Tale as Old as Time…. (C’mon, sing it with me!)

We’d been waiting for the new live-action version of Beauty and Beast to finally premiere since way back in the fall. And once my girl discovered Emma Watson plays Belle, the wait got even harder, because, well…Hermione! (And if her mama had known it was the oh-so-good Dan Stevens as the Beast…!!!)

Anyhoo, finally, the big weekend came. And, honestly, I was cautious. I’d read a couple bad reviews, and I figured it maybe would not be that big of a deal and so I kind of downplayed it. So much so that I did not order tickets ahead of time. A decision I regretted immediately on Saturday morning as I sat scanning Fandango for two empty seats together in any theater within a 15-mile radius. Apparently all of Jefferson County had the same plans as Curly Girl and me.

The big Disney animated Beauty and the Beast came out when I was in high school. My girlfriends and I loved it, and I sang, “…tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme,” in my car and in the shower and all the live long day for a year after. “There’s something sweet, and almost kind,” too. So, reviews aside, and downplay in effect, I was still looking forward to reliving the memories with my girl in tow.

But let me just say—I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for how much I loved this new version. I mean y’all…seriously…it had my attention from the get, and the only thing that broke me from the spell of my own tears during the last 20 minutes was the sound of CG sniffling, gasping, eyes wide, on the edge of her seat, emotion pouring out of her sweet face. We held hands the last of the way through the movie and man-oh-man did we clap along with everybody else at the closing credits.

Here’s why we gasped. Why we cried. Why we laughed aloud. Why we stood and clapped….

  • In bringing this movie from animation to real-life (even if CGI-assisted), the story went from a happysingsong fairy tale to a deep and redemptive exploration of what it means to be human—and what it can look like to find joy in the midst of sorrow and despair. In this version, we learn more about the Beast, and why he is as he is; and we learn more about Belle, and why her relationship with her father is so important, so life-giving, so central for them both. In essence, we learn the story of two people whose entire lives have been shaped by the too-early and tragic deaths of their mothers. For Belle, the result was constant nurture from her father to compensate for what had been lost. For the Beast, the result was the kind of twisted heartache that leads a person down dark and dangerous paths of existence. This is the stuff of life, y’all—how we deal with what gets handed to us, even if through no fault of our own.
  • Mrs. Potts, and her Chip, Lumiere and Cogsworth—oh they just killed me! Their love for their prince was evident from the very beginning, even as they faced the seemingly inevitable truth that they were doomed. Their care for one another, their hilarity, their attention to Belle, their willingness to sacrifice their futures as the Beast let Belle go… They knew they could not control this part of the story. They simply had to live into what would be with as much grace and guts as they could muster.
  • And then there was Gaston—who went from somewhat comical over-testeroned brute in the first one to a truly evil, manipulative predator in this live-action version. I wanted to throat-punch him. The depth of his need to get, to control, to conquer was so much more evident, and it was terrifying to watch how easily he preyed on the fears of the villagers to get what he wanted. How easily he preyed on their fears to get what he wanted….
  • And above all—it was a glorious reminder of the very real truth that love wins. Love. Wins. Always. Albeit not as obviously and in as timely a fashion as it did in this movie…but still…Love. Wins. Always.

I think, in the end, my great love for this new version of such an already-lovely tale, is that it is, just as the song sings it to be—a tale as old as time. It’s stories like this one that grab our attention, because they cut to the heart of all that’s both beautiful and painful in this life. Just when we think all is lost…just when we cannot stand what we’ve become…just when it seems we are, in fact, doomed by both our own heartache and pain and the evil dealings of others…just when….

And then…hope. Joy. Something new. And unlike anything we ever knew before or thought possible.

Gah. I get it. I know. I know what you more critical readers are saying: People are hungry, Julie. People are dying. Whole nations are succumbing to poverty and disease and war. And our nation..well…we’re not exactly on our best behavior these days.

I know. And no Disney movie is going to change that. I get it. And my heart breaks every damn day over it all.

But you know what else I know? That the human spirit, is, at its best and most valiant, indefatigable. Entirely. And that when we rise to the occasion of what it means to be fully human and fully alive, we find ourselves capable of such tremendous love. And that in that love is more redemptive grace, the sort that works on our hearts and changes us for the good, than we ever thought possible.

During a particularly dark time in my life, a friend and colleague said to me, “Julie, I pray you whole.” Not, “I pray for this thing or that thing,” or even for a specific outcome, but, “I pray you whole.”

What Belle and the Beast and their story reminded me is that we are all so very broken, all so very vulnerable what with the baggage, and life experience, and sore spots in our souls that we lug around. And this just is. It cannot be stopped. Because life happens.

But beauty happens, too. Love happens, too. And when those things are made real in our lives, or when we sacrifice so that they can be real in the lives of others, wholeness is made possible.

Wholeness is made possible.

And sometimes, it just takes a really good story to remind us that this true.

Bourbon Lessons

Barrels of goodness. Buffalo Trace Distillery.

I spent a lovely and unseasonably sunny and warm afternoon last week visiting the Buffalo Trace Distillery with my dad. Father-daughter bonding at its finest, I call it.

I’d done the basic tour before—and it was good. But this particular day, we wound up snagging a couple of open spots on the Hard Hat Tour. No actual hard hats required, but lots of stair climbing, a willingness to stick your finger in various stages of fermenting mash, taste still-aging vodka right out of the palm of your hand, and pay attention to the most fabulous tour guide I’ve ever had anywhere—Freddie, a third-generation employee of Buffalo Trace and a connoisseur on not only bourbon, but, it seemed to me, life in general.

The tour ended as such tours do, all of us lined up at a bar with various products to taste. Freddie’s a master at setting the scene, encouraging folks to try new things, and making the whole experience welcoming and down-to-earth. He didn’t even flinch when I spilled a glass of water all over the shiny hardwood floors of the bar area, just grabbed a bar towel and grinned, and assured me it was no crisis. Granted, he’s paid to keep the customers happy, I get this. But Freddie went the extra mile, for sure.

Especially as he brought out a bottle of Eagle Rare (a personal favorite of mine) and said you know, some people like this straight. Some people like it on the rocks. And then he said…sometimes, you even get someone who asks if they can have it mixed with some diet Coke.

Pause. As we all laughed, and acted exactly as he expected us to—as if such a thing was travesty.

Now truthfully, bourbon and coke gags me. I love the flavor, the sipping, the warmth of the whiskey too much to dilute it. And I’m probably more snobby than I ought to be about this. So what Freddie said next, it was uncomfortably convicting.

Ah see, he said, you all cringed, see that? See how you got all offended at the thought of such a pairing? You know what that says? It says you care more about your bourbon than you do the feelings and comfort level of the person who is asking to have it mixed.

You care more about the bourbon than their feelings.

This has stuck with me for the days since that tour. Under my skin. Bouncing around my thoughts. Because bourbon or no, we do this to one another all the time. We choose to care about a person’s preferences and convictions more than we do the actual person (or their feelings).

Am I right?

We care about who a person’s team is more than the person (especially during March in Kentucky…). We care about where a person shops (Um, Wal-Mart? No. Whole Foods.) We care about where a person goes to church (or doesn’t) and let that knowledge color our opinion first thing. We care about skin color. About gender identity. About mistakes and failure and challenges.

And sweet baby Jesus, we care about a person’s vote, their politics, more than we often care about the actual person. Every day, in this country, right now, we let that be what defines a person to us.

We define people by all these things. Even though no person is ever just these things.

Y’all—I’m not excusing the really bad stuff. Not at all. And I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for our convictions to be expressed. And I believe in knowing who you are and what your belief system is and then living that out. And I sure as hell believe in fighting for love and justice and freedom.

But lord have mercy we are hard on each other. So full of judgment and assumption. So prone to “us v. them.” And this is so not what we were made for.

None of us is perfect. And we are all so very different—by such lovely and graceful design. But we’re all riddled with transgressions and fears and deep grief and broken dreams. And we carry with us the baggage of our lives in ways seen and unseen. This alone should give us pause when we assume know everything there is to know about another.

Given all this, who the hell cares how a person enjoys her whiskey? What matters most is who she’s drinking that whiskey with, and the conversation enjoyed with it. And the memories left long after the bottle is empty.

Replace whiskey with coffee and the story’s the same. Grace is expressed and connection made whether it’s the old guys sipping their free small cup at the local McDonald’s or the 40-something moms taking a break at Starbucks before carpool. The beverage does not matter so much as the experience, the willingness to live life together. The desire to see past the ways we’ve painted one another into a box and into another’s heart. We all want to be heard. We all want to belong. We all want to believe that there’s hope. And that this life we’re living…it’s worth it.

Maybe take a chance on someone this week. Maybe look around with eyes more open to another’s life, ears more open to their story, a heart more willing to understand your neighbor…your family member…your coworker…your (fill in the blank).

I’ll even…(gulp)…let you mix your Eagle Rare if you show up at my house. I mean, it’d probably make Freddie proud.

 

 

from the IV therapy suite, February 2nd

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IV infustion #2. That’s just saline going into my arm right now…I should have gotten the iron shot…it’s all dark and brown and kinda creepy.

She wears a burgundy scarf, tied tightly around her bare head. I cannot even hazard a guess at her age…she could be anywhere between 50 and 80, so much has the disease ravaged her body. She bundles up in multiple layers, and asks for a warm blanket, too. And she’s so very pale. And yet…she flips open that iPad like it’s her job and talks about FaceTiming with her granddaughter and swipes her finger across the screen with the same ease as my daughter. She’s a cancer patient, and from the looks of it, she’s right in the throes of the worst cancer can mete out.

I’ve seen her twice now. She gets chemo in the same IV therapy suite where I’ve been doing iron infusions for the last two weeks. I sit there for 90 minutes while saline and then iron are pushed into my bloodstream. It doesn’t hurt. But I get very groggy and very cold because they dose you with Benadryl and Pepcid as precautions. Iron itches terribly going in. And it wreaks havoc on your stomach. The Benadryl comes in pill form (which knocks me out) and the Pepcid in ice-cold liquid form–straight into your IV. Ever felt cold liquid being pushed into your veins? It’s not cool. Not at all.

I’m fine. Just really anemic. And the hope is that these infusions have done their work and I’ll be on my way and no longer constantly exhausted and always dead-of-winter pale. I’m good. Others in the IV therapy suite are not.

Like the couple sitting two chairs down. He wore a Korean War veteran cap and also an oxygen machine. She was there for chemo, and the tenderness with which he looked at her, the care that he displayed as she dealt with the meds, the way he held her hand…it just about killed me, y’all. She was so frail. And he was tender towards her.

And then there was the Baby Boomer guy–there to get his IV port flushed, and as he left the suite he called out, “See you soon,” to the nurses, like it’s a way of life for him. And I guess maybe it is.

And all I could think, as I sat there, fighting sleep from the Benadryl, freezing from the Pepcid, and with iron dripping slowly into my bloodstream, all I could think was that the world was so crazy outside, so unstable, so angry and loud, and yet here, in this IV therapy suite, people were fighting for their lives. Rage on, dark world, but here in this space, people are caring for one another like their lives depend on it…because their lives do. 

God I wish we could extend the same care and concern to and for one another across our country…across the world.How I wish we could see past the bullshit labels and the assumptions and the stereotypes and see the holy bits that exist in each of us. How done I am with how we hate and discriminate and judge and divide when those are the very last things we were created for. It’s all so wrong. So completely and totally against what it means to be human. And we do it anyway. To our own detriment.

Maybe if we realize our lives depended on it…because they do…we’d act differently. Maybe if we realized what all is at stake. Maybe if we were able to truly see that your blood is no different than mine and by that fact alone we are in this together. Maybe….

I don’t know. But I know that today I was reminded of our very basic and essential and same humanity in a very powerful and humbling way. Only being in that suite for an iron transfusion didn’t make me special.Lucky, perhaps, but not special. We were all in the moment together, beeping machines and tethered to IV poles and asking for ginger ale and fighting fatigue, all of it. Together.

I feel like that burgundy-scarf clad woman may not be on this earth for long. So I’m grateful I saw her. That we made eye contact and smiled. That we acknowledged each other’s humanity.

Because really…this is what we were made for. Life together. First and always. And what a total shift it would be if we chose to actually live that truth. 

The Value of a Life

I have opinions. Strong ones. And I often share them. Sometimes with a side of snark.

But these days, I’m really trying curb that. At least publicly. And this blog post, it’s been stewing for days in my head. And I’ve tried to think about what I really want to say. And how I really want to say it. Especially because, as of late, the internet, it seems to bring out the absolute worst in us. No one’s political or any-other opinion has ever been changed solely because of a Facebook post or a tweet, no matter how well those posts and tweets are crafted. It’s noisy out there in cyberspace—edgy and cruel, even, at times—and I don’t want to add to the noise.

Still…I have some things to say. And I just want to ask this of you—hear me out. All the way to the end. And if you want be in conversation after, I’ll offer you the same courtesy. Deal? Here goes.

I believe these things to be true:

  1. That there is a God. And that God is first, and always, a loving God.
  2. I believe that same God created life. I could care less how it happened—7 days or a big bang or whatever. It makes no difference to me. I believe that same always loving God created life.
  3. Because of #1 and #2, I believe that life—all life—is sacred and of infinite value—worthy. No matter what. (Did you get that? Worthy. No matter what.)

Because of these three things I believe, these five current (and much talked about) realities break my heart into a thousand pieces:

  1. Hungry children.
  2. Violence, discrimination and/or abuse of any kind.
  3. Capital punishment.
  4. Abortion.
  5. The international refugee crisis.

(How many of you have already focused on #4 and are trying to pinpoint what I will say next?)

These five things, they break my heart because we have made very human, very painful, very vulnerable, very awful, very spiritual things nothing more than political issues. We’ve made people’s lives pure pawns in our political games. And I am sick to death of it.

Human life is not political. Full stop.

Hungry children break my heart because there is, across the globe, enough food for all of us. But we squirrel it away or make access difficult or refuse to find ways to get it to hungry people because of this business or that lobby or who will or won’t gain something from it. It’s such bullshit.

Violence, discrimination and/or abuse of any kind break my heart because I believe with all that I am that we were made for love. And when that having been made for love gets twisted into the horrors of war and gangs and rape and domestic abuse, we fail, miserably, at being human. Hurt people hurt others. And so the cycle goes.

Capital punishment breaks my heart because it means that somewhere, somehow, multiple lives have been ruined. Destroyed. Broken.

Abortion breaks my heart because it is, almost always, despite what many will try to tell you, the result of fierce desperation. I know folks who have had abortions. And NONE of them used it as “birth control.” In every case it was a painful, gut-wrenching, life-changing decision. And it was also a decision made because a caring woman believed she was making the best decision she could with the resources and information she had. My own journey to motherhood included years of fertility treatments—and so it’s hard for me, really hard, to think about a pregnancy being terminated…still…every time I’ve known about an abortion, it has been, as I have said, a decision made with utter heartbreak. I refuse to judge.

(As a site note to this—it also breaks my heart that adoption is so costly, so difficult for families, such a damned racket in some places. Adoption is one of the bravest and most compassionate things a person can do and we ought to be making it more accessible, more possible, for the families longing to love a child.)

The international refugee crisis breaks my heart because how in the name of all that is holy do we get off not helping people who are simply trying to survive? Who are running from war, from poverty, from oppression and just want a safe place to breathe and raise their families? Who are we not to lend a hand?

All this having been said, at the end of the day, these current realities I’ve named break my heart because at the root of all of them is this basic question: How do we value human life? Or, even, do we at all?

If you want to make a strong anti-abortion stance, by all means, do so. But then also help new mothers who need it. Also make a commitment to helping to care for those babies—through foster or adoption or outreach programs—that come into the world without the privilege or resources or support that you did. And make sure those babies and their mommas have health care.

If you want to rail about capital punishment—for or against—do it. But for the love of God, don’t make it about a political party. It’s life at stake—life, y’all. And any time a life is taken, it’s because others have been taken, too, and it is never, ever, as simple as we’d like to make it.

If you want to feed hungry children, please, in addition to making donations to your local food pantry, think about how you can part of a global solution. It makes no sense that millions of pounds of food go to waste in the United States while in our very own neighborhoods and sitting next to our very own children at school, there are those who simply do not have enough to eat.

If you want to do something, anything, about how we physically harm each other in this world, learn about sex-trafficking, learn to notice signs of domestic abuse, refuse to condone violence, and actively seek peace whenever possible.

(Again, a side note: I also believe war is sometimes necessary. And I give my full support to anyone who will fight when it is necessary to do so. Even as it breaks my heart.)

If you want to be a person who values life, you have to value all of it. Even the ones you don’t like or are afraid of. Even the ones that have hurt you. Even the ones that have gotten twisted and ugly and hateful. Those lives, the ones ending in utter heartache in desolation, they break God’s heart, too.

My point is this: At the end of the day, all these things we thrust to the political stage and fight over, they are questions about the value of human life. And these days, what seems to be residing in our hearts is the value of some lives over other lives. And this is simply not okay. On any front.

Call me wishy-washy. Accuse me of wanting to have it both ways. Whatever. But the truth is that we live in a very grey and complicated world. And our only salvation lies in navigating it together. In holding on to one another when things get particularly rough. In holding fast to compassion and respect. In listening as best we can. In stopping hate at every turn and loving, first, whenever possible.

There’s so much pain—in our personal lives, in our communal lives, in our world–when will we choose to be people who value life, so much that we seek to assuage one another’s pain instead of adding to it?

This isn’t politics. It’s valuing life. And we get to make the call on if we value it or not. And my guess is, if we do—if we choose to value human life as something sacred and of infinite worth—it would be a total game changer on every front.

Including Washington, DC., but most of all, in our own lives and communities.

 

 

Sticking with love.

My day is starting with a cross-continental flight, Louisville to San Diego, two vastly differently spots if there ever were.

Dear friends, trusted colleagues, good work and even a visit with family I have not seen in far too long are on tap this week, and I’m thankful for the opportunity (and for my parents, who are holding down the fort at home). For some reason, flying tens of thousands of feet above land always makes me want to write. Perspective or something I guess.

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the United States, and I am struck by that in an entirely different way this year. This country feel so raw and angry and divided right now and yet here we are, a day off for much of the work force, and special celebrations in honor of someone who was first and foremost about finding a way to heal that which has been divided. He wasn’t perfect. None of us are, including our heroes. It’s a very gray world we live in. But the man said a whole lot we need to listen to and did a whole lot we need to pay attention to and gave his life to his fellow Americans in such a way that it is important to remember.

Today, though, I’m struck by this one thing he said, the bit about deciding to stick with love, because hate is too great a burden.

God it would have been easy for him to hate.

It’s easier to hate, you know. To cast assumptions and point fingers and judge another for their actions. And when such assumptions and blame and judgment seem warranted, well, it’s even easier. And this is usually when we’ve been hurt, or feel anxious and insecure, or are very angry at a person or situation.

It’s easier to take sides, declare everyone else wrong or misguided or unenlightened or whatever else we want to say, and then back up into our own corners and wrap our certainty around ourselves the way a boxer’s trainer drapes a cape around his prize fighter.

Hate is easier because we refuse to listen. We shut the door on compassion and let our own life stories, our own struggles, our own baggage become the only narrative we’re willing to work with.

We are very good, in these United States, at hate. At anger. At division. At dehumanizing one another to such a level that we forget…if we every really knew at all…that we are all so much more alike than we are different.

Just in case it isn’t clear, let me make it so: I am speaking to both sides of that aisle, both corners of the ring, both sets of bleachers on the field, and both ends of the court. And I am not condemning anyone for holding fast to what you believe. And I certainly have my own lines in the sand I’m willing to draw. But dear lord, y’all. We’ve got to stop with the direction we’re headed.

Deciding to stick with love—it is a brave and difficult choice. Not easy by a long shot. And yet I believe with all that I am that it is, in fact, the only way.

A few days ago someone (who disagrees with me pretty strongly on many things political) said to me, “I don’t care about you because of whatever vote you did or didn’t cast in the ballot box. I care about your heart.”

Huh.

 I had to let that one sink in. Big time.

Because voting aside, there are plenty of other issues I have with people in my life, that, if I’m being brutally honest, mean that I don’t particularly care if I ever see this person or that person again (this is a point of confession, y’all, not one of pride).

The work of truly loving is so, so hard. Maybe the hardest thing we learn to do. And we fail at it all the time. Miserably. (At least I do—maybe you’ve got it down pat.) And the real work of it isn’t about just being with those we like, or who are easy to love. The real work of it isn’t about Hallmark or even your best mountaintop experience.

The real work of it is day-to-day. In the trenches. Dirty and ugly sometimes, and wanting desperately to just give up because it can feel so awfully hard, loving this world and its people. The real work of it means admitting when we’ve not done so at all, and so have to set about the task of forgiveness (ourselves, included). The real work of love has nothing to do with certainty and everything to do with hope. The real work of love is gritty. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. And it can mean setting aside every bias we have in an effort to listen to what someone else’s life has been like.

See what I mean? Hate. Easier.

But sticking with love…. Sheesh. It is not at all for the faint-hearted. And I’ve got no pointers for how to do it. Because I’m not even sure myself most days. But I know, in my gut, that the sticking is worth it. And, in the end, not nearly so heavy and awful as bearing the weight of hate.

This life we live can be heavy and awful enough all on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Fisher.

Please don’t yell at me, Star Wars people, because I’ve now redeemed myself, but, until last week, the girl child had not seen The Force Awakens.

I know…I know. But, like I said, I’ve redeemed myself. Thanks to a fabulous snow day and some equally fabulous friends, my oversight has been corrected and she’s all caught up.

Just like her mama (and all of her mama’s friends of a certain generation), she was thrilled to see Chewie and C3PO and R2 all make their appearance…but y’all. Y’all. The look on her face when Leia walked off that ship and onto the ground…. It was priceless.

Eyes wide. Mouth dropped open, until a huge grin broke and she stage-whispered, “Princess Leia!”

And I said, quietly, “No baby. That’s General Leia Organa.” She looked at me kinda funny, and I smiled, assured her I’d explain later, and told her to keep watching.

Later that night, talking about how much we’d enjoyed the day, she asked what I’d meant about calling Leia “General,” and as we talked, I found myself really reflecting the woman who brought Leia to life. Carrie Fisher had died a week earlier, and I’ll admit, I teared up at the news. And not just because of Leia. I’ve been in awe of Ms. Fisher for years now, as she’s waged her own personal campaign about the way we judge those who struggle with mental illness. About how the industry she’d given her life to tends to treat women after they’ve gone from cover girl-ready, lithe, 20-somethings to…well, not so much. About how messy and difficult and awful life can be, but how possible it is to find strength and beauty in the midst of it all.

And so I told my sweet girl something along these lines: That yes, Leia had been a princess. And a mighty, fierce one at that. A warrior. Strong and courageous and determined. (This is where I could digress about how we’ve made the title “Princess” a negative thing when it does not need to be, but I’ll save that for another time….) I talked about how she was one of the first “girl power” role models out there, right alongside Wonder Woman, when I was a kid, and how awesome I thought she was. I talked about how she’d become a General, in charge of the very resistance that had raised her, that had given her a family and a way of being. I said she was amazing, and that I was glad my girl had gotten to know the character, and said she’d see her again in other Star Wars movies.

Curly Girl took all this in. Smiled. And I was reminded again how important imagination is. How crucial stories are. How much it matters that we have in our lives characters that help us dream and grow and become.

In my estimation, Carrie Fisher’s brokenness made her bold. Brassy. Unafraid of what others might think of or say about her. It made her more of who she was capable of being. And this was obvious in the lines on her face, the care in her voice, the deep heartache in her eyes as General Organa asks her beloved Han to please, go and find their son and bring him home.

This is what I want for my daughter–to be able to see that this life we’ve been given…it is not perfect. And it’s full of so much that terrifies and breaks us. And often we fall apart, sometimes by our own awful choices, sometimes by no fault at all.

But if we’re lucky…very, very lucky…we’ve got folks who can help put us back together again. Who can be with us while we pick up the pieces of what’s shattered and simply say, “I’m with you. And this will be okay.” And then stay with us until we emerge on the other side, not the way we once were, but…somehow…okay. And capable of funneling all the heartache and messiness into a way of being that seeks to make the world a little less scary and a little more hopeful.

At the end of The Force Awakens (spoiler alert if you somehow have not seen it…), a heartbroken Rey walks off her own ship, and into General Organa’s arms, the two of them clinging to one another in their grief over Han. And you know, in that moment, that just as has happened before, nothing will ever be the same for either of them again. Everything has changed. And they stare in to each other’s eyes. And they lift their chins. And they decide (in my imagination anyway), “We will get through this. We will not let this destroy us.”

Carrie Fisher was much more than Leia. But the gift she gave us in bringing Leia to life is a pretty great thing. I’m grateful to her for that. And for the ways she sought, on screen and off, to resist that which would destroy and seek life on the other side.

 

 

 

December 31st

It’s always been an odd thing to me, how the hours between December 31st and January 1st feel like the longest of them…as if time has turned the corner on another year and so it’s slowing down, taking stock, not rushing just yet into that final stretch and what lies ahead. It’s really a day just like any other day. But not since I have memory has it felt that way. There’s a different pace, a different sense in the air, a palpable yet unseen feeling that things are changing. That tomorrow won’t be the same.

Which of course is always true. Things are always changing. And there’s never even a guarantee of tomorrow, much less one identical to today. Still…this day…it’s different.

There are no words for how glad I will be to see 2016 usher itself out and into history. It has held the absolute worst of what’s possible in this life for so many people I know–and certainly for those I don’t. The ugliest sides of humanity. The most horrifying examples of greed, anger, pain, violence, heartache and grief. On both personal and global levels, it has wreaked havoc, and honestly, I feel like most folks I know are just holding on, doing their best to get through this wild ride to something that feels less hostile, less vicious, less like something we must constantly be on guard against. There is a collective anxiety in the communities and families I know, and it can be crippling.

Bye, 2016. We’re done.

…except…

Except that joy and pain do not exist without one another, and though I’ve believed that to be true my whole life, I now know it to be true…deep in my bones. Do not confuse joy with happiness; these are two different things. Peppermint mochas and Bon Jovi on the radio make me happy. Joy is my beautiful Curly Girl laughing…skipping…singing…dancing…loving…even as her precious nine year-old heart has known more pain than any child’s ever should.

Pain is only possible because such joy exists at all.

Joy is in relationship. In holding on to one another, no matter what, expecting nothing but an understanding that our only hope lies in life together…in walking with one another through the absolute worst life that life can mete out, and into the goodness that is possible when grace pours down and mercy reigns. Joy is knowing that none of us are perfect, and that we are capable of such awfulness in our humanity, but knowing also that in our brokenness lies the possibility of truly learning what it means to be whole.

Life hurts, and that’s all there is to it. I can tell you story after story of folks I care about who have lived through all sorts of madness this last year–job losses, financial challenges, illness, family struggles, damaging gossip, divorce, death, broken relationships…and all this on a very personal level, yet cast against the backdrop of a world that seems to have tilted into a terrible sort of chaos, leaving us all gasping for breath and desperate for hope.

My friend Tiffany is the mother of three beautiful children. Only two of them are now living. Her middle son was stillborn. And this week would have been his 8th birthday. I asked if I could tell her story here, because I know few people able to hold pain and joy in beautiful tension as she and her husband Drew do. On their sweet Britton’s birthday, Tiffany wrote:

Today we celebrate the life of a little boy that changed our lives forever. While his heart never beat on Earth, when he left us it shattered our hearts into a million pieces. He’s taught us a lot in the past 8 years, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is LOVE. From the moment we heard the news, our hearts have been stitched back together – from the nurses who stood by our bedside, our pastor who left the beach to come pray for us to family and friends who came running, sent cards, fed us, and listen to the tears fall. Even to this day, we are surrounded by loved ones who listen to his story, offer encouraging words and remind us that they will never forget him either. I don’t know how we would have made it through the dark days without the love we have experienced from each of you. That blonde-haired, chunky-cheeked baby boy reminds me everyday to love and be loved. I can only hope and pray that I have shown the kind of love you all have shown us. 

As I read Tiffany’s words, I marveled at her ability to say so well something so difficult to explain. And then I realized, “This is how I feel. About life. About this last year. About the pain in the lives of those I love. About the heartache this world keeps heaping upon itself. This is how I feel. About all of it.”

Which is to say, I feel the greatest lesson we’re collectively learning, or perhaps just need to learn, is LOVE. Real, true, unconditional, all-encompassing, life-changing LOVE. Love that says yes, your life matters to me. Love that says yes, you’re worth it. Love that says yes, I’ll make a sacrifice so that someone else can get a shot at a better life. Love that says yes, you’ve really made a giant cluster of a mess at things…and it will be hard to find your way out…but all is not lost. And somehow redemption is possible. And there is, on the other side of this awful pain, the promise of something good.

This isn’t possible in a vacuum. This isn’t possible solely on our own. This isn’t possible unless we are willing to be in the muck and mess with each other. This isn’t possible without pushing aside what we’ve known and trying our damnedest to see through to the other side. Good lord it’s difficult. But it isn’t impossible. Not at all.

I do not, for one second, believe that pain comes solely to teach us a lesson. Hear me when I say that. But…hear me again…I do believe that in our deepest pain is also our greatest potential for becoming more of who we are meant to be. I cannot explain that…I just know it to be true. And I know that when I have let the pain do its work, I’ve found myself more capable of learning those lessons of LOVE I just wrote about.

Another hour has passed of this December 31st as I’ve written. And so we’re closer to January 1st. My prayer for you…for me…for this whole wide world…is a prayer that speaks first, LOVE.

In all things. In all places. To all people.

Happy New Year…may you know LOVE as 2016 fades away and 2017 is born.