Blast from the past: this post should have been written and published in May 2012
"Welcome to the Adventure" is just something I have to say anytime I talk about AWAKEN. Also, listening to the AWAKEN soundtrack seems almost mandatory while writing about the drama. So that's what I'm doing right now.
AWAKEN's final performance was Sunday, April 29, at Riverside chapel in Story City, Iowa, the very same venue where the ministry was born seven years ago. By the end of the show there was not a dry eye amongst the cast or crew, because this was the end of the adventure. AWAKEN isn't happening next year. It may never happen. Jon and Tiffany feel God's calling to devote themselves wholly to serving their church, where Jon is a lead pastor. The other three AWAKEN leadership folks are 1) moving across the state next year, 2) having a baby, and 3) getting married. All good reasons to need to step away. Thus, AWAKEN is entering a "season of discernment" while the board discerns God's call for the future of the ministry.
We arrived, set up, and performed Saturday the 28th, then spent the night in the Riverside cabins. Sunday after church, the team ate lunch, and gathered for the end-of-year party. Normally this event happens several weeks after the last tour stop, but since there are always a few people who's schedules conflict, having the party during our last tour weekend allowed everyone to be there. Unlike most tour stops, we had lots of extra time - because we were performing in the same venue two nights in a row, we hadn't needed to tear down Saturday night, drive to a new tour location, and load-in and setup on Sunday.
I don't remember the exact sequence of events. But in roughly this order, the end-of-year-party started with Jon and Tiffany reading to us from "Oh, the Places You'll Go!," by Dr. Seuss, followed by a mini-sermon. We had time for team members to share memories from the season, funny stories, what AWAKEN has meant in our lives, how we've been changed. Then came the AWAKEN awards - ridiculous "awards" presented to each team member. Mine, for example, was the "I spend more time listening to audio books than being at AWAKEN," award (I listened to a lot of audio books during my drives). Afterward, per AWAKEN tradition, we went outside to play whiffleball. Everyone was "required" to enjoy it and have fun for "at least 15 seconds", even Beth, who hates whiffleball. It was cold and a little rainy, so we only played one inning. I had fun (even past the requisite 15 seconds).
Inside we had a large group prayer, and an hour of free time before dinner. "Team Bad Guys" (the demons) met backstage for a small group prayer. And that's when I first started crying. I'd been doing okay denying "the end" up until that point, but large group, and especially our small group time after, my tears started coming. Reality sunk it and it sucked.
Dinner happened. I snuck over to leave thank you cards backstage and on the control center, all signed by the team the previous night. Make-up happened. Family photo (all the cast together with our makeup) happened. Prayed out our voices. Then walked over to the chapel and took our places for Creation, one final time. Surreal.
My memory is a blur. Months have gone by now, which, added to the emotional finality of that night, means my specific memories are scant.
I remember in the 'calling of the disciples' scene, normally Howie, who played my fisherman son, gives me a bear hug when he is called to follow Jesus and leave me - this night, he literally picked me up off the ground when we hugged. He's done that during rehearsals as a joke, but never in a live performance. I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud.
I remember hearing someone from cast saying, after the show, how easy it was to bring out tears during the mourning scene while Jesus hung on the cross, because the tears [of mourning AWAKEN] were real, not much "acting" required. I remember a lot of people crying in the back of the venue during the mourning, and into the resurrection, scenes. I was near Kindra and Jess, and I gave them both a big hug right before their cue to go back into the scene. And when Haley, as Satan, was cast out after the resurrection, I made sure I was waiting to catch her as she ran out - I knew how very, very emotionally difficult that role had been all season for her to play.
And my favorite memory from the show itself: during the resurrection song ("Take Heart" by Hillsong), Jon walked up to the sound board, and he and Blair turned up the music as the tomb light faded and Jesus prepared to come back on stage, resurrected. Jon and I both, independently, gave a little punch into the air as the music climaxed and Jesus appeared. Maybe you had to be there.
As the show ended, we angels left the stage, but instead of heading to the makeup room like we normally would, everyone stayed in the sanctuary to listen to Jon's final closing talk. He was choked up, but somehow held it together; the entire cast/crew though were sobbing. It is finished.
Pause for a moment of silence, please
As Jon spoke, many hugs were going around amongst the cast and crew. Somehow, I wasn't crying, not at that moment. My "pre-mourning" earlier helped me keep it together at this moment, so I could try to support my friends. An understatement would be saying we were heart-broken. AWAKEN is more than a performance, more than a show; it is a community. It is Church.
Walking back to the makeup room, it had rained, and the ground was wet. My slippers were soaked and muddy after only a few steps. My brain works in funny ways: the metaphor I drew was that my slippers, much like me, had given their all, and might now be ruined. Weeks later I could look back and say that my slippers, much like me, had given their all, and then after a good washing, were ready to tackle life again.
As usual I was the last one to finish taking off my face paint. Beth waited for me. We shared a moment, not ready to go back into the chapel to start tearing down for the last time.
We were the last two back; I was about to put my gloves on and start wrapping cables, but... I couldn't. I walked over to Beth and Amanda, gave them a big hug, and Kindra, seeing me tearing up, came over and gave me a huge hug.
Blair commented to me that, "let's be honest, tear-down's gonna take a lot longer tonight than normal." I concurred. Marginally because the venue was not well suited for moving road cases around; but mostly because no one wanted to make it real.
While putting away the feeder (a ridiculously heavy cable that feeds electricity to all the equipment), I found a penny. ... Apparently I never blogged about this in the past: the backstory is when my Grandma Sue was dying, she promised to throw pennies down from heaven as a reminder that she's thinking about us. It makes finding a penny a bit more meaningful.
Loading the truck took longer than normal as well, because carpools were leaving, and that meant lots of goodbyes. With many of these friends it is not goodbye forever; I know I'll see them individually, maybe in twos or threes, but not again in this entire large group. So taking time for goodbyes was important.
There was a funny sight of Jon, Tiffany, and Chad driving around with a ridiculously large ladder on the back of a truck - I can't do it justice, other than to say they were having way too much fun.
Truck loaded, the few of us remaining took a short breather. On our way back out to the cars, Jon and Tiffany had just finished locking the chapel - we said our goodbyes, though I knew I'd see them again in a few weeks.
Blair, Alica, Levi, Jacob, Lyndsay and I caravanned from Riverside to the locker in Ames, where we unloaded everything back into storage for the last time. What I feared would be a somber task turned into quite the laughter-filled time with friends; sad, yet joyful, simultaneously. I think, too, we are all people of the mindset "get things done, then process emotions later." We really did have a blast, lots of jokes, lots of laughter.
That night I stayed with Blair and Levi in Ames, planning to drive home in the morning. Morning came, and I couldn't bring my car to get on the freeway toward home. Instead, I ended up back in Des Moines, to visit Beth at work. A 40 minute drive for a 10 minute conversation, but it's exactly what I needed: to see her in "normal" life, carrying on. After Beth, I went back to Blair and Levi's apartment, where they, and also Jacob and Alica, were hanging out, watching a sports game. You know how much I love me a good sports game. Spending time with people who were wrestling the same emotions as I, who knew exactly how I was feeling - invaluable. Even though we didn't talk much about AWAKEN, just being there, not being along, was what I needed.
I finally left Ames at 4 p.m. Along the way I needed to stop at a gas station and take a nap, because I was just so emotionally exhausted from crying - I had cried most of the way to DSM, remained on the brink of tears while talking with Beth, and then cried most of the way back to Ames. It reminded me of the 2010-2011 mime, after Jesus died, when I was playing a disciple and all the disciples hugged each other goodbye, and tearfully went back to our normal, every day status quo lives. In a very real sense that's what we all did at the end of AWAKEN, too.
What's amazing about that parallel, what gives me hope, is that our mourning wasn't the end of the story: in the mime, a few minutes later, Jesus resurrects, and called us back to living a meaningful life. I would like my life to parallel that. Like the disciples who walked and talked with the living Jesus, in what is perhaps an indescribable way, our lives from being in AWAKEN are changed and marked forever.
In the months since AWAKEN, Beth and I wrote a proposal for continuing the ministry, essentially volunteering to take over Jon and Tiffany's roles. We met with Jon and Tiff, during which they were exceptionally open and honest. A month later Beth and I met with Jon plus two members of the board to talk about our vision, and get to know each other. Beth and I felt the meeting went incredibly poorly (though later we were told the board members had not felt that way at all).
Two months after that, we met with the entire board. In the end, they said "no," they do not feel God's calling for Beth and I to become the core leadership. That is not to say the board doesn't see AWAKEN continuing, only that we are not the ones they see in those roles. Which is okay, for three reasons: They said "no" for [what I consider to be] the right reasons; neither Beth nor I really wanted to be the "buck stops here" people in AWAKEN leadership (our desire to see the ministry continue overruled that non-desire); and there are at least one or two other proposals on the table from others interested in seeing AWAKEN continue, and even though Beth and I will not be the "it" people of leadership, that does not preclude us from being on a larger leadership team, were it to happen.
The board's answer, while it could be seen as disheartening and disappointing, was neither to me. People who know me know how much I need "one more thing" on my plate, and, though AWAKEN would have become my priority over all else, it is admittedly a relief not needing to make those time-management choices that would have been required in my life.
My prayer after AWAKEN ended, and again after meeting with the board: "God, I don't know what my future is in AWAKEN, what you have in store, but, here I am. That's it. Here I am."
That applies to life, as well, not just AWAKEN. Major life changes from 2012 have included: a new job, starting a new company, the end of AWAKEN, acceptance into candidacy for seminary, a new roommate, a relationship starting, and ending, and, most recently, a major house plumbing kerfuffle (blog post coming soon). When I look at how much change could happen in a matter of two or three weeks, I realize I have no idea what to expect from the next two or three months, years, etc. God only knows. It's not something I need to solve, I just need to keep myself open to possibilities, and understand that reality will look vastly different than anything I dream up; my imagination is limited, His is not.
On April 29, before shutting down the sound system the final time, Blair and I played the song "Only the Beginning of the Adventure", from the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack. It seemed fitting.
Welcome to the Adventure.