“A two part blog entry? What on earth does she have to say that is so important?” you might be asking yourself. It’s a fair question. The title, “So who do you think you are?” has been a question that’s been swirling around in my head lately. How do we identify ourselves? By what we do? How we look? By what books we read or the people we socialize with? I know first and foremost that I am a child of God. But how does that affect the way I “do” life? How does that trickle down to all of my relationships, my work, and how I spend my time?
And what about those things that try to pull me away from this identity? What about the voices that constantly nag, “You’re not _________(fill in the blank) smart enough, thin enough, talented enough, patient enough, creative enough, pretty enough……good enough….?”
The goal of this post is not to beat myself up. I can do that quite well without the help of a computer. But I do want to process some things, if you’ll allow me. There are some old demons that I thought were gone, but seem to have slipped back into my thoughts through a window I’ve carelessly left open.
Through several recent conversations and experiences, I have sensed this overwhelming urge for others’ approval. Call it narcissism, insecurity, or a combination of both, but I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. Anyone else? Alright then, maybe it is just me…
One of the events that has brought this issue to a head for me was a recent performance. But before I dive into the event itself and the way I see myself through it, I’ll give you a little more insight into the whole shebang.
Dreams (or “Delusions of Grandeur”)
Here’s the back-story:
Many people who know me understand that I have a long history of…um…well….very strange dreams. As a child I had several dreams that would reoccur on a regular basis. In some I was flying (fun!), in others I was being chased by a giant claymation figure (not fun.) One of the craziest recurring dreams I remember involved Gary Coleman, Count Chocula, and hot dogs. It even had a narrator that always began the dream with, “On a dark and stormy night…..”
I kid you not.
I’ll spare you the details, but know this: it was actually quite horrible.
The earliest dream I can remember was so vivid that I woke up screaming and pounding the headboard with my fists. I must have been about four years old. This nightmare was so terrifying that I distinctly remember calling out for my dad between gasps for breath. The main villain in this treacherous tale? The Cookie Crisp Cereal Policeman. Seriously. To this day I still hate Cookie Crisp.
I’m sensing that some of my trust issues have stemmed from my negative experiences with children’s cereal characters. Clearly I need more therapy. But I digress…
Fast forward to me in my mid-twenties: It had been awhile since I’d experienced any recurring dreams, or even remembered my dreams at all. Then one ordinary night I had The. Best. Dream. Ever.
I was standing on a large stage with these guys:
If you don’t know who they are, then…just….please — stop reading. I mean it. Stop — you won’t get it. And also, you’re making me sad.
Anyway, I couldn’t really see them but I knew they were there. Blinding lights were flashing around the stadium and scores of thousands of people were amped up for the U2 experience. There was a divine energy in the air as the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I was wearing black leather pants, some funky t-shirt, and had an electric harp. I heard the keyboard playing a sustained chord and I knew where this was going. I looked to my right where Bono was standing, waiting. He looked over at me and gave the ever-so-slight head nod. And was that a wink he just gave me behind his sunglasses? I knew I was up. I gave a nonchalant nod back like I had done this a thousand times before. I leaned in to play, and the first six notes of “Where the Streets Have No Name” rang out from my harp so purely I thought I might weep. The audience went crazy and I totally rocked out with U2 that night. I always woke up before the song ended, though. Then the next week we’d do it all again. And the next. This dream went on about once a week for two months. I don’t think there was ever another time in my life when I couldn’t wait to go to sleep.
What does it all mean? I asked myself. Maybe, just maybe….Yeah, um…probably not gonna happen, Sarah. Seriously, get a grip.
Fast forward again to Christmas 2011. There was a large box for me under the Christmas tree from my husband. Thinking it was a picture to hang in our newly purchased home, I unwrapped it very carefully. But as I reached my hand in to take hold of the object, my fingers stumbled onto a row of….levers? Yes…underneath a red piece of fabric I distinctly felt a row of small levers, following a gentle curve. I knew at once it was The Harp. I had been lusting after a blue electric harp for a few years, and now it was in my hands, this holy grail of instruments. I cried. No surprise there.
One day after the service a cool guy with a gray ponytail approached me and said, “Hey — I have an opportunity for you. How would you feel about playing this thing (motioning to my new harp) at the local Cincinnati TED conference in a few weeks? I’d really like you to play something unexpected…”
“Unexpected?” I repeated. My mind raced. I’ve done Stairway to Heaven before — but that’s becoming a standard “wow look what I can play on the harp” kind of thing for many harpists. No, I didn’t really want to do that.
“Yeah…maybe start with something traditional and then switch to something off-the-wall, you know…”
“Sure. Umm….Could I….Could I play U2?” I held my breath.
“Yeah, that would be perfect!” he grinned.
I liked this guy already.
Long story short: I arranged Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and played it at the TEDxCincinnati conference. (Many of you have probably seen a TED talk on the Internet. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. This platform is backed by Bill and Melinda Gates. TEDx is a local version of the TED project. More information on TEDx can be found here.
I was a mess of nerves that day — not only was this the first time to play this combo outside of the comfort of my own living room, but I had to stand on a table in front of a very high window to be seen as part of the performance. Let’s just say I’m not terribly fond of heights.
So I prayed before my song. First of all, I prayed that I would not lock my knees, keel over and fall out the window. Then I prayed that the music would touch people…that it wouldn’t be about me, but about connecting to people. I asked God to open the doors for the audience to feel and experience something that would draw them closer to Him.
No, Bono wasn’t there, and it turns out I didn’t fall out of the window. That in itself was a miracle to me. The performance went reasonably well, and I had several kind souls share with me their encouraging words. I felt happy that the music connected with them. I was also incredibly relieved it was over.
And this is where the “Who do you think you are” part starts to come in…I never realized how much I cared about what other people thought of me until this performance was posted on the internet. To say I was disappointed in the way I looked (the camera angle made me look about 30 pounds heavier, in my opinion), the way I played (there are so many mistakes I hear as I listen to it) would be an understatement. Just who do I think I am?
At first I didn’t want anyone to see this video. I was afraid of the way people would see me –the way I saw myself through eyes that have been darkened by lies. This 3 minute and 45 second video is all some people will know of me. I wanted it to be better. But then I remembered some of the responses I got after the performance. It seems as though God did answer my prayer as I spoke with the other attendees. If that’s the case, which I believe it is, then I don’t want to hide this little light of mine, imperfect as it may be. Because you know what? Nobody’s light fills the darkest night on it’s own. It’s only when everyone shines that the darkness fades.
And in reality, people don’t think about us as often as we think about ourselves.
So what about you? Who do you think you are? Is the image you project to others true to who you really are? Where do you find your identity? These are not a rhetorical questions. I’m genuinely curious about what others have to say about this. I’ll be looking for some comments. After all, this is only Part 1 of 2…
In the spirit of authenticity, here’s the video.