From our nation’s capital…hope.

This week was the third time in the last decade that I’ve stepped into the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. And just like the first two times, I felt as if I was stepping onto holy ground. Something a tad “not of this world.” Even with all the tourists milling about and children squealing and the city sounds in the distance, it somehow seems quieter, more still, once you go down the steps and are in the midst of it.

As I’d done twice before, I started in a slow walk around, trying to take in the depth of it all. I tried to notice each state, especially Kentucky and Georgia, the two I claim most. I stopped and read the inscriptions and read again the various places battles of that war took place.

And then, lost in thought, I stumbled on something that has not left me these last few days. (See photo to the left.)

Since I’ve last been there I’ve read Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation and learned more about the service of one of my grandfathers, who was a POW in Germany in the last several months of the war. These two things, as well as simply growing older and knowing more about human tragedy have shifted my thinking such that I truly believe we owe the women and men of that war our lives.

And maybe that’s why I stopped. Stood in front of these words for a while, let them sink into my being.

But I think, even more, these words struck me because I fear, these days, we have let down the “heroic men and valiant women.” Let them down horribly. Perhaps–though I’m desperately hoping not–irreparably. 

Because I cannot imagine they gave their lives, their futures, their entire beings, so that we could become a nation that mocks, name calls, finger points and judges one another, as if being the United States of America has become some weird poker game in which the ones with the most of the right kind of chips wins.

(Sidenote: Please do not assume a certain political viewpoint is being espoused here…that defeats the point entirely…we’re all in this mess…together….)

I cannot imagine they gave their lives so that we could become politically deadlocked. Exclusive of anyone not like us. Unable to rise above our own fears and baggage long enough to walk one measly mile in the shoes of a fellow American whose life experience is vastly different than hours.

I cannot imagine they gave their lives for intolerance. For hate. For mistrust. I cannot believe they gave their lives so that we could constantly be at each other’s throats.

And I swear to you all, as I did stood there, hopelessness flooded my soul, and I could not, for the life of me, imagine something good coming out of where we currently find ourselves as a nation. And so I just walked away. Quietly, shaking my head, and feeling really heavy of spirit. It was all I could do to muster the faux cheerfulness needed to convince my very tired and hot Curly Girl that it was worth the extra steps down the length of the reflecting pool to see someone important to her: Abraham Lincoln (her school’s namesake and hero).

She and I both rallied, even if slowly, and off we went.

She walked purposefully, with the measured steps of someone who is really exhausted but also determined to see it through. And as she and I both approached the steps that lead up to Mr. Lincoln, we took a deep breath, and I let her walk ahead of me a bit, since this was her first time to experience it. 

Because I walked behind her, I got to see this (Again, see photo to the left.) I got to see my daughter as she took in the sight of Abraham Lincoln as we’ve enshrined him in this country. And as she stood there, head cocked to one side, not saying a word, but I’m sure taking it all in the way she always does, I remembered reading these words, ones I’ve written about before, of the one she’d come to see:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

“We are not enemies…We must not be enemies…by the better angels of our nature.”

Holy hell, y’all. Across the centuries his words rang.

If anyone would know the heartache of a nation ripped apart by difference, it’d be Abe. And dear merciful Lord how we need those better angels to prevail right now. It was as if the words had been written for these very days. And I wondered at the beauty of that and also the awfulness of it. 

And I thought, as I watched my daughter, looking so tiny at the feet of such a majestic figure, what a mighty thing it is to realize how very human we are, such that we once again find ourselves divided as a nation. And also what a lovely thing it is to realize how very human we are, such that we are capable of rising to the occasion, of finding a way forward, of healing, of moving into new ways of being as a nation–just as we’ve done before.

It’s bad, y’all. I know. But we are not without hope. We have guides. Giants who have gone before and who, if we’ll let them, can continue to show us the way. And we have the ones coming behind us, guides in their own right, who know more about what it means to love with complete abandon and lack of condition than we ever did. In their tiny hearts, their just-beginning journeys, are perhaps our best hope of all.

It’s hard, y’all. I know. For a million reasons and in a million ways. But dear God it’s also worth it. We’re better than what we’ve been. And capable of so much more.

And so, dear better angels…rise within us. Insist upon your presence. Demand our attention. Be in our words, our actions, our choices. Stay with us. Even when we push you away because we want our own way. Prevail upon us. 

Prevail.

 

 

 

Baggage.

“Life is a series of comings and goings. The trick is not to forget your baggage.”

These words were sent to me written on a card some 25 years ago. The card was sent by a friend who’d gone off to college before me. We’d been doing high school theater together for a couple of years and had grown close and I’d missed him as a new year of theater rehearsals had started. His card put a smile on my face as did his stories of getting settled into his freshman year of college.

I thought of that card today, and the words written on it. Mostly because I was thinking about baggage. Not the good kind you want to take along on your next vacation or weekend getaway. The other kind. The kind that we can’t forget, no matter how distracted we might be or how hard we might try.

You know what I mean. The baggage of the heart.

Such baggage doesn’t just get set aside. Or stored away in the upstairs closet. Or left on trains or in car trunks or beside airport gate area chairs. Such baggage sticks with us. Like its fulltime job is reminding us of where we’ve been and how that might keep us from where we want to go. Such baggage is equal parts grief and heartache and betrayal and loss and anger and emptiness, the combined forces of which are, when let loose, a mighty thing indeed to be reckoned with.

We all have it. In one shape or size or form or another, we all have it. On our best days, it serves us well–catapulting us with the sort of strength honed from challenge and adversity into whatever it is our life is beckoning us towards. On our worst days, it serves more as a deadweight. Like someone tossed a cement block in the bottom of your soul and there’s no way you’ll be able to lug it up and carry it forward.

These days, I wonder if “the trick” is not about whether we forget it at all (because the changes of that are slim), but about how we manage it, if we must carry it with us. This is easier said than done. And it often depends on the moment as to how well it happens. Some days, it’s as easy as simply sliding that chunk of what has been into the pocket of my day bag and getting on with things. I am who I am and all that, but no letting it define me, hamstring me, trap me.

Other days…good lord…other days it’s like I dragged Great Aunt Matilda’s horsehair trunk out of the family attic and decided it’d be a great idea to try to cart that thing around all day. Because, you know, it’s My. Stuff. It’s my life–good, bad and ugly–all cooped up in there and I’m going to bear it like a coat of arms if I need to.

Because sometimes our baggage makes us feel safe. Even if it brings out the worst in us, wreaking havoc on our days with its deadly accurate memory of past hurts and failures…even then, we know it. We understand it. I mean…it’s ours, right?

Right. Except…you can’t tote that trunk too far. It weighs you down. Keeps you from moving very far or very fast. Blocks efforts at transformation or renewal with its heft and makes us hesitant. Timid. Insecure.

Which is when you might think about saying: Back it up, sister. Pump the brakes. Not like you can get far with all that business you’re carrying around anyway. It’s time to take a long, hard look at what needs holding on to, what refines you, and what needs letting go of.

(…like the notion you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. 😉 )

What I’ve decided is that our best bet lies in making friends with our baggage. Or, if that seems to much to ask, at least declaring an easy truce and safe distance. There’s a whole lot I don’t know, and am not sure of, but one thing I do know, and am sure of, is this: We cannot change the past.

There is no editing what has been. No softening the edges of the things have threatened to destroy us. The brutal things in this life happen. And we don’t get a do-over.

But if we’re very, very lucky…we do get a second chance. We do get a future. We do get the possibility of something or someone or some place new. And where our baggage gets placed along the way, how it gets managed (or simply set aside) on the other side of it all…well, that’s maybe the most important thing. It’s a hard thing…letting go of all that baggage after all. And maybe even impossible. But letting it control us? Define us? I can’t settle for that either.

And so, I think what I’ll settle for, pray for, do my damnedest to remain open for, is the tremendous mercy of the slow work of grace…moving its away across our lives with such careful and determined intention, showing us, if we’ve eyes to see, that all is not lost. That there is hope. That there is a way forward.

And maybe–I’m not quite convinced, but just maybe…that baggage helps something beautiful be made known, such that we are led to exactly where we’re meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Fidget spinners and communion…how it is that we belong to each other.

There isn’t much more chaotic than my down-the-street Kroger on a Wednesday afternoon on a warm summer day.

Typically, I avoid the grocery store like the plague unless it’s after dinner, or early in the morning. But in this case we’d been mostly out of town for six days and the cupboards, they were bare. As the Curly Girl put it, “We don’t even have chocolate milk!” Gasp.

We survived the actual shopping, and so I (mistakenly) thought we were home-free. As we headed across a busy parking lot, loaded down with cart full of bags, I heard a voice say, “Hey ma’am, you know they’re selling these again, right?” I turned to see a young man, Kroger-uniformed, hanging by a bunch of a carts. And in his hand was…wait for it…a fidget spinner. (If you do not know what this is, all I can say is Lucky. You.)

I nodded my head, and (I thought) nicely, said, “Yes…thanks,” and kept moving the cart, the girl-child and me along.

“Wait–you don’t want one?” I heard, and I turned again–this time the young man was walking towards us. I shook my head, kept moving. And then he said, louder, “What? You don’t support these? You a teacher or something?”

At which point I stopped. Took a firm grip of CG’s hand, lodged the cart against one foot, and turned, holding up my other hand, and said (not nicely), “I am not interested.”

As we turned and moved quickly away I heard him swear under his breath and let out a, “FINE!”

I could care less about fidget spinners–for or against. I mean, sure, they’re trendy and fun and whatever but honestly I’ve got a million other things on my mind. I was annoyed at the parking lot hard sell for sure, but more than that, I was struck by his word choice, “You don’t support these?”

Support? A cheap piece of plastic and metal? Um…no. I support equality for all people. I support my daughter’s school. I support the nonprofit where I work with both time and money. I support my friends and family in their efforts to live meaningful lives.

I do not support a toy. Of any kind. Such things are not causes to support, but products to be consumed. And to paraphrase my hero (and my daughter’s namesake) Madeleine L’ Engle, “consumer” is really an awful word if you think about it. “Cancer consumes,” she once wrote, following the death of her beloved husband.

We consume a lot in these United States. But what frightens me the most is that lately, what we seem to consume most is each other. And we do so by labeling. But pitting us against them. By any of many assumptions we make about each other based on any number of outward appearances. And…by making what one “supports,” their sole identity.

I could hear it in his voice, “What, you don’t support this super fun and trendy thing? You must be a total buzzkill.”

Sort of like, “You vote Democrat? Ah, you must be a bleeding heart leftist who cares nothing about individual responsibility or morality.” Or, “GOP? Well, then you must hate poor people and women. Gay people too.”

Or, “You’re a Millennial? Well, you must be selfish and lazy.” Or, “Baby Boomer? You must only care about money.”

We do it all the damn time. Over a million things. If you support X, you must be Y (You know I’m wound up when I start hinting at algebra in writing…sheesh!) And yea, I know the cart guy was probably just bored and maybe just wanted to start a conversation and perhaps needed a wee lesson in boundaries (READ: Do not continue to approach a mom and young child in a parking lot when said mom is actively walking away from you.) But everything about it reminded me of how we pigeonhole each other to death in this country.

We’re in a damn mess, y’all. Politically, spiritually, environmentally and otherwise in this country. And I know that any of you who happen to read what I write regularly will not be surprised at what I’m about to say, and are probably real tired of hearing me say it, but we stand no chance–NO. CHANCE.–at any healing and whole way forward unless we do so together.

For the love.

Look, there are beliefs I hold dear. That I would fight for if necessary. That I stake my life on. And that I am convinced with every fiber of my being are the “right way.” And mostly these things have to do with compassion and equality and how we treat each other as human beings.

There’s also this: I am a Christian. And for me, that means doing the best I can at loving God and following Jesus. Even though most days I fail miserably at this. But here’s what keeps me in the game: Community. Real, true, binding-to-one-another community. Community that you can’t find your way out of it because it holds you so close to its heart.

In my church, we celebrate communion every week. And everyone is welcome. Because we believe that’s how Jesus intended it. We believe that God’s love as expressed in that moment is for everyone. Everyone.

That means that every week I share a deeply spiritual experience with all sorts of people. Many of them people that I disagree with vehemently when it comes to politics or social issues. Many of them people that I would not necessarily otherwise be in relationship with. All of us people who have made mistakes, hurt other people, fallen short of what God has called us to be. And yet…there we are. Same moment. Same bread and cup. Same God. And I don’t even pretend to know how each of us processes it or experiences it, but I know that it matters. And that some weeks, it is all that keeps me from giving up entirely on this world of ours.

Because we belong to each other. We simply do. By sharing the same air and walking on the same Earth we belong to each other. My own faith calls me to take that up a notch and add, “And because the same force of love and goodness created us all…we belong to each other.”

If I could etch this on all our hearts, write it painstakingly across all our souls, I would. Because I believe with all that I am that it is the only way.

#availablehope

He was 7 years old. Sitting at his kitchen table on a late spring evening, playing on his iPad and eating cake. Everything about it could have been my own daughter, sitting at our own table, playing on her Kindle, having a snack.

Only outside the window of his house, a fight had broken out. Guns were pulled. And a bullet from one of those guns smashed through his kitchen window and hit him. In the head. And a while later, he was pronounced dead at our local children’s hospital. The most skilled and compassionate of doctors unable to save him.

***

They were kids. Young and full of life and ready to sing and dance the night away at a pop star’s concert. Just like me 20, 25, or 30 years ago, at New Kids on the Block, or the Eagles, or Aerosmith–all concerts I attended in my youth with the same spirit of celebration and excitement.

Kids. Bopping along to the music one minute, lives torn apart and destroyed the next by a suicide bomber. Just like that. Destruction, at the hands of a special kind of hate and evil that does not hesitate to snuff out the lives and shatter the dreams of the most innocent among us.

***

Kids. Just kids. Snatched from their lives, their kitchen tables, their families, by the anger and hate brewing in someone else, anger and hate that has nothing do with our children and everything to do with the world that seems to have literally gone mad.

“Shot through the heart,” a local cartoonist labeled his drawing about the 7 year old. It was of a fleur-de-lis, our city’s symbol, a smoking hole at its center. How true the words ring…because when our children are dying, we are, in fact, handing our very souls over to the very worst of humanity.

When our children are dying–and they are ALL our children–we fail, miserably and decisively, at being human. When our children are dying, we’ve lost such sight of what it means to have been created first and foremost in love, that I cannot begin to imagine how we’ll ever remember.

I know. I know… A lot of you want to talk about gun control (or not). A lot of you want to talk about religious extremism and its destructive grip on our world. A lot of you want to point fingers. And cast blame. And I get it. We want to find some reason, some understandable process or instance that led to that 7 year old being shot less than 10 miles from my house and those children being killed at a concert in England. Because such tragedy has to have something that caused it, right? Something that led to it. That someone else is responsible for. That we did not contribute to. Because the alternative is too awful to name–that such heartbreaking shit simply happens, and we live in a world that has become so focused on greed and hate and defining “the other,” that we’re now sacrificing our children to the madness.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, before we inevitably politicize these unbelievably horrible events, and debate and scream at each other over who’s right and who’s wrong in finding a solution to such terror, could we all just take a damn breath and grieve? Let our hearts fall apart and our tears flow and feel the complete awfulness of it all? Can we step into the aisle, reach across the road, attempt to slide into the shoes of someone else’s pain, and simply acknowledge the searing heartache of children being murdered?

I cannot believe it was in God’s plan for a 7 year old to be gunned down while eating cake. I cannot believe it was God’s plan for those kids dancing to Ariana Grande to be blown to bits in the blink of an eye. And I cannot pretend it doesn’t matter. I cannot hold it at a distance and keep it from breaking my own heart over and over.

Because it does matter. And there is no doubt that in all of this, evil is at work. Hate is in control. And anger has take the main stage. And from where I sit, no one’s heart is breaking more than the heart of the God who I believe, with every fiber of my being, created us in love, to love one another. Unconditionally. No strings attached.

How we’ve shot that plan of loving one another all to hell these days….

It feels so completely hopeless. All of it. Even to my doggedly determined hopeful heart.

Except…

…in between that 7 year old being shot, and that concert in Manchester being blown up, I attended the 4th grade awards ceremony at my daughter’s school. And I watched as my daughter and her peers received awards both academic and social–there was a “leadership” award, and a “kindness” award, and a “helper” award, and an award for contributing to good class discussion. And these kids, they just lit up when their names were called and they were recognized for the complete goodness they’ve each contributed to their school community. A lump rose in my throat on more than one occasion. Because good lord, y’all–these kids, they were on fire for one another and the school they love.

One kid sat in the back. And I won’t even pretend to know his story, but I know that he looked kind of alone. And there weren’t any parents or grandparents or other trusted adults with him for the ceremony.

Except one–the school’s assistant principal, who is hands down one of the finest men I have ever known. And he sat with this kid through the whole thing. And stood and clapped for him when the kid received an award. And talked to him and was present with him. Just this one kid. And I thought to myself, “Whatever is happening there–it matters. Whatever story is unfolding–this moment may just make all the difference in that kid’s life.”

Y’all, I am holding on to the joy of that awards ceremony, the image of the assistant principal and that kid with all I’ve got this week. Because something about that 45 minutes at my daughter’s school reminded me that all is not lost. Not by a longshot. Not when there are children like those kids still committed to caring for one another and their community, because it’s being modeled for them by a group of adults who want the leave the world better than they found it.

Hope is sometimes adamantly searching for the tiniest bit of light in a time that seems so very dark and holding on to it. With all we’ve got. Insistently. Even irrationally. And even if it seems that the glimmer cannot possibly continue to glow in the face of the darkness.

This week, in the midst of heartache, my tiny glimmer is holding fast at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School–where some of the finest kids I know are learning what it means to stand in opposition to hate and anger and breed kindness and love instead. And my deep and fervent hope for all of us is that we’ll let such children lead us out of the world we find ourselves in and into the world that is meant to be.

 

Time out.

If you spend much time with me at all, you know that I can find a Friends (yes, the sitcom) reference in just about any conversation. At least once a week, sometimes once a day, I hear myself saying, “It’s like that Friends episode where Rachel/Monica/Phoebe/Ross/Chandler/Joey goes and….” Pick a character, finish the sentence, Friends fans, you get my drift.

Right now, it’s like Phoebe in that Friends episode where Monica and Rachel get in a heated argument that becomes an all-out fight and just as they’ve landed on the floor, slapping at each other in fury, Phoebe reaches down and grabs an ear on each of them…and pulls up. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Rachel and Monica scream at Phoebe, their reason for attacking each other forgotten in their common need to stop the pain Phoebe has caused.

Essentially Phoebe called a time out. And she was wicked efficient about it. And by doing so, she got Rachel and Monica to stop pounding on each other long enough to see how completely ridiculous they were being.

What Phoebe did? This is what I want to do to the entire United States right now. Grab an ear, pull each of us up from the muck of political fighting and Make. It. Stop. If there were ever a corporate need for a time out, this is it.

We continue our war with one another to our own detriment as a nation. I’ve seen some ugly and awful things in my life, but I still just drop my jaw in disbelief at the things we assume/speak/believe about our fellow Americans. Especially–dear lord especially–on the social medias. It’s sick how technology gives us enough of a mask to write or say whatever we want about another person or another political party or another way of thinking. And at the rate we are going, nobody wins.

Did you get that? Nobody. Wins. We are imploding, and we have only ourselves and our own collective fear and anxiety to blame.

My greatest fear is the general contempt we seem to feel for each other. Contempt is dangerous, y’all. It is devoid of any compassion, bereft of any sense of mercy or understanding. Contempt renders us incapable of empathy and unable to see past our own belief systems. Contempt negates listening or understanding of any kind, and it is the dominant MO as far as I can see when it comes to politics in this country. And it has to stop.

There’s a whole lot about our current administration that makes me angry and uncomfortable. And there’s a whole lot about our nation right now that makes me the same. But let’s not pretend that every president’s been perfect, or made all the right decisions. I mean, y’all, our healthcare debacle is terrifying–but we didn’t get here overnight. Not even in the last 100 days. No–it’s taken us a good long while to become a nation that listens more to our wallets than our hearts.

And yet, in healthcare and everything else,  we continue to point our fingers and act as if it’s all a game that must be won, instead of a really serious and frightening indictment of what the land of the free and the home of the brave has become. Meanwhile, families struggle to make ends meet and young people are overdosing on heroin, and parents are wondering how to safely raise their children in the shadow of the internet, and even fulltime work doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to afford food or healthcare or transportation. And this has all been true for decades.

Y’all, we are so much better than this. We are Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. We are Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks. We are Abraham Lincoln. We are Sally Ride. We are Martin Luther King, Jr. We are elementary aged girls learning code, and young men and women serving as doctors and aid workers in foreign lands. We are marathon runners helping a fellow runner to the finish line. We are the first responders to 9-11  who risked their lives to save the lives of those immediately affected. And we are those who opened their lives and communities to those who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. We are not perfect. And we fail all the time. But at our best, we are all these people, all these situations and more.

We are a million different ways of being and yet all able to be those things because we live in these United States. I love this country and her people, and that we cannot find a way to be as a nation that lifts each of us up, without question and without fail, breaks my heart.

If we continue to act with such blatant contempt; if we continue to wage our battles with snark as our first weapon; if we continue to demonize anyone who doesn’t belong to our tribe or party or community, we will fall. And with us will come crashing down all that we hold dear, all that we’ve fought for in the first place.

It’s hard has hell out there these days. I know this. But I also believe we’re better than this. And my most fervent prayer and desperate hope these days is that we will rise to the occasion of what it truly means to be a citizen of the United States before it’s too late.

Time out, y’all. Take a breath, and let’s make some decisions about who we really want to be, both as individuals and as a nation. Because there are plays left in the game. But from where I sit, and likely from where you do, too, the clock is ticking.

We don’t have all day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That which is holy.

photo credit: Jerry McBroom

Had I not looked up at just that moment, I’d have missed it. I was balancing a full cup of latte, keys, and a shoulder bag moving from car to office, and just at the right moment, I glanced skyward, and saw it. A gorgeous and giant heron, moving so swiftly and gracefully across the morning sky of a bustling city. It looked not of this world–wild and free and completely separate from the traffic and noise and pace below it. It was enough to stop me in my tracks, a smile curving across my face. It was lovely, this bird.

I’m moving slow this week. Not at all fast enough for what my calendar tells me must be done, attended to or managed. It’s been busy. Too busy. And life has felt heavy. And even though that busyness is the result of a really full life, and that heaviness the result of people I care about a great deal, it’s also exhausting. And I miss things when life gets like this. Important things, like giant herons floating across the sky.

It’s no secret the world we live in, and especially these (theoretically) United States are in the midst of angry, chaotic, bizarre times. People are angry. People need jobs. People seek equality. People want to feel safe. People fear the future on myriad fronts. We’re collectively afraid. Isolated. Distrustful. All of this sometimes keeps me awake at night, because I can’t see a way out. I mean, short of sending the entire continental USA to their rooms for a nap, and then forcing everyone to have milk and cookies and a lesson about sharing and using our words, I just can’t see past our current state of affairs. Even as I believe there has to be a better way. Even as I believe we were made for more than this. Even as I believe that this not what God called any of us to be. Even as I hope–fiercely and determinedly–for something new and good on the other side of this present reality.

And I think what eats at me most these days is that it’s hard to see the sacred–we’re missing the holy moments. The glimpses of grace. The thin places of our existence that tell us there is something more…something more whole…something merciful in this life.

We’re so caught up in the pain and chaos and division and fear that we’re missing the great herons dashing across the sky. We’re missing the giggles of our children. We’re missing taking the time to tell the one(s) we love that we do, in fact, love them. We’re missing the sacredness of making love to the one we love most…of cooking a meal with friends and family, slowly, with conversation as the best spice and laughter as the most holy of seasonings…of waking up early and padding out to the back porch, coffee in hand, to watch the world come awake again. And we’re missing the real pain of each other’s hearts, the real moments we could connect in, the real issues that plague us as a nation and world, because we’re too busy fighting.

Let me be clear: I know that there are things worth fighting for these days; I know we all have opinions, and we hold them close; I know that when you’re hungry it’s hard to notice the joy of moonrise and the miracle of sunrise. I. Know. I get it. It’s a brutal world, even as it holds such complete beauty. And in the midst of it all, lives are shattered, destroyed, torn apart, every day. I. Know. And it breaks my heart over and over and over again.

And also…

On Saturday night I watched my daughter serve communion to two dear friends that she calls brothers. Chosen siblings in this life she has been handed. Between the three of them there has been more heartache, more pain, than any child should ever have to face. But oh! how they love each other. How they make each other smile. How they care for each other’s hearts. And as I watched my child offer to them what she knows as an expression of unconditional love and abundant grace, all I could think is, “This. This is life. This is love. This is grace.”

This was hope, that moment, and I remembered again what it means to really live…to know that past all that threatens to undo us is the goodness of what it means to really love another, to really hold on to each other when everything seems to be falling apart, to really know the holiness of this life.

That which is holy–no matter how you define holy or what faith tradition you come from–is, I believe, what saves us. That which is holy, and cannot be planned for, contained, measured or quantified…this is what makes the brutal worth fighting through to the beauty.

That which is holy…this is what triumphs over everything else. And, if we’ll let it, can lead us into hope.

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.