July 4, 2016

Odyssey of Light Series: Part 2

Odyssey of Light Blog Series
Part 2: Remembrance Day (Or, "A Simple Motion, Coming Toward")

This is part 2 in a five-part series, in which I finally tell the truth about myself, my music, and my identity in Christ. While you read my story, you might question my ability to think clearly in the circumstances or wonder if I am reading too much into “signs.” I tell this story to the best of my availability, as it happened to me, and leave coincidences as what they are: just coincidences, maybe with a little push from God. To compromise the way I experienced the story at 17 is to compromise my identity, and therefore to compromise the reason I’m writing this.

I’m pretty good with analogies, so let me tell you one that works for me. It’s a bit old, and I’m sure there’s a more modern analogy that would work, but I’ve always used this one, and there’s something about the old fashioned that adds to the unsettling nature of it all.

In the back of our minds, there is a room with an open door. In the middle sits one of those old-school tape decks. I usually imagine mine as a full reel, like the “big blue monster” at WHIZ Radio’s AM station broadcast room, or like an audio version of a really old movie reel. There are always tapes loaded onto the machine, either huge reels or smaller cassette tapes Superglued into the decks. And there are lots of decks, hundreds upon thousands of decks, lining the walls, around the main deck, boomboxes bolted on the floor, old-school stereo systems, Walkmans with the headphones cranked up.

On these tapes are voices, saying words. But these aren’t normal words. These are the words etched into our minds. Bad words. Words of scorn and shame. Lies we tell ourselves. It could be work related. You can’t do this. You don’t have the money or the skills for this. She pulled you from that job, so why should any employer ever trust you ever again? You’re unemployable. You have a shit degree. Sometimes it’s relationship related. Everybody is destined to leave you. You can’t keep a good boyfriend. If you would have just had sex with him, he would have stayed. You deserved all of those bad things that he did to you. Sometimes it’s even God related. He’ll never forgive you after you did this. God did this to you because you ran away from Him. You deserve God’s wrath. Sometimes it’s even more vague than that. Stupid. Worthless. Lame. It’s all your fault.

There are words that are too strong to repeat here, save for my personal favorite catch-all: you bitch. Vague enough to encompass everything, direct enough to shut me up. And yes, these are ALL messages that have played in my head at one point or another. I said I was going to be honest, and here we go.

Evolutionists tell us those words are there to keep us safe from danger. Christians tell us it is the voice of Satan in our own heads. I prefer to think of it as a mix, hence something so secular as a tape room. There’s no easy answer to where the tapes come from, only that they are there. Positive tape decks exist as well, I’m sure, but on any given day people usually find the negative ones are blasting on full volume, drowning out anything else nearby.

My mother once told me that any voices in my head -- even my own -- meant I was crazy and that I needed to be medicated. Ironically, this is a lie that spins on my tapes to this day. The only voices I’ve ever heard in my head are mine and the tapes, all defined by self-talk, as in they’re easily defined by normal experience. Those are voices everybody hears, but the volume of each person’s tape room is debatable. In my defense, I believe my tape rooms are spurned on by anxiety, mostly driven as a kid by overwhelming educational and musical pressure. I could write an entire blog series on that alone, but that’s not why I’m here.

The trick is this: it’s extremely hard to break the tape room. After a while, we get used to the jeering and the screaming, and even though it hurts, it becomes like our favorite song. It’s a drug. We don’t know how to turn the tapes off, it’s too hard and too time consuming to do so, and we really don’t want to turn them off, anyway. Our identity is in those tapes, in the lies that we tell ourselves day after day. And when your identity is in those tapes, it can’t be in anything else.

Including Jesus. Especially Jesus.

Kentucky Christian University is a small-town Bible college in Grayson, KY, somewhere between Middle of Nowhere and Podunk. It’s just big enough to house the university and a Kmart. I know this because we, as a youth group, visited Kmart on our SITS flex day.

The memories I have from my two years at Summer In The Son are numerous enough that just mentioning the name brings a smile to my face. I’ve mentioned the epic dodgeball battle of doom, but let us not forget the circle spinning wars, the Spam carving contests, Terril stealing my stuffed fox and taking ransom pictures (yes, with a 35mm), going spelunking in caves, and the times youth pastor Brent would drive the Barney bus a little too hard over the speed bumps (and the kids in the back would go flying). But there are more solemn times: the moments we’d spend together in circles praying, the talks we would have, the baptisms, those on fire for Jesus and those finding Him for the first time. The first year I went, a kid was hit by a car while with his youth group, and the entire camp gathered to pray in the gym. I’d never prayed so hard in my life, blowing my nose against my skirt when there were no other options.

The camp took place over a week; we would leave on Sunday after church and head back the next Saturday morning. Several church youth groups from all around the Midwest would congregate on campus, staying in the dorms (four kids to a room) and spending most of our time outside. We would have a sermon in the morning and a sermon in the evening, broken up by mass-produced cafeteria lunches (at which I swear I ate Spaghettios for a week), short classes on everything from the Bible to sound design, field days, and youth group time. Every night there would be a different concert or event, with bands coming in to play, special speakers, or dance parties being held.

I had heard from Terril (one of the deacons, the drummer for our youth band, and the man who almost killed me with a dodgeball during year 1) that a very popular worship band would be playing Tuesday night. Known simply as the David Crowder Band, he said I had to attend. “They’re sick,” he said, “just like you.” Keep in mind this was a compliment; he was basically saying they were good.

Our youth group time ran over, so by the time I got to the gym for the concert, it had already started. I remember my ex-girlfriend being around, both of us in long skirts, finding a place to stand. None of my other regular youth group friends were around. The lights were going crazy, the house was madness, and on stage was a man with mad hair singing into the microphone:

Praise Him under open skies,
Everything breathing, praising God
In the company of all who love the King

I remember having my old camcorder up and recording bits and pieces of it. I have to wonder if I still have those tapes somewhere. At some point, I let the bulky camera hang around my neck, recording forgotten in the moment of the concert. We were told to bounce like rabbits, and we all did so, caught up in the masses. Terril was right: this band was good, using several different instruments all in tandem on stage to bring about a maximum effect.

The band changed songs, still led by the effervescent Crowder, full of the Holy Spirit, leading in song directed to the One Most High. Watching from the crowd, I did my best to follow along with songs that I did not know.

Deliver me, courage to guide me
Deliver me, Your strength inside me

The previous night, after Monday’s sermon, I had rededicated my life to Jesus. It was a popular thing to do at Summer In The Son. Those already chosen for life with Jesus felt horrible about how far they had fallen and promised to seek His face again above all else. Looking back now, it’s a reminder of how, as people, we are all broken. We promise to do better, but when does that promise actually follow through?

I remember hearing the tapes in my head again. It’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about. This is how everybody feels about Jesus. But I knew there was something up. No, I said to myself in my head. This always happens. There’s something wrong here. And I let go of my camcorder and wept into my hands, unsure of where to go from here. I knew if I remained as I was, I would go back to Ohio and nothing would change. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was at that strange church with Kristen? Would my life always consist of stories of how Jesus was great and wonderful, supplemented by Sunday School and worship team practice? Was the fire in my heart just some battery operated tealight? Was the Holy Spirit just a lie?

And then I felt someone grab me by the shoulders.

I thought for a moment it was my ex, and so I cried into her shoulder. But when I pulled back, it wasn’t her at all. It was a girl I had never met before, in a green t-shirt, with long blonde hair pulled up in a ponytail. “Are you okay?”

I nodded.

She gave me a soft smile, and then, “I just wanted to make sure.” Then, she turned to leave, and as she disappeared back into the crowd, I noticed that her green t-shirt was for some sporting event from my old hometown in Indiana.

The connections in my head happened instantaneously. She’s from Fishers -- the church, Kristen, finding God -- I had God then -- what if she was my guardian angel?

This is the first of two times during this series that I will be doing my best to explain something that I’m fairly certain I’m not supposed to explain. But I’m gonna do my damndest. In that very moment, my heart and soul were opened to the Most High again. I felt God extend His hand to me, and I took it, not pausing for a single moment. As I took His hand, I felt something leave my body, felt it get pulled out of me, felt the very air I breathed change.

Then, I was left again, in the middle of the gym, worshipping teens around me, alone but not alone, led on by Crowder’s song.

All of my life, I’ve been in hiding
Wishing there was someone just like You
Now that You’re here, now that I’ve found You
I know that You’re the one to pull me through

I cried again. My ex found me and I bawled into her shoulder until I couldn’t cry anymore. The world around me spun. I couldn’t see straight. I didn’t care what my ex thought. I didn’t care what the world thought. I felt God again, and I felt Him strong, and I didn’t understand a second of what was happening but I was on fire.

I still believe that the girl who held me that night was my guardian angel (or at least one of them), nicknamed by me in Japanese for the color of her t-shirt that night. Will I ever see Midori again? I doubt it, but I hope so. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I stopped trying to make sense of God a long time ago.

The next few moments were a blur. I remember stumbling out of the gym after the concert and asking the DCB swag man for a t-shirt, when in reality I wanted a CD. I paid for the CD and followed the crowds out into the hot summer air, following my ex-girlfriend back to the dorm. Every step felt like I had never taken it before. I almost didn’t know where I was.

At some point, I made it back to the dorm. When I fell asleep, I dreamed that I was on a huge old-fashioned sailing ship in port, and Jesus was there, welcoming me on board.

The first thing I realized when I woke up was that the tapes were gone.

No matter what I thought about myself, I couldn’t make myself think anything bad about myself. If something happened, I’d just go, oh well, and instead of belittling myself, it would roll right off me like I was a streamlined car running off of octane 93. No crisis. No cursing. I found myself trying to make myself sin and something unseen stopping me, and finally just giving up and accepting the fire in my heart. It was an overnight change, one that woke me up to a reality with God, one where the fire didn’t die out after a night’s sermon. It was a reality that I wanted everything to do with.

The second thing I realized was that Studio LRPLI was over.

For those of you who remember Studio LRPLI, you’ll remember it was a group of me and my friends in middle and high school who wanted to go into creative endeavors and make stories. Basically it was me, trying to create with other people and miserably failing. After June 28th, I was no longer able to create anything Studio LRPLI-related. Every time I would pull up a story or try to draw, there would be something stopping me, an unseen hand that would pull me away and whisper, “No.” I’ve been fighting this exception, most notably in me finally writing that book I was planning in 2013, but the point was simple: write nothing, compose nothing, create nothing without God at the center of it.

I didn’t even think of replacing Studio LRPLI until the bus ride back to Ohio from SITS, during which I fell asleep for a little bit. When I woke up, I had a name in my head: Stardust. I pondered what it meant until I realized that stardust is just that, dust of a Star. Instead of being part of Studio LRPLI, instead of just being Emily, I had a new name, one that God had given me. God wanted me to create for Him and for me to work alone, therefore creating what I called Stardust Opportunities Solo, Project S.O.S., which would become SOSI/Cap-Sid. (For those of you following along at home, Cap-Sid stands for Christ Alone Power/Soundspeed Inertia Drive. That’ll make more sense later.)

I joked that my alter ego in Studio LRPLI, Little Rabbit, had been kicked out of my brain. The next year, on June 28th, I called it Little Rabbit Remembrance Day. Today, it’s shortened to simply Remembrance Day. So what is Remembrance Day? Why do I have this day? Today this day is certainly a remembrance of how the tapes were shut off for a time. But it is a solemn reminder of how, if we give God an inch, He will take a mile and move and change our lives beyond even the smallest comprehension. Overnight, I was new. Overnight, I was in love with God. I didn’t need anything else in my life.

And I found God everywhere. In the Bible. In the silent hours of the morning, reading through my devotions. On the dance floor, in the night air. I felt the same energy I did that June night in 1999, the same love that saved me then ever saving me now. I didn’t know what this was, or how God could come into my life twice, but I wasn’t intent on shaking it.

More recently, I found the term entire sanctification, coined by Methodists, used to describe a second work of grace. For me, it describes Remembrance Day perfectly. This second work of grace, my entire sanctification, would last seven weeks, that entire supercharged summer of 2005. I didn’t stop feeling God once during that entire time. Every day was with rose-colored glasses. Every day I could feel God’s hand on me, His love in my heart, and His power coursing through my veins. And even after, I would still feel God strong for months.

Today, every year, on June 28th, I celebrate Remembrance Day, a day to remember Jesus Christ, and the start of my own personal odyssey of light. But the journey wasn’t done yet. God’s never finished with me, but the summer of 2005 was just getting started.

Did the tape room come back on? Of course it did eventually. It’s the tape room. There’s some chemical process as to how it works. Can we overcome our tape room? Most certainly, with or without the help of God. Over the years, I’ve worked on ways to overcome the messages in my head, quiet them, and twist them into my own positive reality. Do I still struggle with it? All the time. Am I still triggered when I’m faced with a bad situation? All the time. Do I forgive myself as Jesus forgave me and move on? Every time.

What’s important is this: for a good solid six months, my tape room was utterly silent. I was in God’s truth, fully focused on Him. And once the tape rooms were silent, God could move in my life, making His point completely and utterly clear. And it would start not on the 28th, but two days earlier, when an urban-city pastor with a knack for YouTube got on stage at SITS and asked the question that would change my life.

PART 1: The Before And The How (July 2)
PART 2: Remembrance Day (July 4)
PART 3: The Vortex Complex (July 6)
PART 4: Installation Day (July 8)
PART 5: The After And The Now (July 10)