We’d been away from church for a couple of weeks, and I always forget how dry and empty I am when we go through a stretch like that where we’re traveling on Sundays or visiting family. I think it’ll be no big deal and when we’re finally back with our church family it hits me. Then, all of a sudden, I find myself sobbing in the middle of singing. Tears of gratitude to be back. Tears of sorrow at my own pitiful state. Tears of joy because I am safe and there is hope.
I’m learning to never leave home for church without some tissues tucked in my bag because I’m sure to need them if I don’t have them.
So, it was all of those things that had tears streaming down my cheeks at church on Sunday. But it was something else, as well.
It was the songs themselves. And the older I get the more I believe that songs are a portal to another time and place. If a book can sweep me into another time and place, one I’ve never lived, then songs have the same power to connect me with my former self.
Our song time opened with one we sang at church camp, where my husband and I served as staff to high schoolers who were dealing with a lot of the same issues we struggled with as 20-somethings. That song was followed by one that broke me in college, just a year or two after I’d opened my life to Jesus’s leading.
And in an instant I was no longer in the middle of sanctuary in the middle of winter crying with my husband by side and children nearby. I was sweating in a simple chapel in the woods, surrounded by teenagers jumping, shouting, passionately declaring that God was the cry of their heart. I was flat on my face in the basement of a college chapel, undone by my sin and the love of a King who would sacrifice Himself so I could live. I was a girl again, a decade or more younger, with fresh hopes and dreams who couldn’t imagine knowing any other life than one that had Jesus in it.
Snapped back to my present state, I cried again, wondering where that girl had gone. She had no idea what was to come, and had she been given a clue, I think she would have ignored it as impossible. I cried because there are days I want to be that girl again. To believe the best. To still have hope and dreams. To be passionately pursuing the God who changed everything.
And there are days I would never want to be her again because she was so naive and unaware of the world around her. Of the hard realities of life. She knew little about what it means to persevere, to forgive, to endure. Hers was a simple faith that didn’t always ask questions. She was motivated by good behavior and what others thought and her grown-up counterpart wouldn’t trade the faith she has now, as hard as it is, for what she had before.
The girl who sang those songs years ago and the woman who sings them now, they’re one. I cannot be who I am today without that girl from long ago. Even if I sometimes pity her. Even if I sometimes wish it could all be different.
But I can’t go back. I can only go forward. And words like this spur me on:
There is a kind of bravery born from understanding that what lies in front of you is merely the end result of every choice you’ve ever made, and there is nothing left but to follow that path to its end. (Billy Coffey, In the Heart of the Dark Wood, p. 348)
I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you’d dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self. (Anne Lamott, Small Victories, p. 101)
This is where I find myself when the tears pool and my present self fades. When I remember who I was and compare her to who I am. I am needing to leave the old behind, to follow this path to its end, even if it’s not the path I would have chosen, and accept the pieces of myself that I want to hide and dismiss, those places where I see only wrong and not enough and different.
I want to love my “crazy, ruined self.” The me I was and the me I am now.
This is what I want from the year ahead. This is what I mean when I say I want to be “whole.”
What was the last song that took you back to another time and place?