Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cinderella and an Epic Kinda Life...

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”  ~J.R.R. Tolkien 

“A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.”  ~J.R.R. Tolkien
 "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  ~Albert Einstein

We went to see Cinderella this weekend ('s been several weekends ago but I'm just now finishing this post).  A classic fairytale with modern spice and the gospel message bright as the colors of the screen.

A picture perfect family with a loving mother and father.  Broken by a ravaging disease.  In her final moments this dying mother leaves her beloved daughter simple yet profound words of truth.  Be kind and have courage. 

Be kind and have courage.  Together.  United as one, forging a powerful bond.  I don’t know that I ever really understood the significance of not having one without the other.  It’s so hard to be kind sometimes especially in the face of anger or hurt or the bedlam befouling our day.  And courage without kindness might just be a vain pursuit of self glorification.

How important we see in the film that these two virtues stay bonded together.  They are what shape the heart of the orphaned and abused little girl.  They are what capture the heart of the future kingdom.

As you know the story...Ella, the name bestowed on her at birth, loses her mother and father and is left in the care of a heartless selfish stepmother.  She loses everything dear to her including her room which she benevolently relinquishes and then is forced up in the attic so her insufferable stepsisters can move into all that she knew as home.  

In her sadness she traverses the long trek up the many stairs into the dusty desolate attic…where she discovers a place of refuge.  Away from the overwrought atmosphere of egocentricity.  Where freedom dances in the dust.

Ella becomes a slave in her own home.  Oppressed by those who were invited into her life as a hope of bringing love and joy and blessings.  But her heart beats the truth of her mother’s words and she perseveres.  She seeks warmth from the fire after a brutal day of labor and callousness and tenderly falls asleep in the ash. 
When she awakes to the calling and demands of her step-family…she walks in covered in soot.  It is a startling contrast to how the story began.  And if I didn’t know how the story ended…I might be tempted to think that darkness would crush this valiant spirit.  For here is where they mockingly change her name to the famous Cinderella. 
Filth, hurt, and rejection ripple across her face, yet her warm heart still glows beauty from within.  Broken but not defeated.  She chooses to fight…but not in the nasty way she receives treatment…she does not mirror her offenders…she humbly stays true to her mother’s wisdom and clings to her courage and walks in grace.  For “Cinderella… compassion does not come easily; it calls for grit and sacrifice.” -Katy Waldman

A picture of a broken heart.  Abandoned, afflicted and disregarded.  By the very ones who are supposed to love, protect and nurture her.  And far too many tender hearts have been pierced by these arrows.

For some the circumstances were of no control of their own.  Something terrible happened that changed the course of their lives and they were ushered into a new world of sorrow and sadness.  Where the only respite might be found alone and away from darkness looming in the ticking hours of times current sweeping through the days.  For others it is their choices that have driven them from a life they could not accept as it was and in their own efforts tried to fix it or run from it destroying so much of what was good.

Whatever the case may be…at some point…we all come to the place where we see that life “was not as it was meant to be".  And here in Cinderella’s story…it is clear where she encounters this truth.  And it is here where the miracle really begins.  Where magic can really happen and true power is revealed.  Through her humility.

And so she adheres to the words of her dying mother…her promise to her mother…to live out these truths.

Be kind and have courage.  And she will need every bit of that truth to survive her hell.  Or it will take her strait down with it.

She honors her mother.  She lives it out.  In the face of ridicule…in the face of mockery…in the face of cruelty.  Those words keep her from being a true prisoner.  “She lives according to her values and discovers happiness where others would be too unimaginative to look.”-Katy Waldman  Her heart is free.

You see the callousness of her tormentors in contrast of the grace in which she responds to them.  And she does not fall into the snares of revenge or hardness or giving her heart over to be destroyed by it.  This takes incredible courage.  Humility anchored in kindness empowers her.   She protects her heart from bitterness but not from bruises and that makes all the difference.

One day Ella’s pain drives her out to the woods on the back of her horse where she meets her prince…her love…her savior.  And I love how it is written right there in the script…right there on the screen…had it never been for the wickedness of her stepsisters, she may never have been out in the country where her salvation awaited.

It reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  In Genesis.  Where Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery.  Years later their country was in peril from the great famine and they traveled to Egypt to seek help.  And to their great surprise and terror, their brother was one of the ruling officials who they were asking help from.  And in his years of slavery and imprisonment and being away from his beloved father and home…he responds to them in the most beautiful and humble of ways…"what you meant for evil, God meant for good."  God used their wickedness to save His beloved people.

Evil does not have its way in this world.  The Lord uses every single malicious deed…every single offense and calamity…every single crushed spirit and wounded soul…to bring His goodness and His will and His purposes to be.

All we have to offer is our dirty rags…our botched up life...our broken hearts.  It is all we have to bring.  But our great God intends to redeem it all.  To accept us just as we are.  All cinder and soot, depraved embers still burning and wayward intentions still blurred and abandoned and alone and at the end of ourselves. 

After the beautiful magical royal ball… the prince fervently searches for Cinderella…and her heart is fixed on him.  For she has danced with him and tasted his goodness.

He comes for her.  Searching far and wide.  And finds her just as she is…cinder and soot.  And he asks her her name.

She answers Cinderella.  Not her birth name…but a name that maybe she had come to cherish.  The cinders of time were burning and she had the courage to love anyway.  To be kind anyway.  She had earned that name, so to speak.  It was a new her.   A new creation.  A beautiful one that had made her beauty glow ever brighter because of all the darkness that surrounded her.

Then…one of my favorite parts of the movie…she asks him…will you have me even though I am an orphan…even though I have nothing to give you except rags and filth and brokenness.  To which without a flinch he embraces all that she is with all that he has and our hearts melt.   Because it is the desire of every single one of us who knows the truth of who we really are and that we are hopeless without a Savior Redeemer. 
For her final act of courage she chooses kindness once again.  Walking hand in hand with her heart’s true love…she turns to her stepmother who has caused her the greatest pain in her life and says “I forgive you”. 

A moment she could have reveled and relished in and used as a time to hurt back… but true to who she is, she forgives. 
None of this looks easy for Ella in the story.  You hurt for her and hope for her and feel injustice for her. 
But in the end…she is blessed beyond her wildest dreams. 

I have always wanted to live an “epic” life.  A fairy tale, if you will.  A life that means something.  That makes a difference.  That plays like a song of melodies awakening truth in the deepest parts.

And Cinderella really hit it home for me.  Where the “magic” in our life truly happens.  Where the ripples launch out like ships in a sea carrying cargo to sooth hurting hearts. 
True “magic” stems from humble beginnings.   It’s in the small moments of every day that we have that opportunity…that calling.  To live in the greatness of life.  The Grace of life.  And it’s not about being pretty.  It requires grit and sacrifice.
Simple and pure.  Be kind and have courage.  Have courage to wade thru the pain.  Have courage to keep giving and loving even when life turns dark.  Fight for what’s right and what’s good.  Even if the battle rages on without an end in sight. 
I recently followed the story of a woman my age who had cancer.  I loved the title of her blog.  Mundane faithfulness.  Her life was epic.  Right there in her suffering.
Kara Tippetts selflessly poured her heart out to her kids and husband and friends and then to a world where she bravely shared her story …in hopes that it might spur another wounded warrior on.

She could have her own fairytale.  She walked thru the hard with grit and grace. She touched the souls of the afflicted and was a light in the darkness.  Her words brought comfort and encouragement to the weary.  Living her life faithful to what she had been called to.  She walked with meekness and beauty and you could see the magic happen.

The source of the magic…the true Savior…the Story that every good story points to…is the real story of a Godchild wrapped in flesh who came for us.  To rescue us and redeem us and make us new.  Do you hear it?  He’s calling you...  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Sad Songs...

"Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength." - Frederick Buechner  


“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

"And I...I'm feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all
And I...will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl"-Say Something, A Great Big World


 Only a couple of times a year, if that, do these parts see the quiet flurries of snow gently drifting into our normally scorched land.  Its beauty is one to stop and gaze at.  For it never lingers long.  Looking outside as the mounds of white pile up and the wind blows about its frigid zeal, I am in awe.  That something so beautiful and peaceful continues on in a world of chaos and loss.

There seems to be a growing darkness.  Maybe it has always been there, but I have just been more keen to its presence as our own dreary season lingers on. 

Have you ever been in a place where the sad songs make more sense?  Where the grey skies are a comfort to the rain that pours on your soul?  Where the haunting melodies are gripping and intriguing and the walls of your home seem like the only safe place?

I walked into the grocery store after being iced in for two days and feeling a little cabin feverish.  I only had a couple of things to pick up.  As I approached the check out isle to pay, there she was.  The sour puss.  I always feel like I’m a nuisance when she has to ring up my groceries.  If I ask how she is, I usually get a grunt or a snort resounding her disdain for being there.  I’ve never seen her smile or even so much as a crook in her lips.  Her face is weathered with deep groves of time and I can hardly make out any of her words as they roll of her tongue with a mumble.

I waited for her to begin scanning my things and braced myself for hurling rumbles.  She honestly doesn’t offend me.  I just don’t want to be another burden to her already bitter world.

I know what it’s like to be caught in an ugly rut that you just can’t shake off.  Tangled in a mess of disappointments and sadness and feeling your joy leaking right out. 

And then facing people.  Some of them want to fix it…or you...they are law lovers.  Some of them want you to fake it so they can go on their merry way without pause...awww, the ceremonial.   Some are repulsed as if you’re pain will make them unclean…might I say, the hypocrite?  I’m ashamed to say I’ve been all three.    All characters cast in the great story of the Good Samaritan.

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”  –Luke 10:25-32

But there is one I haven’t mentioned…the one that offers mercy.  The unlikely hero of the story.  The one who knew the pain of the man who was in pain.  Who stopped to help him…care for him…love him.

33” But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” –Luke 10:33-37

This time I did not try and dodge her aloofness but earnestly asked how she was…maybe because I understood her a little more that day...and this time her grunt didn’t sound so much like an air horn but more like a steamboat lost at sea.
She murmured something under her breath as her eyes clandestinely avoided mine…in which I daringly asked her to repeat herself.  And as her words began to take shape and her voice scored a new note, she simply said she was happy.  Happy that it was snowing.   She hadn’t seen snow since she was a kid.

I had never heard this woman utter one pleasant or positive thing and she shared with me something that made her joyful…something she hadn’t experienced since she was a child.  And for a second, I could see that little girl.  Her vulnerability peaking out behind those pursed lips.  I think I even saw one side of them turn up a bit.   It was a gift, no doubt, that changed the course of our encounter into something sweet. 

I started to ask her where she was from and how long she had been here.  Wondering what her story was. 

I began to see her soften.  She looked at me a little confused.  Surprised that I would want to know anything about her.  She clearly doesn’t strive for the “most liked” employee of the store and my guess is that is her defense to keep people out.
The Lord opened my eyes a little wider that day.  To the image He bears in all.  To the love He has for all.  There are no throwaways.  He lavished her with the gift of snow and joy and then she gave me the gift of openness and it made my day a little brighter and warmer because of it.

I learned that day that I don’t have to have it all together to reach out and love someone.  In fact…it’s thru the tears that reaching out might actually part the rain.

A simple act of kindness may be the seed of hope a suffering soul is longing for to move on from a life of just surviving…to a life that begins thriving.  Thriving in the storms…thriving in the wastelands…thriving in the deserts.   Just like the Good Samaritan, filled with compassion, gave away.

 “The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”  –Micah 6:8

 Those sad songs…the ones that speak our feelings and sing our hurts.  Awaken our souls to the call of mercy.  To come to the throne of Grace where we can be filled.  So that the next time we encounter a sour puss…mercy’s melodies can usher in those healing rains.

"Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain
And ironing out the rough spots
Is the hardest part when memories remain
And it's times like these when we all need to hear the radio
`Cause from the lips of some old singer
We can share the troubles we already know

Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don't you tune in and turn them on"

-Sad Songs, Elton John