One lantern floated above the trees, then another, then another. Each one represented a group of students and their hopes, dreams, and fears for the next four years. It was Convocation under the Stars, and it was beautiful.
We watched the lanterns disappear into the sky and there’s part of me that felt so unmoved by all of it. But the band kept playing, and it was Oceans, a song that has been my theme song for months now.
I remembered seeing the stars earlier in the evening and thinking about this God who breathed those stars into existence and how He breathed that same breath into me. And now I’m stepping into these dreams He’s given me and it’s overwhelming. The very weight of it brought me to my knees in tears.
The lanterns continued to rise, but there was one lantern that we could tell was struggling. It went behind the tree and we didn’t see it go up. It came out on the other side and hit the next tree. It was just a bump, but it was enough to send it spiraling towards a third tree. The tree was leafless. The branches were nothing more than claws, and they trapped the lantern as it floated by.
I pulled myself onto the bench and watched as it struggled to escape. Up? No, it couldn’t go up. The branches were in the way. Over? It tried, but the claws dug deeper and wouldn’t let go. The bottom of the lantern swung out, but it couldn’t get free. Instead, it only got burned. And we sang,
Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me
(Hillsong United, Oceans)
The tears turned to sobs. That little lantern, the one that couldn’t get free, was the one I could relate to. I saw my dreams, the ones I’d held so tightly for so long, and how they were trapped. I saw the claws of perfectionism and shame and fear digging in. I saw my health problems and the things that have physically held me back. I saw the last year play out in that tree and I couldn’t contain it.
We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Heb. 4:15&16 MSG)
And I’m back to Thursday night and the group of young adults that I love so much and I’m thinking about all that was said. How we talked about Jesus—Jesus who knew what it was like to suffer. Jesus who knew what it was like to be tempted. Jesus who knew what it was like to be weak. Jesus who knew what it was like to be human.
Not just in a I’m-God-and-I-see-and-know-everything kind of way, but in a I’ve-been-there and I’ve-felt-that kind of way. And I thought about this Jesus who knew every bit of the weight I’ve been carrying. And I thought about His love.
The lantern continued to struggle while the others rose without a problem. Sometimes, when you’re not free, the most painful thing you can do is watch another fly. Not because freedom is wrong, but because it hurts to watch someone live what you don’t have. You didn’t ask for this. It’s not fair.
Trying desperately to be free, the lantern was only getting more and more damaged in the process. Finally, freedom. The lantern was free, but it continued to falter. This way and that, up and down. It was free, but we didn’t know if it would make it.
We watched, breathless.
Finally, it rose to join the others.
But it was marked forever by the tree, a scorching that no amount of flying would remove. It was still able to soar, but it would never look the same. And that was okay. Because even burned and broken, it was beautiful. It was beautiful because it was free.