Well, the time is here at last. Safe Haven goes into production this week. Lines are learned, sets are built, and all the little details are (I hope!) taken care of. Time for the director to sit back, relax (yeah, right!) and enjoy the show.

There’s a theater tradition that, going into production week, the director hands the show over to the stage manager. That’s all well and good, and I have nothing but confidence in our stage manager, but as we came into this week, I decided to try something different. I handed the show over to the real Stage Manager. That would be God.

Not that I haven’t always given the shows over to God. (Not much choice, really. They’re His shows.) But I don’t remember ever doing it so specifically before. This was Saturday, and I was in the auditorium spending some time in prayer for the production. I told God that I was taking my hands off, and I was putting the show into His hands. I told Him that He was the manager and controller of the play. And then I stepped back.

And truly, I have stepped back. Okay, yes, I’m still watching rehearsals and giving notes. And yes, I’m still dealing with details. But I’m not obsessing with worry over the show the way I usually do.

Why should I? It’s in good hands.

 

“Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is kind of the theme song for Safe Haven, and I’ve downloaded about six different versions of it to use for scene change music during the play. So I’ve been listening to this song over and over and really hearing it for the first time.

God’s answers to prayer are not our answers. This is shown rather vividly in the play when one character has his prayer answered in a way no one would ever choose. Yet, in God’s plan, everything has worked together for good.

I’m seeing this in my life right now, as well. (Funny how often I find myself dealing with whatever we’re working on dramatically.) I pray for peace and healing, and I’d like God to wave His magic wand and make it happen. Yet God’s answer is, Follow Me through this desolate wasteland – peace is on the other side. I ask, Can’t we go around? But God is firm. The only way out is through.

So here we are, wandering in the wilderness. I think back to the words of the song – Oh, what peace we often forfeit…All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. If this is peace, why does it feel like so much turmoil? That’s when I have to cling to faith and just keep following Him, knowing He’s promised to bring me through.

If only I could learn this as well as the characters I write do.

We’re nearly a month into Safe Haven rehearsals now, and I’ve been astounded by some of the things occurring among our cast. This play is coming to life in ways I’ve never experienced in any other production. It’s frightening, actually.

 What does it mean for an actor to take on a character? Is that something that happens during rehearsals and performances only, or does it bleed over and become another aspect of that actor’s real-life character? I’ve seen a sudden sensitivity for the homeless among our cast as we’re identifying with them through this play. I’ve also heard actors say things outside of rehearsal that were obviously their characters speaking, not them. I don’t mean actual lines from the play – just regular conversation that suddenly seems like I’m speaking to this character I wrote rather than this person I’ve known for years.

It’s no secret that we take on many different roles during the course of living – we’re one person to our parents, another to our children, someone else to our spouses and different with our co-workers. So what does that mean for an actor who routinely adds new roles to his own character? Is he better rounded, or just more crazy? What happens when you’re playing a villain – how do you keep that from becoming an aspect of your personality?

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for me as I watch this script come to life. I feel kind of like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice – I got the brooms started, but now I can’t control them. I guess that’s what makes for good drama. The rehearsal process should be a time when the play takes on a life of its own, when it shows you what it’s about so you can draw out those aspects of the script you never noticed until they jumped out and demanded to be seen.

But I’ll tell you – when it happens well, it’s scary. 

I know I haven’t written here much lately, and I can’t promise to do better for the near future. My brain’s a little overwhelmed right now. I had expected to use this blog to chronicle the rehearsal process, but instead I find it’s a process that can’t be chronicled. I thought I could write it as a journal – here’s what happened in rehearsal tonight – as something that might be of interest to other directors. But there aren’t words for that moment when just the right gesture brings a character to life, and half the cast bursts into hysterical laughter – to keep from screaming, because it was just that scary. In a good way. I think.

One thing I do know. Scary or not, I love doing this.

Have you ever had one of those terrifying moments when you’re struck with the “knowledge” that everything you’ve ever believed in is a lie, that everything you thought was important doesn’t matter, and that the very earth beneath your feet might crumble away at any moment? For a minute or two you’re left stunned, shaking, nearly unable to breathe while you’re hyper-aware of the weight of the world all around you – a world that doesn’t care whether you live or die.

 Gradually things shift back into focus. You remember that while the world at large doesn’t care whether you live or die, there are people around you who care very much. You remember, if you knew it in the first place, that God is in His heaven and that He cares passionately about His children on earth.

In other words, your faith deserts you for a moment, and you have to make the choice – again – to believe.

Usually when these kinds of thoughts come to me it’s early in the morning, before I even get out of bed. I wake from some half-remembered dream into fear that fades back into faith as I re-orient myself to my waking life. Two days ago, though, I had one of these faith crises in a new and rather terrifying place – as I was driving down the interstate at 70 miles per hour. One moment I was fine, thinking about what I needed to do that afternoon. The next moment my faith had deserted me – not just my faith in God, but my faith in everything. I didn’t know that up was up, or that two plus two equalled four, or that my heart would keep beating.

It only lasted a minute, and thankfully I managed not to hit anything while I was wrestling with the mysteries of the universe and driving at the same time. Ever since then, though, I’ve been thinking about the nature of faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) So does that minute of fear and doubt mean I’m not certain of what I do not see?

I don’t think so. I think, in fact, that those moments of doubt are instrumental to faith, because they force me to make the choice again. I’m admitting that I cannot see, but I have faith anyway. If I never had a moment of doubt, I’d be certain of what I did see.

I’ve been thinking, too, about how necessary faith is to stay sane in this world. We all have faith. We have faith that it matters whether or not we finish a project, whether or not we get up in the morning, whether or not we take our next breath. In the total absence of faith, there is nothing to do but curl up in a corner with our hands over our heads. God created us in such a way that we cannot live without faith.

The issue, of course, is choosing what to have faith in. That’s why the moments of faithlessness (which feel like the edge of insanity) are so helpful. They give you, for a moment, a blank slate without pre-formed notions. You can write any faith statement you choose.

You can write, “I choose to believe that hard work and getting ahead is the most important thing in life.” You can write, “I choose to believe that my thoughts and ideas are always right.” You can write, “I choose to believe that my children’s happiness and comfort is my highest priority.” You can write, “I choose to believe that Jesus died for me, and that He loves me passionately and has a purpose for my life.”

Choose wisely.

Remember when you were a kid, and you got that new toy for Christmas? Remember how you didn’t want to do anything but play with it all day long – and maybe sleep with it, too? Remember the way it seemed like nothing else would ever be as fun or exciting as that new toy?

Then, remember how you’d forgotten it by the middle of January?

Time to confess, friends and neighbors – that’s how I’m feeling about this blog right now. It’s been two months since I started writing it, and things have really changed. In those first few weeks I was on every day for hours at a time, writing posts, tinkering with layout, reading the forums and learning everything I could about what it meant to blog. I learned quite a bit, actually – not bad for someone who came into this with no clear idea of what a blog was.

Then came December, and I was busy preparing for Christmas, so of course I didn’t spend as much time on the site as I had before. But now it’s January. Christmas is long past, but I still don’t have the drive to be on here every day. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not planning to let the blog die. I still have things to say. I expect I’ll say them once or twice a week.

Time for the deep thoughts (you knew they were coming, right?) Remember when you first gave your life to Jesus, and you didn’t want to do anything but sit with Him all day long? Remember how you’d read the Bible for hours at a time, marvelling at everything you learned? Remember how you couldn’t imagine anything ever being more exciting than Him?

Then time went by, and Jesus got old. You got used to Him. Sure, He was good to have around – wouldn’t want to return Him – but He was one of several things in your life, rather than the only thing.

I think to some degree that’s inevitable. We can’t live constantly at a fever-pitch about anything, or our heads would explode. But if there’s anything worth recapturing excitement about, it’s Jesus. Look at Him with fresh eyes. Read a less-familiar Bible passage, and see something new about Him. Remember why it knocked you out when you first met Him.

Don’t let your Christmas present get old by the middle of January.

Melissa Zabel Melissa Zabel: Acts of Faith director. Playwright. Head actor wrangler. Drama queen extraordinaire.
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." 1 Peter 4:10
"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable." Matthew 13:34

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