24 May 2010

Good Enough

I am a person of many insecurities. Not that people would always know it by looking at me. I'm told that occasionally my "confidence" is so overwhelming I intimidate people (working on that.) But that confidence isn't always as pure as it might seem. I'll blame it on years of the "fake it until you make it" mentality - or perhaps just better than average acting skills that I possess.

I bring this up because recently I've been faced with the kind of perfect challenge that is at the same time catered to some of my greatest strengths but also leaning on some of my insecurities and weaknesses. This particular challenge calls for me to place said insecurities and strengths in front of large groups of people and hope for the best. I can't really blame God for any of this, seeing as I volunteered for the thing in the first place, but recently I started to feel the pressure kind of getting to me. That nagging "you don't really think you can do this. . . " voice of discouragement that makes me want to quit the whole thing and just avoid the potential for failure at all.

So this is the pep talk I've been giving myself: The devil wants us to hide our talents, even our weaker ones, because weaker ones can become strong ones. Right now my talent might just be good or passable, but the Lord will make up the difference and make it great. The only way this is going to happen is if I stop trying to improve this talent out of some desire for personal acclaim or recognition, and only if I remember where I got the gift in the first place. I also need to remember that my weaknesses make life interesting and give me something to work for - and that as a person, I'm good enough because I am His.

Pep talk over.

02 May 2010

Lead Kindly Light

Three years ago, right now, I was sitting in Fitz Park. Fitz Park is a small but happy little place in Keswick, England - one of my favorite towns in the entire world. Keswick is in The Lake District - an area in the North Western part of England known for their, wait for it, lakes - and their untouched countryside, mountains, and the general sense of peace there. I don't know if I could ever live in Keswick permanently - it's a bit too small for a girl who grew up in the suburbs - but it is a place that I will always have a soft spot for. It's a beautiful, remarkable sort of place to just be.

I was in Keswick that time around for my study abroad. On this study abroad, our theme hymn was "Lead Kindly Light", a song that I'd always loved but understood better after actually walking across the moors and having my feet be so literally far from home. Since then it's more or less been my favorite hymn. This morning I turned on my church music playlist on iTunes and "Lead Kindly Light" was the first song to come up. Normally I'd smile and think about how much I like that song and move on with getting ready for church, but I stopped today, thinking instead about how appropriate this song is to my life right now.

Several months ago I decided I was moving. I decided that I was ready to be done with Provo, that I didn't want to do what everyone else does in sticking around Utah forever, that I was tired of living where I am and needed change - that the best way to get it would be by going somewhere entirely different and new. A clean break. I wanted Seattle. I went to visit for a week in April. I went again the next week for a teaching fair. The second I got off the plane - or soon after, anyway, I knew what I'd more or less known and been stubbornly denying the entire time - that it wasn't where the Lord wanted me to be. I had been - like the song said - trying to choose my own path.

So much of that decision was based on how completely miserable I was for nearly all of February and a good portion of March as well. I was feeling suffocated. I was trapped in a place I didn't want to be without very many real friends around. I holed myself away and threw myself into my teaching. A worthwhile thing, perhaps, but the Lord hasn't ever been entirely content with my hermitting. Neither have I, though I might not always have the gumption to fight against that tendency.

What I am meandering around to say, then, is that I realized again this morning that I am glad that the Lord chooses paths for me instead of allowing me to choose them for myself. I have a great capacity to dream and imagine great things, but the Lord has always known better. In the last several weeks, a string of things has happened that I never thought would have, but they are better than I ever would have imagined them to be on my own. I have made dozens of new, positive friends to replace pessimistic ones. I have opportunities lining up in front of my eyes that I never would have found without meeting those same people. I am in the right place at the right time. These blessings have been months in the making - going all the way back to last August when I first told the school that I wanted to help with the play. Going back to being placed at this school in the first place.

I don't know why the Lord has blessed me in this particular way. I think about the ways that other people are blessed and so much of this feels unnecessary and extra. I don't really need to travel as much as I have, do I? I don't really need theater, do I? Aren't there other ways that aren't quite so elaborate? Ways that don't make me feel this happy? Perhaps - but whether that's true or not, today I am feeling decidedly grateful to my Heavenly Father for caring enough for me to guide me to where I am right now. I am overwhelmed.

01 May 2010


Theater has taken over my life.

I knew that it would. It always does. The second I get cast in a show I don't even bother trying to deny the fact that everything (nearly) takes a back seat to making the show good. I obsess over it. I think about it. I re-think about it. It goes on and on because I am determined to never do a half baked job in a show. Music Man is definitely no exception.

It's all got me thinking though - about my entire "career" in theater, what got me to where I am now and why it's all so important to me that I would devote everything I've got for several months at a time to a production. Recently I was asked to write an article about why the arts are important for schools. These are some of the things I've come up with, most of which will be related specifically to the arts with theater, since it is what I know best.

1. This one is a bit cheap, but you can't cheat your way through the arts. If you're a smart enough student, you can cheat your way through many things. I know this. I will proudly admit to being an expert essay fluffer. I can mooch my way through any last minute essay and still do well on it once I've learned how to give a teacher what they want. Any English major worth their salt can do that. I'm sure that such skills translate into other areas of study as well. But you can't do that in the arts. You either know the song or you don't. You have your lines memorized, or you don't. Now, there are levels of perfection, certainly, but you can't cheat off anyone else's work. You have to put the time in yourself.

2. That said, you learn to work as a team, and, if you're smart, learn that the success of the team is better than anything you can do on your own. I've spent years getting cast in the chorus. Many, many years being cast in the background with small showcased moments or a line here or there. Every now and then I've managed to get a lead. All along the way I learned that nine times out of ten I cared more about being in the show and being on stage and doing my best than I did with getting the starring role. People who learn to really care about the arts, people who learn the lesson that they have to teach, will recognize the truth behind the cliche of there being no small parts. The arts - on stage or off - teach the same lesson taught all around the world in religious education that you are both everything and nothing at the same time. The arts are - or should be - a grand lesson in humility and hard work no matter your place.

3. The arts teach you to trust others. One of my favorite quotes comes in the movie Nicholas Nickleby at the very end when the narration says that "family need not be defined by those with whom we share our blood, but those for whom we would give our blood." The best shows - the ones that have meant the most to me - have been ones where life long friendships are built. You have no choice. In a short period of time you have to place yourself at the mercy of total strangers, risking yourself emotionally and physically as you get to know them. For someone like me who is generally very guarded and wary of people I don't know, theater as taught me to trust that other people will do their part, and that they will not let me down because I will do my best not to let them down. The bond of a solid cast is remarkable.

4. The arts teach you how to walk in someone else's shoes. I think one of the reasons that the Lord has blessed me with so many opportunities on stage is because I learn about myself when I play someone else. I learn about my flaws and my strengths - not just in terms of acting or dancing ability, but because making an effort to really understand another way of thinking refines your own. That kind of intense character study and analysis has taught me to be careful about pre-judging others.

5. It's just fun. Heaven knows how much I love to analyze things to death. I could spend the rest of eternity picking apart books and movies and never tire of it, but being on stage gives me the chance to do something just for the thrill of performance. There's something intensely exciting about the accomplishment of seeing a show progress from start to finish. It's fun to put on a great costume and sing your heart out when saying it just wouldn't be good enough. There's a kind of energy that comes when you know the audience is eating out of the palm of your hand, and that they will leave entertained, or changed in some way.

I am in awe, sometimes, when I think about how lucky I have been to have the theater experiences that I have had. Recently, especially, I've been completely overwhelmed at the weight of it all, grateful that the Lord has seen fit to bless me with experiences that bring me such a huge amount of joy.