Even the thick coat of ice on my windshield couldn't bring me down that night, despite the long drive home I was facing - in the snow, sleet and cold.
Surprising, since just a couple of hours earlier I had been looking at myself in the mirror, fighting back tears and telling God, in no uncertain terms, that if I was really supposed to be doing this then a sign, or something, would be really appreciated.
If you've been reading this blog (I'd link to the posts to which I'm referring, but my host changed some things and I can't figure out how to do so), you might have noticed that I've been struggling through some things. Trying to figure out the why, the how and the "how will I know when I've succeeded" in this journey of songwriting/music making.
Frankly, I feel as if I've been a narcissistic jerk. So wrapped up in myself and what others might, or might not, think of my music or of me. Longing for affirmation and a desire to be known - yet understanding, in my bones, that those things don't offer long-term satisfaction or longevity. A deeper, spiritual battle has been taking place.
This has been an inner struggle, mainly, that hasn't necessarily reached the outside. But, its been fairly debilitating emotionally and mentally. Songwriting hasn't been a joy as of late - its been an arduous task focused on making a successful song (what is that, anyway?) rather than simply entering the process of authentic writing. I've taken things people have said far too seriously, and personally. I've obsessed over numbers and popularity. I've been jealous of others. And, performance anxiety has been overwhelming on a few occasions. I've wanted to just be done with it all. None of it felt good. Sure, in the midst of this I've continued doing what I think matters most - work in the hospitals, the Detention Center, etc, but I want my inside to match the outside. Sometimes, we do things because we know we should, and it takes awhile for the inside to come alongside the outside. Sometimes, that's the way God works in us.
You see its been this thing that has felt like an oppressive weight pushing down on my chest. This sense of inadequacy, this sense of insecurity, this tension that I haven't been able to shake. I've experienced this before on smaller scales, but never for so long and to such an extent.
It all came to a head last week. I was trying to write. Trying to force something, anything, good out of myself. I was miserable doing it, but the pressure to continue wouldn't stop. I was spiraling and tried to distract myself with Twitter. That's healthy, right? I read one tweet which was a quote from Hemingway, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
Okay. I'll try that.
And, I did.
I sat at the piano and just let it all out. The disappointment, the anger, the hurt, the fear, the insecurity, the unknown, and the hopefulness that something would change. It was a prayer, a request, but also a statement.
And, it felt great.
All while the kids played downstairs.
I walked away relieved of my worries for a while. I had said what I needed to say. I had given up. I was done in. I wasn't going to play the games anymore - especially since I never won them, anyway.
But, where from here? At that point, mom-duty called, so I walked away with the weight still on my chest, but with hopefulness stirring.
A couple of days later brought the trip to Delano and The Three Crows.
I was excited to head to The Three Crows. They have music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and their roster includes a great bunch of musicians. I was happy to be a part of that roster. Oh, and they have excellent food.
But, last Friday was cold - really cold - and three days after New Years Eve, the conclusion of a busy Holiday season.
I was to begin playing at 7:30pm, but at 7:15pm there was not one single customer in the place. Not one. The staff was astounded, and I tried really hard not to take it personally. I felt defeated.
Why? Why am I doing this? Why? What a waste of resources and time. I could be home with my husband and kids. Time away from them is so valuable these days - is this all really worth it? The not-knowing? The risk? I've started this whole thing too late in life - at the wrong time. Most of my musician friends have been doing this for a decade. They don't seem to have to fight so hard.
So, the staff and I went over to the sake bar to have a drink. That's healthy, right?
Then, a couple walked in. I figured since I was there, they were there, I'm gonna make the best of it despite the awkwardness of playing for two people.
I went to the restroom, and as I was washing my hands, I fought the tears. Unsuccessfully. That's when I had my little talk (or maybe, dare I say, my confrontation?) with God.
I hoped no one would see the remnants of my tears as I walked over to the keyboard.
As I started getting situated behind the keyboard, the gentleman began telling me that he had received a phone call from Ethiopia that morning, telling him to go to The Three Crows. Wait, what?
It was the father of my friend, Matt Florek, who is serving with his wife, my friend Kristi, along with their kids, as medical missionaries in Ethiopia.
Oh, how fun was that! We chatted and I just loved hearing news from Ethiopia.
Then I played. That staff came and sat at a table. It was intimate and I got to know those few people a little bit.
Soon a table of four came in along with a couple of random people. The staff got up to get to work. They looked disappointed. We'd gotten sort of cozy.
Then, in walked a friend from college along with his girlfriend.
He'd seen my posting on Facebook and came out to hear some music.
Wow, was it good to see him and his lady.
After the set, I chatted some more with Matt's dad and his friend, along with a fairly intoxicated gentleman that was overly infatuated, but perhaps sincere in his appreciation of my music.
Then I talked to Andy.
We caught up, we reminisced, we chatted about mutual friends/acquaintances, and without me seeing it coming the conversation took a deeper trek. See, we have this friend who is sort of becoming a big deal down in Atlanta. He's playing big stadiums and touring with a band that is opening for a national act. I'd be jealous if I wasn't so proud. He's worked really, really hard and its paying off. I did a little comparing, expressing my concern that what I was doing was all a waste. I mean, really.
Then Andy spoke into me something that turned a switch. I don't recall his exact words, but they took me by surprise and nearly knocked the wind out of me. Most importantly, they knocked that weight right off my chest.
He'd been reading my blog, mentioning the jailhouse and hospice posts. I was flattered. I was surprised. What I've been doing, and writing about, was making him think. That maybe there is something more to life than work and play. In turn, Andy reminded me that music is about connecting, reaching and maybe even influencing another human being and possibly making a difference in their life. That the pursuit of that connection is worthwhile and worthy. That popularity, influence and power are truly meaningless in the long-run as they are fleeting and subjective. That maybe if I was in the shoes of our friend in Atalanta I'd be worse off than I am now.
I couldn't tell you if it was the place, the people, the conversation, the movement of the Spirit, or all of the above, but that 30 minute conversation was transformational to me. Hearing those words from someone I haven't spoken with in over a decade, mattered. They mattered a lot.
I loaded-up and headed home. It was the worse drive ever in terms of weather/road conditions, but the best time in terms of feeling free for the first time in months. I'd asked for a sign and I'd been given it in a way that I would not have been able to predict. It was worth every hard fought mile.
I may never be "good enough" to be played on Pandora, to be booked into larger venues, to have 200 "likes" on my Facebook page or sell 10,000 CDs. How do I live in that? Well...
Rather than trying to be another voice in the myriad of voices screaming for attention, I want to be a positive presence in people's lives through music and song.
Because, let's face it. We all can beat ourselves up to no end - day in and day out. We can work ourselves into a frenzy trying to accomplish something, but it may never be enough. At the end of it all is the question of whether or not we lived our lives for, through and to Someone else. That is what matters.
What this means is everything I do can be filtered through this purpose statement. I can ask myself the question - "Is what I'm doing right now simply a cry for attention or is it working towards being a positive presence in people's lives?"
What this means is that I pursue house concerts, small venues, and places that allow me to connect, to share, to listen rather than simply desiring to play in really cool, big places. To continue on the path in hospitals, institutions, and the detention center. Though not ignoring public venues.
What this means is that things like publishing contracts, press, media, facebook, twitter, this blog, etc. all work to accomplish my purpose rather than trying to satisfy my own narcissistic tendencies.
What this means is that I can remove the pressure from myself to have to write that really great song (again, what does this mean?). I will simply write.
What this means is that I'll know I'm succeeding when I find myself living out this purpose. When I hear stories, or have conversations (like with Andy) that show people are listening and responding.
What this means is that I can be an encouragement to others rather than being such a jerk, Lord willing!
I really cannot find words to describe what a relief I feel to reach this sort-of-conclusion to the struggle of these past four months. I say "sort-of" because stuff always creeps back in. However, it feels great to have this down on paper. To have something to which I can point.
I've got a little joy back in my step.
Maybe some of you are struggling with purpose, too. Or maybe its lack of focus or a new transition or with taking that leap of faith. I can't be the only one, or at least I hope I'm not.
For Believers, our ultimate purpose and glory is found in Christ, but there comes a time when a micro-purpose can prove extremely helpful. I'm thankful to have been shown mine.