the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Full Circle: A Tale of Two Conferences

with 2 comments

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

2 Responses

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  1. believe it or not, grasshopper, we share a similar path. i look forward to that hour when we can compare notes.


    February 27, 2012 at 6:05 am

  2. Rock on sister, It’s so good to see God working! And glad to hear IV is so fruitful for you and others!

    Royal Langer

    February 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

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