February Fragments

Sometimes, when I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, the writing is so true, the experience of death so familiar that I feel shivery and sick. I remember a similar feeling of sitting outside the Denver airport in July and wanting to fall down and never get up, to melt into the sidewalk, to crumble into the stones…

There is a new advertisement on our carts at work for some random real estate company with smiling photos of either a man or a woman looking right at you… The man, from far away, with his greying mustache and his big grin, looks like him. I don’t think I can handle seeing it, even a glimpse was almost too much today. He’s not here. Nobody here knows him. He will never be here again.

This past Valentines Day didn’t make me sad because I was single. It made me sad because it was another holiday in which I had to face the absence of my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad would always give me cheesy valentines gifts, even after I turned twenty-two. I remember often worrying about it because I could never stop him from buying a box of chocolates here, a little stuffed animal there, a mug with hearts painted on it, and I worried about our expenses. Still, it was nice to know I could always count a little gift or card each Valentines day, even after my dad moved away.

My friend wants to take me to a Rockies game this spring, but I don’t know how that will go for me. Baseball was such a special activity that I got to share almost always solely with my dad and my grandpa, both of whom are gone now. I don’t know if it will be better or worse that I’ll be in a new city, watching a new team, instead of the beloved Orioles of my childhood, my dad’s childhood, my grandfather’s hometown. I miss Baltimore now more than I ever thought I would.

In Didion’s account of the year following her husband’s death, she meticulously records the details of the night he died… Do I have to do that now, before I lose it? I can’t even face writing it down, some of the memories are still too raw. Since she keeps dates in the book, I try to place my grief own timeline beside hers (which, when you think about it, is kind of absurd). …Should I be writing more? Should I be able to face the specifics now? What if I forget? What will I forget?

“…We [cannot] know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” -Didion, emphasis mine.

Sometimes I wish he had been a writer, so that I, like Didion, could sit and reread the words of the one I had lost. Or so that I, like Christopher Tolkien, could be left with an entire world of my father’s thoughts in published novels, half-finished manuscripts, and fragments of verse and story.

What did he leave behind so that I could find him again?

I think one of the ways I feel closer to my dad is through the music I know he loved. I forgot to mention in my last post another aspect of Tolkien’s world that connects to my grief journey, the music. I suppose I didn’t bring it up before because it’s not exactly Tolkien, but it is Tolkien-inspired. My dad loved listening to the soundtracks to the movies. He really loved the song from the credits of The Return of the King, “Into the West,” by Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh, and Howard Shore. As I mentioned in the post, my mom passed away recently after The Two Towers came out in theaters. I think my dad and I both escaped through these movies, and when we first heard the song in that next year, it was a almost form of catharsis. I’m sure it made him think about my mom. I like to think it gave him hope…

We used the lyrics, amended a little, in the memorial booklet made for his funeral:

Don’t say, “We have come now to the end.”
White shores are calling,
You and I will meet again.

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
A pale moon rises;
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn
To silver glass,
A light on the water,
All souls pass
Into the West.

wpid-CAM00200.jpg

I don’t know what else to say. I’ve lost my momentum, and I’ve used up all my concentration. If I wait to think of something else, I’ll never hit publish. So, I will simply quote Didion again as she expresses the emotions surrounding the end of her account of the year after her husband died:
“The craziness is receding, but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.”

Advertisements

learning perspective from a lightning thief

Hello again, community. I want you to know that I’ve arrived safely in Colorado. I can’t even see a day ahead of me on this new journey, but I’m here with my family and I’m expecting the Lord to reveal what else is here. I’m not okay, sometimes it might seem like I’m strong or firm in my faith, but I am hurting. I am seeking, yes, but I am hurting, and bitter, and weak.

I’ve been rereading the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan lately, because they are such a great escape. (The movies are atrocious, but if you think for even a second that you might like the books…read them. Do it. They are so clever and touching and hilarious– plus, they teach you about Greek and Roman mythology. If you’re a myth buff, you can guess things before the characters do and feel proud of yourself.) Anyway…I did have a point to this. I wanted to quote a passage from The Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson is a demigod, the son of the greek god Poseidon and a human woman (Sally Jackson, literally the best mother ever). In The Lightning Thief, he’s just starting to figure out who he is and he doesn’t quite understand it. He stands in front of the vast Pacific Ocean, thinks about his vacations on the Atlantic, and narrates this:

IMG_5329

“How could there be a god who controlled all that? What did my science teacher used to say– two-thirds of the earth’s surface was covered in water? How could I be the son of someone so powerful?” [Percy will later go on to discover that this same power, the untamable, undying power of the sea, lives inside him.]

I just love that part. Every time I read it, or think about Percy and his super awesome powers, or watch as the god of the entire ocean stoops down to touch his son’s shoulder, something inside of me resonates with–or aches for–or leaps at this idea.

Because it’s true, isn’t it? Actually, the truth is even greater. My God is not only the God who controls the waves, but also the sky and the stars and the earth. He not only controls it, He created it, all of it, the whole universe. And He is also my Father, I am His beloved child, and His power–the power that lit the stars, the power that starts and stops the storm, the power that conquered death– lives inside me.

Even as I write this, I feel, like Percy, a sense of doubt. How is that possible? And even if it were, why would that God choose to love me? It is very hard for me to accept these things right now, to really believe it and find comfort and confidence…

I don’t have my daddy in this world anymore. I don’t have my mom either. But the God of the universe is right beside me, He dwells within me, and He holds me fast. I still despair, but I want to think on these things today, so I’m going to post them here, so I can remember.
<3

Cherished and Enough.

IMG_7624“But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What (emphasis mine)

“To find your identity within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh [He who is] …that is the highest of all freedoms.”

–Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

“If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence [in the Garden] was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken [the Fall], man would be pining for other people to tell him he was good, right, okay with with world, and eternally secure.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Oh dear one, listen to that voice like rushing wind that thunders like the mighty waters, yet is also quiet, and still, and whispering…

“You are My beloved child. That is enough.”

IMG_2716

Recommendation Time

I’m going to do something a little different on my blog today. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t posted very much in a while. Believe me, I’ve noticed too. (You can see how hard I tried last time and couldn’t really produce a complete post.) So today, instead of producing something of my own, I wanted to take some time to share what I’ve been listening to, reading, and watching lately. It’s recommendation time!

Listening to: This Bell will Ring by The Weatherfolk.
IMG_6450I feel so cool right now. I’ve actually sat down and had dinner in the flat where this album was recorded, with the people who recoreded it. The Weatherfolk are some American worship-leader-missionary friends I met in Scotland, and they just released their first full-length album for FREE on Noisetrade. Please go check it out and support them. The song “City of Stone” was written about Edinburgh because they fell in love with the city just as much as I did, and they want to see the Kingdom come alive there. I only ever heard it when they sang it live in coffee shops, and I cried every time. I’m so glad it’s now available for constant listening!

Also listening to: “Arms of my Father” by Hope Dialect
Hope Dialect isn’t around anymore, but they had a reunion concert last summer, hence the video. I only recently became friends with the awesome lead singer guitarist dude, the dude killin’ it on the violin, and the dude rocking out on the drums, so all their stuff is new to me. I’m still discovering new favourites, and I love it. Right now, I especially love this song “Arms of My Father,” which has been on repeat during my commutes the past few days. “You said nothing can tear me away from the arms of my Father…”

Reading: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
I just stared this the other day after finishing a couple books in the Orson Scott Card Ender series. It’s a highly entertaining series, but the plots and the stories consumed me, and I needed to take a break and check out some more nonfiction. Here’s one of my favourite quotes from The Problem of Pain so far: “We were not made primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.'”

Also reading: Small Still Voices! That’s right, we’re back from hiatus, and we’ve already got some great posts up this week. Keep a look out for my contribution coming on Friday.

Watching: Blue Like Jazz based on the nonfiction book by Donald Miller
I own this movie, but I recently discovered that it’s now available on Netflix. I saw the movie before I read the book (sorry, Donald Miller) because I was fascinated by the film’s story. The film-makers ran out of money, and the fans rallied behind them to fund the project through Kickstarter. And it worked. (In other news, The Weatherfolk funded their album and Hope Dialect funded their reunion show through Kickstarter too.) If that’s not enough reason for you to check out this movie, I’ll go on: The nerd in me thinks it’s a fascinating exercise in adaptation. In many ways, the movie is not at all like the book, but in other ways it is a perfect adaptation of the heart of the book. It’s also fascinating to see how elements of the book had to be changed to fit the movie-mode. There are cartoons in the book, guys, like sketches and stuff. And yes, they do make their way into the movie. It’s also interesting in that it’s art made by Christians about faith and the search for faith, but it doesn’t restrict it’s audience to only Christians, and in fact it doesn’t fit neatly into the category of “Christian film” either. All-in-all, it’s worth checking out.

Here’s the thing about Blue Like Jazz: it’s going to get a reaction out of you, and it’s going to surprise you. It made me uncomfortable. It made me angry. It made me laugh, and then it made me feel uncomfortable for laughing, and then it made me laugh again. I confess I was getting pretty heated in my seat in the movie theater watching the protagonist be a complete jerk and worrying about how poorly this movie seemed to be representing Christians to the non-Christians who may be watching. And then came the ending scenes. If this movie doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, please stick it out until the very end. The ending solidified the story for me and it made me go, “Yes, yes. People need to see this.”

Doing: I’ve been trying to take more pictures now that spring is here and the flowers are in bloom. This isn’t a recommendation (unless you like photography) so much as it is a chance for me to post a picture. So here you go! IMG_9357

What have you been listening to, reading, watching, and doing this week?

Reflections on ‘Talent’ and Identity

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-18, and I’m grateful that in the High Calling’s daily reflections, Michelle Derusha wrestled with it too and helped me to understand it better.

Michelle writes: The truth is, God gives each one of us gifts, though some might not be as obvious as others. Ask yourself this: what fuels my passion? What is it that I love to do and do well? The answer to that question may very well point to your God-given gifts. The key, of course, is to recognize your gifts and use them for the good of others. Don’t play it safe, Jesus tells us in this parable. Don’t hide your gifts; don’t bury them, like the fearful third servant did, where they can’t impact anyone else. And don’t squander them either, but instead, invest them in growing the kingdom of God.

Today my friend Annie (who published a book, y’all), blogged about what aspiring writers should do if they want to write. Basically, she said start writing, start collecting stories and writing out the ones that are burning inside you, even if they only exist in a folder on your desktop for the time being. She also said don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get involved in a community.

I think that’s partly why I choose to keep up with this blog. I recognize that I have a passion for writing (and photography), for creative expression, for synthesizing and story-telling. So I’m trying not to hide my gifts.

I don’t really know what to do right now with writing. I turned down a creative writing graduate program because it just didn’t feel right and I didn’t think it was what I really wanted. To be honest, it kind of brought about a little identity crisis. All this time I’d been saying I was a writer. I’d been many other things before, a singer, an actor, a photographer, a film-maker, but I had kind of drifted away from those things, but at least I was a writer. But if I didn’t do this program, if I didn’t want to do this program, then what was I? I didn’t want to just give up again and never amount to anything. What am I if I’m not a writer?

I don’t feel like that so much anymore, and I try all the time to remind myself that my identity is not in what I do but in Who created me. However, even as I read Donald Miller’s books this week where he expands upon that very truth, that our identity is found in Christ, I find insecurity gnawing at me, the insecurity that says I could be like Donald Miller if I just tried. I’m not really serious about this stuff if I’m not trying.

Writers say this to each other a lot. It’s a thing big-time writers say when they give advice to small-time writers. It’s what they talk about in creative writing classes. It’s what creative writing graduate program advisors say to you in the middle of your interview. They don’t say it exactly like this, but this is what I hear: You’re not a real writer if you don’t write every day.

I get that. Seriously, I do. You can’t expect to get better at something if you don’t practice. But sometimes I worry if I’ve twisted this, and this parable of the talents, far beyond anything Jesus ever wanted to say to me.  I’ve measured myself up against the definition of a writer and found myself seriously lacking, and so I’ve felt insecure and upset with myself. This was my identity: writer. It’s the only skill I thought I had, and so I made it my identity, but if I wasn’t feeding into it, if I wasn’t living up to the definition, then I was nothing.

That makes no sense in conjunction with the Parable of the Talents, though. In the parable, the Master gives talents to His servants, and they are to make something of it, for the glory of the Master. Their identity is not in the talents themselves, but in the Master who gives them, the Master who loves His servants and trusts them with these gifts, trusts them to do something amazing.

I think Michelle’s post is key here, because her point is about how we should share the talents with others. This is what brings the Master glory, when we share His investment. Jesus begins this parable with one of His “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” statements, so I think this is about a lot more than some money or some gifts. It’s got to be about proclaiming His gospel and His glory, right?

Our identity is not in our gifts, it is in the One who gives them, and by living out our gifts, we bring Him glory. I confess, I have been (and still am) so afraid of not growing in the gifts God gave me, of not using them — or at the very least, of using them for my own selfish glory and not His. So I’m writing this post, and I’m journaling to Him, and I’ve started keeping a collection of spiritual essays inspired by my readings of Blue Like Jazz. I ordered a macro lens attachment with a gift card today, and I’m not going to let myself feel bad about the purchase, because photography is one of the ways I worship my King. It is a gift He gave me to give back to Him. So is writing, so is the freedom to blog.

That is why I’m a writer. I don’t want to write for any other reason. And I don’t want it to ever again be a measure for my identity. Thankfully, that is safe in Christ, and if I lay these gifts before Him, eagerly desiring to bring Him glory, He won’t let them go to waste. Please don’t let me waste them, Lord. I am not a writer, I am a child of God.

Blue Valentine: Some thoughts on tragic trends

This post contains spoilers to each movie/musical I mention in it, fair warning.
So, the other day, I watched the movie Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. I don’t know if I’ve just grown so disenchanted by movies that it’s become harder and harder for me to enjoy them, or if it was just this particular movie, but I came away from the end credits feeling very frustrated.

I enjoyed some of the movie, and I grew invested in the characters and their relationship, but the ending gave me no pay off whatsoever. I watched them fall in love, and I watched them fall out of it, but I missed what happened in the middle.

Acutally, I missed how they fell out of love at all. The movie did a great job of showing us how they fell in love. It takes place in two different time periods, past and present, and it spends a lot of time in the past showing us the characters’ backstory: how they met, started dating, decided to get married, etc. That part of the story takes place over days, weeks, months, who knows how long.

But the part where they fall out of love happens in like twenty-four hours. That’s all we see of their future life. We see that they have a kid, and they both love their kid, and that staying in a relationship is hard but if they can work on it it might be okay… but by the end of the day they are getting a divorce, and I don’t understand why. I knew going into the movie that the divorce was coming, because I had read reviews, but it still seemed like it came out of nowhere. Maybe everything was subtle and supposed to be implied, and I must have missed it. I just couldn’t accept the ending.

This movie seems to say, “love is great but it doesn’t last.” Even the most in-love couples fall out of love eventually. And that bothered me. I get it though. I mean, I get that we are a broken and finite people and that we can’t keep love whole on our own. I understand that.

I can even appreciate movies and stories that utilize that theme, like the musical The LastFive Years. (Seriously, you should check it out). In it, Jamie and Cathy divorce, but at least we are given more time with them, in both the build up of the relationship and the build up of the break-up, so that the story becomes truly tragic. We spend enough time in both Jamie and Cathy’s heads that we can understand their brokenness and baggage.
In Blue Valentine, I feel like we get a lot of time in Gosling’s head in the present, but not enough in Williams’ to make her final decision make sense, since she is the one calling for a divorce and Gosling is the one begging her to keep her vows and work through it.

Anyway, the point of the movie, even if it didn’t say it very well, is that love doesn’t last, and that’s the point of a lot of stories we tell ourselves, and it makes me sad.

I’m thinking about this in contrast to other movies and stories like Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Maybe I should just analyze all Ryan Gosling movies. That could be some fun research, eh?) I love Crazy, Stupid, Love, and one of the things I love about it is that the characters don’t get divorced at the end. The movie’s premise is that they separate for a while, and they each sleep with other people, but it’s not portrayed as a good thing, it’s something that both appalls Steve Carrell’s character and his significant other. They talk about fighting for your soulmate and working hard to keep a marriage alive, and I think a film like that is so rare in today’s culture.

We are a fallen people, and so often we make films about our brokenness, but every once in a while, our films end in hope: an echo of the perfect, holy and whole Love that is our source. That grace is definitely crazy, and it can seem so foolish to us sometimes.

Anyway, I’m not saying Crazy, Stupid, Love is perfect, there are some ideas I don’t necessarily agree with in it too. And I’m not saying Blue Valentine is completely terrible either, I just didn’t like that to fully understand the movie you had to already have an established worldview that accepts love and goodness as things that never last. I’m not against tragedy, sometimes I don’t enjoy movies because they aren’t tragic enough. (I guess that’s my main issue with this one.) I just wanted to point out some of the thematic trends we gravitate towards in our narratives as a fallen people searching for wholeness.

Dreaming with Two Desires

Last night I watched the 2006 film Babel for a class project. It was a pretty interesting film, better than some of the other films I’ve had to watch for classes. This one consisted of intersecting stories that ranged over four countries. There was one part in the film (of many) that made me really angry at Western culture. There is a moment where tragedy strikes an American woman on a tour bus in Morocco, and she needs medical care. Being in the middle of the desert, the bus’s only option is to go to the tourguide’s hometown and seek medical attention while awaiting faster transport to a hospital.

Well, the Western tourists really didn’t like that idea, and that’s what made me angry. While this woman is dying and her husband is freaking out, everyone else on the tour bus complain of no air-conditioning and fear for their safety because they are now outside the boundaries of the tour and this Moroccan village must be unsanitary and unsafe.

I wanted to scream at them: Are you kidding me? This is your chance to actually experience Moroccan life, cross cultural borders, and maybe even help someone. Look at all those children around the bus, go play with them. You may not understand their language, but I bet you all understand the basic rules of football. Take pictures with them. Watch them get a kick out of making faces and seeing themselves on the LCD screen. Get some music and start a dance party.

Obviously, I knew the real issue was that the fictional woman was dying and none of the fictional tourists seemed to care, but that’s seriously all I wanted to do…go play with real Moroccan children. (I wonder if that’s what I’d actually do in a situation like that. I like to think I would, but I’m not sure. Conviction.)

For the “future,” I’m currently applying in two different directions. One is a writing program in the country I love, and the other is a missionary-teaching position in two countries I’ve never been to but am sure I will grow to love. I want to work in writing, but I also want to teach and love children. Last night, after watching Babel, as that desire to be around children was present in my mind, I cried to God. I said, “Do they have to be separate? Can’t I have both?” Because right now it feels like it’s one or the other, teaching or writing…forever. The rest of the world or Scotland…forever. Choose now or forever hold your peace.

I don’t think that’s true, it’s just the way it feels.
I have desires, I have dreams, I have giftings and strengths, I just don’t know how they all fit together yet.
But I’m excited to get to find out.

How do we escape the Justice-Bot?

Alright folks. If you haven’t seen the latest episode of Doctor Who, I’m probably going to spoil it for you. (Wait, don’t leave! I talk about things other than Doctor Who in this blog post too, I swear.)

Okay, so this last episode frustrated me. Here’s the basic conflict: This alien guy committed some pretty terrible crimes by experimenting on his own people and turning them into cyborg war machines to kill a bunch of other aliens. One of his cyborgs went rogue and turned into a justice/vengeance obsessed robot and hunted him across the universe to kill him. Surprise, surprise, the alien guy landed on earth, and now the justice-bot (that’s not what he’s called but that’s what I like to call him) has been waiting for weeks for the guy to come out and face him so he doesn’t have to kill any innocent humans to exact revenge. But now it’s taking too long, so he threatens to kill an entire town if they don’t deliver the bad guy over to him by high noon.

Here’s the conundrum: the bad guy’s done some pretty awesome things for this town since he arrived. He cured them of diseases, provided electricity, tried to protect them. The marshal stood up to the town and to the justice-bot for him and got himself killed. The Doctor doesn’t know what to do because he hates the bad guy for what he did, but he doesn’t want to pronounce the death penalty. The bad guy is willing to face the justice-bot, because he knows what he did and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else, but even when he tries, his marshal friend takes the gunshot for him. Now the Doctor doesn’t want the innocent marshal’s death to be in vain.

As I watched this episode, I was trying (as the writer I am) to figure out a solution. What do you do when death is the only answer to exacting justice? I found myself actually getting a little excited about just how they were going to end this one.

…And then the bad alien guy goes and blows himself up. Because it was “the only way.” Because even though the Doctor had worked out a way for him to escape, he knew the justice-bot would just follow him to another planet, to another town, and they’d face the same conundrum again. So he decided to face his sins and take the punishment upon himself without having to make the cyborg murder another person.

Maybe that makes perfect sense to you, but it just depressed me. I thought they were going to do something different. I thought they were going to bring in some crazy, awesome solution. But there was no other solution. Death was the only way, even though the bad guy had repented, even though he had changed.

And this is the story we repeat to ourselves over and over.

In my seminar class on the problem of evil, we talk at great lengths about how, for some reason, human beings are born with this sense of fault, of imperfection which leads to sin which leads to guilt, and we don’t know where it comes from except for the fact that it has to do with being mortal… It’s all very depressing, and I don’t like being in it because we never get to the good parts about grace or redemption or original glory (and some would say we just created those good parts anyway). However, the textbook has spoken about this innate desire we have to punish the wrongdoing within us, even if it’s in the fact that we have someone else (like a lamb or Christ) suffer for us, we know that there needs to be justice. We are born with this need for justice.

And we write Doctor Who episodes about criminals who need to die for their sins, and our favorite character can search high and low for a way out, but in the end death is the only way for justice to be satisfied.

And yet there is something in me that resists that so fervently.
Can I just take a moment to praise God for His infinite grace?
Because justice is scary, and permanent, and unrelenting.
But God’s grace abounds.
He is the One who can be perfectly just and yet full of grace at the same time.

We know we need him. Our hearts must know, at least, because it comes out in our lives when we speak of things like our human imperfection, of our need for justice and restoration.

I need Him, and I just want to share that He’s here, that He loves you, and that He wants to cover you with His freedom and grace.

May you experience the power of His limitless grace today. <3

This is the blog of an English major.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And Fade into the light of common day.

–William Wordsworth, stanza 5 of Intimations of Immortality


Remember my post about The Reluctant King and embracing our God-given glory? Well, I had to read this poem for my British Literature class, and I geeked out over this stanza, writing “original glory” in the margins: “I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature. We were crowned with glory and honor (psalm 8:5).” — John Eldredge, Waking the Dead

Dear one, child of God, please don’t forget it. <3

The Reluctant King

I apologize for the recent lack of blog posts, but I hope this one can make it up to you. I’ve been spending the past two weeks hanging out with my four-year-old niece watching a lot of Disney movies, and it got me thinking: The story of the reluctant king or the unknown princess resonates deeply within us as a culture. Why?

Just look at Simba in The Lion King. Nala says, “Why can’t he be the king I know he is? The king I see inside?” His father tells him to “remember who you are.” He has forgotten his royal heritage.

My other favorite example is Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. You know, some people were upset with Peter Jackson’s interpretation of this scroungy ranger who seemed like he’d much rather be hiding away in the woods than leading the kingdom of his birthright. Tolkien’s character always knew his identity — and he acted like it. He was strong and confident, prepared to step into his destiny from the moment we meet him in Bree to the day he’s crowned king in the citadel; he was just waiting for the proper time.

I love Aragorn, he’s one of my favorite characters, and yet Jackson’s (and might I add the beautiful Viggo Mortenson’s) interpretation draws my attention and my sympathy more so than the Aragorn in the books. In fact, I remember feeling sad after reading and realizing that there was no “put aside the ranger, become who you were born to be” plot for my favorite hero.

Because I love plots like that, don’t you? Stories where the hero doesn’t want to be a hero, where the king would rather help in secret and quiet because he doesn’t think he could ever be a great king. I feel much closer to those kinds of characters than I do to the one who knew all along who he was and what he was going to do, and that he would do it greatly because it was his destiny to do so.

The truth is, though, that we too have a royal destiny, and we need to be acting more like the book Aragorn than the movie version. We are sons and daughters of the King of Kings, and yet we are reluctant to claim our inheritance.That is why these characters like Simba, the runaway prince thrust into kingship, or Aragorn, the ranger afraid to embrace his destiny, call out to us from the cinema screens — and even the Bible. Just look at Esther, the orphan girl who suddenly held the weight of a nation on her queenly shoulders.

We want to believe that we could be kings and queens, that we could have some royal, important destiny, but we know we could never achieve it — that’s only for characters in stories to do. So we watch these characters struggle with fear and doubt because we hold those same fears and doubts so close to our hearts.

The difference is — Simba does become king, a great one. Aragorn regains his throne and Gondor’s rightful king returns to restore life to his people. Esther embraces her royal purpose and understands that she was brought into the palace for such a time as this. And that’s what we love about those characters, they can do what we think we can’t. They seem so ordinary, so flawed, like us, but by the end of the story, they step into kingship and save the day.

But so can we. Our God, the King of Kings, made us to be His royal children, and He “invites [us] now out of the shadows to unveil [our] glory” (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead). The world needs us to embrace our Heavenly heritage and shine like the princes and princesses we are. While looking up articles about Aragorn, I found this one quote that really hit me: “In the books, Aragorn spends his life in steadfast preparation to reclaim his heritage.” (from this site) Shouldn’t our lives be like that too?

I don’t want to hide in the shadows anymore, I don’t want to shy away from the chance to be a true princess. I have a royal destiny, a grand inheritance, and I want to claim it.

Do you?