I have a confession to make. At the movies, I am a crier. My kids like to watch me watch a movie. They nudge their elbow in each other’s sides and nod their heads in my direction the moment a tear starts to slip down my cheek. I hold off as long as I can, but I don’t go into a Pixar production without tissues. We laugh at how easy it is for me to lose it, and I stand here today with a warning. Do not go see Nights in Rodanthe. It is a Nicholas Sparks movie, written with the express intent to wring my body dry. I saw it with my oldest daughter and as we sobbed, we could hear the muffled cries of fellow sufferers around us. That made us giggle and then we would look up at the screen and cry some more. It wasn’t even that great as a movie, but man, Sparks can play the viewer like a mournful cello. But movie emotions fade soon after you walk out of the pitch black theater, blinking at the natural light. Our own stories stick around a long time, and unlike the movies, they don’t resolve as easily. And sometimes they lie.
A friend of mine I will call Janine told me once that she felt helpless and trapped all of the time. She suffered from acute anxiety and a desire to flee continually. This story of being trapped played out in her mind and her body. She could not bear the thought of any commitment, even such a little one as a doctor’s appointment. When we sat down to pray over this recurring fear, she remembered her father hitting her with a belt. He held her pinned down as he whipped her. He was a large man and she was a small girl of six. She was not badly injured in body, but in her spirit, Janine was devastated by this punishment. Her father was frequently angry at small infractions and was continually irritable. In her memory of one of these beatings, her body closed in on itself. She held herself very still in a semi-fetal position. I asked her if she wanted to know what Jesus would say to this scene. She decided to invite him into the scene. He arrived immediately and took the belt out of the hand of her father and gave it to her. As she took the belt, Janine realized that while it used to be true that she was helpless and trapped, she was an adult now. In her memory, she had stayed that young girl but in truth, she was no longer small and helpless. Her father could no longer inflict harsh punishments on her.
Janine had been telling herself a story of herself that was no longer true but that had informed all of her adult relationships.
I am reminded of what Jesus says about the saints in Revelation. We conquer through the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony. How do you testify of yourself? I have experienced much loss in my life. One of the stories I have told myself, because my experience of loss is somewhat comprehensive, was that I lose things. I can’t keep ahold of anything. Whether from circumstances outside of my control or inside of my control, I expect to lose the people and things I value. In my mind and heart, I consistently steel myself for loss. In an extensive conversation with God over this, He told me that I was not a loser but a preserver. People and things come and go in one’s life, but I had dedicated my life to the preservation of my children. In my efforts to heal from the tragedy that was my first marriage, I managed to preserve holidays for my children and step-children. As I listen to them recount the good memories they had of things after the divorce, I hear the Lord tell me that not all is lost. I preserved as much of their emotional health as I could. I did these things imperfectly but my nature is not to lose.
Loss is not my fate. Loss is not your fate.
God made us preservers of His Word, His love, His truth.
What story is embedded in your life? How do you testify about yourself to yourself? Becoming self-aware as opposed to being self-absorbed requires that you sift through the wheat and chaff of your life story. God told Janine that as an adult, she was no longer trapped in a dangerous childhood. He gave her the belt of truth, and she has begun to wear it. What stories do you wear that no longer fit?
Here is a poem I wrote in grad school. It seems prophetic now, over 20 years later.
The tulips in the vase full of fresh water
wilt. Happens to all of us; evaporation.
But this is where the bespectacled head
saves us,peering around the corner
with the answer, just in time.
Nothing is lost, he says. It just
changes state. And nothing is gained.
Einstein once told me in a poem I dreamed
that we never lose love.
Love won’t let us go. Instead
we shed our expectations like old
bandages. Underneath, the skin shines,
new and tender.
When I awoke, I tried to claim that poem
as my own, only to lose it in translation.
The hope is that when ideas dissipate,
when flowers fade, their spirit is caught,
if only in a rain cloud whose rain
reminds me that the dead I love
drench my face.