The Necessity of Heroism

Last week, our country experienced collective shock and grief after the heinous, egregious acts committed in Aurora, Colorado.  In the aftermath, we learned details about the seemingly normal killer, as well as the acts of bravery which emerged from the shadow of the tragedy.  Hope, although a little seedling, was springing up in the hours after the shooting.  Stories poured in about the resilience of the movie patrons, of men throwing themselves over women to shield them from bullets, of people who narrowly escaped with their lives and praising God for second chances.

As everyone knows by now, the film the victims went to see was the final installment of the Batman: Dark Knight Series.  I find it no coincidence that the storyline boasts of a vigilante poised and ready to defeat the dark forces of Gotham City.  In fact, heroes are a topic of perennial interest.  We all long to have a hero.  We have all felt powerless before.  We have all experienced uncertainty.  If you are a self-confessed “control freak,” you are nearly sickened by the feeling, nauseated by the lack of power over the situation.  But what can one do?

Trust in a hero?  Is this what the film suggests?  Furthermore, is this what the Bible suggests?  The Bible assures us that God will help us in times of trouble.  He will comfort our grief, pacify our sorrow with the reminder of his promises. Our sense of justice, I firmly believe, originates from our Creator.  As we are fashioned in His image, our desires can often be His; the exuberant joy we feel when the antagonist is finally conquered is deeply planted in the heart of us all. I also have faith that our justice system will deliver due punishment to the young man involved. It will not bring back the precious lives that have been lost, but it will hopefully bring some closure to the families of the victims.

There are times that we desire heroes, in which gross injustices demand action.  Have you ever felt this way?  Have you ever found yourself in a place where you wish to look up and, through the tears in your eyes and the thumping in your chest, see your deliverer rushing to your aid to your great relief?  I have mentioned in previous blogs that my mother is a breast cancer survivor.  Last January, while I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (“in place”). Please note that no one in my family has ever had breast cancer.  It was one of the most difficult periods of my life.  At times, I asked God why.  Then there was the moment during a doctor’s visit where the doctor turned to me and said, “And we’ll probably start checking you out in about 15 years.”   I prayed, on my knees every night, for God to heal my Mom.  I cried incessantly for about a month, striving to appear unaffected at work, but when I was alone, the fear would wash over me afresh.  I remember driving home one night in thick fog and thinking, This is a metaphor for my life.  Limited visibility.  Unsure of where I am headed and most frightening of all, unsure about how all this will end.

Then I began to reflect on what I was reading.  In C.S. Lewis’s The Magicians’s Nephew, protagonist Digory enters Narnia with the assistance of rings and a portal in the Wood between the Worlds. Here, he observes Aslan singing Narnia into existence then attempts to ask his help in healing his mother, who is ill back in London:

“‘But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’  Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. There were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. ‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan.  ‘I know.  Grief is great.  Only you and I in this land know that yet.  Let us be good to one another'”

Aslan then assigns Digory the task of obtaining an apple from a special tree. Digory does not know why he is to secure this apple.  Like Adam, he is tempted by *Jadis (who would “later” become the White Witch).  He thwarts her attempts and returns to Aslan with the apple.  Aslan then plants a tree.  Digory informs Aslan that Jadis tried to persuade him to eat the apple (as opposed to following  orders and delivering it to Aslan).  Aslan continues:

‘”Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers.  The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.’ And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hopes of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death.  But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper: ‘That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple.  It is not what will happen now.  What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal.  Go.  Pluck an apple from the Tree.”

God, I prayed, isn’t there something else I could do?  Some magic apple I can carry back to her to eliminate the cancer? No, but I have something real and far better.  I have faith in a God who can truly heal her.  He can purge these “antagonists” out of her body.  I must pray and believe, believe with every fiber of my being that healing would come.

Fighting back tears, I progressed into the final chapter of Magician’s Nephew. Digory and his friend Polly plant a seed from the Narnian apple and, to their astonishment, it begins to quickly sprout.

“About a week after this it was quite certain that Digory’s Mother was getting better.  About a fortnight later she was able to sit out in the garden.  And a month later that whole house had become a different place.  Aunt Letty did everything that Mother liked; windows were opened, frowsy curtains were drawn back to brighten up the rooms, there were new flowers everywhere, and nicer things to eat.  And the old piano was tuned and Mother took up her singing again, and had such games with Digory and Polly…”

Aslan was the hero.  I found mysterious strength in that.  I was not retreating from reality by reading Narnia, rather I was seeing God’s promises through it. My mother, on Saint Patrick’s Day of last year, underwent a single masectomy.  The cancer had NOT spread to her lymph nodes, but thankfully was contained in a specific area.  Today, she is cancer free.  I cannot thank God enough for the “apple”, the healing He delivered.  Not a day goes by that I don’t ponder and appreciate it.

The truth is, control is merely an illusion.  If you believe that Christ has a plan for you, you can certainly ignore that plan and take another route (not recommended) or you can surrender to it.  If you believe God is in control, then you must admit that ultimately you are NOT.  Some may feel helpless, but to some degree, I feel liberated.  I am fairly clumsy, so Heaven help me if I were left to determine my own path. I continually need a hero, a safety net.  This life can be difficult to navigate, but like the people of Gotham City, I can look up and know help is lingering above me.  His reach far exceeds the stretch of a rescue signal. We also know that God will grant peace to the victims’ families during this horrific time.  I pray they can endure each day with the supernatural strength supplied by our Father.

Because in the end, the hero is going to win.  The ride may cause our stomachs to turn, may cause us to question if the help really exists, but we know that just before the credits, hope will persevere.  Justice will come, and that swiftly.

My prayers continue for the victims’ families of the Aurora tragedy.  But the story has not reached its conclusion yet, so do not fear. Our Hero, and our hope, will prevail.

*”Later” is cautiously used, dependent upon the order in which one reads The Chronicles of Narnia.  If one reads them in originally published order, The Magician’s Nephew would be next to last (6th).  However, if one reads them in the “intended” order, The Magician’s Nephew would be first.





Moving: Ends, Beginnings, and Continuums

The last few weeks have been an amalgam of emotions. I have been helping people move.  In a casual sense, this is simply packing one’s belongings up and placing them in a new space.  Over the course of our lifetimes, we move our belongings several times.  The place we choose to live is intimate, a sanctuary perhaps, and reveals much about the things we choose to surround ourselves with.  That is why the first move has been so difficult.

About five years ago, my gregarious grandmother began to exhibit strange behavior.  I went to visit her and introduce her to my new addition (my dog Lucy) when I noticed how she would stray from the topic of conversation unexpectedly.  She began to cry about the loss of her husband, who had died three years prior. She seemed to handle it well despite her grief, but it seemed that the foundation which had supported her strength had collapsed, tumbling beneath the weight of some fresh and enigmatic misery.  After visiting the doctor, she was diagnosed with dementia.  Dementia is a subtle thief.  At first, she would seem disoriented and confused.  She once told my mother, in a moment of clarity, that it was a great tragedy when she couldn’t trust her mind anymore.  She struggled to distinguish fiction from reality, claiming that her first husband, who died nearly 35 years ago, was still alive and being unfaithful. Mental atrophy kept punishing her until she finally required daily assistance.  A vacancy replaced her previous vibrancy.  We were beginning to lose her, perhaps not physically but mentally.  After enduring a long fight to keep her home, the family decided to move her permanently into a retirement home.  As we began to clean out a lifetime of memories to prepare the home for sale, I recognized how brief life can be. The Bible says life is a vapor.  Job 14:2 states:

We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear (New Living Translation).

Her home is full of artifacts which have taken a lifetime to accumulate, relics of a long past and of a life well-lived.  But all this will pass away.  The things we cling to in life will eventually suffer our absence.  Either we will pass these on to others, our children will sell them to strangers, or someone will dispose of these items.  We cannot hold on to these things forever.  This is why the Bible suggests that we store treasures in Heaven; the brevity of our lives prevents us from keeping our possessions infinitely.  So as I dig elbow-deep in my grandmother’s memories, I am reminded of my own memories of her. Pictures, spools of thread (she was a seamstress), her vast collection of frogs – all of these things are symbols to a life of laughing often and loving consistently, of laboring proudly and living faithfully.

A few days later, I found myself applying a new coat of paint to a master and guest bedroom.  Our friends recently purchased their first home, and as the sun blazed down on us that summer afternoon, the humidity could not exceed the excitement and anticipation our friends felt as they moved from their apartment to the new house. There is something lovely about new beginnings in this respect.  We embrace it – it’s the page of the new chapter we long to read.

It’s moments like the latter which make the former so painful to endure.  We know every beginning has an end, but not everyone accepts that these ends usher in beginnings.  Not everyone believes in life after death.  I do, but this hope does not insulate us from the pain of loss and/or separation. There are fragments of my grandmother which are lost (in this world) forever.  As I mentioned a few posts ago, homesickness is proof that we are made for another world.  A sense of restlessness is easily diagnosed as an inherent desire for a world beyond ours. As I pondered the past while clearing my grandmother’s home, I thought of C.S. Lewis’s remarkable sermon The Weight of Glory and the echoes of Heaven we experience on Earth.  There are moments of beauty that arrest us and transform the lens with which we view our world.  As time passes, we may long for that feeling again, even returning to the place of the occurrence.  Lewis warns us to prepare for disappointment; only God can satisfy these desires:

Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat.  If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.  The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them, it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard , news from a country we have never yet visited…our real goal is elsewhere. (31)

Two years ago, I returned to the campus of Berea College.  I spent my first two years of college there, developing personally and academically.  So many memories rushed through me as I approached campus.  I exited my car and walked around for a few minutes, recalling special moments with friends, of the life between classes – it was the backdrop for my bildungsroman, my coming-of-age.  However, as I looked around, I saw strangers.  There are new students matriculating through Berea now, new locals, new businesses.

Time is always moving.  Moving denotes a sense of motion; it suggests that we are in essence always pursuing a path, even if we elect not to choose one.  Neglecting to choose, you see, is a choice in itself.  Every minute we are walking these paths.  We experience joy and we keep moving.  We also experience pain, but we keep moving.  Whatever our next “move” is, we understand that we are always in motion. Beginnings lead to ends, which lead to beginnings.  If we observe our world, we see how God creates and utilizes cycles – the seasons, nature, even our own lives (Shakespeare called growing old a “second childishness”). Why would God disrupt this pattern when it concerns our eternities?  If the rain feeds into oceans, which later evaporates into the sky, why would we doubt that God has prepared something greater for us, the children He loves and adores?  Consider the lillies??

A time will come when someone will be elbow-deep in my possessions, but one cannot dwell on such mundane realities.  If life is A-Z, use B-Y to do something valuable for present and future generations.  Your beneficiaries will eventually sift through your belongings, but what legacy will you leave them?  Approach your life with optimism and contentment.  If you have stains in your past, know that there are always opportunities for beginnings.  Wake up tomorrow and strive for greatness. You’ll be moving anyway, so why not reexamine your life and aim for something extraordinary?

When God Writes Your Love Story…

Just recently, my husband and I celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary.  That morning, I woke up early and on my way through the house, noticed something different in our living room.  As I turned on the light, I was nearly in tears at what I saw…

My husband purchased a rose for every month of our marriage.  I’m not much of a math whiz, but that is 144 roses.  It’s hard to believe when you find such a romantic token of affection on the coffee table that the months can accumulate like this.  Here’s March of 2004, and there is November 2001.  There are twelve roses for every Valentine’s Day.

But there are also roses for the hard months.  There is one for January of 2011, when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (and there is also one for March 2011 when she beat it).  There is a rose for September of 2009 when my Dad (whom I discussed a couple of posts ago) underwent quadruple bypass.  There are several roses representing the difficulty I had when writing my dissertation (and therefore neglecting my husband).

Roses are a wonderful symbol of love but in this case, they also reminded me of the sturdiness of true love.  TRUE love is not what we often see manifested in culture.  Real love requires time and effort, and also a consistency of both in order to maintain it.  When I teach love poetry, I often tell my students that real love is rarely portrayed in our society.  Rather we are innundated with images of LUST.  Lust is a poor substitute for real love.  Furthermore, some people never experience real love because they are not patient enough or because their “ideals” of love are not resilient.  The Bible defines love in I Corinthians 13: 4-8:

Love is patient and  kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not  insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at  wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes  all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for  prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for  knowledge, it will pass away.

Also, an obscure poet by the name of William Shakespeare also defined love in his Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Do you see a theme?  Love perseveres over time.  It is not fueled by lust, but by compassion and genuine affection for an individual.  When time adds a few wrinkles, love does not care (although cosmetic surgeons may disagree with this assertion).  Love is not given enough credit for its durability.  It’s so suffocated by images of jewelry, chocolates, and lingerie, that it cannot be seen as a band-aid, a cushion, or even protective padding. When life gets tough, love helps carry us through.  Too many people in my generation believe that when they face a tough situation in their relationship, “It’s over.”  No, no; it is just beginning.  Tests of the relationship will come.  It is how you endure it that will make all the difference.

My marriage has endured issues over the years, but it has always emerged stronger than before.  The night I fell in love with my husband was a most special evening.  We played in a Christian band together and attended a church service.  Afterwards, we along with some other friends visited a bridge over a quiet stream nestled idyllicly in a meadow.  He and I sat in the grass talking and, to our great consternation, a meteor shower began.  Disclaimer:  I PROMISE, I am not fabricating this.  This is not a story distorted into fiction by sentamentality.  This REALLY happened.  I firmly believed that it was God’s validation that Aaron would one day be my husband.  Sometimes, I go back to that meadow in my mind’s eye.  The breeze was blowing, the creek was whispering and carrying leaves on a journey downstream.  The moon flooded the meadow and when my eyes returned from the sky, they met his.  Years will pass, but I still cling to that moment because I know God prepared it for us.  The great C.S. Lewis warns us against these moments, because some people tend to set it up as “the standard.”  Fleeting moments are never the standard, as the outline of mountains always lead to valleys.  Lewis warns us to appreciate these stolen moments (which the great poet Wordsworth referred to as “spots of time”) but to distrust them as they are inconsistent.  But what is consistent in this life?

Love is.  True love endures tough issues because love is stronger.  That is how God created love to be.  This is why it is best to trust Him to write your love story, as I did.  Your love story is something special to you, something organic and realistic.  I never juxtapose my relationship to the relationships of others or to what is reflected on television and in culture.  My love story was especially written for me by a God who created love.  And every word, every page, every chapter has His fingerprints on it.

Here’s to my wonderful husband and many more happy years together!