twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘light

an inescapable newness

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i’m a multi-sensory sort of person – so i’m going to highly recommend you open this track up and play it while you read. mr. tim coons has a mighty fine take on newness.
http://timcoons.bandcamp.com/track/everything-is-new-battle-hymn-of-the-republic

it’s the end of the second day of 2014. like most folks of my generation, i’m sitting here listening to death cab for cutie and contemplating the year that’s passed and the year to come (and what a magnificent album transatlanticism was and still is – can’t believe it turned ten this year!)  on the internet, this is a late-game new year’s post. i’ve seen a lot of countdown type posts as we closed out 2013, and a lot of posts yesterday – some reflecting back, some looking forward. but the newness of 2014 seems to (rather lamentably) become less fashionable day by day.

in thinking about writing, there’s a lot i could say to you. a reflection on 2013 would no doubt be a gratitude-filled lovefest. the word of the year was staying. and what a powerful, deepening, angsting, growing, loving season of staying it has been. for the first time in years and years, i spent all twelve months working the same job, serving at the same church, and living with the same people. that’ll grow a person.

an anticipatory look at 2014 would no doubt be characterized by my prediction that this will be a year of going. that word instills in me a thrilling mix of excitement and trepidation, a call to begin to step out in faith in some radically practical ways. for the first time years and years, i’m preparing to move outside the state and culture where i was born and raised, take first steps to a radical career shift, and say a mess of heartbreaking goodbyes all at once. i’m betting that’ll grow a person too.

and yet, somehow, both of these posts would speak of newness. the quiet, beautiful, aching day-to-day newness of staying. the exciting, terrifying, surprising newness of going. when we write at this time of year, in our countdowns and memories and lists, aren’t we writing to celebrate what was new and notable about the year that has passed? to remind ourselves that yes, new things happend, yes, they mattered, and yes, those resolutions from jan 1 2013 deepened and ripened into some beautifully unexpected fruits, even if they weren’t carried out perfectly. and of course, when we write for next year, we’re writing as if to say that no matter what age or milestone we’ve hit in the last year, we’re not done expecting newness. even if we’ve finally done the thing, accomplished the goal, have a new degree or car or house or relationship or achieved whatever that dream was that we’ve always wanted. even if all of those things have happened, we’re still somewhat restlessly looking for something new, to know that our story hasn’t stalled out.

our culture is haunted by a post-christmas emptiness. retailers are struggling to keep up business that have been driven since thanksgiving by promising to provide products that resolve relationships, provide for needs we didn’t know we had, and answer our deepest desires. and on december 26, we are often surprised to discover that our hearts are still as empty as the pile of boxes and bows and tissue paper that’s been saved meticulously to perpetuate next year’s reeenactment of the same traditions. 

so, when we halfheartedly tighten our belts and deepen our resolves and dare to dream a little bigger, are we acknowledging the failure of our christmas and new year’s traditions to renew us properly? because in these twelve days of christmas, after an advent season where the pain of longing was acutely felt, i’m beginning to realize that god has been into newness for much longer than we have.

at a point in history where nothing else was going right for the people of god, he got down and dirty and messy and creative and gave us an entirely new way to experience his presence. no longer preserved in the inner sanctum for the most thoroughly purified priests, he sent his own son to be born to one of us, to grow up with us, to serve us and heal us and live daily with us, die our death, and resurrect the only hope of a truly new life.

and if christmas is really the beginning of something new and remarkable, then the emptiness that haunts us has no seat in our hearts. and we are invited into a resolution much more important than the annual standards of a gym commitment that peters out once life gets busy or a resolve to read through the bible in a year that never seems to make it past leviticus. because we who have for an age been singing o come, o come, emmanuel, expecting a warrior king to come to our rescue, have instead been given a baby born in a humble town who never became more than a carpenter and itinerant preacher. and somehow, in that quietly radical newness, he redeemed us all back to himself. how. is. that. for. newness.

the holiness of new year’s eve and a season of resolution is that after seeing christ’s commitment to newness, we are invited to do the same. emmanuel means “god with us”, after all. only fittng that he should invite us to join in. this first spark, the reminder that unto us a child has been born, and that god works in ways that are so new that they are foolishness to the eyes of man, helps us to realize the need for newness even after all of the presents have been given. and in a proper celebration of the new year, we commit to once again join in the redemptive work. we acknowledge that, just maybe, there is more to learn. just maybe, there are relationships that deserve to be begun and sustained and redeemed with honor. just maybe, our brothers and sisters need our prayers more than our self-righteous vitriol. just maybe, god still chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong. and just maybe, this newness will encompass more than the strength of our resolve – maybe it will seep into every corner of our hearts and through christ in us, everything will truly be made new.

so sometimes, for me, newness will mean going, sometimes it will mean staying. sometimes it will mean the hard work of keeping in touch across distance, sometimes it will mean the harder work of letting go and making space for change. sometimes it will mean joyous redemption, sometimes it will be the quiet stillness of a broken heart. but as my heart swings from the surprising announcement of christmas through new year’s invitation, i’ll admit that although newness sounds like work and terror and surprise and change, it also seems the only way to open up to a god who has never stopped creating. here’s to living in gratitude for the surprise of christmas and in commitment to participate in the continuing redemption of the new year. that’s a reflection i’ll ponder for years, and a resolution i’ll always be working on.  isn’t it just like him to have has given us an inescapable newness that is equal parts gift and invitation?

amen to that, and happy january, y’all. 

 

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Written by Taylor Webster

January 2, 2014 at 10:52 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

tuning the banjo

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I’ve been trying to play my banjo all weekend. It’s been a few weeks since I really sat down and let loose and played. And while my fingers still remember the chords and the picking patterns, until this afternoon, nothing sounded quite right.

I have a tendency to be a bit proud with my banjo. I was trying to tune it by ear, based off an online tuner that simply dictated the right notes without any sense of feedback, leaving my innate sense of pitch to guess as close as I could. And to be honest, this morning it sounded pretty awful.

This afternoon, I finally used a tuner from the internet that fed through my laptop microphone, precisely analyzing every pitch and letting me know how close I was to the correct note and what steps I needed to take to get all my strings in harmony.

And let me tell you. The little guy sounded incredible.

As I often like to say, I think there’s a lesson in that. As the afternoon progressed, the reminder to “remember to tune your banjo” kept rolling over and over in my head.

I can see places in my life where I’ve been trying to hammer things out based on already established technique and personal proficiency. It is easy to approach a challenge, a problem, or even a celebration and say “Of course! I’ve learned how to do this already. Hand me the instrument and I’ll crank out that tune for you.” This often leads to a firm grasp that threatens to overshadow the delicacies and beauties and quirks of the individual instrument, assuming that what has once worked will always work, and to simply keep hammering even as the instrument groans with a desire to be more fully tuned before such a difficult melody is attempted.

It is much more challenging to approach the instrument with trembling hands and say “Yes. This is something I once knew how to do. I can be part of creating beauty here. The patterns and chords and melody are all familiar to me, and I know what this beautiful instrument should sound like at its best. But before we even start, we have to take time for the strings. We have to check each one, slowly and carefully, and make sure that it rings true, pure, and clear.” So often, in seeking to create and dream, live and hope, challenge and encourage, we skip the tuning step. We forget that it does not matter how many patterns and progressions and theory we know. If the strings have not been tuned, our music will always be devoid of beauty and clarity.

And so, in seeking to continue moving forward, I am reminded that the life patterns and technical proficiencies and skills I have acquired on the journey will mean very little if the strings at the heart of the instrument have fallen out of tune. Slowly and deliberately, I want to retune every string so that it rings true with the heart of the Creator whose song is the only true melody in my soul. I pray that as the tuning draws closer to the intended notes, the song which bursts forth would surpass the dull plodding of answers and routines, muscle memory and technical knowledge, and begin to glow with the bright hope of a sure heart and a resounding joy.

 

Written by Taylor Webster

September 9, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Swings and Sunsets

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It’s absolutely beautiful here today. I went out in a t-shirt and jeans and didn’t feel the slightest need for a jacket. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky when I decided I had had enough of spending the weekend indoors glued to a screen or hunched over a drawing. I simply intended to go for a walk, when I passed a playground a few blocks from my house.

I stopped in for a visit. And, let me tell you, nothing beats the swingset. Nothing.

Sure, it had been a while. But the swings, my favorite playground friend in childhood, welcomed me back with open arms.  The way the metal instantly dried out my hands, the whoosh of wind through my hair, the moment where the world dropped out from under me only to come rushing back at a breakneck pace, the instant, mood lifting, perspective-altering rush of simple joy. No one can be too old for that.

I was so taken by the swings that I spent the next twenty minutes cavorting and dancing around the playground, free of worry and inhibition, simply moving where the music and the sunlight took me. It was beautiful. Moments of freedom and joy like that always remind me of Jesus’ promise to his disciples:

“I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” John 16:22

I believe that’s the greatest, most succinct promise of hope we’ve ever been given. Think for a second about what it really means, to see Him again, to fully rejoice, and to know that that joy can never be taken away.

In the rush to grow up, I hope we don’t forget the swingset. I hope I’m never too old to play. It’s just too much fun.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brandoncwarren/4036587818/

Written by Taylor Webster

February 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Life

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