Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Open Heaven....Part I

Every year, I ask God what his theme is for me for the new year. For 2011 it was "Open Heaven." What this meant, based on some other things that God had been sharing with me, was that 2011 was to be a year full of blessings pouring down from heaven, as if it was opened up and the goodness couldn't help but drop from above. I felt that he was going to bless me in some specific ways related to my theatrical pursuits, which he did. As 2012 is dawning, I want to take a few moments to acknowledge some of the wonderful things God did in relation to opening heaven for me this past year. 2011 began somewhat dry, having experienced a flurry of activity the previous fall related to workshopping my new kids musical, King David: LIVE! through what I called the "Pre-Premiere Performance Tour." We weren't going to begin rehearsals for the full production of King David: LIVE! until sometime in March of 2011, so there was a gap of time where seemingly nothing was going on creatively. However, where a few months prior I got to taste a flurry, God has a full-on BLIZZARD in store for me, and he prophesied it through an ACTUAL BLIZZARD in February, on Groundhog Day. Blizzard------> Open Heaven? YES INDEED! Some of my readers may know that I have prayed for snow for many years from a very early age, having lived in Houston, Texas (land of no snow) for much of my growing up life. So when a blizzard came to Chicago earlier this year, I couldn't help but proudly claim the blame for it. I had been praying for snow for years, even a blizzard at different times, and God just decided to dump it on me in a city that could handle it. Houston would have been shut down for weeks if not more, had something like this occurred there. So there was that. And I LOVED it. Open Heaven #1. Open Heaven#2: God gave me my first theatrical team here in Chicago. Inviting Chris Leck aboard for the King David: LIVE! workshops was a first step in this direction back in the Fall of 2010, but when I turned the show into a three-person piece and Kylie Edmonds came aboard, the magic number 3 made it feel more official. I had my first team of theatre artists who were going to help me get a show up in Chicago, and my first full, professional play at that. I was so excited. Open Heaven#3: After much rehearsing, we still needed to gather our materials for props, costumes, set, etc. to get King David: LIVE! up and running. God gave me a very fun and talented costume designer in Kylie, with whom I went rummaging through clothing racks at thrift stores and a few other places to find affordable, workable costume solutions. A director friend of mine just happened to have a pipe and drape system that we were able to borrow, and Chris, my other actor, still had a solid drop that he had made for a previous show. When we set that drop up for the first time in my apartment with the pipe system, I knew what was coming next....We were really going to premiere this thing. Time for Open Heaven #4. Open Heaven #4: God graciously provided me with the right connections and direction to go for professional advertisement of the show, and that combined with further grace resulted in a SELL-OUT house for the premiere performance of King David: LIVE! at Gorilla Tango Theatre. My first fully finished production, professionally produced, and the first performance sold out! How perfect, how very gracious of my God to do this for me! We actually had to turn people away because there were no more seats available. The following performance did not sell out, but we still broke even for that premiere weekend, and the whole experience felt like such a reward and gift. Odd combination I suppose, but that's how it felt. Open Heaven #5: As part of the advertising campaign, my friend Joel McGinty crafted a very nice video promo for me for King David: LIVE! At a time of discouragement when there was little activity in January and February, seeing this promo further bolstered my hope and faith that this was a production that was about to take flight and was worth going after this year. Open Heaven #5: My brother Joshua who helped me move to Chicago over 3 years ago got to visit me for the first time since the relocation, and he was able to witness all of the blessing being poured out on me. He took part in that himself, and it was very good to have him. Open Heaven #6: My brother Ivan's wife, Rachel, made a professional website for me to further promote King David: LIVE! You can see it at Open Heaven #7: After premiering KDL in May, we got a professional booking at a local community center two weeks later, and we were also able to do a mini performance at a private school that just happened to have a HUGE, professional theatre space. We're talking raked seating, wireless mic system, the works. I believe this was a foretaste of bookings to come. Open Heaven #8: In September, we launched a huge campaign to further promote bookings of KDL in schools, churches, synagogues, and anywhere else that may want to awaken heroes and history makers in the next generation (that's the purpose of the show in its broad scope). While this second weekend of performances did not do as well as the opening weekends in terms of ticket sales, it provided my team and I the opportunity to develop the show further, adding some new and better costumes and props, fine-tuning our performances, and we got some additional photos and video to use on the KDL website as well. Additionally, we were able to make some important connections with institutions that may prove to be an important bridge builder for future performances of the show down the line, including one at a Willow Creek church this coming year, 2012. Open Heaven #9...I am going to have to continue this in a part two, as I about to celebrate the closing of 2011 and dawning of 2012. There are just too many blessings from 2011 to list in this short amount of time. Keep watch for part II! See you in 2012!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oil Spill: Part I

What goes in must come out. What goes up, must come down.

What does it mean to be a person of truth? What did Jesus mean when he said, "True worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth?" (my paraphrase)

I wonder if this has something to do with approaching God and others from a place of glass-splitting honesty. (If "glass-splitting honesty" seems an odd combination of words to you, think on it a bit, and I am confident the meaning will come to most of you reading this.) That would necessitate coming to him with both the good and the bad, the light, dark, and in between that we would often rather not admit or talk about. It feels better to come to God and others with a fresh face; radiant with hope, expectancy and faith in what is and what is to come. But what of the times when that faith is just not there, or feels fragile at best?

I think God welcomes it all. Consider the following:

"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless." -Psalm 10:14

And continuing a little later:
"You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more." -Psalm 10:17-18.

What strikes me in this is God's listening posture and his encouraging. Actually, it goes the other way around in the passage. He encourages, and THEN he listens. Many who are used to the "pull yourself up by your Bible bootstraps" method of recovery might expect it to be the other way around, where we cry, followed by God encouraging, saying, "That's it! Cry no more! I've encouraged you!" And while I think that is part of the equation at times, there is something equally beautiful and comforting to be gained from what we see here: Encouragement, then more crying. It's as if God is saying, "I'll encourage you. Now keep crying. Let it all out. I'll encourage you some more, for as long as it takes."

To be quite honest, I have been processing some disappointments lately that have felt like the culminating disappointment of my life. And in this, I have felt God giving me the permission to get angry about it, with him and with what feels to me like an injustice. (I know that God is just, so I am not accusing him. But it is surprising when he allows us to use him as a punching bag.) And this has been scary. But I think it would be less scary if I were to process this kind of grief more honestly and more regularly. It's like an oil reservoir, longing to be drilled, the pressure having built up for so long that upon finally being tapped, the black ooze just seems to pour and pour.

Nobody wants to see crude oil pouring out of their mouth. But an old proverb says that "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." So what goes in must come out. Pain in, pain out. Joy in, joy out. Perhaps the trick is knowing when and how to tap the crude oil reserves so that others aren't subject to a massive oil spill. I think that's what the cross is for...pouring it all on Jesus, while he pours blood and water on us in and more life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tree at Last

What can you do when your place of greatest hope begins to infringe on your deepest disappointment? What is one to do when cold, hard retreat and impending satisfaction neither seem viable options?

Can one who is lame ever dare to truly walk on his own, when any attempts made previously ended in the same pitiful falling? And by the same token, can one bear to deny any future hope for a successful, stabilized attempt?

Such is the bittersweet flower we call "hope." It is at once a sweet fragrance and a putrid odor, depending on which side of a moment it stands.

Hope...deferred makes the heart sick. But a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Some shoots may grow into beautiful trees, even out of what was once a stump perhaps. But how many times can such a stump bear to extend a fresh, green shoot, groping towards heaven, before it becomes weary of the constant chopping down which it is never quite, and somehow always, accustomed to?

As my mom, Cat Ello, wrote in one of her songs years ago,

"Jesus, Gardner of my heart,
break this fallow ground apart."

Oh to be tree....tree indeed.