twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘Identity

carpenter’s gospel

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This is the story of a table. It was nearing the end of another summer week. And we had been building this table for probably, I don’t know, a week and a half.

And I was Done. D.O.N.E. DONE. When my boss pulled out the sander and asked me to go over it a third time, I just about gave up.

For context: The table was probably the  most complicated thing we built all summer. The top was 3′ x 8′, the legs and lid were each only 3″ thick, there were no center supports, and a person (possibly several) needed to be able to stand on it. It had to be a level surface on a raked stage. It needed to look like the entire thing was carved from a block of solid marble. And it had to be lightweight enough that a respectable team of human beings could move it into place. And somehow, this complicated carpentry project taught me about God’s love in a way that was pure, tangible, and real. This is the story of a table.


Our TD had designed a brilliant structure of interlocking supports, which was light and strong and took about three times as much prep and layout work as anything we usually build.  The skin was triple-glued in place, and instead of our usual RockHard wood putty, we filled all the staples with Bondo. Which. Is usually used to repair dents in automobiles. This is legit stuff. 

We are built strong. Our composition is no mere happenstance – we are the result of careful planning, and every part of us is designed to fit together perfectly. We are not haphazardly nailed together with the cheapest materials available. Each piece of us is lovingly prepared to serve as part of a greater whole. And with the greatest attention to detail, we are built to be strong enough to support much more than we would appear to be capable of.

No matter how tight and clean our carpentry is, we use staples to ensure the strength of  even on the most neatly interlocking pieces. In order to attach the pieces together, we used a pneumatic staple gun, which ensures a firm bond, but also leaves a tiny scar on the surface. We had a couple hundred staple indentations on the face of this table, and each one was covered with a small glob of a repair putty that is designed to dry strong as steel. 

Scars are part of our composition. The layout and carpentry can be modeled after a perfect and strong design, but the fasteners we use to hold ourselves together often leave scars we’d rather not acknowledge. Our souls are covered in tiny wounds where we have attempted in vain to attach ourselves back together. We are convinced that these marks are of no great significance, and that we can carry on just fine as we are. God takes a different approach. No matter how small the scar, He applies balm to our wounds. Using the strongest, most permanent reconstructive adhesives, He applies more than we need, providing abundance where we had only known deficiency.


And then comes the sanding. The first, roughest pass is simply to remove all of the lumps of Bondo that stand above the smooth surface. This can take several discs of 60 grit sandpaper, the kind designed for aggressive removal. For us, this part took the better part of an afternoon.

After he has healed the wounds on the surface, great and small, acknowledged and ignored, there is still work to be done. We cannot simply say “Well, the holes are filled, I’ll thank you for your time and leave it at that!” There are leftovers, pieces we no longer need, remnants from our healing that our now extraneous. No one leaves a bandage on a would that has been long healed – and yet, somehow we are tempted to hold on to these bandages as proof of our healing, rather than allow the roughness of the sandpaper to liberate us from the memories of our wounds.

I thought, “Well, that’s smooth enough. Dinner time!” But my boss smiled, pulled out the 100 grain sandpaper, and told me we were going to go over it again, for finishing’s sake. 

It is not enough to take the quickest, roughest approach. The minute we consider ourselves finished, we are choosing to distance ourselves from God’s work in our lives. We are far too often tempted to give up. To say that we have learned enough, that we have recieved enough love and grace, that we are healed enough, that we are close enough to that glorious marble table we’ve been built to become. In doing so we sell ourselves short, and rob God of his power in calling us into his family as new creations, healed and whole.

Even as I had reached the end of my rope and nearly worked through my patience, I patted myself on the back for completing the finishing. Well. I thought it was complete. Turns out, there are imperfections the first round of finish sanding doesn’t pick up. It then becomes necessary to go over the piece with a damp cloth to raise up the grain of the wood, and finish sand it again with an even finer grain of sandpaper. So I went over the table. Again

The metaphor came to me as I was nearing the end of the last round of sanding, and it was so beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I don’t often hear direct phrases from God. But this time, between passes with the disc sander, I heard quite clearly “Aren’t you glad this is how I have chosen to work on you?”

It’s true. It’s so, so true.  The prophet and savior who spent his formative years as a carpenter knew how to finish tables to the highest standard. And he is committed to going over us again and again, no matter how many times it takes, carefully raising the grain we didn’t even know was there, and gently sanding off the rougher bits, until we are left with a surface that  bears no blemish. Our deepest wounds, the places which required the most Bondo to fill, are now the strongest parts. 
The beauty of the sanding process is that whether you start off with a hunk of driftwood or a 2×4 from the lumberyard, both will require sanding to become smooth as marble. And whether we are a storm-tossed log or a nearly-finished piece of lumber, God will go over our hearts again, and again, and again until His work in us is complete. I asked a co-worker if it was really necessary to raise the grain and do a last pass with the sander. He said “Right now, you’ve got it pretty smooth. If you raise the grain and go over again, it’ll be like glass.” Here’s to never settling for pretty smooth, and to believing in the one that will make us shine like stars.

In the paint shop, several layers of patient faux marble treatment combined with a few good coats of glossy sealer finished off a table that, under stage lights, is indistinguishable from a smooth marble countertop. 

The final step of the transformation is one we were not able to affect without a bit of theatre magic. But I believe that in this story, though our highest ambition on Earth may indeed be to become a beautiful facsimile of a marble countertop, we will one day be pure and clean, finished and whole. We will know why we were built strong. We will see our imperfections fully healed. We will know why it was worth so much effort to continue the work of finishing us. And we will be perfect images of the One in whose image we are made. This may be the story of a table. But it is also the story of us.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hallelujah. And Amen.

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Written by Taylor Webster

August 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

a week in four parts: roots, celebration, obedience, benediction

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I promised I’d write about last week. And so, before last week become two weeks ago, here are some ruminations on a week so thoroughly saturated with a restoration that I’d forgotten it’s important to ask for. I think, for the sake of touching on everything a bit, I’d like to chronicle that week in four particular movements. It’s really more like a journal entry than a blog for me, so that I don’t forget anything, but I’ve tried to highlight and refine the lessons I’m learning in hopes that they speak to your heart as well. If I were a good blogger I’d probably make this a series, publish each of the movements separately so that you don’t get overwhelmed and I don’t have to write anything else for the rest of the month, but this is my story, and i am evidently more of a novelist than a blogger, and somehow I think it all needs to be told together. so pull up a chair, brew some tea, and find the story that speaks to you. it was truly an incredible week.

movement I – remember your roots
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only”

I am realizing more and more that there are two parts of my life that have been fundamentally shaping me for longer than I can remember. One of them is my deep-heart love of music. The other is my tumultuous journey to calling the Church my home and God’s people my family. Both have always been connected to a pursuit of beauty, truth, and community.

A lot of times, when I’m trying to encourage someone or to help them understand how I’m feeling, I’ll send them a song. There’s something about the emotional quality of music that transcends words or chord patterns or form or structure. Music is. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been aching for ages to see and hear songs rise up from the church that are written by musicians, not by praise bands with agendas or rockstars seeking performance highs, but the people who see the beauty and life and breath in music that is layered and complex and interesting and honest and through all of those things, deeply joyful. With the rise of sites like noisetrade, bandcamp, and kickstarter, this is finally coming to life. Music is no longer controlled by an industry – artists are able to connect directly with those who have ears to hear and create something together that brings joy to both of their hearts.

This last week, I was able to attend concerts of two artists who have a remarkable gift for calling me back to where I’m from. I’ve always had an uncanny love for live music, and these bands reminded me why that is a good. thing. (And why banjos are completely essential to any live performance.) These first guys, The Oh Hello’s ( their album is pay-what-you-can at http://theohhellos.com/ and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least listen!) are intentionally independent and self produced. They do their own CD art, dye their own t-shirts, and are a beautiful model of radical community. Seeing this troupe of 11 young people playing a sold-out Bluebird show in their first-ever tour stop outside of their home state of Texas, the joy and love and passion were evident. They seemed so surprised and humbled that we were all so excited to see them, and their songs called us to worship with reverence and joy, honesty and love, in a chamber-folk style that far surpasses even the charms and talents of the famed Mumford quartet.
The second group, also playing their first shows outside of their home state this summer, are a trio of gents known as Judah and the Lion. We saw them for free at a church in Littleton, but they play with energy that rivals some of the best arena concerts I’ve seen. It’s Americana at it’s best, with banjo, mandolin, and guitar playfully intertwining, singing true, deep, and pure, straight to your soul as your foot can’t help but stomp and your hands can’t help but clap. Musicians like these, who are so willing to have a good chat with the audience after the show, who have the faith to put their music out for free on the internet, and who have the artistic integrity to create exactly as they are called to. These are the ones who give me hope, that someday our national imagination will be recaptured by the artists who understand how to sing to our souls.

Speaking of music. Last week I had the opportunity to worship with the body of Christ in five different communities. The youth camp outside of Colorado Springs, the hipster church in Denver, the student community gathering at the YMCA in Winter Park, the small and focused ministry of a sprawling megachurch in Highlands Ranch, and of course, my home church in Fort Collins. In the past I have attended such varied worship gatherings, but always with a critical eye. Were the people genuine, was the music well done, was the stage design attractive, did the speaker give me something to think about while I drove home? Such questions have their place, of course, but when you attend a family gathering, you shouldn’t be there to criticize your less-fashionable aunt or wonder why the sweet tea was brewed so much stronger than you like it. You should be rejoicing to simply be together again.

And so it was this last week. I saw things in these communities that I’d never seen before, glimpses of beauty and truth and the kingdom bursting forth. And while the differences in background culture, shape, and style were indeed visible, what was more striking were the similarities. Whether we were gathered in a basement, an aging chapel, a mountaintop tent, or a converted gymnasium, so many elements were the same. The call to sing out to our creator, the sense of sacred space even in the most ordinary location, the need for us to teach each other and share our stories, the desire to connect as a family, and all the love that is only possible when it is proclaimed in Jesus’ name. I was raised in churches that met in a good-sized suburban facility, a strip mall/movie theater/ a burgeoning megachurch campus, and a well-established community chapel. And for all the grief it’s given me, for all the heartache and questioning, there has also been more joy in these places than any earthly kingdom should allow. Wherever else I go, the North American church will always be my first home.

movement II – celebrate who you are.
“now i am a heart, with a head on my shoulders, and i’ll say that i’m a different child”

If you had told me one year ago that my heart would grow to be so stretchy, I would have laughed and told you it was time to get back to work. A year ago I was fighting to establish new, grow-up rhythms, and just barely beginning to concede the fact that the only rhythms that matter are the ones which stem from my identity as the beloved child, one of a multitude of beautifully created siblings.

Last week I had the opportunity to reunite both with my newly-formed heart family and with one of my dearest friends. As a bit of background, having a “best friend” has always been inordinately important to me. I have suffered from “Best Friend Envy”. I want to know that I matter to someone else as much as they matter to me, and the label has always seemed to be the surest way to guarantee continued closeness. And what I’ve been learning, most especially in the last year, is that I don’t need to cling to “best friends” any more.

Because I have been invited to join a family. A family who rejoices when someone new is invited in, whether it is a child, a spouse, a long-lost cousin, or a soul sister. Saying goodbye to a family member isn’t so scary, because you know how that no matter how many many miles or months, states or seasons come between you, you’ll always be at home when you’re together again. If you asked me today who my best friend is, I’d have to list probably more than a dozen women. (It’s probably good I won’t have to narrow these fantastic women down into a manageable wedding party anytime soon. But you ladies know who you are – and there’s no question in my heart you’d all be standing up there with me.)

So this heart family. These crazy undergrads who burst into my life unkempt and uninvited. The students I vowed I’d never live with. They have grown my heart exponentially. None of us make sense together – last year it was two sophomores, two juniors, and one recent graduate cohabiting this condo which has its own thoroughly awkward beauty. We represent the math, psychology, biology, hdfs (prepping to run a daycare facility), and theatre design departments of this university, and our personalities are as diverse as our disciplines.

But from these women, I have learned the beauty of seeking God together, cooking extravagant dinners with open invitations, holding hands and giving hugs when words are insufficient, embracing hospitality which calls us to truly love our (next door) neighbors, operating with an emotional range which allows for crying and laughing to occupy the same moment, seeking to love family and friends and those the world rejects with deep passion and a strong commitment, and daily choosing fierce love and friendship which claims family where there should be none. I am humbled and thankful and in no way deserving of how well they love me. The weekend reunion was our last time to all be together (we just shipped one off to Australia for a semester!) and our first instinct was to find a place to pray and simply give thanks. It’s the first time I’ve prayed with a group and heard the words flow so freely and without hesitation from every single person’s heart. What a beautiful, beautiful gift.

And then to visit this dear, dear friend, who has walked closely with me through every twist and turn the last year has thrown my way. What a blessing to have a few hours in the midst of a hurried summer to simply be in the same place. To share stories of triumphs and challenges, to acknowledge frustration and hope, to be able to see clearly that we were both exactly where we most needed to be. To know each other enough to know what was cause for celebration, which circumstances would prove particularly obtuse, and how each other’s hearts would respond and what we needed most to hear. And to rejoice in God’s goodness weaving through all of it. It was a time for city-lovers to rest in the garden, to see the beauty of where we’re from before we rush headlong into where we’re going. (For more on gardens and cities, see Monday’s post at https://twentybydesign.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/garden-to-a-city-living-the-story/)

And so. I may seem to be a bit of a different child. But I am rejoicing at having found my family.

movement III – step. in.
“in the silence, i heard you calling out to me”


Have you ever been asked to do something which seems outrageous, so far outside of your comfort zone and what seems to make sense? In my experience there are two responses to this invitation. The first is to shake our heads, both at the foolishness of the asker in assuming we’d be capable, and to express our own thorough conviction that this is not what we were made to be. The other is to see the joy in the eyes of the asker, to trust that they have considered all of the possible pitfalls and still want you to join in, and to step in. Whether out of hesitant obedience or joyful compliance, step in.

Relatable Scenario A: When random internet browsing across the blog of a songwriter you’ve only recently discovered yields a book recommendation that intrigues you, step in. Don’t look up the book, delight in the first few chapters, but assume the $12 Amazon price tag won’t be worth it because, I don’t know, you were going to use that money for a cheeseburger and a milkshake or something. Get the book, not knowing entirely why, but knowing it’s going to be important. Devour it, letting the words and stories and experiences wash over you like a tidal wave. And then, respond. 

When I ordered Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, I wasn’t expecting my heart to find a home there. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly realize that this book expresses, clarifies, and confirms so much of what has felt both called and disconnected in my own heart for so many seasons. As I wrote in a letter, attempting to describe this joy and confirmation:

“You know how it is once you admit something that you’ve been unsure of inside of yourself for a long time and all of a sudden it just seems to make sense? That’s what reading Eugene’s book was for me. Verbalized a lot of things I have discredited inside of myself because no one ever gave me words for them before
Outside of God, I can’t explain it, but I do know that whatever happens from here on out, and whatever form it takes, somehow there is nothing I am more deep-heart excited about than serving, loving, and growing with the Church. Nothing sounds more challenging. And nothing sounds more worth it.
I know I am young and I have so much to learn, and life experience has taught me not to get excited or have dreams or hope for things or ask for things. I am excited about this. I am hopeful about this. Learning to verbalize my dream is helping me to find a new joy in reading, praying, and living – and even to be challenged by the vastness of what I don’t know and seeing how growing as a disciple of Christ is going to be a series of small arrivals as He continues to stir up and turn over the rock-riddled soil in my heart.”

The steps of becoming that this book is inspiring in me have been beyond expectation. Writing that letter sparked a conversation which was more honest than any I’ve ever had about these dreams that I have. And in that conversation, my heart was encouraged and affirmed and given space to continue growing. I am beginning to take the first small steps of doing, when up until now thinking and understanding have always seemed more important. And the joy in finally doing what your heart and soul were made to do is so indescribably full. All I can do right now is stand in awe, feeling just as thoroughly unqualified as Jeremiah and David and Moses. Who, through their following, didn’t turn out so bad in the long run.

Relatable Scenario B: When a close friend asks you to pray for a friend of theirs who is facing a tough season, step in. Don’t stop at the “Yeah, of course I’ll pray for them, mmmm, that sounds so hard” response. Recognize that perhaps you are being asked to be part of the answer to that prayer. You have unique gifts and resources, and you are being asked to actually do something about the needs of this person who up to this point has been only a marginal acquaintance.

When I sent the message I knew I had been asked to send, I knew I couldn’t control how it would be received or anticipate what it would mean. But this simple act of obedience has become a wellspring of blessing. I have since had the opportunity to meet with this incredible young woman. I was able see firsthand her passion and vision for the work God is calling her to do, and to be encouraged by her affirmations of what He’s been doing in my own heart, and to feel thoroughly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to partner with her in the next steps of her journey.
I’m learning that the absolute best kind of generosity is the relational kind. As much as I wanted obedience to look like writing a facebook message and sending a gift from the comfort of my own home, the beauty of generosity is the way that it calls us into each other’s circumstances as we begin bearing one another’s burdens and learning to walk the road together. Give as freely as you have received, all the while praising God from whom all blessings flow.

movement IV – benediction
“whatever may pass. whatever lies before me. let me be singing when the evening comes”

there are no clean endings or conclusions to these stories. all that is left is to continue living, to continue sharing our stories, and to remember. there is always a reason to sing.

i will sing, sing, sing to my God, my King
for all else fades away
and i will love, love, love, with this heart You’ve made
for You’ve been good always

garden to a city – living the story

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last night i was driving down the highway after spending a night giving praise with a group of people who have committed themselves to walking the road to recovery. context is everything – you haven’t really felt “brokenness aside” or “beautiful things” until you’ve heard them bookended by stories of radical recovery, transformation, and healing.
i’ve spent probably twenty hours on the road this week, and for most of them i’ve had the lyrics and melodies of others as my traveling companion. on this drive, i was prompted to let the silence have it’s day. and, to quote the oh hellos, “in the silence, i heard You calling out to me.” lyrics began to flow from my lips that i’d never sung or composed before, and i was swept up in the beauty of a story that was at once both deeply my own and thoroughly belonging to all of us.

this is the only phrase i can still remember upon waking this morning.

“you called me child, you called me shepherd, you called me out from elder son
though you knew the depths and agonies of all the wrong i’d done
and no, i’ll never understand the way you love the ones who roam
but i’m your child, they’re my brothers, and i’ll welcome them back home”

this is my story. much more specifically, it is the story of this past year. i am blessed to find myself at the end of a week that was saturated with joyful reflection, reconnection, and restoration. and in this time of pause from the rush of daily life, i was able to see just how far this weary traveler has come this year. what a wonderful thing to begin to learn how to live into this story. i’m going to do a follow-up post in the next couple days reflecting on all the beauty of this year’s journey, but for today, it is enough to breathe deep and give thanks before plunging headlong into another year.

here’s one of my favorite anecdotes this week, which sets the tone for upcoming reflections. in the midst of a conversation with a city-loving friend about how she is learning to cultivate a love for the colorado mountains which have always seemed to speak so clearly to her peers, i had this realization (an offshoot of a seed that’s been planted in my church community). “well, the story of creation is a journey from a garden to a city. and so we love the garden, because it reminds us where we’re from. but we love the city because it reminds us where we’re going.”

this week, i was in the garden. that place of beauty and peace and simplicity, where our hearts will always ache to return. i was reminded of where the seeds in my heart were planted, and given time and space to water what is just beginning to blossom. and now, i’m returning to my city. this place of chaos and collision and complexity. here i will be about my father’s business in declaring the coming of a new kingdom as heaven and earth collide. what a wonderful place to be.

Written by Taylor Webster

July 8, 2013 at 8:32 am

wind and breath

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This afternoon I spent some lovely hours in the afternoon sun, praying, reading, seeking, and resting. I wrote a journal entry that began to sound increasingly share-able as I went on, so I’m giving it a shot at publication. I have a tendency to over edit myself, so it’s a nice change of pace to throw out something I wrote in one shot on paper. I thought about trying to explain it a bit, but my hope is that it speaks for itself. Thoughts and responses and lengthy discourses always appreciated. Much love to all. 

I have been reticent to draw close, for fear my inadequacies will provoke reprimand and I will be punished with greater distance. I am clinging to coattails when I have been offered a full robe. And as I finally begin to draw from the Presence, bringing all the frustrations and baggage and fears and failures that threaten to overwhelm human relationship, I find loving acknowledgement that overwhelms condemnation. A voice that says “I know. Oh my child, I know. This isn’t what I intended. Let me help you begin to seek restoration.”

My first train of thought this afternoon followed the wind. The wind is always with us, and we draw upon it hundreds of times an hour for support and sustenance. And yet. We are often barely aware of its presence, and are rarely inclined to acknowledge the subtle yet vital currents which support each breath of sustaining life. We are thankful for a cool breeze on a hot day, for the moderate, predictable comfort when our air is conditional, fanned, and controlled. We do our best to override nature and create comfortable rhythms. But the great strength and power of the wind is its ability to provide ever-present sustenance and at the same time be utterly surprising.

Working in small, unnoticeable ways, the wind carries pollen, creates habitable environment, brings rain, cloud, providence so subtle to our eyes that it appears coincidence. And yet, we are most aware of the wind when it is forceful, erratic, unexpected, and disruptive. We often only recognize its power when it becomes impossible to act otherwise. We remember dustbowls and hurricanes, yet our thanks for the less violent and more valuable moments is rooted more in expectation than gratitude. The lessons we learn in the maelstrom dissipate into adages of placation and fears of disruption. We cling to the drama and passion of the tempests, never realizing that even in storms of our own making a gentle breath of sustenance draws itself in and out of the center of our body, whether we wish it to or not.

This is truth, pure goodness. For I am never abandoned. Every minute of every day, just as my body unconsciously accepts the gift of breath, so my soul cries out to accept and recognize the gift of Presence. This gift demands a response. It is foolish to see a storm coming and not batten down the hatches, it is impossible to have one’s hair unruffled by breeze or escape the blessing fo seasons, and it is illogical to breathe in without breathing out. How we respond to the wind’s rhythms, both erratic and predictable, is crucial  In breathing out we expel all the fullness that has been gifted to our lungs, trusting implicitly that there will be sufficient oxygen to sustain the next breath. We cannot selfishly hold on to our breath, as though it was ever ours at all. For a moment we are left weak, so that we may receive again the grace of being filled. 

 

Written by Taylor Webster

September 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm

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