Eucatastrophe: More Than A Happy Ending

We’ve been living the thang, friends, and time hasn’t waited for me to pause, even for a quick hello. So, here’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and an excerpt from my book Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown Up World. Enjoy, and may 2017 hold many wonders for you and your loved ones!

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On the day after New Year’s Day I strip all the beds in the house. The laundry room floor is covered with sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads and I am thinking about the clean slate. Somehow I can’t stand to think of our dreaming being done in last year’s dirt—little bits of skin and dog hair and lint littering up the sleeping.

I stand in the doorway with bedclothes billowing and I see that the dirt of life—the dirt of my life—is a very robust thing. We do what we can to write our stories well, to live a good dream, but there is always the stuff of life—the unforeseen interruptions, the distractions, the dirt of everyday necessities.

No matter what I dream, the sheets will still need washing.

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday and in honor of one of our favorite storytellers, I wanted to have a party. But our youngest had percussion practice after school and his brother had to tutor some classmates and it was cold and night came early and my body hurt from the New Year’s resolutions and a fall down some stairs. So my firstborn and I took Lucy Mae for a walk in the dark instead and I dressed her in a leopard print sweater. At least the dog would be dressed for celebration.

The evening walk is a heart exercise and especially in the cover of night it seems our senses are tuned to the eternal. Each step has a way of loosing the strings that knot us up in what we can see. I feel around inside of him with questions and he smiles more readily than usual and we walk slowly—even in the cold. On this night, I am thinking about how we enjoyed The Hobbit recently and I remember how Tolkien coined this term eucatastrophe.

Wikipedia tells me that he “formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot.

To me, eucatastrophe sounds like the happy ending, but to Tolkien, it meant more. It’s the way the hero’s fate is tied up in the entire story—it’s redemption in the end that the telling was building up to. It’s the happy ending only deeper.

Tolkien saw “the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation,” Wikipedia goes on to say.

And I think about the stories he wrote, how they embodied this term eucatastrophe, and I wonder how my life can do the same. How am I living my life that leads this story to the great Eucatastrophe?

I am likely never to face trolls, or orcs, or goblins. I probably won’t be on a quest upon which rests the fate of earth as we know it. But there is always the dirt of life that rears up against me—threatens to waylay this hero from the happy ending.

Am I able to carry this ring?

I smooth down the edges of sheets and fluff pillows into plump resting places. It feels good, this clean slate. But one thing I know—one thing I’ve learned from Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf and life … the journey is a continuous series of stops and starts. There are joy days and dream days and good storytelling. But there are also interruptions, frustrations, and the dirt of life. I must choose which parts of the story will define me. What makes a good story?

Andrew Stanton, the writer of the three “Toy Story” movies and other animated masterpieces, says it well in his TED talk The Clues to a Great Story:

I walked out of there [the movie Bambi at age five] wide-eyed with wonder. And that’s what I think the magic ingredient is—the secret sauce—can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent, it can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost at a cellular level…the best stories invoke wonder.”

Isn’t the best play the one that tells a good story? The play that evokes wonder? And shouldn’t we be doing this with our lives?

I will keep pressing forward, writing these pages. Because I already know how that eucatastrophe will unfold. I already know the happy ending. And it is steeped in wonder.

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The above is a modified excerpt from Laura’s book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

Garden Notes: Wild Woman

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Last night during the evening constitutional around the yard with Bonnie, when we rounded the garden I noticed a tiny eggplant pushing out of the womb of its blossom-mother. I bent to peer in closer and my eyes were rewarded by not one, but two little eggplant babies straining forth into the light! It was love at first sight. I’ve never grown eggplant before but there is something so soulful in the deep purple hue of their skin.

First thing this morning, I donned my robe to head out and take some photos of the new babies. My camera lens kept fogging up; the moisture in the air so heavy, even at eight a.m. I couldn’t find the right light and in the middle of the shoot, a surprise downpour chased me back indoors.

But I am still thinking about how that lavender blossom gave birth to the plump plum of the eggplant fruit and the beauty of it can bring me to tears if I let it.

I’ve been having trouble writing down the words lately. There are too many changes going on around here and my heart is struggling to keep up. When I have trouble with writing, I read, read, read. When we were on holiday at the ocean a few weeks ago, I started re-reading an old favorite of mine, Women Who Run With the Wolves. The first time I read this book I was a new bride, so young and sweet. I read with different eyes these days (but I’m still sweet, I like to think).

The author is a Jungian analyst and a storyteller. Her life’s work has been collecting multicultural stories, myths, fairy tales, folk tales and using them in her work with women to help them re-connect with their natural, creative selves. The way the book is arranged, she shares a story and then goes through the analysis with the reader.

I’m reading very slowly this time around, taking notes and praying through. As I read during our vacation, the three males in my life kept teasing me about my “wild woman” coming out. The author describes the “wild woman” not as something untame and dangerous, but as our natural self—before the demands of culture shaped our natures into something unrecognizable.

“[T]he word wild here is not used in its modern pejorative sense, meaning out of control, but in its original sense, which means to live a natural life, one in which the criatura, creature, has innate integrity and healthy boundaries. These words, wild and woman, cause women to remember who they are and what they are about. They create a metaphor to describe the force which funds all females. They personify a force that women cannot live without.”

And so I have been reading the stories and putting myself in the place of various characters. As I read, read, read—burying myself in words—it feels like I am being fortified for some important work—and then, I remind myself that life is important work. And this thought makes me grateful for the dam that has stopped the flow of words.

I will listen for a time, remember, re-familiarize myself with my inside voice.

It feels like rather being born of a lavender blossom; growing a deep, soulful skin. Beauty birthing beauty.

Sunday Sermon Notes

Low Sunday
John 20:19-31

under the porch she
went, hiding
from a whipping

she told the story
and my
boys smiled—imagining
pastor-girl tucked
away, safe
from switch and
lashing tongue.

but dread hid
with her
and she spoke
of disciples behind
locked doors, hiding
too.

until he came.
put your hand in
my side, he said.
and everything
changed.

His peace changes
a most difficult
situation, she said. What
would happen if
you allowed Jesus
to slip into the
middle
of it?

and he slipped
in
the
middle of it.

‘cause boys’ eyes
were glued and I was
grateful for a
good story, whipping
or no.

Word Storm

I come upon him, and he doesn’t stir.

It’s five minutes to bedtime…five minutes to the tucking in.

His bare shoulder shines in lamplight; his small body an island in the middle of the bed.

I hover.

He still doesn’t look up.

This child–

the one who used to interrupt nightly readings for impromptu puppet shows; the one who rolls maniacally on the floor while brother and I snuggle close under covers during nightly Bible readings–

This child is lost in a book.

I kneel beside him and rub his back…let fingertips gently tickle flesh. I watch as the story glides across his face… word storm.

“Are you ready to pray?”

I ask most reluctantly…loathe to interrupt this magic.

“Just one second,” He flips the page. “I just. Want. To finish. This chapter.”

I sit silently beside. Wait.

When finally he closes the book he must tell me about what he has read. This small voice rises and falls, caught up in the retelling.

This is a good story.

I sigh my happiness as out goes the lamp. Lay this body down, wiggle into him. He presses self up against me, takes his hand and places it on my cheek. He did not wash his hair tonight and it smells like skin…warm and alive.

The sacred words are shared, and he asks the inevitable.

“Will you stay with me a little while?”

I cannot move from this place of life’s sweetness, so I do…stay. Even after his breathing turns slow and even, I stay.

Awake in the dark, moonlight falling through window, holding this child in my arms…I am stilled. Gratitude overwhelms and I wonder yet another time at the bottomless well of God’s generosity.

I take one last sniff of him before I get up, check on brother in the next room, and head downstairs.

I am thinking about the story we are writing.

Each day a page, each season a chapter.

I’m just trying to reach the end of this one.

I remember my son’s face as eyes devoured words.

When last did I relish this story in that way? I realized this morning that my dawn prayer was laced with dread–Oh, Lord, help me get through…

No eager turning of pages, no animated retelling of these days.

And why? Why, when there is beauty everywhere?

Because I look, but I don’t see. Each passing minute is merely a bridge to the next one.

On the way down the stairs my prayer changes. On the way down the stairs, I step into this story. On the way down the stairs I join with my life.

To look and really see. To be here in this moment. To relish each page before it is turned.

This is my prayer for the story of life.

This is a good story. Maybe even warrants retelling.

But we won’t worry about that for now. We’re too into the words on this page.

One page at a time.

For more on joining, read our latest book club post over here.

Wild Thang


“It was different than I thought it would be.”

We have just spent the afternoon with his fifth grade class, taking in the movie Where the Wild Things Are.

Now Jeffrey is trying to articulate his thoughts about the film.

“I didn’t like it when he ran away from home. And, he didn’t leave the island at the best time, did he? Nothing really worked out right.”

He thinks for a moment and then adds:

“It was kind of sad, wasn’t it?”

I dab my eyes and nod, sniff back tears that have shed down my throat and into sinuses.

Yes, it was sad. Made sadder by memories of my own–memories I thought left far behind, scabbed over now. But this stark cinematography and sparse script captured perfectly the feelings of alienation and loneliness I felt as a child of divorce. The shattered world left behind for Max whispered ghost-pictures of upheaval and loss that I still grieve at times.

I think I effectively hid my tears from Jeffrey’s classmates… concealed my face by resting cheek in hand. Glancing around, I realized few of them grasped the deeper tones of the story. They eyed the screen expectantly waiting for something…anything exciting to happen.

But, as Jeffrey says, nothing really worked out right, did it?

We talk about the differences between the book and the movie. Jeffrey, sharp eye that he is, did not miss the message that Max’s parents were divorced (or separated).

“That’s not in the book,” he states flatly.

We talk about the gift of imagination the book gives, and how this story is just one possible way of reading between the lines. We talk about how Max expressed his emotions and how these things were mirrored in his imaginary “wild” world–how he figured out through the Wild Things that the way he was acting with his mother was not helping things…How a story sometimes helps us make sense of our worlds.

No, it wasn’t how I expected it to be either. This book that has captured the imaginations of generations–has awakened the wild imagination in so many–it was given a different face for me today. As one reviewer said, this isn’t really a movie for kids; it’s more about being a kid.

Maybe so.

But this big kid enjoyed talking about it with her little today.

If you want a movie to feel good about, a story complete with happy endings that ties up all loose ends, don’t go see this movie.

But if you want more…if you want a launch pad for talking about some deep stuff with your kids…this film might just be for you.

It’s pretty wild.