Two songs I come back to again and again are juxtaposed against one another and yet, to me, fit one another perfectly.
First is the incomparable Chandelier by Sia. I have never been a party girl, but man do I feel that song. And the video, my word. Sia gets me.
Despite never being into imbibing spirits or other such vices, I long had my own "1-2-3-drink" and it was in the form of trying to make people love me. Can I make you laugh? How about help you cheat on your biology final? If it makes you think I have value, I'm all in.
The way I trapezed my way around on a chandelier in my high school was my laugh. I mean, I enjoyed laughing, but it only took hearing that my laugh was infectious once or twice to turn it into straight up pandering. For every time I could not even hold it together, there were likely 10 times that I was overblowing it, knowing the attention it would garner. In that moment when everyone was caught up in the merriment with me, I could live like tomorrow, when the people who saw right through my facade and made sure I knew how unlovable I was, didn't exist. And every time Joey-who-Bullies-to-Mask-Insecurity mocked me in the halls, cackling his way through the crowds and shouting my name, I could go to my yearbook and remember when the high school voted my laugh as the best. He had his cruelty, but I had the marker of history of being someone to remember.
And, in the numbing fashion of holding on for one's life, I fake-laughed all the more while searching for something real.
So, no, I don't know what it is to pump alcohol through my veins until I can't feel anything. But man alive do I know what it is to take reality, the deep sense of fear that I have no place in this world, and twist it into a cover that I think keeps the isolation at bay. If people are enamored at the sound of my laugh, might their eyes fail to account for my lack of beauty? If all people know is how smart I am, will it hide how stupid I feel for not figuring out how to fit in as one of them?
What changed my life was learning when to really laugh, but also then when to cry.
As a girl, I never cried. You know the powerful moment in every movie where the protagonist seems defeated and they say, "I swore I'd never let them see me cry," but then they rise up and overcome because brokenness is bad, but strong and mighty is good, that whole thing? Continuing well into my 20s, crying was rare. Abused people don't cry. You can't be broken. You grab them bootstraps, you pull the damn things up, and you refuse to be a victim. Others determined your past, now you determine your future. No excuses.
I became a Christian and slapped good ol' victory theology right onto that. Jesus is good. I can trust him. Always be positive. Everything has a purpose but if I'm crying in the corner like a baby I'll miss it and I'll miss him. I read all the verses about overcoming and conquering and assumed that I was doing those things with Christ's power, for his glory. It's what I was being taught, so obviously it was right.
Something happened, though. Along the way, the Gospel broke me. Well, the Gospel and suffering. I saw enough heartache to myself and others in the church, typically perpetrated by my "good theology" brethren, to be just about over it. I started to open up, really open up, about my upbringing and for the first time the light of Christ exposed the ugly lies I had believed as truth. I started to accept that maybe my suffering as a girl wasn't my fault, that I wasn't such a uniquely selfish child that I deserved to be raped since I was an infant. [You think I exaggerate for effect; I assure you, I do not. This is the kind of shame many abused like myself carry.]
And then the suffering came, all of life crumbled away over a harrowing year from May 10, 2013 to June 2014 plus also this (and the extent of those heartaches aren't really waning the way I hoped, if I'm honest). Once my dreams and plans were crushed, once my efforts for health and ease were rewarded with disability and unending difficulty, I just didn't care all that much about being strong.
Somewhere along the way, slowly building through the last decade, I learned to cry.
At first it was about not-my-own-life. Commercials, sad movies, happy movies, whatever. Then other people's stories. Strangers on the internet burying their children, lost to disease and tragedy and senselessness. It kept circling in until I could actually weep over the heartache of people I knew, be I with them physically in that moment or no. But over time, as I actually connected my emotions to the words and stories that have always so freely flown from my mouth and fingertips, I could cry over my own experiences and heartbreak.
To cry, I had to feel. Admit my weakness, my inability to think that when everything sucks I can have the exact perspective of God to think its purpose be anything less than utter shit. Plus, I'm pretty sure God also thinks a lot of things are utter shit, and he aches with us and feels with us and yet in his wisdom does allow it to happen. Hello, Job. The great mystery is how he really actually can turn that shit into something beautiful.
That's where the next song comes in. It's Love Again by Cedric Gervais ft. Ali Tamposi and you've probably never heard it before in your life. It never did become a hit; I think it should have, but I guess not everyone can be Calvin Harris (no offense, Mr. TayTay). Don't judge the song by the video because while it's aesthetically beautiful it just doesn't hit on the same emotions I feel when I lose myself in the lyrics and the music.
If you can, just play the video and close your eyes and listen.
Maybe all that we need
Is a heartbreak to love again
Maybe all that we need
Is an ending to start again
Might take a lonely road
To find our way back home
Maybe all that we need
Is a heartbreak
The way her voice breaks on "lonely road" and "way back home." Spine shivers.
Goodness, I love how much better "secular" pop music can often get the Gospel, the character and presence of God, in ways that the profit-machine driven and cheese laden Christian music industry so often just cannot.
Because can't you feel it? You had it together. You had the relationship. The job. The plans. The house. The pregnancy. The married parents. Things were coming together. You had walked in obedience to the Lord, done everything right, and he was blessing you. Isn't that what they all tell you in church, the pastors and Bible study leaders and even friends who promise that if you show up to allthethings and you are always pursuing holiness that life just lines up? I mean, I know they don't say that. They say don't expect life to be easy. But they still have to find some way to keep you coming, because they need their ministry to succeed, their efforts for God to not be in vain. But they weren't giving you the vulnerable Gospel of weakness and brokenness when they were telling you how you needed to sacrifice and always show up and give and serve and do and be God's witness to this heathen nation of ours.
But you have been there. You've known emotions of when you thought all was lost and nothing made sense, and maybe you had the courage to shake your fist at God and stop pretending you were cool with the way he was screwing up your life. How you just thought all was lost and maybe you still had the smile and the facade, but deep down you were just done.
And then something broke you.
It was Christ. He reminded you that it was the religious people who clamored to usher him in with palms, choosing to see a stallion in the place of a lowly ass. Those same people crucified him a week later when he turned out not to be their Delivering King. Not as they anticipated him to be. When you signed the divorce or foreclosure papers, or the boss called you into his office, when your mom called and said, "You need to sit down and focus because I need to tell you something," or your phone rang and from the first words out of the doctor's mouth you knew the test results weren't good, when the cramping began and you wiped and it was bright red, and you cried out for the King who would conquer and undo it. You wanted Jesus on a white horse, refused to worship the guy on a donkey.
But later, in the broken moments, you communed the real King, the Savior who sweat drops of blood as he prayed in the garden because he was so anxious to face his fate and yet he was sinless.
If he could say, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do," to the crowd jeering him and taking his clothes as a prize while his blood coursed to the rocks below, could he not take you in your weakness and show you that redemption can only come after the death of plans for the "delivered" life? The gifts of power and ease for Christ's chosen was always our hope, our plan, never his. But after, when you started to open your eyes and see that not a single person is strong, and the stronger someone fronts themselves to be the more scared they are, you began to understand what it means for Jesus' "power [to be] made perfect in weakness."
Maybe all that we need
Is a heartbreak to love again
So, dear one, do you see it? The Gospel in two silly pop songs. The story of raw vulnerability, of realizing our guilt renders us helpless and numb, and then only brokenness and knowing we have nothing left of ourselves to depend on can open us up to love. But this time, it's different. It's better. Because we can connect. We can feel. We can be present, engage with the reality in our present and not the constructed hopes for how we can architect our easier, better future.
Two songs. So different, yet together, telling the whole story, from hopelessness to hope.
And, beloved, if you still are just holding on for tonight?