Breaking the Silence

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It’s been a long time since I had the wherewithal to think about blogging.  Not much has changed in two years of silence, except I bought a home so I won’t have to worry about moving my books for the foreseeable future.  But everything else – work, church, car, family, relationship status – is unchanged.  At least it appears to be unchanged on the macro level.  Minute shifts have taken root over the past two years, and it may yet be a while before the new shoots bear fruit.

All that is not to say the past few years have been straightforward.  The healing process is never linear, and the twists and turns that have surfaced as I wrestle towards freedom have changed me profoundly – even if I cannot articulate how exactly I’ve changed.  I have tried (repeatedly) to get away, to leave my past behind, to start fresh, to begin again.  Every attempt to accomplish something I want has been thwarted, and thus I find myself working the same job, living in the same city, and wondering if this is, in fact, all there is to life.  Unfulfilled dreams have a way of forcing you to ask the hard questions, and the struggles I’ve encountered only piled on more uncertainty and doubt.

Doubt and darkness seem to go hand in hand, so naturally winter affords me many opportunities to contemplate existential and ontological questions.  My life wasn’t supposed to look like this – according to my plan, anyhow.  And though I recognize the goodness of what I have found (namely stability, independence, and an occasional sense of purpose), my heart still cries out with longing for that which I do not have.  Good things I do not have.

My entire adult life has been characterized by a mismatch in what people can see of me and what I’m really feeling.  Where others saw a young woman eager to pour her life out to further Christ’s kingdom, my soul was frantically bargaining with God – “If I go overseas, Lord, please give me at least this compensation!”  Where others saw courage in the face of danger, my heart could only see its own worthlessness.  While I always had a ready smile and quick laugh for others, my mind was always tormented by depression and despair.  I lived in invisible melancholy.  I still don’t know if the fight for life is worth it.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living.  I’ve spent the last seven years pondering life – who I am, how I got here, why I’m here, and what it all means.  I don’t have answers.  Medication helps, at least insofar as it clears mental space that can be used for wrestling.  Beloved authors provide respite from the hard work of learning, stretching, and growing, both mentally and emotionally.  Friends and counselors willingly offer themselves as sounding boards and fellow wayfarers.  Occasional glimpses of truth remind me that there are worlds beyond the small, dark cave of my mind.  And so I press on.  I keep walking.  And I pray each day brings me closer to wholeness, to healing, to hope.  But I still don’t know if the struggle is worth it…

The Birth of Adventure

Over the past few years, I have explored many new worlds through fiction, poetry, and my own special brand of doubt.  My personal library has more than tripled in size, and I copy long, important passages from beloved books into my journals to capture the beauty of perfectly-turned phrases.  But I must place credit where credit is due: this personal revolution was launched by movies.

It was October 2011, and I was in Colorado with others who were, like me, planning to spend a significant amount of time overseas as missionaries.  My five weeks did not get off to a stellar start: my plane sat on the tarmac in my home city for over two hours before finally taxiing to the runway, and I subsequently missed my connecting flight AND all the introductions as the training got underway.  When I entered the classroom the next morning, everybody else already knew each other – and that only served to feed my already-heightened introvert sense of intimidation.  The first two weeks passed in a blur – mostly of watching my mouth in a mirror as I attempted to form sounds completely foreign to one born and raised with American English.  Not everyone who attended the first two weeks would be staying on for the last three, so after goodbyes, the 15 of us remaining found ourselves looking at each other with a whole weekend of uninterrupted “bonding” ahead of us.

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After lunch, a walk to the lake, and a trip to Walmart, we decided on a group activity: a movie marathon.  But not just any movie marathon.  We had three nights before the newbies arrived for the next phase of our training, so a series of three made sense.  And so it was that The Lord of the Rings entered my life.

I always remembered my dad saying he’d had nightmares after reading The Lord of the Rings, and that was all the explanation given for why J. R. R. Tolkien was not even permitted in the house.  Since the rest of my companions had already seen the movies – multiple times – they kindly agreed to tell me when it would be wise to cover my eyes.  Looking back, I see just how much love and grace went into that movie marathon.  I see how I must have looked to my friends: I was frightened of my own shadow, finding demons where none existed, and fearful that I might forfeit my soul to the occult by watching the wrong movie.

How little I knew of grace.

But in a show of amazing love, not only did we watch all three movies together, but my dear friends managed to watch without giving away what was going to happen!  They let me experience The Lord of the Rings with brand-new eyes.  They laughed with me, cried with me, and rejoiced with me as I experienced a true eucatastrophe.

I found hope.  I found grace.  I met the Real Jesus in The Lord of the Rings.

It would be another six months before I managed to read the complete Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but since then I have not stopped reading Tolkien’s work, each time finding anew the promises of life beyond hope, victory against all odds, and the joy of good triumphing over evil.  I became a fan overnight, and the deeper I delve into Middle-earth, the more Truth I find to sustain me through dark nights and grey days.  The power of story literally changed my life.

 

On Becoming a Rebel [II]

[…continued from part I…]

I did not intend to become a rebel that day.

It was summertime, and I wanted a book to enjoy in the spare moments I found between responsibilities.  I remember sitting at a picnic table in the shade at our swim club, oblivious to life around me.  I stumbled upon Faërie for the very first time, but had no words to describe what was happening to me.  Though I had “escaped” into books before, nothing came close to the magic I felt as I read The Blue Castle.  I had discovered a new world.

Perhaps it was simply because I had never found words that bared my soul before.  And piercing words I found in abundance.  From the very first page, I knew Valency and I were kindred spirits.  Though she lived within a book and my existence involved more oxygen, I could see the world through her eyes – because they were like mine.  I had never met a heroine as honest as she.

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The first chapter of The Blue Castle was saturated with experiences I thought were unique to my life.  It was as though L. M. Montgomery had a window into my being and had simply changed a few details to protect my identity.  Her name was Valency, not Susanna. She was 29, not 15.  She had no siblings, whereas I had more than a handful.  But both Valency and I felt we had the same lot in life: an insignificant existence in which the primary ruling factor was fear of offending someone in authority.  I never dreamed I would someday be, as Valency was, “twenty-nine and unsought by any man.”  Yet I shared her tears then as I do now.

With Valency’s transformation, however, I met someone who found the freedom to be herself – and found love and meaning and purpose in the process.

And I wondered if freedom might be possible for me, too, someday.

I could easily relate to Valency’s hopelessness; her thwarted desire to enjoy a good book or simply be alone with her thoughts.  I understand, now more than ever, the longing she had to be desired, loved, and cherished, yet autonomous and purposeful in and of herself.  I felt her heart’s cry, for it was mine.  It is mine.

Though I was only fifteen and could not hope to foretell the future, I did hope that my future would be akin to Valency’s.  So though The Blue Castle was quickly black-listed and I was forbidden to read it, the memory of that hope stayed with me through the years.  When I rediscovered the enchantment of Valency’s story ten years later, it was in the throes of discovering true freedom for myself.  The rebellion had come full circle.  I will never stop reading her story.  I can never stop living mine.

On Becoming a Rebel [I]

I have always loved to read.  My Mom taught me to read when I was five years old – by opening a large-print King James Bible to Matthew 5 and showing me how to add sounds together.  Something clicked, and I’ve been spinning words around ever since. As I’ve mentioned before, my reading choices were somewhat limited growing up.  My parents wanted to raise a “wholesome” family, and anything that could possibly undermine “wholesomeness” (for example, magic, romance, violence, Faërie, or anything that went against the Christian Tradition) was off-limits.  This is how I found the world outside.

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During my teen years I moved from surreptitiously borrowing church library books to reading real library books on the sly.  Since I started volunteering at our public library when I was 11, I had read all the “easy” non-fiction (juvenile and adult alike) that piqued my interest even the slightest by the time I was 16.  I think half of what I read in James Herriot’s books went straight over my head, but they were non-fiction stories from a rural English vet that were too medical for my Dad to screen and too thick for my Mom to screen.  And I loved them.

In eighth grade, I became something of a World War II nerd.  I ploughed through tomes by Stephen Ambrose and watched documentaries on the Pacific Theatre’s major battles with my Dad.  My specialty was the Allied Invasion of occupied Normandy, France, or, as it’s more commonly known, D-Day – June 6, 1944.  I could rattle off places and names and landing gear and divisions at the slightest provocation.  My Grandfather was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, and though he never talked about it, I learned as much as I could from his written reminisces on life.

Though I read constantly, I was always hungry for more story, more mystery, more possibilities, more deep beauty than what I found in the “reality” of non-fiction.

The fiction I found in the church library – Ben Hur, The Big Fisherman, The Robe, Christy – was a good start, but usually left me wanting more.  Jane Austen was predictable, though witty and clever.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was brilliantly frightening.  I had repeatedly read the five Chronicles of Narnia (out of seven) that were approved; C. S. Lewis’ non-fiction had not yet commanded my attention.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was memorable, not least because when I finally closed the book and switched off my flashlight, the pre-dawn darkness revealed an April snowstorm outside my window.

Though fiction was generally restricted, my parents understood that a decent education involved reading some “classics” and so carefully steered me towards conservative, “safe” books.  But then one day I discovered the YA Fiction section in the library.  Before that day, I had not much thought about L. M. Montgomery’s work aside from the six Anne books I owned.  Before that day, every book I’d ever read had gone on my reading list as proof that education was indeed taking place.  My parents had approved – explicitly or implicitly – all my reading choices up to that point.

I did not intend to become a rebel that day.

[…to be continued…]