Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Behind the Curtain

About 5 weeks after Audrey died, Bryan and I traveled to New York City. It was my first trip to the Big Apple. We had planned to go well before the accident occurred. There were a lot of reasons to cancel it altogether. How could I leave Caroline and Mary Claire with someone else? How could I try to have any fun? In hindsight, I am not sure why we made the final decision to go anyway. It was terribly hard to get out of the door. But, we knew we needed the time together, and we didn’t want the devil to win. It may sound silly, but I actually thought if I changed my plans that somehow I would be setting a standard for the rest of my life. I felt like I had to decide right then and there to keep moving even though I didn’t want to breathe anymore.

That first trip to New York included some really great sights and sounds (like Rockefeller Center at Christmastime), but it was excruciatingly hard. I cried my eyes out at every major landmark and scenic overlook in the Empire State. Everything we did was shrouded in grief. In the end, we were proud of ourselves for going, but it was so sad.

That was December 2007. This last weekend, Bryan and I made our second trip together to New York City. We met two of our best friends for a spontaneous getaway. I know, it sounds extravagant. It was. Not many people get to do what we just did. I even flew home in the first class cabin. (Bryan travels weekly for work, and there are perks.)

Knowing how blessed I was to be taking off for the weekend, I anticipated lots of fun this time around. But, I also braced myself as I entered Times Square for the second time and caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty for the second time. I wanted so much to replace those wounded memories of our trip following Audrey’s death. But, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Would I be overcome by that same sadness, conjure up the freshness of the grief?

I am grateful to say that we successfully made some new memories this weekend without dredging up too many of the old ones. It was great hanging out in such a busy, diverse city with good friends. We laughed a lot and didn’t do too much planning ahead. We took a bus tour, ate lunch in Chinatown, consumed an authentic Reuben at the Jewish delicatessen where part of “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed, browsed FAO Schwartz, shopped in Soho, and saw two fabulous Broadway shows: “Mary Poppins” and “Jersey Boys”.

One of the highlights of our trip was a unique backstage tour of the set of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. Lead actors in the musical include Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) and John Laroquette. We didn’t meet those guys, but one of our friends’ old college buddies from Baylor (Chris Hanke) also has a lead role in the musical (which plays through December). He was gracious enough to meet us at the stage door an hour before the show and give us an inside look. What a genuinely nice guy he is! He took us into his personal dressing room and we actually walked onto the stage of the quaint old theatre. Only an hour before show time, we were standing behind the curtain of a real Broadway show! How cool is that?! What a vantage point!

Behind the curtain. That one phrase really sums up my second trip to New York City. It was as if I saw New York City for the first time this weekend. It is as if I was looking at it from behind the curtain…from a whole new vantage point…with an insider’s look at what was really going on spiritually in one of the heaviest populated cities in the world. In 2007, I was reeling from the most life-changing, earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting event I had ever encountered. All I could see in New York was my own pain and loss. This time, I think I saw into God’s heart a little more. Let me explain.

While we were sitting at “Mary Poppins”, I felt immense joy as we appreciated the God-given talents of the actors and actresses, dancers, musicians, writers, directors, set designers, and costume designers. The show was innocent and had a heart-warming message. The music was infectious, and the dancing made me want to stand up and join in. The actors and actresses were hilarious. The children who played Jane and Michael Banks performed brilliantly. I was so impressed with the artistry involved in preparing the show. “What a creative God we serve!” I thought.

I had the same thought the next night as we watched “Jersey Boys”, a musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” have become such a part of our shared cultural experience. Isn’t God good to give us music to share and enjoy? The actor who played Frankie Valli sounded JUST like Frankie himself. His voice was so pure—out of this world perfect. Who has falsetto like that? Not many people. God gave that man great talent. I’m so glad he shared it with Bryan and me and our friends.

I could not help but think as we sat in those theatres that Heaven is going to be so awesome! What amazing breadth and depth of creativity and talent our big God has placed in His people. I can just see us singing and dancing and painting and making sets and putting on shows in Heaven. Can’t you? I can see us all sharing with each other what we do best and enjoying what God made in and through us. Pretty cool thought.

But, seeing New York City from “behind the curtain” also meant that I became keenly aware of the evidence all around me that this world is in need of a Savior. In the midst of the wealth and the entertainment and the food and the creativity and the hard-working New Yorkers (like our newly immigrated 22-year-old pedi-cab driver from Turkmenistan), I saw the dark underbelly of the fallen world. In 2007, we were too sad to tour Ground Zero. I didn’t think I could handle it. This time, with respect and reverence, we observed with our own eyes the devastation of evil. We saw a damaged sculpture blocks and blocks away from the original Twin Towers, and I realized for the first time what it must have been like when a 100 story building collapsed in the middle of such a busy city. I still cannot believe that we were in New York City on the day we finally located Osama Bin Laden. Historic.

Ground Zero wasn’t the only evidence of the world’s ills in NYC. I saw individual people hurting, living in a lost and broken world. As we walked down the street after a show, I saw so many homeless. Many of them were mentally ill. I also saw trash cans being dumped by garbage collectors in the early morning hours. The side of the trash cans advertised fortune tellers. I saw a poster on a stairway leading to a basement establishment that advertised “Oriental beauties who perform rare love rituals”. I saw people who had too much to drink and didn’t look like they were very happy. I saw people touring the city on vacation, all the while bickering with their family members. I saw an impatient man in a cab yell angrily at a taxi operator to “do his job”, removing any shred of dignity he may have had. I saw a young woman in front of a pizza place talking on the phone crying. And, I witnessed a mother get sick and faint in a restaurant while her husband and son struggled to help her. NYC police, firemen, and EMT’s arrived to assist. They worked on her while her husband held her wobbly head and her son (who appeared to be about 11) sat across the table and cried. The waiter and an officer kept their hands on his shoulder and tried to reassure him. But, he was terrified. Eventually, the mother was whisked away to an ambulance.

I saw things this time. Really saw things, you know? I wish I didn’t. It was burdensome. But, I did. I saw people this time. Really saw them. I feel like I witnessed life from a whole different vantage point. Some of the things I saw made me want to weep uncontrollably. I felt a sudden sense of urgency and a desire to throw off EVERYTHING that hinders me from seeing things with proper perspective.

I was telling Bryan later that I was afraid to tell the folks I was with how I was really feeling…what I was really thinking. And, the folks I was with were my husband and two of our best friends in the whole world! It’s no slam to them. They would have understood if I explained it. But, I know they want to escape sometimes and have fun. I don’t want to hinder that. We were on vacation, for goodness sake! I’m also scared people will think I have not healed, that I am wallowing in my grief. But, I know with confidence that this is a healthy new place I’m not going to be able to push past. It’s my new normal. Sometimes I am not sure people are ready for the way my life has changed…on the inside. Sometimes I feel like if I told people what I was really thinking that it would be “too much”…even for other Christians. It can be pretty lonely in here.

Regardless of my petty fears and my struggles with pride, I cannot willingly shut down the Holy Spirit. I can’t do that. I cannot look at the world the same anymore! God has given me a rare and beautiful look at things from behind the curtain. I can see foretastes of Heaven—the best of God’s creation, everything He called “good”. I can see sin and its devastation—in myself, in others, in our culture. I can see how God is bringing His plan to fruition--how He is actively drawing people to Himself. I can see opportunities all around me to point others to Him. For me, the veil has been lifted between the temporal and the eternal. I SEE things now. (Mary Beth and Steven Curtis: I get it! Maria…I SEE.)

I am going to do something I haven’t done before: ask for YOUR advice. What do I do with this new way of seeing? What do I do now? I know there may be lots of people reading this and thinking, “What in the world is she talking about?” But, I also know there are many of you who have had your life-altering moment, and now, you, too, SEE. So, what do I do? How do I take my behind-the-scenes look at God’s world and use it for His glory? How do I take my new sense of urgency and turn it away from feeling weird and different and into feeling powerful and vital to the kingdom? (I can kind of answer this for myself…but I would appreciate any commentary…) What do YOU do?

Thank you to those of you who are sharing my journey…those of you who are walking alongside me, seeing things the way I see them. You lighten my load and make my path brighter. We must encourage each other (all the more as we see the Day approaching.)

Bryan: Thanks for “getting me”. You know how I love to be understood. I know I am a big mystery to you sometimes, but you do such a good job of making me feel special. I can’t wait to see how our new vantage point affects what we DO from here on out. Let’s get radical! Let’s go all out!

Kwans: Thank you for going on vacations with Bryan and me. Vacations and other outings that are “fun” for “normal” people bring out my analytical side and make me wonder what God is doing inside of me. Thank you for accepting me just as I am and for walking through grief and transformation with our family. Thank you for working so hard to make me laugh and experience true joy. And, thank you for being willing to look at the stuff other people might want to ignore. Thanks for growing with us.

Dear God, help me to be less interested in being understood than I am in understanding what you have put me here to do. I know it doesn’t have to look normal to everyone else. Help me not to care what everybody else thinks. (I hope I don’t have to pray that prayer for the rest of my life.) God, I wonder why, when the world advises me to grow a “thicker skin”, do you continue to give me a softer and softer heart? I feel naked sometimes. I’m scared of what I will see, but please keep showing me what is behind the curtain. Then, PUHHHHLEEEEEESE tell me what to do about it while I still have breath.


Mike Porter said...

what a great story of your visit to New York. This is rich with experience, emotion and awakenings. What I have read is the testimony of a person truly connected with her emotions and reality.
You are on an exciting journey. Thanks for sharing...again, and again, and again.
Affectionately, Mike

Shelly C said...

Please don't grow a thicker skin, I love your soft heart! I love hearing what God has to say to you and what you experience, I wish we had more time to just sit and visit (one of these days we need a girls weekend so we can do just that). Walking through life with you and Bryan has given God more opportunities to open my eyes and to change the way I see the world around me, it's also given me the courage to trust the path he's set out before Matt and I. I hope that you continue to share what you see and feel with me. Love you sweet friend.

Beth said...

what an amazing post, sarah....and just what marissa and I were talking about at lunch yesterday.....when you get some answers, let us know! i have been to nyc many times and love the city, but also have seen what you have and felt what you have....thanks for putting it all into words! your writing continues to be refreshing, challenging and so very real! and YOU ARE NOT ALONE!