Learning to Fall

I felt him falling, arching his back against my wrist as his head swung down between my knees. My heart fell with him even as my left hand shot out to wrap my fingers around his shirt and pull him back upright. I was greeted by a smile so big it crinkled his nose and squished his eyes into slits.

“You,” I said, my voice shaking, “have a lot of faith in me.”

Of course he did. Because I’ve been throwing that child around for half his life and I haven’t dropped him yet, but I think it’s time to tell sweet Oliver that he needs to at least warn me before he pulls a stunt like that.

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A Prayer:

God, I wish I had half the faith in You that Oliver has in me, but I’ve never been a fan of falling. I’ve never been good at letting go of my illusion of control long enough to trust You will catch me.

I’m not at all like Oliver, smirking as you extend Your arms over the fence because I know You’re not going to put me down. I’m more like his little schoolmate Brooke, crying out and grabbing at Your face, Your neck, Your hair like You might actually leave me alone in the wilderness. But unlike Brooke, when You call off Your playful scare, I’m not smiling. I’m still shaken. I guess I’m not as forgiving as children tend to be.

But I want to trust You that much. I want to be able to smile in Your face in that moment before I arch my back and fall, knowing You won’t let me hit the ground.

I’ve done an awful lot of falling, but not enough trusting in my lifetime. I never was that kid You could swing through the air.

Because sometimes I don’t believe You would never let me fall. Sometimes I’m afraid You won’t be ready. Sometimes I doubt the strength in Your arms. So I hold on, clinging tightly to the collar of Your t-shirt and I miss the exhilarating joy of flying through the air.

But I don’t want to be that kid with the fearful eyes and clenched fists; I want to be the one whose arms hang loose and smile comes freely. The one laughing instead of whimpering. The one who is fully abandoned to the thrill of the fall and completely confident in the arms that hold me.

Help me, like Oliver, to never hold on, but trust You will never let go.

over the shoulder

I’m working on it, all right?

Calling Forth the Artist in Me

I never would have called myself an artist. My drawing skills are limited, and I never could figure out how to get the eyes right. Paints and brushes scared me because I never understood what to do with them. The first time I walked into a Michael’s I felt lost.

So naturally this art journaling thing has been a bit intimidating to me. But mostly it’s been amazing—calling forth the artist in me. And I wonder how long I’ve been stifling my abilities by denying myself the courage to try.

Throughout my childhood, I bounced through a lot of activities trying to find my place in this world. I couldn’t do a somersault, so gymnastics was out. I had a stint of being the worst (but friendliest) person on the baseball team, then I became a ballet school dropout. The only reason I stuck with piano lessons for so long is because I adored the time spent with my teacher.

Basically, I was bad at a lot of things. So when my knack for storytelling was discovered I latched onto it like a parasite, sucking life from the creative venue of writing. I filled stacks of journals with various thoughts, wrote letters to loved ones and virtual strangers alike, and started collecting fragments of story ideas.

Writing was my gift, my passion, my purpose. And somehow I managed to convince myself that writing was all I did well.

I stopped dancing anywhere but behind closed doors even though I loved moving to the music. I stopped using my pen to create anything other than words. I never touched a piano if anyone else was in the house.

And I sold myself short.

Because, while writing may be the thing I do best, it is not all I can do.

I was made for more.

You were made for more.

It took me many years to discover that we are all artists, designed to create beauty in the world around us through whatever medium we choose. But we don’t have to use only one.

I want to encourage you to branch out, test your limits, and challenge yourself to do more than you ever dreamed possible. Because you deserve more than the limited life you’ve safely created for yourself. You’re missing so much if you’re clinging to just one gift.

While nothing has opened entire worlds for me in the way writing does, painting stirs a part of my soul that writing has never touched. Dancing frees my heart to worship, and singing brings joy to the surface of my life in a way the written word never has.

And my life is so much richer for having multiple ways to express myself.

My friend, there’s more. There is more out there to be experienced if you’re brave enough to try. Brave enough to throw your arms wide open and embrace these different ways of expressing yourself. So please don’t sell yourself short. Please don’t limit your potential.

Pick up your paintbrush and point your toes. Paint, dance, sing. This world is a symphony. Life is your canvas. Don’t close your ears to the music. Don’t leave the pages blank.

Stretch yourself by sinking into the wonder of life in more than the typical way.

dreaming in color

Set Apart, Torn Apart

I started reading the book of Esther again. Now, I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon that everyone else is riding on, but I’ll make an exception for Esther. As far as my favorite Biblical characters go, she ranks right up there with Uriah the Hittite and the prophet Micaiah (aka So Much Swoon and Mr. Sass), but I digress…

Like everyone else, I admire Esther’s courage. I’m inspired by the fact that when it comes to making a life or death decision, Esther steps out and risks her neck for her people, even though she’s obviously scared out of her mind. But the part of the story that resonates in me more than anything else is when it’s mentioned that, before she ever met the king and became his bride, Esther was relocated to the best place in the harem and assigned seven personal maids.

You might think I’m moved by God’s obvious favor upon her even then. After all, everyone who shares a message about Esther talks about how she was set apart in this manner. But I’m a little more interested in how she might have been torn apart.

Because sometimes being set apart looks a whole lot like being isolated.

Think about it. Hegai moved her to the best place in the harem. We’re not told if this was completely separate from the other women or if it was still in the midst of them, but while I can’t guarantee where it landed her on a geographical scale, I can pretty confidently say where she ended up on the relationship scale. Basically this was a beauty competition and, by displaying this unmerited favor upon her, Hegai singled Esther out as the one to beat.

“Congratulations, dollface, you’re the most hated woman in Susa! Step right up to claim your prize.”

I mean, she still had her seven maids (and, judging from her reputation of winning people over in a heartbeat, they probably liked her), but I can’t help imagining that was the loneliest year of Esther’s life.

And I hate that this is the part of Esther’s story I find myself relating to the most when I would rather have the crown and the bravery and the saving a nation from destruction. But Esther’s story—and my story, too—would not be complete without the fear and the loneliness and the wondering if one life really matters in the grand scope of things.

I can’t imagine Esther was very grateful for her isolation when she was standing in the thick of it. It doesn’t have to be recorded within the pages of her story for me to know that spiteful comments and hurtful words were thrown her way. Girls are vicious, and I imagine Esther was torn apart during those twelve months of beauty treatments.

But God needed to get Esther alone in order to teach her to trust Him alone. This is obvious in later chapters of her story when she turns to Him and humbles herself in prayer, along with her seven maids that she apparently converted along the way (as evidenced by her comment about them praying with her in Esther 4:16). Check that out.  Esther was left with only a few women to trust and she transformed their lives. You go, girl!

I can’t help wondering what Esther’s life would have looked like without that season of isolation. We can know for certain that there are seven women who would not have had their lives transformed by her witness, but we also have to wonder how Esther would have stood in the midst of the masses. Would she still have transformed lives, or would she have conformed to the image these women expected of her?

Was Hegai’s favor a saving factor in Esther’s story? I imagine that it was. But I also imagine that Esther was confused by it. I can’t help but wonder how often she wished he hadn’t singled her out and made her the enemy of every other woman in the harem. Because being set apart hurts. There’s loneliness involved. And it’s even harder when we can’t see the big picture. While Esther knew she was there competing for the crown, I can’t imagine that she ever really believed she would be Xerxes’ choice of queen. She probably hoped, just as every other girl there hoped, but I’m sure her dreams were plagued by doubts.

Sometimes I feel as isolated as Esther. Maybe I’m not the most hated woman in Susa, but I remember feeling like the most ignored girl in Logan County, and sometimes I’ve felt like the most invisible woman in Charlottesville. Whether or not that was actually true, the feelings were very real, and they hurt.

Following Jesus hurts.

And I don’t know why God’s path has to be riddled with pain, but I do know that I serve a Creator who makes beauty from ashes. I follow an Author who turns orphaned peasants into queens. So whenever you’re feeling torn apart, just remember that the God who writes real-life fairy tales has set you apart for such a time as this, and when you come through these trials, dear one, you will stand in the presence of kings.

set apart

Letting Go of Me; Holding on to You

Over the weekend, my housemates and I took a personality test—just for fun. There was a lot of laughter as we tried to guess each other’s answers, pinning each other with words that didn’t fit at all, before giving a serious response. Overall it was an edifying experience, pointing out the strengths in each other and remembering certain occasions when Lynn was thoughtful and Ellen was inspiring and Amber was a mediator.

I learned a lot, mostly about the people I live with, but also about myself. Sometimes as I was poised to give one answer, everyone else would say another.

“Will the real Rebekah please stand up?”

There are things in myself I don’t see.
There are things in myself no one else sees.
There are things in my life people assume I’m good at because I’ve spent so much time forcing myself to be those things.

And I wonder what my life would look like if I learned to be a little more transparent. I wonder if maybe there’s a place for taking down the walls and letting myself be known just a little deeper.

I just finished reading Victoria Schwab’s The Unbound, where the main character is afraid of letting people too close because when she makes physical contact with someone, she can hear the noise of their lives. She can read their thoughts like a book. Their memories play like movies in her mind.

While I may not share Mackenzie’s supernatural gift, sometimes I think I’m also afraid of the noise. Afraid if I let someone too close, they are going to encounter mine, and I’m going to get tangled up in theirs. And by and by, I’ll be forced to realize that life is messy.

There are no simple answers. No perfect solutions. No easy way to navigate this big old world in which we live.

I’m pretty good at putting on a face and letting you see what I want you to see, but I’m not always good at letting it unravel and saying, “This—no, this right here—is who I truly am.”

Just this morning I was encouraged to be the kind of person who makes whoever she is with feel like they are the center of her universe. As I read those words, I knew that I wanted that. I knew I wanted to ascribe that kind of worth to everyone I encounter. But the longer I reflect on it, the more I realize I can’t be that kind of person if I’m withholding pieces of myself.

I’m realizing that God didn’t make me a whole person so that I can be half of one; He wants all the pieces of me to shine forth for His glory.

And it’s hard. It’s hard to expose that much. It’s exhausting to try to put your whole self into everything.

But this world deserves our everything.

You deserve my everything.

So here’s to being the kind of person who bares her heart, embraces the noise, and lets everyone be the center of her universe for however long they need to be.

center of our universe

Double Life

And I’m so tired of living this double life. Of trying to be my own, and trying to be Yours. I’m torn between the life You ask of me and the life I demand from You.

And I’m sorry I try so hard to do life my own way. You know that ultimately I want Your will. It’s just that mine so often gets in the way…

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Can I be honest with you?

It’s been five months since I first penned this prayer, but I feel like I’ve been writing it every day since. So much of what I want is not what God wants for me during this season of my life. And it’s hard. It’s hard to keep pushing through the muck of this life when I don’t know what’s waiting for me on the other side of this mess I’m in.

I’m in transition. I’m making a move—a literal, physical move out of the town I’ve called home for the last four and a half years. People keep asking me if I’m excited.

I’m not. Not really.

Sure, there are things I’m looking forward to, but it’s hard to get super excited when you don’t know what you’re moving toward. When you don’t know what’s waiting at the end of those five hundred miles.

Can I be really honest now?

Sometimes I forget to practice what I preach. Sometimes my Beyond Waiting journey is paved with more anxiety than adventure, more pouting than praise.

Sometimes I don’t believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Sometimes I don’t believe in the impossible at all.

Sometimes I try to live two different lives—the one God weaves for me and the one I desire for myself. And let me tell you, it’s really, really, really hard to be two different people. One of them takes over. One of them wins. And I feel so often that it’s my own selfish will barreling the other out of the way.

If I’ve been quiet here of late, it’s because Rebekah’s voice has been trying to drown out God’s voice, and anyone who has tried arguing with God before knows how this story ends—with me being too tired to raise my voice and too stubborn to listen to His.

And so there’s silence where the words used to flow freely.

And there’s that whisper in the back of my mind—those words I once humbly confessed:

“You know that ultimately I want Your will. It’s just that mine so often gets in the way…”

Let today be the day my will shatters.

Say Goodbye to Plan B

I’ve said before that Hannah Brencher is one of the most amazing human beings that ever walked this planet. I’m in love with her message, and her heartbeat, and the way she weaves such simple syllables into music that sings to my soul. But mostly I love that, though we’ve never met beyond the realm of digital acquaintance, she’s like the best friend I never knew I needed, giving me what she calls “a good butt-kicking pep talk” just when I’m set to give up.

Sometimes I think about how much I want to be her. Other times I think about how I already am her, and she is me. How else could she know? How else could she manage to speak such specifics to my fears, my doubts, my hesitations? How else could she know the depths of my dreams and the intense longing I have to make the world a more beautiful place before I go?

When I stumbled into my inbox yesterday afternoon, I had to remind myself to breathe. Because she did it again: that thing where she’s writing to the whole wide world, but I’m looking between the lines and finding the words, “Yeah, I’m talking to you, Rebekah Snyder.”

“Plan B doesn’t fit you,” she wrote.

“Yup. That’s right. Said it. Meant it. Plan B is where you are standing when you decide that you are too afraid to step out there and let life smack you in the face with blessings and confetti. Plan B is the shaky, but seemingly secure, house you construct for yourself when you want to avoid risk and keep all the pieces intact. Two fun facts for the day: a) nothing worthwhile in this lifetime is fit to be controlled b) Plan B ain’t for you.”

I’d never thought of that until yesterday: how maybe Plan B is the worst possible idea I’ve ever concocted in my life because it could keep me from living Plan A.

Because I’ve thought before, like probably every person thinks, “What do I do if this all goes wrong? What’s my back-up plan?”

There is no back-up plan. There’s doing and there’s failing. And there’s the brushing dirt and debris from your skin and starting over from scratch if that’s what it takes to make your dreams happen. It’s do, or die trying. And maybe it’s not very encouraging to think about the die trying part, but, darling, I don’t think there’s ever a reason to give up on Plan A. Maybe you’ve got to tweak your methods a bit, but don’t you ever give up on the goal. It’s not worth it.

Remember the parable of the talents? You know, the story Jesus told about the three guys who were entrusted with the king’s money? The first two guys took a risk, and they were commended for it. The third guy buried his portion in order to insure it was still intact when the king returned, and he got in trouble. Why? Because talents were meant to be invested.

Sometimes I wonder what the king in the story would have done if the other guys had failed. Would he be angry with them for losing it all, or would they have been commended for trying? Had the third guy invested, but lost everything, would his ending have turned out differently? I don’t know. But I do know this:

This world is not the end.

We forget that too often. Or we know it somewhere in the back of our minds, but we haven’t let it transform the way we live. Because if we were really convinced that this life is but a blip on the scale of eternity, we wouldn’t be so afraid to live a daring life. We wouldn’t try so hard to make sure our futures are safe and comfortable and secure.

I think that shows a lack of trust on our part. I think that if God decided to give us a season of life on this earth, He wanted us to live it, and not just in our safe little comfortable existence that we call living. When God gave you a dream, He never intended for you to fall back on Plan B. He never intended for you to find ways around it because, let’s face it, it was a crazy dream, after all.

I think we all need to take a little bit of advice from Hannah Brencher and “get real clear on the things you always, always said you would fight for before you learned how easy and safe it felt to stand in your own way.”

I’ll leave you to contemplate, and hopefully write your Dear John letter to Plan B.

Plan B

Driving Through the Fog

The thing about living in the Blue Ridge Mountains is that sometimes I have an awesome view out my bedroom window, but other days, it’s not even worth opening the blinds. Driving through fog is not the most fun thing in the world. In fact, it’s a little disconcerting to not be able to see beyond the narrow stretch of road you’re on.

While driving into town awhile back, I had the surreal experience of being able to see nothing but bare branches poking through the fog alongside the road and realizing, “There’s a mountain over there. I know there’s a mountain, because I’ve seen it, but if I didn’t already know…”

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I feel like driving through the fog is such an accurate portrayal of my spiritual life. So many times when I can’t see beyond my circumstances, I find myself saying, “God is faithful. I know He’s faithful because He’s proved Himself before, but if I didn’t know…”

Because I can’t always see Him at work in my life. I don’t always know what He’s doing in the midst of the messes. I don’t know how to cope in the fog.

But sometimes… sometimes…

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of Him, rising up through the fog of my life. And even if it’s just for a moment before I descend into the valley again, I’m comforted.

Even though I can’t always see Him, even though I don’t know what exactly He’s doing, I know that He’s there. I know that He’s working. I know that He is faithful—forever faithful.

He has been so good to me, so real to me, ever-present when I need Him most.

And so I continue through the fog, unsure of what lies before me, but certain of the One who paves my way.

forever faithful

Little Faith; Big God

I don’t know why I ask such big things of God while expecting so little. I don’t know why I can’t manage to muster that mustard-seed faith that moves mountains. And I really don’t know why God is willing to overlook my doubts and hesitations and move the mountains anyway.

I wore holes in the knees of my jeans on Thursday morning, only to be surprised the following afternoon when God showed up and said, “I got this,” by proving that He does.

In my heart, I know that He does. But somewhere in that culture-tainted, life-stormed, tragically-logical part of my mind, I’ve stopped looking for miracles. Stopped hoping that God will redeem that which has been torn apart by the world.

Why is it that I can dissolve into puddles of tears, begging for redemption, and then be surprised when God proves to me again that such redemption exists?

God looks at me and shakes His head. “O ye of little faith…”

That gentle reprimand sticks to my heart, convicting me as it has a thousand times before. And I find myself repeating the words of the man whose son was demon-possessed. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I’m thankful for a God who is bigger than my faith. A God who doesn’t need my unerring belief to make beautiful things of the messes. I’m thankful that, regardless of my unworthiness, God still works miracles in my life. He still allows me to be part of them—to observe from a distance or stand in the midst of it all.

I may have little faith, but I have a big God.

I stand in awe again.

Hate the Sin. (No, Really, Hate It.)

Warning: This is probably the most controversial post I’ve ever written, so if you don’t like having your toes trampled upon, you might want to stop reading right now. Or maybe you’ll agree with me. A lot of you won’t. I fully expect disgruntled readers, angry comments, hate mail, even (It’s beyondwaiting@yahoo.com, friends). I’m okay with that. Because I realize that, in this day and age, the “H” word is a little hard to swallow.

Yesterday afternoon, a friend linked to this post. I had a major problem with removing the word “hate” from my vocabulary, arguing that the moment we stop hating sin is the moment it swallows us up. The age old quote is “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” It is possible to do both at the same time, I said. That’s when a helpful commenter linked me to this post.

I think that post was supposed to debate my point; I believe it only enforced it. Remember what I said about removing the word hate from our vocabulary? It looks to me like the author believed one thing until his brother was the one struggling. Now he’s changed his mind about hating the sin because it puts tension on his relationship with his brother?

I fully agree that we should not hold homosexuality to a different degree of sin, but I don’t think that means we need to brush it under the table. It ranks right there with idol worship, adultery, stealing, and a number of other sins (sorry if you don’t like my saying that, but Paul said it, too—1 Corinthians 6:9-11). A sin no greater than any others, but a sin just the same.

I understand why the author wants to quit believing his brother’s lifestyle is Biblically unacceptable. I’ve wanted to give up on my own beliefs before because it would have been so much easier to pretend everything was all right. It would be much less painful to just accept people as they are and not have to question their life choices. I’m sure my own brother wished the sting of conviction in my soul didn’t speak so loudly, because I know I wished his would shut up when the time came for him to turn the tables on me.

I think we’ve confused love and tolerance, thinking they are one and the same. But compare these definitions:

Tolerance: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Love: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) :  the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) :  brotherly concern for others.

If I’m truly concerned for the good of another, I’m not going to simply “tolerate” their harmful habits. Because I don’t think loving the sinner and hating the sin are mutually exclusive.

Which brings me to the second point in Article #2. When writing of the adulterous woman, the author states:

But Jesus knelt with her in the sand. Unafraid to get dirty. Unafraid to affirm her humanity. “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

He could have said “You’re a sinner, but I love you anyways.” But she knew she was a sinner. Those voices were loud and near and they held rocks above her head.

Um, Jesus kind of did tell her she was a sinner. It’s sort of implied in the phrase, “Go and sin no more.” Yes, He accepted her. Yes, He refused to throw rocks alongside the others, but He didn’t completely sweep her sin under the rug. He acknowledged it. He entreated her to leave it behind. To start new and afresh. Essentially, Jesus did say, “You’re a sinner, but I love you anyways.”

I think that’s where the Christians who are preaching grace are falling short. We’re looking the broken people of the world straight in the eye and saying, “Neither do I condemn you.” And that’s a beautiful thing. But we’re forgetting, always forgetting, to remind them to go and sin no more.

Maybe Jarrid Wilson was right, and people don’t know how to separate the sinner from the sin. Because, in accepting people, we’ve made it look like we’re accepting their sin. Or maybe we feel like we have to accept their sin in order to fully accept them.

I was once in a social setting where a friend asked another friend what her sister was doing these days.

“She’s doing really good,” the friend replied. “She’s living with her boyfriend in Columbus.”

“Oh, that’s cool.”

That’s cool? Does anyone else see a problem with that statement? Or was I the only one choking on my tongue? Those are the kinds of reports about my friends that I find disappointing, not because it makes me love them any less, but because I only wanted God’s best for them. I hate that they’ve walked away from that. Yes, hate.

Let’s bring it down a level. Imagine you have a kid, and of course you do what all good parents do and warn him away from the hot stove. But he’s a kid, and kids will do what kids are going to do. He touches the stove, he gets burned, what now? You’re probably going to pull him into your arms, stick his poor, little hand under the faucet, and whisper soothing platitudes like, “It’s okay, baby. You’re going to be all right. Mommy/Daddy loves you.”

All those things are good. All those things are true. But you know what else is probably going on in your mind? You probably hate that he disobeyed you; not because you’re hard-core authoritarian, but because he’s hurt. You probably hate that he got burned. You hate that he had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Does this distract from your love for him? Absolutely not.

Because love and hate are not mutually exclusive.

I love my parents, therefore I hate disappointing them.
I love my brother, therefore I hate watching him make poor choices.
I love my students, therefore I hate that many of them have so much hurt in their lives.

There is never a good time to speak hateful words to someone, but it’s okay—no, really, it’s for the best—to gently correct your brother when he has failed (and to allow your brother to correct you). It’s time to take our fallen brethren by the hand and truthfully say, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

Hate the sin. (No, really, hate it.) But speak the truth in love.

love

On Words and Worth and Singing in Silence

Sometimes I fear I place to much value on words. I find my worth wrapped up in them time and time again, and I’m not talking about the words of others (though I won’t shy away from a compliment. Unless you’re creepy. I don’t accept compliments from creepers, just sayin’).

It’s my own words that hold the potential to undo me. Or rather, the lack of words.

I’m a writer. Words are my life. I find fulfillment in pages upon pages of words streaming through my fingertips.

But sometimes… Sometimes there’s nothing but silence where the words used to be. Sometimes I have absolutely nothing of worth to say. I’m terrified of those silences because, when the pages of my journals are blank, when the cursor on the screen blinks empty, that’s when the doubts set in.

What am I doing here, really? Do my words carry weight? Can I possibly create enough of them? Is this yet another story that was born for the dusty shelves of Never Meant to Be?

Every time the silences start swallowing my words, I fear they’re lost forever, which is ridiculous because I’ve gone through seasons like this so many times and they never last. Winter sets upon my writing every once in awhile. The words curl up in their caves and hibernate like bears dreaming of spring. And that’s okay.

That’s what I have to keep telling myself over and over again. It’s okay to not have the words sometimes. It’s okay to dig deep and come up empty every now and then.

Steven James once wrote on the importance of silence. He said that without the silence between the notes, music is nothing but noise. We need the silence because then, and only then, can we finally hear the song.

When I stop trying to force the words, I can hear it. Playing softly in the back of my mind is a tune I’ve long forgotten to enjoy because I’ve been so busy trying to fill it with lyrics that never quite fit.

Some things are bigger than words. Some songs too beautiful for lyrics.

And it’s okay. It’s okay to melt into the silences as they fill our lives.

It’s okay to not know the words every once in awhile… just as long as you remember to sink into the song that has been playing all this time.

spider dance