Let Me Be Singing When The Evening Comes

When my mother was pregnant with me, my sisters would sing the Macarena in my general direction. According to my dad, this was all 8 months that my mom carried me around (well 7 and a bit, I was 6 weeks early), which explains why the Macarena is forbidden in my house. Even though all this crappy 90s dance music surrounded me as i grew, I can dance about as well as I can speak Spanish. But one thing stuck, music.

When I started elementary school in 2002, I was armed with a discman and a collection of classic cds. I rocked the Casbah through primary and earned myself a solo in the Christmas concert. Before now, I didn’t know people could and couldn’t sing. It was all in the love of music for me. But with the help of my music teacher, somehow 5 year old me learned Silent Night in German and performed it in front of a gym full of parents. That was the first time I can remember being complimented on something.

From then on, I wore headphones as much as I could. Music came with me as I grew up, and I sang at all school assemblies, I’m pretty sure my elementary school still plays a recording of me singing the national anthem from when I was 8. Music was the only thing I was confident in until 1st grade when the bullies rolled in. I wish I knew then what I know now about bullies, but 7 year old me was never good enough for these girls. No matter what I did, they continued to be ruthless in attacking my singing. Their words almost kept me from pursuing the only thing I loved, but I’m so happy they didn’t.

Soon I started doing musicals, I had to audition which has horrible because all my performances had been handed to me. But it went off without a hitch, I sang Renegade by Styx (of course I did, oh wow) and they gave me the role on the spot. Music was making my life amazing once again.

I spent so much time with my theatre family. Shows and matinees and rehearsals. Music was all around me and I was happy. The last show I did was High School Musical “Mania”, a combination of the first 2 films. A 14 year old Sharpay slays the audience, I was a fierce 4’10 in sequined heels and a blonde wig, and I was still happy. But when the rug was pulled out from under my feet, I stopped. I promised I would never perform again.

Fast forward through 2.5 years of depression and anxiety to me in the church for the second time. We were singing for worship, something Cassie had prepared me for. There was Glenn playing a guitar that looked tiny next to him, there was David playing piano, and there I was standing in the front of a church letting my old friend music wash over me as I read the words on the screen. I felt this incredible warmth come over me as I watched these amazing people sing to a God I never knew, a God I needed to know. That night I went home and downloaded as many modern worship songs as I could get my hands on. These songs brought me a new kind of peace from music that I never knew.

This music lead me to God, these songs made me want to read my bible more, and these songs made me want to sing again.

Imagine my terror when the whole church figured out I could sing. I was about to have vocal cord surgery so I couldn’t sing immediately, but it was coming. I knew I could still sing, but I was in no way the same person I was when I performed the last time. Tragedy shook the ground beneath my feet and anxieties followed me through the day, how was I supposed to sing in front of anything but my shower curtain?

When I was sent the song list, I made certain to listen to those songs at all the spare moments in my week. I was going to be ready, except I knew I wouldn’t be. Normal “stage fright” is caused by naturally occurring anxiety chemicals in the brain, and normal people only produce enough of those to last an hour. So if you make yourself feel the nerves an hour before showtime, you’ll be set when it comes down to it. I say normal people because I produce way too many of these chemicals, like 12 hours worth. So I decided to be nervous the whole day, but I was still nervous when I got to rehearsal that night. Like, more scared than a turkey on thanksgiving. But I don’t want anyone’s pity, so I kept that one to myself. I never asked anyone about it, but I’m sure I screwed up the words and all my harmonies and I was shaking like a sick chihuahua.

But I’ve more recently come to realize that I’m going to be okay, because I’m not singing for the same reasons I used to sing. I was fueled by a need for approval, I lived to hear people tell me I had the voice of an angel. But I didn’t join the worship team so people would appreciate me, I joined because song is the best way for me to praise God. Music is all over the bible, there are songs literally written into the bible. I have chosen to remember one line in particular, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” Psalm 104:33.

I have been given the ability and the opportunity to give back to God through song, and I will do that for as long as I live.

Without the Dark, the Light Won’t Show

The following is extremely personal, sad, morbid, and triggering. The following could be uplifting, strengthening and the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

Tuesday March 22nd, 2011. I remember this day like it was yesterday. I remember this because it is the worst day I have ever lived.

A girl I grew up with, a girl I shared my life with, a girl I cherished more than any other, was dead. My Emily, my best friend, gone without a goodbye. In case you guessed already, yes; my Emily took her own life.

Girls from school had been harassing her relentlessly for weeks. I told her not to worry about it because they were just jealous of her. She was smart and they attacked her for that. She was beautiful and they attacked her for that. She was loved and they attacked her for that. She was alive and they took that from her. She was never depressed, it wasn’t like her, but I know these girls got to her. She was more critical of herself, more negative about her appearance, grades, life. She was scared of them but refused to seek parental help.

Anonymity is a dangerous thing, and the power someone feels behind a computer screen is endless. By attacking Emily online, they didn’t feel the need to own up to their words. These girls were fuelled by hatred and envy, and they were relentless. It’s hard to remember that our words carry weight with them. Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will leave psychological wounds that will never heal. I have a few rules when it comes to female bullies, ignore until the threats become physical; and then tattle like your life depends on it. In this case, Emily’s really did.

Via a site called formspring, these girls got their jollies out of throwing words anonymously, and at the guidance of her brother, Emily told her mom. Her mom called the school on Monday morning and the school did relatively nothing to help. That night, they sent her a new message. Outlining in grave detail what they would do to Em and her brother Dylan if they “ever show[ed] [their] faces around school again”.

And I guess that was the catalyst for my Emily. Because that night was the last of her life. Her last sunrise, her last day with me, her last meal, her last text, her last sunset, and her last breath. I wish I knew her last words, I hope she felt at peace. Born alone die alone is a tragic human condition and it breaks my heart that Emily left this world alone. I wish my Emily had God, I wish she would have found guidance through prayer and scripture because maybe she’d be here, happy, safe, and alive.

After she left, I was broken. I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under my feet. Nothing I loved could make me happy, not cheerleading, not hockey, not acting, and not singing. I felt empty, I felt sick, and I felt guilty. I could have saved her, I should have tried harder to make her see that life was worth living. She’s dead because I didn’t save her.

I struggled for a long time, I quit all my extra curriculars, I stopped spending time with friends, and I found comfort in the warm arms of a box of Oreos. I ate and cried from the time the sun rose in the morning until I was so ill and exhausted that I passed out. That was the first 3 months after her passing. When I was taken against my will to a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and mild/moderate depression. This was followed by a prescription for everything in the book.

I felt like a freak. I was doped up on sedatives and anti depressants for 20 hours a day. I had nightmares of finding my Emily cold and lost. I wanted out.

People often say suicide is cowardly, only the weak opt out. I can honestly say that I think the opposite, I wanted to go but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Killing oneself takes some kind of immense strength that I didn’t have. These long nights of not wanting to wake up made me wonder what was going through Emily’s mind. How did I not notice these horrible feelings in my best friend? I understood why she wouldn’t have told me, we are the same in not wanting anyone’s pity. I wouldn’t tell because I couldn’t handle people looking at me like I was less than them for being sick, I didn’t want their pity.

In grade 10, I hit my bottom. I was so strung out on head-meds that I could hardly stay awake at school, I didn’t want to be around anyone, and I couldn’t handle more than 10 minutes of social interaction at a time before crumbling to panic. And one day I decided that it wasn’t going to be like this anymore, I was alive and that was all that was important. I needed to focus on staying alive, for Emily.

I know because I was there, she must have known that I would be broken by her death. But if I continued to be broken, she would have felt so guilty. Emily wouldn’t have wanted me to wallow in despair, she would have wanted me to be okay. The same way I wish she was okay.

When I shared the majority of this story with Kate, she told me she felt God was going to use my experience for good. God tests the righteous and leaves the unrighteous alone, and He knew that when I came to Him a year in the future that I would realize my life was important. I am alive because it wasn’t my time to go. My body and life are gifts from God, he loves me and he won’t let me slip into that place again. I praise Him for creating me with the will to survive and for enlightening me to the good in the world so that I may continue to live with him in my heart.

For the future, I hope as I grow with God that I can use this pain and sadness that I have overcome to inspire others. I want people to know that there is no situation too hopeless to come out of. Each day is beautiful, each day is a gift. Sunrises, laughter, stories, prayers, songs, long drives, coffee dates, sappy romance films, new sweaters, favourite meals, sunsets, fire works, candlelight, family, friends, deep breaths, memories, life. These are things I treasure each day because at one point I couldn’t see the beauty in them. I am so grateful to be able to experience these things with a new perspective and god by my side.

What is Love?

Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Sadly, I’m not actually an early 90s one hit wonder, as much as I wish I was.

As a teen, it seems my life revolves around one thing and one thing only; love.

In my experience, from a young age, girls’ minds are focused on their future with their husband. I’ve been planning my wedding for as long as I can remember even though don’t have a fiancé; I’ve never even kissed a boy for crying out loud! So why, for the last 15 years have I been in love with love?

Other than the fact that my sisters are 7 and 9 years older than me, making me 17 going on 27, I am a lover. I love people, all people. I love making friends, meeting new people, and connecting with others. People are so important to me. I’m split down the middle of an introvert and an extrovert, I’m more than happy at home with a good book and some tea. But I’m in my element if I’m in a group of people that I adore; yet again, because I am a lover.

1 Corinthians 13:13 says that “[t]hree things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” This is one of my favourite verses because when I read it I didn’t know that it was the verse. When I read this the first time it rang clear as a bell to me that this is how I wanted to live my life. With faith, hope, and love I could live a life that would be good and would serve God. If love is the greatest of things that will last forever, then I am a lover because God wanted me to be.

Most teenage girls’ minds are a one way street, homing in on the next object of our affection. I say “our” because I am in no way innocent of this, but I want to challenge my own stereotype.

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.” This is one of the first things I remember resonating with me, 1 John is something we talked about at my first youth night. As we continue to grow in faith, our love for God and those around us gets stronger. I love because God loves me, I love because Jesus loved everyone, and I love because that is what God wants from me.

God is love, God loves us so much that he sent his son to die while we were still sinners. That’s why love is so important, that is why I am a lover. God made me a lover because He is a lover.

We’re made in His image, right? So, everyone is capable of loving others as much as God. That’s what I’m going to strive for, if I can love people even half as much as God loves people, I will be living a better life.

As I walk through the halls of the desolate institution known as high school, it’s hard to love people. No one in high school loves “people” in general. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “ugh, I hate everyone”, I’d be well on my way to paying tuition. In this time of angst, we tend to feel that the world is out to get us. We feel like our parents are stupid and that our teachers wake up everyday with the intent of ruining our lives. That’s high school. I have no reasoning as to why, I just know this to be true.

So my goal for myself is to make others feel like they are loved. I want to reach into the lives of the angst-filled teenager that listens to Fall Out Boy like it’s still 2007 so that even if high school seems to be this never-ending chasm of crap, they know that I love them and more importantly, God loves them. Through Him high school can be manageable, and with His love anything is possible.

I Am Not Worthless

4 am. It’s late, or early, depending whether or not you’ve slept yet. The effects of my anxiety medication are wearing off because I’m going to take it again when I get up in a few hours. Panic my old friend, how nice of you to visit me in the wee hours of the morning.

For those who don’t live with an anxiety disorder, please imagine a black cloud following you around. Not one of those “I’m having a bad day” clouds, oh no. This is a great storm cloud, this cloud is a living, breathing being with long bony arms that wrap around you and you can’t seem to wriggle free no matter how hard you try. This cloud knows all about you, it can hear your thoughts and see into your soul. This cloud knows exactly how to exploit your deepest insecurities.

Now imagine that all day everyday.

“You’re stupid,” I hear as I sit in class, “you’re never going to amount to anything.”
It hurts, but I know I’m not stupid, I’m an honours student!

“Why are you going to talk to them? No one likes you.” the cloud whispers as I approach a group of friends.
That one gets to me a little more than being called stupid, but I think rationally and I know that people enjoy having me around.

“You’re worthless.”
There it is, my catalyst.

Am I worthless? I’ve never done anything with my life, I’ve never saved anyone, I’ve never made a difference. I’ll probably never make a difference, I have no real friends, I’m stupid. My breathing gets sharper, my mouth gets dry, and my throat starts to close. Panic.

Self worth is my biggest insecurity, I struggle daily with thinking that I am worthless. People tell me I’m not, but I can’t believe them. That isn’t me trying to fish for compliments, it’s that I truly cannot fathom that I have worth. Let’s see what God has to say to me today.

I pray for help, a reason to be okay. God loves me, this I know for certain. He will give me a reason to see that I’m worth something.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Of course, God saved me when I opened my heart to Him, when I told Him I believed in Him and said that I accept Jesus and my personal saviour. God thinks I’m worth it just because I love Him. I’m perfect because God made me so, my life isn’t hopeless because God has always had a plan for me. I’m good enough. The world isn’t falling down around me because I screwed up one math test. The bigger picture is more important, and it’s so so beautiful.

He isn’t going to let me stumble around in the dark, He is a refuge in times of distress. For us who know Him, He is the light at the end of the tunnel. The Lord won’t abandon us who searched for Him and He made me how He wanted me. I have worth because God made me, this alone makes me precious.

I am not worthless for God loves me. The black cloud has nothing on God’s love. I’ll make it.

The First Thing I Learned

In September of 2013 I found myself sitting at a table in Starbucks with my friend Cassie and we were talking about how people are scared of our fathers.

“My dad’s a pastor” she said. I was shocked to say the least. I’d known her for a year already and he never struck me as a crazy Christian kid; and so commenced a 2 hour conversation about how I’d never been in a church and how I didn’t know if I believed in God because I saw all the bad in the world. My parents were always pretty negative about any relationship with God. The first memory I have of my dad mentioning God was when he called the bible “a load of fairy-tale nonsense” when I got one at school in grade 5. My mother is a “fallen Catholic”, as they say, she grew up in the church, had it shoved down her throat, and she hates it. Don’t get me wrong, my parents aren’t bad people, they just aren’t the most God fearing or respectful of folk. I’m an intellectual, I’ve always strived for more knowledge. So naturally I wanted to know everything Cas could tell me about Christianity.

Along came fall; by now I had my license and Cassie and I had been driving to school everyday which gave us room to talk more and more about God. Cassie’s dad, pastor Jay, passed along a new testament for me to read. So, night after night in October, I locked myself in the bathroom, read my bible, and then stuck it back into my room to hide in my dresser. On November 1st, there was a united youth event for Halloween. Cassie told me I didn’t have to go of course but she said it wouldn’t be super churchy and intimidating. So I attended and met the nicest people I have ever come across in my 17 years on this earth. Naturally,  I couldn’t wait to go to youth the next week.

Monday through Thursday passed slower than ever before and my anticipation for Friday night grew more with each passing day. Friday came again and Cassie assured me that she wasn’t forcing anything on me but I knew I wanted this more than anything, I just didn’t know why. After many “hey! you’re back”s and “mackenzie, right?”s, in came Kate. This woman, having never met me before in my life, burst through the door of the church and nearly knocked me over trying to hug me. That was the moment I knew I belonged there.

So youth night happened, and it got better and better with each passing moment. I can remember thinking that I would stick out like a sore thumb, or that the cross would fall off the wall when I walked in. But everyone was so sweet and welcoming and nothing like I ever thought church people would be like. Later when talking to Kate, I told her my little spiel about knowing nothing about god and feeling like I met them for a reason. Kate said to me something I will never forget as long as I live, “God cares, about everything. Every little detail in your life, He is there for you.”

God cares. Boy, did that hit me like a bus. Of course He does, He didn’t create me with the intention of forgetting about me. God didn’t send his son to die for no reason. I was lead to these people because God wanted me to find them and for them to introduce me to Him. I didn’t know what I was missing, 17 years with a feeling that I was looking for something. A life plan, a boyfriend, a purpose? Nope; I was always looking for God. I didn’t know that, but He did. These people, these amazing people were destined to come into my life because God wanted me to find them. God cares about me, and I am so happy that he does. I’m a new christian, I’m in my infancy, but I can’t wait for what the future holds for me now that I have Him in my heart.