The Greatest Showman: A Celebration of Humanity

Duck #110

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite pastimes is going to the movies, preferably alone. I often refer to the theatre as “my happy place.” It’s a place where, yes, I can escape my reality momentarily, but more so live in the juxtaposition of my world and the one I’m watching on the screen. Art imitates life and life imitates art and there’s something magical about experiencing the marriage of the two. I go to the movies often because I want to to laugh, I want to cry, I want to think, I want to dream… If I could bottle up the feeling I get as I settle into my seat, the lights dim, and the first preview starts, I would. I would bottle it and drink it every morning like a doctor ordered prescription. To me, the movies hold a magic that remind me of how exciting it is to be alive, to be human. I love it.

Recently, my parents and I went to see Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the film, TGS is a bio-musical that somewhat details the life and early career of P.T. Barnum, the man we know and love as the “founder” of the American Circus. Barnum was a lover of the arts, entertainment, hoaxes, the peculiar, and certainly a lover of money. Born a poor boy, Barnum worked hard to build a life for himself and his family, most notably via a show starring men and women that were considered community pariahs.

With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, The Greatest Showman, elevates the exciting and highlights the hideous. A movie released at the end of a polarizing political year, the messages it communicates are ones of inclusion, family, love, and friendship. In many ways, TGS drips with a classic rags to riches plot, akin to the Cinderella story our country loves to rally behind. The scenes pull at your heartstrings. As an audience member your heart soars when Barnum marries his childhood sweetheart, when he creatively builds a present for his daughter’s birthday after he loses his job, when patrons attend his show and give a standing ovation. And how would you not? Hope lives in our core and we believe a little more that maybe—just maybe—we can make it through this thing called life if there’s evidence of someone else’s hope coming to fruition, even if it’s just on a movie screen. We all want a hero we can root for, someone we can cheer on, someone we want to do good. Early on in the film, Hugh Jackman (Barnum), slips into this role. With vocals and acting, that I think surpass his last Christmas blockbuster, Les Miserables, Jackman convinces the audience that “…the world becomes a fantasy/ and you’re more than you could ever be/ ‘cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open/ so, come alive!” per the pivotal fourth number in the film, “Come Alive.”

However, while the spotlight obviously shines and Jackman’s portrayal of P.T. Barnum, I believe the real heroes lie in the characters that star in the circus—The Fattest Man, The Tallest Man on Earth, Dog Boy, an African American brother and sister trapeze artist pair, The Bearded Lady, among others. Without them, Barnum’s show falls flat. When trying to get a loan from the bank to open his show he says, “people are fascinated by the unusual and the macabre.” Of course, watching this, I’m torn. The saying is trustworthy, people are fascinated by the unusual, but these “unusuals” are people, people being put on display for the entertainment of others. Barnum’s character puts it this way, “…people are going to be laughing anyway, so you might as well get paid, right?” It’s a fascinating scenario, to exploit the odd and yet simultaneously give them a place to belong.

What is so beautiful about these “unusuals” though is that while Barnum gives them a platform, they take that platform and make it home all on their own. It’s almost as if they take back what it means to be exploited. Together they form a family and accept one another. Each night they come together and put on a show that brings joy to an audience of curious, skeptical people. How? By celebrating exactly who they are, no apologies. There is a particular moment in the film when this theme shines brilliantly. As not to spoil the build up or it’s impact (because you should most certainly go see this film for yourself), I won’t go into detail, but I will quote the second verse and chorus of This Is Me, the song that director Michael Gracey considers the movies’ anthem:

[Verse 2]
Another round of bullets hits my skin /Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in / We are bursting through the barricades / And reaching for the sun (we are warriors) /Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

[Pre- Chorus}
Won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

[Chorus]
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down/ Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out/ I am brave, I am bruised/ I am who I’m meant to be, this is me/ Look out ’cause here I come/ And I’m marching on to the beat I drum/ I’m not scared to be seen/ I make no apologies, this is me

The first time I saw the film (yes, I saw it twice within a 3 day period. It’s fine.), I cried. I cried the second time, too, actually. If I’m being honest, it’s hard for me to listen to the song and not get emotional. I couldn’t help it. This anthem wasn’t just for the characters in the movie, it was for the viewers as well. It was for the teen that’s long been ashamed of his/her body image, it was for the kid that would rather sing than shoot hoops, it was for the person that’s been picked incessantly, it was for those that have never felt like they fit in anywhere. It was for me, a young, black, Christian woman learning what it means to be proud of who she is. This song, as well as the film itself, is truly “a celebration of humanity” as stated by one of the theatre critics in the movie.

In its essence, what TGS communicates, isn’t a message of fitting in, per se. It’s message is more about finding a place in the world to call your own, a place where you feel safe to unashamedly be who you are—human, uniqueness and all. I left the theatre proud and inspired. Proud to be human and inspired not to hide that.

Entering the theatre human, but leaving proud to be so is a great feeling. As I took to social media to sing The Greatest Praises, I commented to a friend about how timely it was for the movie to be released at Christmas. Sure, the aforementioned themes of acceptance and family fit in well with the holiday season, but as Christian I couldn’t help but whisper a silent prayer of thanks. Christmas is the day that we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the day we marvel at the dual nature of our Savior–God and man. He is a Savior that empathizes with our human condition not only because he created it, but because he lived it. He understands what it means to be human and celebrates that our humanity reflects his nature. Together, we are broken fragments of his glory, created for his good pleasure.

It was both empowering and convicting to watch a spectacular joining of peoples of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds coming together to create something beautiful. Sometimes it takes a dark room, popcorn, and a spectacular movie with lively music and striking colors to remind us of who we are. We are brave. We are bruised. We are loved. We are human.

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The Need for People with Sight–Part 1

Duck #109

“If you were like that, I’d be very interested in how you live your life…”

This was the response to a comment I made at a party on Saturday night. I don’t really remember what we were talking about. Party banter tends to vary.  At first everyone’s a little nervous, scanning the room for familiar faces, searching conversation for subjects that feel like the shoes you decided to wear that night. You know the ones. The ones you slipped on as you told yourself, “Well, if I don’t end up having a good time at least I’ll be comfortable and relatively stylish.” We all have a pair. Mine are pair of black booties. Attractive, yet basic, but not boring enough to be completely overlooked. They’re somewhere in the middle, depending upon the rest of my outfit.

I wear them often in the fall/winter because they’re in. And I want to be in. I want to be seen. We all do. We all have a desire to be noticed, cared for, loved…

Remember the first time someone noticed you after you’d been silently begging and praying to be acknowledged? Maybe it was during lunch on your first day of middle school, or maybe it was by the guy or girl you’d been crushing on, maybe it was by a teacher or coach you’d been trying to impress. Regardless of where, regardless of the person that did the noticing, being noticed felt good. That moment told you, “Hey. You matter.” It’s empowering and dignifying.

Because I know what it’s like to be seen, I continually feel convicted about ignoring other people. So when the news of another senseless, hateful, mass shooting took place on American soil, I cried. I couldn’t help it. The most recent slaughters via a gunman happened at two of my favorite places to attend–a concert venue and a place of worship. (I hate everything about that sentence. *sigh*). In a matter of minutes stories broke and social media was flooded with news about what had happened. Amid the carcasses of paragraphs wet with words like, “opened fire,” “death toll,” “loud screaming,” “music,” “church,” was this repeated phrase: my thoughts and prayers…

I scrolled Twitter. I lost count of how many times I was reading those same 20 letters over and over again. . We say it all the time. It’s a sweet, hallmark-like sentiment. It rests on the cusp of empathy and apathy. It often translates as, “I recognize you, but not enough to really do anything about it.” Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that phrase inherently. There isn’t. I’ve said it myself. What I’m saying is that I don’t think that phrase is…enough.

But what if I actually mean that phrase? What if I really am thinking and praying about the victims and these horrible situations? What if I don’t have anything better to say? What can I actually do?

I hear you. 

However, if you would consider yourself a follower of Jesus, let me urge you to consider two things:
1) Prayer shouldn’t always stop at prayer; often it must move us to a decided action.
2) The Church should be the primary place where people not only feel noticed, but are actually seen. (To be explored in a subsequent blog post.)

I’m a huge fan of the Gospels. I love what they so intimately tell us about the character and person of Jesus. Take the first chapter of Mark for example. At the beginning of his ministry (a crucial time of action) after performing several miracles, Jesus “rises very early in the morning, while it was still dark…[departing]…to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v 35). Understandably so, the disciples frantically search for their leader letting him know that everyone has been looking for him. Jesus’ reply? “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (v 37).

I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but if I were them, I’m sure I would’ve been thinking something like Why on earth did Jesus take this time to pray? Doesn’t he know that we have so much work to do, so many people to meet? He called us to follow him and become fishers of men. We can’t do that if He’s off by himself praying all morning. We have to act!! I think what the disciples failed to understand is the beautiful partnership that prayer and action have. Prayer re-centers, re-grounds, reshapes, reorients, and realigns our actions. To act on behalf of the kingdom of God without prayer is pointless. We are too weak to move towards people, and see them with dignity aside from Lord’s help.

What we see Jesus doing in Mark 1 is carrying out an understanding of prayer and action. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t know what’s at stake–the literal souls of his beloved. To save them, he must act. He knows that. Jesus takes the time to pray so that he might act well.  And what happens next? Jesus’ heals a leper. One of the most dirty, outcast members of society comes to Jesus and asks to be made clean–“moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched [the man with leprosy] and said to him…’be clean'” (v. 41).

Jesus noticed him. Jesus saw this man–broken, unwanted, dejected–and touched him.

We are not Jesus. We were not sent by the Father to save the world; but we have been commissioned to see people–to care for the sick, feed the poor, love the widow and orphan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always want to do those things. I wish I did, but I’m usually “too busy.” Prayer changes that. Genuine prayer for the world around me won’t let me ignore the needs of others. I can’t always just think and pray about the tragedy that just happened, I won’t ever see anyone if that’s all I’m doing. I must pray because I must know how to act.

I don’t know what this means, exactly. What does prayerful, wise action look like in the case of senseless gunfire and death? I’m not sure. But I do know that it looks like far more than a pithy post from behind a computer screen.  There are people, created in the image of God, that are begging to be seen. Will we see them?

 

[picture found at nbcnews.com]

Here’s to you

Duck #108

In the back room of my Atlanta home, there are two walls that are made almost entirely of windows. It’s my absolute favorite room in the house (even if it is the coldest). My backyard is composed of trees big and tall, small and thin. Their branches create big shapes in the sky that canopy over the grass beneath my deck. During the summer, as the sun would set, streaks of yellow and pink would squirm their way through the leafy shapes. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait for winter, when the trees are bare and I can see the sun setting through their limbs.” I have a front row seat to one of the best shows nature has to offer, and I get to watch every evening from the comfort of my own home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. And the past. And the present. I’ve spent moments dreaming of what I hope my life will look like in years to come, I’ve used moments dwelling on circumstances of the past that I cannot change, I’ve enjoyed moments of trying to soak up each day as it happens. There’s something about the beginning of a new year that does that to you, I think. Tomorrow I turn 24.

A piece of me begs to hang on to 23, to hang on to an age I won’t ever get back, a youthful bliss that only comes with being exactly 23, but tomorrow I will be 24. I don’t suppose that suddenly aged wisdom will descend upon me at the stroke of midnight, but something will change on November 30th. All year, I have been like the trees in my backyard. I have been going through seasons. Budding, then blooming, and finally laid bare. Bones exposed, through the shapes that my lungs create over my heart. I can feel the beating in my chest.

I like to think that sunsets tell stories. The brighter the colors, the more adventurous the day, perhaps. An invitation to laugh. Duller hues, a call to be quiet. To be thankful, to pray. These days my heartbeat is telling me a story, too. For so long I’ve been afraid to listen–it’s been loud, but I’ve chosen earplugs.

No longer.

Twenty -four, here’s to you. Here’s to my heart. Here’s to being comfortable bare. Here’s to listening. Here’s to praying more and laughing louder. Here’s to dancing in the kitchen. Here’s to tattoos. Here’s to memorizing Scripture. Here’s to the inevitable tears. Here’s to the sleepless nights. Here’s to long naps. Here’s to corporate worship.  Here’s to bold coffee. Here’s to loud concerts. Here’s to waffles.  Here’s to red wine. Here’s to crosswalks and cityscapes. Here’s to commuting to work. Here’s to friendship–new and old. Here’s to family. Here’s to you. Here’s to me. Here’s to hope. Here’s to love. Here’s to freedom.

[Dear Jesus,
Thank you for sunsets, for you love, and for my life.]
<3Amen

God is good. Period.

Duck #107

My sophomore year of college, I decided to get a minor in Social Work. My reason for doing so was ambitious (and a little spur of the moment). Nearly five years later I still grapple with whether or not I should’ve chosen a different subject. When I start peer down that thought spiral, I’m reminded of a skill I learned–one for which I will forever be thankful–active listening. I learned what it looked like to actually hear what people were saying, affirm their thoughts, and respond based upon what they said. It’s a skill that has served me well in all of the jobs I’ve had since then.  And like I said, I’m grateful. It’s funny though, when it comes to actively listening to the Lord, my skill set feels terribly unrefined.

In my last post, I wrote about freedom and how I’m essentially journeying to find it. My quest is far from finished (and praise God for that, honestly), but I had a realization last week that’s rocked me. It has genuinely shaken me to my core and I can’t be unshook. Here it is: God is good. Period. And He’s worthy to be praised. 

Uhm….Jayna? Duh. Where have you been?!
I know, I know. It’s obvious, but it really clicked last week.

Since moving to Atlanta, I’ve been talking to the Lord…a lot. If you know me well, you’ll know that change is really hard for me, as it is for most people. I have a bent towards anxiety and transition triggers everything I’ve ever been afraid of ever. Needless to say moving to a city where I didn’t really know anyone, starting a new job, and being financially independent of my parents has been a DoOoOoZy. So much of what I’ve said to the Lord has been said through tears, confusion, and worry. I’ve done a lot of talking and less listening because I’ve been (and often still am) so afraid of what He’s going to say. I have been in a posture of assuming things about Jesus in lieu of spending time getting to know him better.  Overwhelmingly, I have assumed the following: The Lord is out to get me. It’s only a matter of time before He realizes I’m a failure and ruins my life. Overwhelmingly, I have been wrong. Over and over and over again. You know what they say about assuming…

For years my M.O. has been to praise God because of what He’s done for me. Functionally, I understood that His character stays the same, but I believed that insomuch as what I could point back to in my life that’s benefitted me. If I couldn’t find something to be thankful for, I couldn’t truly praise Jesus. I didn’t have a right to do so.

Last week at church, I realized that an attractive guy I’d seen a handful of times was married. For whatever reason, this really upset me. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t even know his name, but I was oddly disappointed. As the congregation worshiped, we sang songs about the matchless worth of Christ, about how good He is, about how He is worthy to be praised and a thought crossed my mind: I can’t sing these things. I’m sad  and would feel like a hypocrite for praising Jesus right now. Nevertheless, the songs continued and the Truth began to unpack and rip a part the lie I was believing.

I repented. I began to say out loud “Lord, you are good because you are good. You are good. You are good. You are good.” In that moment, something shifted. I realized that my circumstances didn’t dictate His goodness. The goodness of the Lord is self sufficient.
Believe me, I realize how silly this sounds. It’s a little embarrassing, honestly. I feel like a 16 year old girl who claims that “Daddy doesn’t love me because he didn’t buy me a convertible for my birthday.”  I mean, I more deeply believed in the goodness of God when two family members that I love dearly died. But when my “Crush From Afar” is married? God’s goodness = absent. Hahaha. Being human is funny.

As I repeatedly declared the goodness of the Lord to myself, and to Him, I started to believe what I was saying. I chose, in that moment, to listen to what He might be telling me instead of assuming. “Yes, I am good. Always. I love you.” is what I heard.

Yesterday morning on the way to church I prayed that Jesus would speak, that I would listen, and that I would have a deep encounter with Him. I tried to enter into worship mindful of the fact that Jesus is good. And in the middle of one of the songs, the Lord brought Colossians 1:19 to mind, “For in him the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.”

Jesus is holding the universe together and all of who God is is pleased to dwell within Him. Love. Mercy. Grace. Power. Kindness. Gentleness. Justice. Patience. The list goes on. He is worthy of praise, so so worthy. I was overwhelmed, and still am, honestly. It doesn’t matter how I feel; I can and get to praise the Lord because He’s worthy to be praised. There is rich, humbling freedom in that.

I can actively listen to Jesus, regardless of my circumstances (and how I feel about them), because my circumstances don’t mitigate the Truth that He will never, ever stop sharing with me: “Yes, I am good. Always. I love you.”

 

[Thank you, Jesus.]
<3Amen

My Battle for Freedom

Duck #106

“May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you…”

___
The temperature is beginning to change, I think. Well, today, as I walked from my house to my car, and then later from my car into my office, I said, “it’s getting chilly.” Initially, I was a little frustrated because I’d chosen to wear sandals to work–it’s been so warm that I didn’t even consider checking the temperature before I left the house. But then I smiled. 60 degree mornings are my favorite mornings; the air feels…free. In turn, so do I…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things recently. Nothing new. The issue is that for the past few months, I haven’t been able to write about what I’m thinking. I have draft after draft saved on my phone, my work computer, my personal computer, my journal, random scrap pieces of paper. As someone who is an external processor by nature, It has been endlessly frustrating to have my thoughts beg to escape my brain and be held captive by fear? Perhaps. I’m unsure, but it would seem that fear is an antithesis to freedom, so probably. And freedom is something I want, I’m wary of it, but I want it.

A few weeks ago I was driving home from work and decided to call my best friend. As I reached my destination she asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling. My emotions have chosen to create their own constellation with such varying directions, heights, and depths, brightly pointing out a picture of how much I hate change. So, her question was warranted. “I’m okay…”  is how I believe I started to respond. But I kept talking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my monologue culminated with this, “I’m afraid to fully trust the Lord because I feel like if I do, then He’s going to see me and think, “Oh, Jayna. Why did I choose her as my daughter?!” I’m afraid that if I let Him see me (even though I know He sees all of me) He’s going to run away like so many other people have once I reached a certain level of vulnerability…” And then I started to cry. My heart started to race. My vision blurred a bit, and for a brief moment it felt like my skin and bones separated from my heart. It was like a chasm was created in my chest, one that allowed me to breathe. So, I did. I took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. Yes, Jayna. That’s it. You’re a little bit closer. That was my next thought, but I also felt the thought? It’s hard to explain, but I’m pretty sure it was the Holy Spirit’s way of letting me know that He saw me, He heard me, He was there with me. Amidst my irrational fear.

Since then, I’ve been in this battle of sorts. I’m deciding to call it “My Battle for Freedom.” On the phone with my best friend, though I was admitting to a deep fear, I’d won a small victory in this battle. I knew I had. I shared this with a new friend I’ve made since moving to Atlanta and she said, “It’s sounds like you’re on the road to freedom. It’s a tough one, but you know where it leads? To more freedom.” I agreed. She was right and I knew that was the truth. But here’s the thing I’m learning, the road to freedom isn’t flat. It’s rugged and hot and hilly. Sometimes it’s grassy and cool and straight, but it’s mostly not. Of course, I want this road to only require a leisurely walk from me. Actually, I don’t want to walk at all. I want to be driven in a car with a sunroof and windows rolled down revealing mountains and sunsets and changing leaves.

I’m tired. I’m lethargic. And most days I don’t feel like fighting for freedom. “Is it worth it?” I often ask myself. “I’m comfortable here. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s familiar and I can sort of control things. Sort of.” I’ll say. But then I’ll think, “This isn’t what the Lord has for me. He doesn’t want me to be bound by fear and worry and lethargy.” My Battle for Freedom is just that, a battle. But I’m not battling alone, nor do I have to be afraid of the One who goes before me to prepare the way. Yes, Jayna. That’s it. You’re a little bit closer. 

Okay, then. Lord, give the energy me to fight for freedom. Okay, then. Lord, give me the courage to receive the joy that’s already mine. Okay, then. Lord, remind me of your perfect love that casts out fear. Okay, then. Lord, help me.

The temperature is changing, I think. It’s changing in my heart. It’s cooling and relaxing an exhausted soul that has worried itself warm. The smoke I’ve been struggling to breathe through is clearing. Oh, my lungs ache from coughing! And there He is. Jesus. King of Glory. My healer. My redeemer. My Savior. My love. He says, “Jayna, I delight in you. You are mine. I have chosen you and I am so glad I did. Come, dine with me. Taste the freedom that awaits you in my presence. I have so much to show you…”
___
“…He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” -Colossians 1:11-13

 

Black & Proud

Duck #105

 

“I am dripping melanin and honey…”
___

To Whom It May Concern:

When hate is spewed like venom from the mouths of serpents, the very skin I’m in is threatened. Words and actions pierce the dark color that protects my bones—I cry. My insides tremble and my blood boils. I am hurt and I am angry and I am sad, but I am proud.

When violence shoots forth from the hands of bears, the very skin I’m in becomes a target. Fists and bullets bruise the rich chocolate that covers my chest—I scream. My hands sweat and my heart races. I am hurt and I am angry and I am sad, but I am proud.

When ignorance spills from the minds of fools, the very skin I’m in is attacked. Idiocrasy and bigotry slip over the negro soul that holds my hopes and dreams—I pray. My thoughts run to the King of Kings, my Creator. I am hurt and I am angry and I am sad, but I am proud.

I am black and I am proud.
I am proud because I know to Whom I belong.
I come from a history of perseverance.

I am black and I am proud.
I am proud because my identity is engraved in the palms of my Creator.
I come from a history of resilience.

I am black and I am proud.
I am proud because I am of more value than many sparrows.
I come from a history of discovery.

I am black and I am proud.
I am proud because those who look to Jesus are radiant and their faces will never be ashamed.
I come from a history of invention.

I am black and I am proud.
I am proud because God made me who I am and who I am is BEAUTIFUL.
No qualifications.
No modifications.
No adjustments.
Dark skinned and curly haired.

I refuse to let the media tell me who I am.
I repel the notion that I am anything but beloved.
I reject voices that attempt to refute my dignity.
I rebel against the narrative that tells me I am still a slave.
I refute the racist lies that are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

When love is poured out like water from a stream, the very skin I’m in will relax. Songs of charity warm the dark color that protects my bones—I cry. Anxiety subsides and worry flees. I am known and I am wanted and I am joyful and I am proud.

When peace grows strong like a tall oak tree, the very skin I’m in will be healed. Hands and arms embrace the rich chocolate that covers my chest—I laugh. My lips curve upward and my breathing steadies. I am known and I am wanted and I am joyful and I am proud.

When wisdom is sought after by the minds of the hungry, the very skin I’m in will not be feared. Understanding and empathy cover the negro soul that holds my hopes and dreams—I pray. My thoughts dance before the Maker of Heaven and earth, King Jesus. I am known and I am wanted and I am joyful and I am proud.

With all sincerity,

Jayna Duckenfield

___

“…I am black without apology.”

Quote by Upile Chisala

 

[Dear Jesus,
thank You for who You are and thank You for making me who I am.]
❤ Amen

 

 

 

 

trying not to flee

Duck #104

The thing about cities is that there are a lot of people. Mmmm, let me rephrase that. The thing about cities is that there are a lot of lonely people. Yup, I said it. Lonely People. Maybe saying that isn’t politically correct or maybe it’s just too honest. But that’s the point. No matter how many articles and books we read, no matter how many seminars we attend, no matter how many conversations we have, there is something about the word “loneliness” that makes us want to avert our eyes. There’s something about it that makes us want to nervously play with our hands, shift positions in our chairs, and say sentences that start with phrases like “Well, I think it’s because…” or “I mean, it’s just a matter of remembering…” Loneliness makes us nervous. We treat it like a plague that we hope we won’t catch, but it’s slowly taking our energy and leaving us bed ridden.  We’re all susceptible, from Manhattan socialites to your mom’s cousin’s best friend’s boss’s brother Billy. Loneliness is not akin to favoritism.

As pointed out by a friend, Jean Vanier puts it this way,

“We all carry our own deep wound, which is the wound of our loneliness. We find it hard to be alone, and we try to flee from this in hyperactivity, through television, and in a million other ways. Some people think their wound of loneliness will be healed if they come into community. But they will be disappointed. While they are young, they can hide their disappointment behind the dynamic of generosity, they can flee from the present by projecting themselves into the future, into a hope that things will be better tomorrow. But towards the age of forty, the future is past and there are no more great projects; the wound is still there and we can become depressed, especially as we are now carrying all the guilt and apathy of the past. Then we have to realise that this wound is inherent in the human condition…”

I was watching Gossip Girl the other day, because television (Netflix) is an easy way to temporarily escape loneliness. I’ve seen the series before, but I wanted to dive into something familiar. Loneliness will do that to you, make you ache for familiarity. Anyway, I was watching the episode where Dan realizes that he loves Serena. He tells her and she says “Okay.” Shocked, they both stand there and eventually Dan walks away, admittedly embarrassed. Later, we learn that the reason Serena didn’t know how to respond is because she has trust issues and is struggling to believe that Dan actually feels that way about her. Fast forward to the last few scenes of the episode and Serena shows up at Dan’s home. She asks him to explain to her why he loves her–and he does. He explains in detail all of the quirks and mannerisms and personality traits that make Serena who she is. Her countenance changes. Her face softens and her eyes relax. She laughs. Dan stands there confidently, like he has for the whole interaction and Serena’s movements become airy and giddy and light–almost as if her insides are suddenly made of cotton candy. She begins to take take on Dan’s confidence because she now understands that he really does love her. The understanding even compels her to leave the moment and go help her friend Blair. She can leave because she knows Dan’s love isn’t contingent upon what she does next–saying the right thing, kissing him the right way, looking at him perfectly. Dan loves Serena, no strings attached.

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As I sat on my bed, wrapped up in the scene, I had a thought. “Man, I want a love like that…one where I’m secure and safe and confident and unafraid to be me because I’m so sure that I’m loved.” And then I immediately had another thought. “Wait, I already have that love. I have it and more.” I have that love in an irreversible, couldn’t lose it if I wanted to, stay up all night with you, plead for me to be safe, die a horrible death in my place kind of way.” I’m not sure if I started crying or not, but there’s a chance I did.  Regardless or whether or not I shed a few tears over what I realized, whether or not I actively believe that I am loved beyond compare, that GREAT love still exists. It exists and is going to keep on doing what it’s been doing since before time began: love. That’s just who God is.

The end of that quote by Jean Vanier goes like this,

“… and that what we have to do is walk with it (our loneliness) instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit, in a mysterious way, is living at the centre of the wound.”

So, here I am: wounded, so loved by God , and trying not to flee.

[Heavenly Father,
thank You for sending your son Jesus to dive for me, to love me so tangibly.
Grant me the understanding of that love. May I be confident in it and accordingly.
Thanks for being patient and loving me even when I ignore You. You’re really kind.]
<3Amen