March 21, 2009

The Train Man

If I hadn't gotten on that specific train car at the beginning of Spring Break, then the Train Lady wouldn't have asked if she could have my C.S. Lewis book and I would have read that instead. I wouldn't have gone to my favorite used books store, B.J.'s Used Books, and sought out some spiritually-minded books; two of which ended up being Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies and John Eldredge's Wild at Heart. I ended up reading Wild at Heart because I had never read it in its entirety before and it's very well reputed. And it's about dudes. I'm a dude, so it works out.

So I read the book, thinking about cool God things and cool Man of God things. Thinking about adventures, bravery, fights, pursuing an awesome and beautiful woman, among other things. I though about and meditated on all the lessons, but it was during the train ride back that God spoke directly from the page to me, through my mind and into my heart and soul. It was a story about the author's friend Aaron, who was listening for God one day in solitude and heard him say:

"True masculinity is spiritual. True spirituality is good.
You are a man, you are a man, you are a man."

BAM! The Holy Spirit collided with my heart big time with that one. I had "known" this, sure, but had never actually truly lived it. Even earlier this semester I was still working out to "stay fit," while underneath it all I knew it was because I hadn't completely conquered my old insecurity about being scrawny. I was still trying to obtain whatever level of buffness that would make me completely comfortable with my body, win me the glances of pretty girls and the approval of sporty guys. I finally realized that it was pointless to do so. I am a man because of my spirituality; nothing worldly can qualify me. Sitting there in that seat, I was overcome with that vast joy that comes when the Spirit is working inside you. My eyes were a bit foggy and I was smiling goofily... I was thankful that the girl next to me in the train was asleep, or she would have been weirded out, I'm sure. Who would have thought that the train rides to and from Spring Break would be so packed with God being awesome?

I have always had the dream of being the hero that saves people from danger. I pictured myself being in the right place at the right time in a disaster and being awesome and manly and risking my life for people, and then that really pretty girl coming up to me afterward... you get the picture. When God spoke into my heart about my spirituality being my source of manliness, he directed my mind to how I pray for people now. Ever since I read in the end of the book of Colossians about the guy whom "wrestles in prayer for you," I've really gotten into praying "violently." Not physically thrashing about or anything, but really connecting with God and just letting loose for those I'm praying for; praying actively and from the heart. God brought it to my mind that when I pray actively, "violently," I'm doing major harm to the Devil and his cronies that are going after those I'm praying for. There are lots of demons limping back to Hell after a painful encounter with my weapons of prayer, blessed by the Father.

The reality and presence of the spiritual realm is something else John Eldredge talked about, and is something I believe is real; and the Prince of Darkness who I'm fighting won't forget the damage I do. On this past Tuesday evening, I was nearing the end of my devotions in the Bible and was going to move on to praying soon. But then my phone rang; it was the stage manager for the show I'm in, asking if I was on my way to rehearsal. The schedule I had read said I didn't have rehearsal for another two hours. It turns out there was an updated schedule in my email that I hadn't seen; there was someone who definitely didn't want me getting to my prayers that night, someone who didn't want their work rudely interrupted. So I came back after rehearsal and prayed for three more people than I usually do. You punch me hard, I'll punch you harder.

My last spiritual manliness experience this week happened on Monday morning. I had read in Wild at Heart about giving up the thing we would be the most scared to lose, whatever that is. It varies from person to person, obviously; when I read that, I wondered exactly what mine was. God showed me the next morning. I received this email from the director of the show I'm in, concerning the fact that I was planning on missing a weekend of rehearsal for a church retreat:

"...This creates great difficulties for our rehearsal schedule, particularly for scheduled run of the second half of the show for designers... is it possible for you to miss this or reschedule it? We have only 96 rehearsal hours for this show that has at least 140 minutes of playing time so we are way under the hour per minute that one should have..." et cetera.

I freaked out a little on the inside. I wanted to go on the church retreat, and knew in my heart that's where God wanted me to be, too. I have always been the reliable, on-time, off-book, trustworthy guy in my theater career, and my director made it clear how important it was that I be there. I really didn't want to miss a disappointing number of rehearsal hours and let down the rest of the cast, particularly this professor I admire. I knew in my heart that God wanted me at the retreat that weekend... but my professor any my academic instincts wanted me at rehearsal.

So I began to look for a legitimate reason that necessitated I go on the retreat, like the cost of about $100 being non-refundable. If it was non-refundable, than I could just tell that to my director and I'd be in the clear! As I wrote an email to the guy who answer my question about the refundability, I kept having to rephrase it, and I realized why: any way I said it, it sounded like I was using the money as a crutch, a substitute reason to miss rehearsal; I was avoiding the responsibility in saying that I wanted to go because it was important to me. I took a deep breath and decided to throw that crutch away, and present my argument for going as it should be: it is important to me, I've had this planned for two months. Being afraid of the repercussions of missing rehearsal I tried to push it off on money. But I couldn't hide behind excuses made of jello (which I'm pretty sure don't stop bullets, and they look silly to boot). Writing an email has never taken so much gut before. God's favor was there are there weren't any repercussions for missing those rehearsals; it seemed more like my director didn't even mind after it was decided, perhaps because I had stood my ground. Standing my ground involves lots of leaning on God; I don't have any backbone without him behind me. I don't have any fears with him behind me, either.

March 12, 2009

The Train Lady

This is the first time this kind of thing has happened to me... it's another sign of how God has been moving in awesome ways over the past six months of my life.

I boarded the train in the Williamsburg depot to head back to my hometown for Spring Break. As I think about it even now, I could have easily boarded another car without a second thought; a car that did not have on it the lady with message for me. But God made sure I got onto the right car.

I took my luggage to the front of the train, as I needed a place to store my guitar and bag for the ride. Sticking out of my jacket pocket was a copy of C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves, just enough so that the title at the top of the cover could be read. I was planning on reading it on the trip to Fredericksburg. As I turned to set down my guitar, my overly-large backpack was in someone's face. She kindly said "excuse me" and I finally got myself turned around after setting down the guitar to apoligize with "Sorry, I'm a bit wide today." I gave a small, slightly embaressed sorry-my-backpack-was-in-your-face smile to the middle-aged woman. Then she took the conversation in a whole new direction.

"I've always wanted to read that book," she said, indicating The Four Loves in my pocket. "Oh, this one?" I said, taking it out. I could smell the start of a good conversation. Then she asked me, "Can I have it?"

I have, for a long time, wondered what it would be like for a stranger to ask me for something, out of the blue and for free. I wanted to be able to give it freely, without holding back, just blessing the person. And then, I got that chance.

I was elated as I realized a daydream of mine was being fulfilled. A grin stretched itself across my face as I said "Sure! Here you go" and handed it too her. "Thanks, honey. You never know who you're giving something to," was her reply... as if that didn't give me enough to think about, she asked me "Do you play guitar?" She had seen me carry it up. I replied, "Yeah," not knowing what she was going to tell me next. "I wanna encourage you to keep doin' your work in the Lord. And write that song." As soon as she said it, God made it clear in my heart: I knew exactly what song she was talking about. Angel or just a lady who has a great connection with God, she encouraged me in so many ways with our 30-second conversation.

Giving that book away was a great experience. When my best friend Andrew and I got back to our seats on the train, he looked at me slightly bewildered and said "She took your book!" I said "No, she asked for it and I gave it to her." It was liberating and fulfilling to have that opportunity. And the fact that God put on my heart a very specific song; it was one that I had been getting lines for in my head, one every few days; they would just pop into my head and I would rush over to my laptop to write it down. Very much a Godsong, one he's crafting specifically in my heart. It also encouraged me to practice guitar on a more regular basis... I have had a conviction to focus on praise/worship/God-themed songs in my playing instead of just casual, for-fun contemporary songs, and God really sealed that in my heart on the train that day.

There was a high density of God being really awesome in the couple of days before I got on the train... God brought healing to a situation with a friend, and in such way that very obviously glorified HIM as the mover; I thank him for that one a lot. Right after that I got a word of encouragement from a friend at a church I used to go to, who's been growing in his own walk with God. A wonderful set of three really encouraging happenings.

It seems God is beginning to favor working in threes in my life... at the end of winter break, at my last Sunday at my home church (which is the safest, most comfortable place in the world to me) three different pairs of people prayed for me- completely independent of one another. The first two groups asked if it was my last Sunday before I left, and then offered to pray for me. I was saying goodbye to the third pair, unexpectedly started to break down (in a good way... coming to terms with some things God had opened my eyes to and leaving a safe haven) and then they lifted me up. He's been making it really obvious that he's got my back. It's a great feeling.

The first verse to my Godsong, as yet without a title:

I'm holding back this avalanche with frostbitten hands
And I'm testing my courage just to see where it stands
You say that my time has come and I let go
And I ride the river born of the snow