I am a big fan of movies I’ve already watched. I especially enjoy having one playing as I cook; a movie I’ve seen does not require my full attention. I can follow along without watching, as I chop and stir, but pause my culinary efforts – when I can – for the good parts. I particularly love the Pixar movies, and any movie with a grand story, the arc of an epic (like “Lord of the Rings”) where the battles between good and evil feel truer, deeper and more timeless than mere “story.”
The first “Matrix” movie entranced Steve and I when it first came out in the 90’s. In spite of the considerable violence, it is a compelling tale about finding the truth and holding to it, even if it costs you your life; it’s about the value of community and a tightly knit fellowship fighting alongside you. It’s about discovering the lies that have held you captive, and rejecting them.
There is a scene toward the movie’s end, where Neo (the protagonist, a Christ-figure) – who has just been shot to death by agents of the evil empire that has held humanity hostage in a computer-generated matrix, or dream state, for centuries – comes to life again. Hearing his friends, who are outside the matrix, urging him to grab on to his Truth and “get up!”, his eyes open. He gets to his feet (shocking the agents), and – after finally grasping and accepting his true gift, his ability to control the matrix – he does this thing with his body (I always stop the meal prep at this point) that is just the epitome of a bad-ass move. When he opens his eyes, the remaining agents scatter like cockroaches.
At the close of the never-ending winter we “enjoyed” on the east coast, I just…got tired. Tired of sad, stuck me (it wasn’t always evident, but it was fairly constant). I just kept thinking of my family, my little world of connections; of what Steve had said: “Just smile more, Emily.” I felt…I knew there was only one way to get to the Light, to find the sun in a lasting way. So: I decided to take seriously the promises of God. You know, all those bible verses on sympathy cards, things we hear at funerals and in church? I’ve heard them all my life. But I finally decided to believe they were TRUE.
Yes, God is near to the brokenhearted; He saves those who are crushed in spirit
Yes, God will draw near if I draw near to Him wholeheartedly
Yes, the Lord longs to be gracious to me, to show me compassion
Jesus came to be with each of us, joining us in our mess, and take us home.
I began to see the matrix, the prison in which I lived, the false world I had created or believed to be true. Grief, and it’s attendant companions of deep pain, depression, guilt and regret – those were just the latest and heaviest stones in a building created over time, over generations. Mark’s death is like an atomic bomb, an explosion that ripped everything apart; it also has revealed the truth.
I examine the bars, the walls, the roof and the floor of this structure, over weeks. I just know I need to get out.
“Get up, Neo.”
And for perhaps the first time, or the hundredth, I gripped the outstretched hand and refused to listen to the voices telling me all is lost. I renewed my efforts to not let my thoughts wander long or far down dark roads; I renewed my efforts to be grateful, to look for joy.
The sun returned to my soul over the course of several weeks. (I am also fairly sure that I get a little bit SAD – suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – and so the end of winter really did help). I began to receive, to absorb the Good. The incredible gift of ALL my various communities, the love of friends and family; the ongoing mystery and delight of small miracles that whisper of heaven; the joy of working with even more children (I’d begun to volunteer at my kids’ old elementary school up the street, listening to second graders read to me for 2 hours each week*, in addition to my one day at the preschool). I looked at my life and instead of frustration and self-consciousness over my lack of a professional career, I saw the life I have been privileged to live – the enormous variety of things I’ve experienced and done, the things I have learned, even in grief – and my perspective began to shift.
I focused in again on the story of Blind Bartimaeus who kept shouting and shouting until finally Jesus stopped and said (perhaps with some exasperation) “What do you want me to do for you?”
And I answered: “Set. Me. Free.”
As I handed over each bar, each stone, I felt His deep compassion, not condemnation. He knows everything about me – all the reasons behind my who and why. We spoke about so many things, particularly about perfectionism, which is a terrible prison in itself. Like the Voice of Accusation needs my help…?! (This voice is the loudest, telling me Mark died because I was not good enough, a terrible Mom). One morning I heard this clearly: “Your only job is to love them; it’s MY job to perfect them.” Me, Steve, my kids, everyone.
I am learning a New Way.
*God is everywhere. On my first day of volunteering, the first little girl who sat with me to read was Emily, who is 8 years old…and who was worried about dying. In her family’s religious tradition, she thought she’d be reborn as an ox when she died. We had a long whispered talk and somehow I relieved her fears. She went on to make me a beautiful little paper flower, which I have kept.
A couple of weeks later, on a hard day when I was very sad and feeling lost, Lucas and I were reading Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated book, “The Gingerbread Baby.” We were noting and delighting in the clues hiding in her art – this is my absolute FAVORITE part of literacy with younger kids – that told the bigger, overarching (and often hidden, at least until the end) story. The narrative is that the Gingerbread Baby is lonely. He decides to run off – he leaves the safety of his home, looking for a friend. What he does not know, as he searches and makes messes and gets into trouble, is that his boy, his Creator, is at home, quietly creating another Gingerbread person, exactly the perfect friend he is seeking. As I listened to the story being haltingly read by this sweet 8 year old, I heard God saying, “This is Truth; I am doing the same for you. SLOW DOWN. Trust me completely; trust Me to be quietly at work on your behalf. I know exactly what you need.”