Keepsake

Hold on loosely to the things of this life...

I watched them tear down my dreams today…

Well, it wasn’t really as devastating as it sounds. It was actually just the set for a musical I was performing in.

We had auditions about 4 months ago. I hoped and hoped I’d get this particularly fun part. It was everything I’d dreamed of since my childhood, as a fat little 8 year old kid putting on plays on my front porch in Huntsville, Alabama with my stereo system strategically aimed out my front door at the unwary pedestrians on the street outside.

The good news is I won the part and spent a glorious month onstage doing my dream role 5 times a week. For an incredible ham like me, it was pure heaven on earth.

And now it’s over.

I showed up at the theater this morning, hoping for one last look at the gorgeous set our volunteers had constructed. But I was too late. As I walked in, all that remained were planks and waste baskets strewn about the stage. They’d managed to take it all apart in just less than an hour.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not mad. It’s the way things work, in theatre and in life. One thing ends, and you clear the way for the next.

I simply wasn’t expecting it to be gone in an hour, but that’s just about how long it takes for life to change on us…

One phone call – an accident, a lost job, a doctor’s test results – and something that brought us joy is done. By comparison to the big issues of life, my little play is trivial. But the randomness with which our lives can suddenly be deconstructed can be brutal.

We think we have a little time left, only to find that everything is already gone before we had a chance to say goodbye.

I walked around and peered through the racks of leftover props. “Where was that wallet I used in that one scene? The prop folks had made business cards for my character. I’d love to have one as a keepsake.”

Nope. Already gone. Probably in someone’s waste basket. No one’s fault, but still…brutal.

Yeah, I know I’m pretty over-the-top here. I guess it’s no surprise I’m making this is so melodramatic – I’m a creative person. We tend to be wired a little differently, to say the least. And sure, I’m reading a lot into a simple set coming down. And yet…

This is the ephemeral, transitory nature of life. And its brutality can harden you, even make you cynical. It can make you want to put wall around your heart and everything you love, if you’re not careful.

Some performers are known for getting the “post-show blues”. The camaraderie they felt with fellow performers – that feeling of “family” when you’re all focused on a common goal – that’s gone now. And trying to meet up and reminisce afterward would seem like a lame substitute for the great time you had.

You avoid that, almost out of respect for the sacredness you feel for the shared experience. That’s why I almost never go to cast parties when the show closes. It’s just sad because you’ll never get back what you had in those fleeting moments onstage and backstage. Life has moved on, and something precious is gone.

Best not to linger.

*The survival “key” I’ve discovered, not just for show closings but for the constant “endings” of life, is to be sure you’re getting your greatest joy from something that can’t be taken away.

Most of us set our hearts on things destined to die. We love wealth or fame, only to see it eventual deplete. But others of us put our full weight on good things, like family and friends. We think we’re smarter because people are obviously more intrinsically valuable than things.

But then the ones we love leave. The show is over. Your friend moves away. Your loved one dies. The kids move out. You retire.

Once again…brutal.

And before you get one last look, someone has dismantled your dream. You look now only to see the broken pieces of it littering the stage of your life.

*So what was that “key” again? What is it that no one can take away from you, that never dies, never changes?

Simple…it’s God. And you and I were meant to treasure Him and prioritize His place in our lives more than anything else. Why? Because He is the only one who never leaves.

And not all the deconstruction is bad. Five years ago, God dismantled my life.  I stepped away from every bit of security I knew to start a church and reach new people. During those five years, I’ve had the joy of doing some of the greatest shows in musical theatre history. But better than that, I’ve been able to lead to Christ many of those actors who shared the stage with me.

The shows close, the sets are dismantled. But those people and their relationship with their new Father will last for all eternity.

For these miracles to occur, my old life had to end. When I think of what I would have missed if I’d changed my mind about that first step of faith, it scares me.

What if fear had made me hold onto my miserable but familiar state, simply because I was afraid my new life might be more miserable? If I’d stayed where I was, what kind of man would I be today?

I can see him there in my mind now, sitting in that office, dreaming of something more. He never would realize all the joy he had missed by not walking away…

Thank you, God, for tearing down the crumbling life I’d constructed and building a new one!

Everything you love other than God will die one day. I know that sounds harsh, but facing that truth surely will set you free. Nostalgia and yearning for the past may eat at your soul, but life will still irrevocably change. No matter how much you love your current circumstances, you’ll never share the same space with the same people on that stage again.

Except…if you put God first, you’ll be OK when the show is over. Sure, I’m a little sad as I sit here in the Starbucks down the road from my theater. But I’ve taken the advice of a pastor-friend of mine, who once warned me:

“Hold on loosely to the things of this life. That way, when they are taken from you (as all things other than God will be), you’re not torn apart trying to hold on to them”.

But today, it’s quiet here. People in and out, ordering their drinks and leaving. I sit here, typing these words. No gales of laughter breaking my train of thought. Solitude, though people are all around me. Peaceful…like a graveyard.

______________________________________________________________________

It’s springtime now in Florida. You know, the time when you can tell a new season has come because the license plates change color…

When seasons change and people leave, you still have the one thing that truly brings meaning and purpose to your life. You have God – not in just a symbolic way, but in a very real friendship that comforts you in loss and fills up your days after the other joys have faded.

Thankfully, I don’t have to pine away for my lost “glory days” on the stage. Nor do I have to start looking forward to “the next show”. What a sad way to live, moving from experience to experience, knowing each one will never last forever.

But this one Friend, He will walk with me into the next performance, the next trial, the next victory, the next crushing loss. I will continue to live out a life of extreme love and actions, because I know it is the only one that truly pleases Him.

And one day when the remnants of my life are nothing more just the dismantled pieces of the final play I’ve acted out, my Father will still be with me.

On that day He’ll smile, take my hand, and lovingly lead me onto the next role He’s written especially for me. It’ll be on a bright new stage that will make the ones on this earth seem dimly lit by comparison.

There on the stage of heaven, I’ll perform just for Him, my true Father, my audience of One. My lines will be perfect, because they’ll be written by the greatest Playwright of all.

But that proscenium will never be dismantled. We’ll never know tears or goodbyes again, for we will be home where we’re loved completely.

Finally home, back in our Father’s house.

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