Freedom

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Well, by some suggestions, it’s time to rename this blog. One week ago I turned twenty-one, and was granted some legal benefits on the presumption that with age I had acquired some sort of maturity. I count myself among the few who went twenty-one years without consuming an alcoholic beverage, so it really wasn’t the bar-hopping I was excited for, though I’ve since enjoyed the freedom of a couple mild-mannered nights out with friends. It’s interesting that we equate freedom with the ability to abandon responsibility and self-control. This week was about embracing a different and far greater sort of freedom. Freedom to be bold, to be genuine, to reach out with confidence from a firm foundation, and to leave worry and insecurity far behind.

In our culture, we reserve the responsibility to fight the greatest battles and earn the greatest freedoms for our heroes. The ones who have been born and bred for glory, the ones who are noble in the public eye and live an exemplary life full of easily forgivable sins. But the heroes of our faith were never the prepared ones, the ones who thought they were ready. For that matter, they were not the ones from whom anyone else would have expected greatness. The outcast and exile who was called back to lead his people out of slavery. The youngest son and shepherd who slew the giant and became king. The uneducated fishermen, despised tax collectors, and women with impure pasts who were all among the first to see and spread the news of the coming of the savior. The militant persecutor whose writings to early churches were later codified as scripture. And, not to be forgotten, the son of a carpenter who laid down his life so that we might be set free.

Since writing Wedding Season, I’ve had a flurry of interesting and thoughtful conversations. It’s amazing to see such a simple topic strike a chord in so many people, regardless of faith background. I think the strong response was mainly due to the fact that singleness is rarely addressed in a straightforward manner and with dignity in either religious or secular culture. Regardless of the current, and without waiting for someone more well known or well spoken or well trained to come along, I wrote about it because it needed to be written in a way that only I could write it. I am no hero. I am simply a person who followed a call to reach out with the written word and speak the truth that had brought comfort to my heart.

The Bible tells of how David, eschewing the sword and shield and traditional battle gear, instead picked up the simple slingshot he had been using since boyhood to protect his sheep from lions and bears, and with it struck down the opponent who no other Israelite had dared face. We are often so preoccupied with not having or knowing how to use a sword that we forget the strength of our slingshot. The more time I spend with people, and with God’s family in particular, the more I see that we’ve all been given unique and wonderful gifts that would be of no use to anyone else, and which are absolutely necessary to bring all the fullness of beauty into the world.

The freedom that has come out of this week has been the freedom of learning how to identify and use my slingshot. For so long I’ve been carrying burdens of what I’m not. How I fall short in comparison to other people. How I’ll never be as effective in the areas where I see my friends thriving. How there are certain tools I’ve just never been able to get a handle on and figure out. But pouring so much energy into wishing to be like other people is exactly counter to the idea that there’s been a slingshot in my back pocket all along.

Writing is one of my slingshots. I write better than I speak. Writing allows me to process my feelings and thoughts, and to share them with others in ways I simply can’t in conversation or public speaking. I’ve had some incredible conversations that were sparked off of a blog post, though more often than not when someone mentions the blog in person I’ll sheepishly thank them for reading and not know how to further the conversation. Writing is not a gift everyone possesses. It’s not the most common hobby for folks my age. But God has done some beautiful things through the abilities he has gifted me with and encouraged me to develop since youth.

The other slingshot which finally started to make sense in my life this week is the capacity I’ve always had for deep, honest, respectful, sustained, and loving friendships. There are two women in my life who I cherish deeply and with whom I have had the privilege of sharing life since we were eight years old. There is the friend I hold closer than a sister, who held my hand in my tentative first steps back to God four years ago and who has encouraged me every step of the way ever since. There are those few I’ve had the privilege of walking deeply with in college and who I can see standing beside me if God ever calls me to the altar (I also feel there should be some sort of occasion for single gals to bestow the same honor on their friends that brides bestow upon their bridesmaids. Still brainstorming that…).  And there are those I’m still getting to know but somehow feel as though our souls have been companions for ages.

In all of these relationships, as much as I’ve abused them in the past, elevated them past their natural purpose for good, and burdened hearts with overwhelming expectations, God has been at work. No matter how inadequate, lonely, or unloved I’ve been tempted to feel in the last year, the truth is that He cares so deeply about you and I. He has brought us into each other’s lives and each other’s hearts for a reason. This week I’ve had the freedom to share my heart with some of you, and I pray that if I can ever be an aid or resource that you would not hestitate to ask. This week’s greatest blessings have been the opportunities to help with homework, answer late night phone calls, drop everything and pray on a moment’s notice, offer a listening ear to a troubled heart, and, most of all, to share the faith which holds the center of my heart with a friend whose questions outnumbered my capacity for answers in a dialogue where we both left feeling respected and enriched. The joy in all of these situations has been abundant, and the temptation to respond with a boldly declarative “Amen!” was often too much to resist.

My prayer is for these conversations to continue, for these friendships and this blog to continue to be my slingshot, and for God to open the hearts and minds of my friends to chats about this most important of topics. Two years ago on another blog I put out an open invitation for a chat about God to anyone willing to meet, and recieved some really great responses. I want to throw that out there again, because good conversation is the only way we’ll ever really understand each other. So yes. Let’s talk. Because this love and freedom has my heart on fire, and it’d be selfish to hold out  on the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. I am not a hero. I do not have all the tools or hold all the answers. But I’ve got my slingshot

In the most direct phrasing, this is the love I’m coming to know:

Everlasting. All Consuming. Burning Fire. Glorious One.
Risen Saviour. King Forever. Love Unending. Beautiful One.

This is my God. And until you’ve met Him, these words won’t have much meaning to you. I’ve grown up in church singing hymns and boldly declarative CCM anthems, but until you have a name, a face, an experience to put to those stories, they’re just words coming out of your mouth. Some of the greatest joy in my life right now is coming from being able to see , recognize, have a sense memory of the feelings behind these grand words.

Christianity is not a set of arbitrary rules. It is not a one-step safeguard against eternal damnation. It is not a tool to be used in political arguments or to condemn those who are not like us. It is the acknowledgment that there is a completely powerful, completely good, and therefore completely trustworthy God at work in the world, and that through the grace extended to us in the sacrifice of Jesus we might be brought back into union with this God from whom our nature would separate us. It is the most beautiful instrument of love and restoration the Earth has yet seen. It is a journey towards becoming like the father, extending complete love and forgiveness to those around us, and accepting that a father disciplines those he loves.

If only considered as a religion, it falls short as every human construction inevitably does. When considered as a lifestyle centered around pure, free-flowing grace, it becomes the only foundation worth standing on. All the songs we have heard, stories we have read, and natural beauty we have seen finally clicks into place as our hearts are drawn towards  the author of creation. And, washed free of the fear, shame, and guilt which has been holding us back, we are welcomed to join in the joyous dance of the redeemed. That is a story worth sharing. That is a legacy worth fighting for.

Written by Taylor Webster

February 5, 2012 at 1:13 am