scary, stubborn hope

I am starting to get a little nervous when I make grand public proclamations of hope, because it always seems to be after those moments that something earth-shattering happens.

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I can now see that exactly one day before my dad suddenly fell into a diabetic coma and was rushed to the emergency room where he took his last breath, I wrote this on my status: “My cup runneth over.”

wp-1467665127939.jpgI don’t know what to do with that. Part of me can’t help but feel really, really bitter. Another part of me wonders if it’s some strange prophecy of hope. That even in the midst of all this sorrow, my cup can still runneth over, right? I’ve certainly noticed blessings, of course. And I have seen a wild new life grow from such tragic death that I never would have seen otherwise. But isn’t it also just a kick in the gut?

It’s so strange now because I don’t feel I have the faith I used to proclaim. I don’t know exactly what I believe anymore. I don’t know what to make of that statement. But I breathe, and I sit, and I try to still myself, to connect with my Creator, to keep my eye on the center.

Last week, I wrote a blog post over at Grey Havens YA, part of that new life I was talking about. I wrote about Gandalf’s quote in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo laments of his burden and wishes all the darkness had never happened. Gandalf says, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. … All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It’s a wonderful thought, as most Tolkien quotes are. I wrote about how even in the midst of dark times, I have chosen to do something that brings light to the world. Those young adults blow me away every time and make me so glad that I chose to spend my time with them, that I could turn the shadows of my past into something beautiful.

A few days after that proclamation of hope, a new shadow swept in: I suddenly learned that I inherited polycystic kidney disease from my mother. It means that I have cysts on my kidneys that may eventually stop them from functioning properly. Some people have this disease all their lives and never notice a problem. Others have to be on dialysis or get a transplant. I don’t know what it’ll look like for me, so I’m hesitant to say much. I don’t even know what stage it’s at yet or if there’s something worse on my left kidney. I have more tests and appointments to find out, and it’s all quite unnerving. There’s a problem in my body that I don’t even feel, and that I did nothing to cause, and that I can’t do anything to change…

wp-1467665105059.jpgWhile I still don’t know what to do about my 2013 proclamation that “my cup runneth over,” I do know that I want to hold on to Gandalf’s advice, to decide what to do with the time that is given to me. I don’t know what that time may look like going forward. It may be full off appointments and medication and drastic diet changes, but I hope that it will also be full of laughter, love, and work that makes a difference.

Today has been given to me, all the time of my life has been a gift. I cherish it. I try not to worry about how many more I’ll get or if those days will be good or bad; it’s about what I do with the time, and I can make it good. I want to believe that I am strong, and that I can endure, and hopefully that I can see the glory reflected backwards at journey’s end.

I hope that this hope doesn’t come back to bite me. I’ve got to believe in the light somehow, some way, and I’ve got to write about it for my own sake. I have to put the positive thoughts in writing, otherwise they’ll just slip out of my brain. I hope I can return to this when I’m feeling dark and not let it turn me bitter. Let light guide me… <3

wp-1467664793616.jpg

Grey Havens

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or even if you read one of my posts from December, or checked out the meaning behind my username, you’d know that I really love The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I found Tolkien around late 2001/early 2002, after my friend dragged me to see The Fellowship of the Ring movie. I remember being really upset because I didn’t know she was taking me to see it, and the previews had really frightened eleven-year-old me. However, I fell in love at the cinema that day, and even though I still turned away during the Moria scenes out of fear, I wanted to learn everything I could about this strange new world called Middle Earth. I started reading and devouring the trilogy, and by the time The Two Towers movie came out, I was a bit obsessed.

As you may remember from the poem I published a few months ago, my mother died not long after The Two Towers was released. In fact, the last time I saw her awake and breathing without a machine to do it for her was before my dad and I left the hospital to go see the movie.

I clung to Tolkien’s works during that tumultuous time. I clung to Jesus too, and I don’t think the two need to be separate. Yes, The Lord of the Rings helped me to escape, but it also helped me to see God in a different and deeper way. I researched into Tolkien’s life and his faith, and I found hope in the same Power that was dear to him. I did a project on the making of the films for my seventh grade English class. In eighth grade, I led a workshop for my church youth group on finding spiritual truths in The Lord of the Rings. As a freshman in drama class, I had to write and perform a monologue while portraying a famous person from history, and of course I chose good old J.R.R. I wish I had the transcript of the monologue somewhere… but I remember I wrote it as John talking to his wife Edith about his mother. (He too had lost a mother around the same age as I did.) I also remember that my British accent often strayed off course as I kept turning into a southern belle… but that is neither here nor there. In my senior year, I titled my college admissions essay “Hobbitry in Heart,” after some encouragement Tolkien wrote to his son in one of his letters.

If the kids at my middle school knew me at all, they knew me as the girl obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, the one who wore the One Ring around her neck and decided that instead of doing a peace sign or a thumbs-up in photographs, she would hold up nine fingers, the right ring finger missing, as if she were Frodo or something… Yeah, I was that kid. God bless my friends at the time. I love that about nerds, we look out for each other.

And that’s what brings me to the present moment. (Yes, I know I skipped a few years.) I wanted to write about a group I found here, a group of nerds, a group of scholars, a group of loving and compassionate people, The Grey Havens Group. I moved to Colorado after my dad died last summer, and I have struggled to find new friends, new community, and new hope. I’ve clung to Tolkien (and Jesus) during this time too. I remember needing to watch the films right after it happened, putting them on as I tried and failed to sleep. I returned to the books and read them over again, and I started reading The Hobbit to my little niece. I am grateful that I got to share The Lord of the Rings with my dad before he died. He was the one who actually shared it with me, since he read it back in the day and would watch it with me and tell me it’s not scary. He would always point out to me the lines I should pay attention to before I knew the whole story. For example, he would repeat Gandalf when he tells Frodo in the mines that “Gollum has some part to play yet,” and then make this humming noise that always meant he knew something I didn’t. I love remembering how my dad would get excited about movies, stories, and foreshadowing.

It was during this mourning season that I randomly came across a Tolkien Society not too far away from me in Boulder County. I decided to show up to one of the meetings, and I instantly felt welcomed, cared about, and accepted. I had been struggling to find a church community at the time, and when I walked into Grey Havens, I felt more accepted there than at any church I had yet found. I’m sorry to say that about church, but it’s how I truly felt. Here was a group of people from all different backgrounds, all different ages, careers, beliefs, life stories, but we had one thing in common: a love for Tolkien, for the Inklings, for fantasy and imagination. I am so grateful for that bond, and for a group that will sit around a table in the back of a bookshop to discuss fantasy, history, comedy, and spirituality while respecting each other even amidst disagreements. We spur one another on to think deeper, and I love that.

I haven’t been able to make many Grey Havens meetings, but with its online presence, I never feel as though I’ve left the community. Grey Havens has also started a young adult chapter (the blog is now LIVE!), and I’ve been able to get involved there. Watching young adults come alive while discussing literature makes me so happy inside, I can’t even describe it to you. We host monthly events at the library and a biweekly book discussion. These young adults have such passion, and they are not afraid to be themselves, to love what they love, and to respect others for what they love too, even if it’s different. (We stole our slogan from Wil Wheaton: “Being a nerd is not about what you love, it’s about how you love it.”) I am so blessed to have come across the Grey Havens during this time in my life.

Tolkien people are good people, and I am grateful to have found a community of them right in my neighborhood. If you’re in the Boulder area, check us out. If you’re a Tolkien fan, but haven’t told me yet, let me know. (You’ll be my new best friend!) And if a work of literature or film has helped you through a dark time, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ll leave you with the quote I used for my essay. It’s from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son Christopher while he was in the army during World War II: “Well there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”

Truth wins. Every time.

…And it’s not always a spectacular battle.

from The Two Towers movie

These are the lessons I have been learning over the past few months from my friend’s J.R.R. Tolkien lecture class and my own conversations with a wise mentor-figure.

Actually, this is something God has been working on in me for a while now; I can even remember some mention of it in Brussels, but it’s really been hitting me full force these past few months:

Truth.

First of all, you should know, that I love The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s world in general.
Secondly, I believe that it is very spiritual, and I can find parallels and ideas in it, though Tolkien leaves it open for each person to find what they will.

That being said, there is a lot of talk about the idea of “truth” in The Lord of the Rings.

Let’s look at The Two Towers for instance.
In the story, King Theoden is corrupted by the evil wizard Saruman through his servant Wormtongue.
Key points:
-The voice of Saruman is seductive in order to deceive you.
-His servant Wormtongue twists your reality to make everything dark and hopeless.
-Gandalf, however, simply speaks the truth, and Saruman’s power is broken.

In the movie, there is a climactic confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman, who appears to be possessing King Theoden. The two wizards battle it out and Saruman shouts as he is cast from the king and back into his dark hall in Orthanc.

In the book, however, there is no big confrontation. Gandalf simply points out the truth to Theoden, and it changes him and heals him:

“Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? … I bid you come before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in the shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”

Gandalf then takes Theoden outside.
“Now, lord,” said Gandalf, ” Look upon your land! Breathe the free air again!”
….
“It is not so dark here,” said Theoden.
“No,” said Gandalf, “Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think. Cast aside your prop!”
From the king’s hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky.
“Dark have been my dreams of late, ” he said, “but i feel as one new-awakened.”

– The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers

Truth wins. And it wasn’t a spetacular battle between good and evil. It was simply truth.

Another example of this occurs when Saruman’s land has been destroyed and he is imprisoned in his tower. When the company comes to him, he tries to entrance them with his voice, but Gandalf does not let that happen. Firstly, he laughs, and the spell is broken.

Next, he destroys Saruman’s power, not by issuing commands, but by statements of fact:

He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. “Saruman, your staff is broken.” There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman’s hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf’s feet.
-The Voice of Saruman, The Two Towers

Gandalf doesn’t defeat Saruman in a big fight or even an argument. He simply declares the fact that Saruman has no power and that his staff is broken, and it breaks, and he crawls away, unable to sway anyone with his lies.

There are many other examples, and perhaps I will come back to them later, but those are two to ponder about. :)

Speak truths to yourself. Do not let the lies deceive you.
Truth wins. Every time.

<3