I have a lot of friends who went to graduate school to obtain degrees in art therapy. I’m not up to speed on what they actually learned or what they actually do in their profession, but I do know that therapy that utilizes art is valuable.
Back in March, I decided to learn a new instrument. Rather than capitalize on my already-honed piano skills and try something similar (like an accordion, for example) I opted for something else.
So I’ve been strumming on those little nylon strings for about seven months now, and while I’m not anyhing special, I can at least jam out on a few of my favorite songs (like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, an instant ukulele classic).
Almost magically, the stress disappears. I don’t know why, but playing this instrument is extremely therapeutic for me. Maybe because it’s just such a silly little thing, making the sweetest little sounds, but regardless it melts away the blues.
I’m curious — what helps you unwind? What takes away your stress? Do you use art to channel your emotions? Painting? Writing? Cartwheels?
I’ve started running seriously again and, as I’ve said before, what you listen to on your run is totally half the battle. (It’s possibly even more than half but LET’S BE HONEST, I’m even more terrible at math than I am at running so let’s just move on.)
My run this morning was particularly laborious. Not only is is already full-blown summer here, so the 90-degree-already-and-rising heat was mercilessly beating down on me like a fiery fist, browning up my arms with a quickness, but the wind was also crashing against me (and poor Dax in the jogging stroller) with full force which made it feel like I was trying to run through a wall.
So naturally every bone, cell, and fiber of my being was calling out to me, “Why are we doing this? This really sucks. Please stop doing this. Please go back home and put us back on the couch so we can die in the comfort of our own home.”
And I really wanted to.
Then a really silly song came on my running playlist and I made a genuine effort to move my attention to the song from the pain in my body and just enjoy the music. And it worked.
Then the next song came on just as my body started to scream more furiously at me. And I focused on THAT song and pushed through.
And that was my mantra for the rest of the run. Just try and enjoy each song, each as its own little piece of art, from beginning to end. Keep the legs moving, keep the breath going, and just enjoy the song. And you know what? I didn’t die. I finished the run and perspired a good gallon of sweat then took a shower and I felt great. And now I’m blogging. BLOGGING! Like I’m supposed to!
Not to be a total downer, but I think it’s safe to say that when we walk through this life, pain is inevitable. Disappointment is pretty much par for the course. People are going to let us down, our jobs are going to get frustrating, our families are going to be strained, and some of our relationships are going break apart. And all of that sucks. Just like when I’m running and hate it, my M.O. when life gets rough is to shut out the world and ball up on the couch and die a little bit.
But by doing so, I miss out on the “songs” I’m currently listening to, or the art surrounding me: my son’s laugh, the blue sky, the grass between my toes, good food (particularly PASTA!), and so on.
If we shift our focus from our obvious and inevitable hurts to the hidden art around us, we can get through each day. We can finish this hard run, one song at a time, and be better for it.
What “songs” are you listening to currently? What “art” can you appreciate today?
I know you all are giving me shifty eyes right now. Committing to a blog a day was certainly biting off more than I could chew. I admit it! I’m sorry!
So let’s play catch up.
TUESDAY I was thankful for the ability to play music with friends. Can’t beat that, right? Some people like to lose themselves in cooking, or running, or yoga, or, like, America’s Next Top Model marathons. Me? I prefer to lose myself in playing music. (See also: America’s Next Top Model marathons.)
WEDNESDAY I was thankful for the fact that, in November in South Florida, it’s really nice outside. Perfect for late night stroller walks. Mind you, it wasn’t ME taking Dax for a stroller walk. It was the nursery workers at our church. For some reason, Dax doesn’t mind the nursery on Sundays or on Tuesdays. But on Wednesdays he screams his head off the whole time. So these poor ladies have to take Dax out in a stroller and do laps around the church campus until Dan and I are done with our Wednesday night responsibilities. Oy. Bless those women. (Also, any insight from other moms out there as to why he’s so anti-nursery on Wednesday nights?)
TODAY I’m thankful that, at this point, I’m the only healthy one in the house. Last night Dax was up every hour screaming for nursings (yay teeth) between coughs (getting over a nasty cold) while Dan was up battling against (and losing miserably to) a gnarly stomach bug. Praying I stay healthy! Yikes!
Dax has been a milestone-hitting machine lately! Just this week alone he’s done all of the following:
– cut another tooth
– learned how to sign, “more” and “please”, bringing his sign language vocabulary up to three words
– said, “Mama” when I’ve asked him what my name was
– took his first steps
– made me cry tears of pride
Playing acoustic pianos.
Impromptu music meetings.
Productive iMessage meetings.
The words, “I forgive you.”
Bringing Dax by the office and letting all my friends play with him instead of doing work. You’re welcome, guys!
I started a seminary class and it’s really interesting! Yay!
Catching up with my cousin Brian on the phone. (It’s his birthday tomorrow, by the way, so send him thousands of presents, Internet.)
Going to Starbucks and NOT ordering a pumpkin spice latte because LOOK AT THE CALENDAR GUYS IT’S NOT FALL UNTIL SUNDAY SO SLOW YOUR ROLL OKAY?!
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something voyeuristic about consuming art created by your friends. I never know how to really navigate it. It’s like you go over to their house while they’re on vacation and rummage through their memory boxes and try to fill in the blanks on your own. It’s beautiful, and raw, but also super sketchy. (Hey, many of you may feel the same when you read my blog! Like, isn’t it weird that you guys get insight into my life without actually hearing it come out of my mouth? Come on, admit it — how many of you stalkers have never actually met me but know my kid’s name? No judgement here, y’all! Just keepin’ it real.)
Anyway. Today’s active listening comes from a band which is comprised of three (sometimes four, when the need for violin or SLEIGH BELLS arises) of my friends. Because I’m creepy like that. This song, “Crossroads” on the album Static and Signals by Sarah Mac Band, has wrecked me since I first laid ears on it. (Don’t be a chump — drop some cash for the album here because OH JUST DO IT, IT’S WORTH IT, I SWEAR.)
Most of the lyrics speak to a younger me, a me that was, for lack of a better term, a hot f-ing mess. And while I’m not there anymore, there are elements of my hot f-ing mess of a past that have weaseled their way into my otherwise completely well-adjusted present and have reminded me of the “crossroads” from whence I came.
I was too young to consider such things as a healthy dose of caution and fear /
I was set on an adventure and how my life would change by things bound to happen there
Five years ago I was standing at a crossroads. I could go one way, a way of the familiar hot mess, or go somewhere completely different and just kind of see what would happen.
So I chose the adventure. I randomly moved to a foreign country.
Sadly, it was not, like the song later suggests, to “save souls for Jesus”. It was to, ultimately, enhance my academic career and, um, oh yeah, mendmyverybrokenheartBUTWHATEVERwedontgottatalkaboutthat.
I knew it wasn’t a financially sound decision; I had my college education paid for (for the most part) by scholarships and grants and would need to take out a butt-ton of loans in order to do it. But something deep within my soul screamed out, You have to do this! You have to go! Don’t ask why now — just go! You’ll know why later.
I didn’t know it then, but packing “my shit” (a lyrical mention, both in the literal and figurative sense) and hauling my butt across an ocean for a time would end up being the best thing to ever happen to me. The girl I was before I left — heartbroken, reliant on others for validation, battling an eating disorder — died a quiet death on the stoop of 99 Great Russell Street in the heart of London. Her scent is still heavy in the dark tunnels of the tube, but she is but a distant and, thankfully, faded memory.
Fast forward to today: I have a perfectly full heart, a beautiful family, a steady job, a strong community… and all of these things are pretty solid. Pretty stagnant. I’m not really at a crossroads anymore. Rather, I’m on the freeway using cruise control. But others around me, others very close to me, are standing at their own respective crossroads.
So much newness. So much uncertainty.
But if there is one thing I know, it’s that the refrain of the song is so true.
It’s funny how we don’t know then the weight of what we’re choosing at the crossroads.
Five years ago I intentionally chose to embark on a journey wrought with isolation and uncertainty. That, in and of itself, is beautiful. But it’s what I unintentionally chose that is even better.
A fresh perspective.
And so, dear friends. I urge you to not be afraid of the crossroads at which you find yourself. I’m certain that, even if you don’t know it yet, the direction in which your heart tugs you will be the one that offers up the best possible scenario for you. Even if you don’t realize it until years later.
It’s funny how we don’t know then the weight of what we’re choosing at the crossroads.
A few of my blogger friends write about the songs that influence their lives on a daily basis, so I thought I’d give it a try today because this song has been the fragile thread holding me together for the better part of two weeks. I’ve written about this song before, but it tends to be my go-to tune to pour into my brain whenever I come into times of self-doubt, loneliness, and fear. I’ve been violently thrust into the throes of these emotions lately, and so I’ve been trying to actively seek refuge in art to effectively surf these unrelenting waves of pain.
Monday, I believe, I pulled this song up on my iPhone, stuck my earbuds in, and pressed the “repeat” button and let myself fall into it.
When I got into my car, I plugged my phone into the auxiliary port and turned the volume all the way up and actually worshiped. Like, for really real worshiped. In my car. With my eyes closed (only at stop lights, of course) and hands raised.
It’s now Thursday, and I’m still here in this space, running down my phone battery in the name of spiritual health.
The melody is simple, but I wouldn’t call it catchy. It’s not a song that, in my opinion, is easily “stuck” in your head. I think you have to intentionally put it there (as opposed to the likes of “Call Me Maybe”, for example) and I’ve been trying to do just that. The words are small, uncomplicated, and unobtrusive, but extremely powerful in times of defeat.
To all who are looking down / holding on to hearts still wounding
For those who have yet to find it / the places near where love is moving
Cast off the robes you’re wearing / set aside the names that you’ve been given
May this place of rest / in the fold of your journey / bind you to hope / we will never walk alone
In the shelter of each other / we will live / we will live
And Your arms are all around us…
God has given us each other / and we will never walk alone
Whenever I discover a really great record, I listen to it to death. I remember when Plans by Death Cab for Cutie came out, I put the disc (what is this “disc” I speak of?) in my dashboard CD player and listened to it whenever I drove for the better part of eight months. The boy I was in love with at the time found this irritating.
“You always listen to the same songs,” he lamented. “You’re so boring.”
Maybe he was right. Maybe I’m boring. But I’d like to think that, as a writer and a musician, I happen to understand the power of words and music and that I intentionally expose myself — albeit repeatedly — to the good stuff because good art has the ability to, if you let it, seep deep within your DNA. To become a part of you for the rest of your life. There are still pieces of Plans, for example, that, whenever I hear them, bring me back to that time when I was “boring”. With the opening riff of “Soul Meets Body” I can still feel the hot, sticky summer air flooding my Mazda 626 and I can still smell the mold in my tiny student apartment. I can remember what it felt like to know that my soul and my body were, in fact, different things and I can remember being in love and not exactly knowing why.
By listening to the simple, repetitive, beautiful words and music of “Shelter”, I can feel hugs from my husband and scruffy, hasn’t-shaved-in-a-few-days forehead kisses. I can see encouraging text messages from my pastor. I can feel a smile creep across my face at the sight of any one of my amazing friends. I can feel the warmth of God’s embrace. I can actually feel grace. I can feel this grace I read about and know that it is real.
Our tears aren’t ours alone / let them fall into the hands that hold us.
Let them! Let them!
And Your arms are all around us / and we will never walk alone.
The last words of the song are “never walk alone”, not preceded by the “and we will” part.
To someone who is listening to that song for the first time, it may seem that it is one last mention of the very repetitive refrain. But to someone like me, who has listened to the song so many times that it is almost white noise — someone “boring”, I guess — I see it as an intentional call to action by the lyricist.
Never walk alone.
Yes, God gives us a shelter. He gives us community in which to do life. But it is up to you to seek it out, to intentionally grab people in your life and boldly ask them to walk alongside you. Even when it is hard. Even when you are hard to love, you have GOT to let yourself be loved because, damnit, that’s what this grace thing is all about.
HOLY TIMEWARP, BATMAN! Is it SERIOUSLY September already? Okay, I know I’ve said this before, but I really think that 2011 is growing up too fast. I mean, sheesh, didn’t we just go through 2011’s mid-life crisis? And now I’m starting to set up End-of-Life care for all of 2011’s family members. Blink too fast, and life just passes you by.
At any rate, happy September, folks. Here’s why this week ruled:
THINGS THAT MADE ME SMILE THIS WEEK:
Making music with a handful of my favorite people.
Strongbow on tap.
Free shots from sweet bartenders. (Seriously, Dan, why don’t we go there more often?)
CAKE VODKA. (Okay, I realize that’s three alcohol-related things in a row but COME ON. CAKE. VODKA.)
Reconnecting and reminiscing with George.
Killing a mysterious three-day long illness with Momo’s pizza and friends.
Randy’s 21st birthday party!
Spending a night on a back porch and NOT SWEATING.
Fresh highlights by my wonderful friend EJoy!
Working from home.
Evan and Suzanne’s “Happily Ever After” party.
KYLIN WANTING TO BE HELD BY DAN ADKLFJAFASLFDJ
Kylin SAYING MY NAME ASDFKLAJSFDSAKJFHA
Spontaneously ovulating several times due to the above two items.
Finding out that Mark and Ashley ALSO hate sweet potato fries! I’m not alone!
Dan and I taking a random nap… on our floor.
Lunch with new friends and old.
Seeing my best friend and her boyfriend! AT CHURCH!
Throwing a surprise lingerie shower for Chrissie!
Dinner with Chrissie, Chelsea, Trisha, Angie, and Tara (!!!!!!!!)
An encouraging lunch with ECase.
Disc golf with the A-squad.
Beer, sushi, and Best in Show with Dan and JBarf.
Lunch with Audry at Decent Pizza.
Getting a sweet free binder at church leadership training.
My crazy bible study small group. “EXODUS!”
Lunch at Ray’s on my buddy Zack, who happens to love Harry Potter now.
Random underlined words.
Finally, my sweet, loving, kind, sexy husband. Love you so much Dan!
What about you? Think about your life this week — what do you love? What makes you smile? Why is your life awesome? Comment and let me know!