Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Damned Joy

Originally published September 12, 2011

Photo take by arien

Offered to perform play in LA my apprehension took form of a dandelion puff leaning into a slight breeze. I grew up in an environment where worth was measured by the amount of disappointment a person created. This pattern fueled the trap I found myself in. I was asked to portray on stage my greatest lifelong abuser, a "righteous" Christian. After many years of therapy, medication, and prayer, I walked away from this type of Christianity. Taking this role would put all of that work in jeopardy. 

I vigilantly sought wisdom, I found peace. I felt His hand take mine. I understood He had a purpose for this dark path: "Learn compassion." 

Each time I examined this character’s motivation, wrote her thoughts, or spoke her words: I experienced anxiety. It started as a cricket crawling around my sternum. As the show loomed, anxiety became pulsing electricity. I knew I needed help and support from those around me. I asked. The show was taxing everyone. I realized help would need to come from outside of the show.
Photo taken by tcatcarson

During tech week the question screamed in my head each day during the two hour drive there: "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I was asked," I replied.

"That's not good enough. Why are you walking through hell just to make someone else happy? What is in it for you?" The voice retorted.

"I don't know," was all I could utter.

During my research, I stumbled upon a Bradley Cooper on Inside Actor's Studio. He said, “The Joy is the work.

This work brought me none.

Women, like the character I played, walk in a difficult Christianity. They wrestle daily with an obsession of being "right" in the eyes of God. Righteousness is measured through actions:

The Proverbs 31 Woman is the definition of a good wife and mother.

Their view of forgiveness is skewed. When in the wrong, they only need to pray, asking God for forgiveness. They can never wrong their neighbor if they are right with Jesus. No conflict exists. The impact upon others is irrelevant. Their backs bend under this weight of legalism and fear. True peace and joy is impossible. In getting to know this character, I felt a deep compassion for those who live this type of Christianity.

Joy was in discovery.

Even though twenty years have passed, LA still feels like home. Everyone is inadequate, has a therapist, attends a recovery group, and is not afraid of being a "Hot Mess." I learned more about my shortcomings and inabilities and found freedom in facing them.

Joy was in the process. 

Photo from NY times article
Guarding the streets around the theater, I met Lewis, a 6'10" former NCAA Final Four basketball player. Homeless for the past 10 years, his patrols keep the area safe. He will not accept money he does not earn, is a beautiful storyteller and kind listener. Ase and Zaney have a new standard for washing a car, after watching him work. GirlyK will remember him as he danced with her and two friends. The four of them strutted the sidewalk and sang "Party Rock Anthem" at the top of their lungs. 
A Facebook friend came to see the play. Tahnee gave me unearned friendship my senior year. Walking between classes she told me one day, "Ya know, everything I heard about you is not true. I like you."

It was the single best moment of my high school experience. We spent hours catching up in a coffee place on Orange and Vine.

Lewis and Tahnee filled me with overwhelming Joy.

By the closing weekend, anxiety overpowered logic. Flashbacks of past condemning confrontations and absolute rejections shattered my grip on reality. The doors of insanity burst open.  Both nights on closing weekend, I raced to my car, curled up in a ball and sobbed for thirty minutes. I rode out those memories my brain thrust into view. As the waves of crippling anxiety washed over me God whispered, "Ride it out." When it was over, I still existed.

Joy was in survival.

I write this with significant cracks in my sanity and realize: Father was with me. Jesus carried all of my pain with Him on the Cross. He knows what a reality split feels like. Holy Spirit was an ever-present help in my time of trouble. Those old wounds feel drained of infection and cauterized. For the first time in years I have access to tears. I am better acquainted with my limits. Never again will I be afraid to express them.

Joy was in understanding Divine Love.

As I read the latimesblog and backstage reviews about the play:  it occurred to me that I could have survived as a working actress. Had I taken those few acting opportunities when I lived in LA, back when I was young and with stars in my eyes, my life might have looked differently. I know it wouldn't have been much, but a commercial here and there could have bought groceries once in a while. Knowing is good enough for me.

Joy was in realizing this possibility.

In the end I was granted Joy in an unexpected place.

A Mother Life


  1. This is beautiful. Totally as an aside, I love that you have a tag just for Mr. Cooper.

    1. That interview is awesome. He is my hero-and easy on the eyes.

  2. Inspirational as always. You always give me things to think about.Thanks for hooking up to the Hump Day Hook Up


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