Elsa’s Real Struggle

“Let it go, let it go…” My preschool aged daughter sings that song about once a day. I think most mothers of little girls can relate when I say that I sometimes wish someone would let that song go…far away…and never bring it back. 

I have to admit, however, that I love that movie. I cried through most of it the first time I saw it. I know. Crazy, right? A grown woman crying at a Disney movie. I cried because I related so much to Elsa, and I know so many others who do too. 

Elsa’s struggle represents something so much more intense than the power to freeze things. She is frozen. Frozen by fear. Elsa’s life becomes controlled by a constant fear of the future. It started with her parents’ fear that lead them to hide her away, but it lead to her obsessive fears and eventually to her solitude. When she escapes from Arendale and sings her famous song, she is building not just a castle, but a wall of protection around her heart. She has been so alone, and she is so afraid of rejection that she rejects the world. She puts on the tough act of the ice queen in order to show the world she doesn’t care. She doesn’t need anyone. 

How much this reminds me of me. So many times in life I have been overcome with fear. In high school I became extremely depressed at one point, and the more I focused on my fears, the worse it got. As I focused inward, fearing the future or other people’s opinions of me, I became more and more afraid and alone. Other times in my life I have found myself focusing on something in the future, obsessively worrying about it, and I’ve watched the fears multiply and drive me to exhaustion. 

The Bible is full of verses that helped me to take my fears to God. Chapters like Psalm 27 talk of how I do not have to fear because God is for me, and He’s more powerful than anything.  Also, 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” When I am focused on God and letting His love flow through me, fear will be chased away. 

Elsa learned this when she realized how much she loved her sister. Suddenly love flowed through her and she was able to melt the horrible winter that had taken over their lives. 

Love melts fear. Light chases away dark. Good triumphs over bad. 

So, no matter how over-marketed the movie is, I love it. Love wins. 

(Note: I will be having a talk with my preschooler as soon as she’s old enough about the “Let it Go” song. This is kind of like Elsa’s “before” picture; before love changed her. Something to learn from, not to imitate.)


strong in weakness

Have you ever seen the movie The Sound of Music? The main character, Maria, is a young wanna-be nun who can’t seem to get it together. She seems to make mistakes constantly. At one point in the movie the other nuns stand around and sing a song called “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” They contemplate that it’s easier to “keep a wave upon the sand” than to figure out how to help Maria get her stuff together. That’s how much a mess this girl is. 

I am such a Maria. 

I have made so many mistakes in my life, and I continue to stumble my way through life to this day. If there’s food nearby it will somehow drop onto my shirt. I can’t seem to be on time for anything. (I was close to an hour late for my first wedding.) My desk at work is a mess, and, please, don’t even ask to ride in my car! (Not because I wouldn’t give you a ride, but because I’m so embarrassed about the fact that it looks like a war zone inside that thing.) There are places and people I sometimes avoid because the last time I saw them or went there I made such a fool of myself. And, not surprisingly, diets and budgets are two things I tend to break like they’re made out of glass. 

Sometimes it seems like I’ll never get it right. Like life is a test that other people can pass but I’ve gotta take over and over. Weakness and failure often haunt me, leaving me devoid of hope. 

It’s about at that point that God usually reminds me of the verses from the Bible that I’ve come to call my “life verses”:

For He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I would rather boast in my weaknesses that Christ’s power may dwell in me. For now I delight in insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

He is strong. He is enough. With God as my life coach I don’t have to worry about those failures or other people’s opinions of me. He’s got me. 

I could even take it one step further and point out that, according to this verse, weakness and failure are not as bad as we think. 

I almost think we are supposed to feel weak. We are supposed to mess up. Why? Because our failures point us to the God of hope. Our weaknesses cause us to cry out to our warrior of a God to fight our battles for us. He is the one we are supposed to look to for our success. 

He is strongest in my life when I am weak, when I call out to him for help. 

That gives me so much hope. I don’t have to be afraid or ashamed of my Charlie Brown tendencies. God is using my failures to display His glory. 

When I do it all right I tend to try to take all the credit and I take my eyes off my Father. But when I know I can’t do it He can step in and show off His amazing power. His ways are better than my ways anyway. 

So, even though I’m a bit of a wreck at times, my God is big enough to clean up my messes and make it turn out good. 

how Tangled touched my heart

Ok well I can’t talk about happily ever after without referring to the life lessons I found in Disney’s version of one of my favorite stories: Rapunzel. Ever since my mom told me the tale as a child I wanted to be like the beautiful maiden in the tower. Surely if a handsome young man was willing to climb a tower to see me I’d feel like I was worth something.

Disney’s version surpassed any Rapunzel story I’d ever heard. (No offense, Mom!) With the witty and charming Flynn Rider, the hilarious tavern patrons, and adorable animals–this movie pulled it off.

But what I love is the lanterns.

Ever since Rapunzel was kidnapped from her parents (who just happen to be the king and queen), they release floating lanterns on her birthday. Although she grew up seeing the lanterns in the distance, Rapunzel had no idea who they were for or even what they were. She assumed they were stars and secretly wondered why they always came out on her birthday. So, on her 18th birthday she happens to find Flynn Rider, who agrees to take her to see the “floating lights.”  Lots of adventures ensue and the two young people eventually make it to see the lights and start to see each other differently. It’s sweet, romantic even.

But my favorite part about the lanterns has to do with a romance much deeper than Disney. There’s a Love far greater than any earthly love that desires our attention. The God of the universe made us, lost us to our sin, and longs for a relationship with us again.

Just like Rapunzel’s parents released the lanterns in hopes that someday she’d return, the Creator has put lights in the nighttime sky and colors in the sunset. He aims to woo us with the gorgeous green of the ocean or the sound of a baby’s giggle. Each gentle breeze and each cotton ball of a cloud in the blue sky is meant to draw us back to Him. He longs for a close relationship with us. And we are restlessly wondering about the lights out the window until we realize it’s Him calling us. We will never feel real peace, know who we truly are (daughters of the King) until we respond to His call.

So I tear up every time I see this movie. Not because of the human love story, but because those lanterns are meant for me. And you. The King loves you so much that He won’t stop sending you signs of His love. Do you notice the lanterns He’s sending you? Just watch. Look around and listen. He’s there. He’s calling you to fall into His embrace of unconditional love. You, dear woman, are His precious daughter that He’s been waiting for. And His love beats a man’s love any day.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”    James 1:17

when my happy ending fell apart  

In the movie 27 Dresses the main character says she fell in love with weddings as a child. I can relate. I too remember following the bride around at wedding receptions, sighing every once in awhile. I just knew that would be me one day, and it seems like every movie confirmed my belief. Every movie ended with a kiss and a couple walking off into their happily ever after.

One summer during college I thought I had found my own personal movie ending. John was a handsome British soccer player who happened to speak 8 languages and travel the world constantly with his international missions organization. I just knew this was the exciting future God had planned for me. The wife of a missionary, living in Spain, raising little half-English kids who would call me “mum” and drink tea.  At the time I felt like God would surely give me the life I wanted. After all, my parents got married right after college. Plus, I was still a virgin and very involved in my church so I deserved a good, Christian husband, didn’t I?

A year later, when it became clear that John didn’t want the same future I did (or at least he didn’t want it with me), I was devastated. I was furious at God. How could He allow this to happen? I had done everything right. I had even chosen a godly man as the one I wanted to marry. Why would God deny me such a thing? I thought God was supposed to give me “the desires of my heart” if I do all the right things!

I’d like to tell you that I just worked through it, got some heart-healing, and moved on to better things, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, my anger at God turned to doubt and then to rebellion. I looked around at my friends who had husbands already or who were single but not “saving themselves for marriage,” and I got jealous. I remember thinking to myself, I have been doing the right thing all this time–denying myself any fun–all for nothing. My friends are dating wild guys and living it up, why can’t I?

After that I began to live just like everyone else. Partying. Compromising my standards. Doing lots of stupid things. I started dating a guy from Jordan (I had studied Arabic and was drawn to the culture and the beautiful, dark brown eyes), and my first unhealthy romantic relationship began. All was just carefree and fun. I even moved to New York City to become a flight attendant and a waitress at a classy restaurant overlooking Times Square. At that time I thought I had finally “made it” in life.

Then 9/11 happened. I lost both my jobs within a week and packed my bags to move back to Memphis. A week later I felt so panicked about the world and my future that I convinced my Jordanian boyfriend that we should elope. As we drove home from the courthouse that day I told myself that everything would be ok. I had just eloped with my boyfriend of a different religion (well, he didn’t really practice Islam at all), and yet I was hoping he would give me the happily ever after I desired. Surely it will all work out somehow. 

Well, after my parents recovered from the news and, thankfully, forgave me, I realized that my marriage was not what I’d been hoping for. I found out I was pregnant two months after we eloped. I was depressed. I didn’t want a child cramping my life yet. Well, my new husband decided that, if I couldn’t go out clubbing with him anymore, he would keep doing it for the both of us. Those months turned into years of waiting up at night for my husband to come home drunk or high. I had never been around alcoholism, so it took me awhile to understand what was going on and how I should respond. Unfortunately, after much prayer and giving him many chances to stop the drugs and womanizing, I filed for divorce. At the time I was pregnant with our second child, but I had been through so much that I was ready to go. I got custody of the kids and moved in to my parents’house.

I’d like to tell you that I learned from that, got healing, and stayed away from men for awhile. Unfortunately, I didn’t. (Well I learned some and healed some, but not like I should have.) Within months of leaving my husband I was spending time with another guy (a really kind guy who treated me well), and within a year we were dating seriously. There was a time I thought he was my happily ever after, but that ended after a few years.

I’d like to tell you that I really took some time to be wise and learn from all of that, but I didn’t. I was out dating and partying again for a good while, always hoping that this next guy would be the one to share my happily ever after with me.

And then I met my second husband. He was one of the most handsome guys I’d ever met, and he was a Christian. He wanted a wife and a family, and he was great with my kids. He was friends with my brothers so he fit right into the family. It seemed perfect. My happily ever after was looking more possible than ever.

And then mental illness started to rear its head. He began to show another side of himself, a side that was not just angry, but cunningly vengeful. He began to tear me to shreds verbally any time I made a tiny mistake or disagreed with him. I began to walk around with a feeling of panic ready to launch at any moment. I never knew when he would change from loving to hateful.

I’d like to tell you that I walked away from that and moved on, but I didn’t. I loved him, and he was one of the best people I knew–about half the time. The other half was misery. While he was kind to my kids, he made it his business to punish me for anything he didn’t like. And, because of my own insecurities and obsession to find my happily ever after, I ignored the abuse and married him.

It’s amazing what a diamond ring and a house in an adorable neighborhood can do to make a girl forget that she’s been treated like a doormat.

But not for long.

I became pregnant on the honeymoon, which was happy news. A few weeks later, however, his anger and mood swings began to affect my kids. My stress levels began to affect my pregnancy, causing me to bleed. One day, after a particularly scary night of bleeding, I was heading to the doctor to see if I was having a miscarriage. He and I had fought the night before over something where he had hurt the kids’ feelings. Somehow the fight fueled again and he lost it. He became violent and horrifyingly scary. He threw a chair across the room and threw me out of our home (thankfully the kids were at school), He took my cell phone from me and began to text my friends and family, who already didn’t trust him. They were unable to reach me, and many of them were afraid he had done something horrible to me.

At that point it realized I couldn’t put any of my children through that fear and abuse. I moved us back to my parents home. Once again I was pregnant and getting divorced.

Another chance at happily ever after was shattered. My dreams were crushed. Again. And this time I was labeled with the stereotype of being one of those women who’ve been married and divorced multiple times. Gasp. I felt like the word “Loser” was stamped on my forehead, along with the scarlet letter “D” on my chest.

I can now tell you that I learned from that. Now I am healing and leaning on the Lord, not perfectly, but more than before.

I’m finally realizing that my happily ever after can never come from any human being or ideal situation. My happily ever after can only come from Him. The first chapter of Romans says that God “has set eternity in their hearts,” meaning He has given us the longing for that happily ever after. And we will never be fulfilled until we are with Him. We will really never be complete until we join Him in Heaven, free of pain and sadness.

Jesus is my happily ever after. He is what I long for, even when I don’t realize it fully. He has made me for Him.

why I love Cinderella

I think most girls like the tale of Cinderella. It’s got drama, a handsome prince, a makeover, and a huge, fancy party. It gives us hope that if life is tough, it will get better. It lets us dream of a day when the world will see our beauty, and maybe a handsome someone will notice us. It gives us that sense of happily ever after.

But that’s not why I really love the story of Cinderella.

The part of the story I love is the middle. This is kind of the sad part. Cinderella’s parents have died and the stepmother has started to treat her like a servant. It would be a miserable existence for most of us.

But not for Cinderella.

The reason I love this part is because this girl gets it. She is an overcomer. Cinderella may be having to serve the stepsisters their meals and hang their clothes out on the line everyday, but she has not been beat. No ma’am. This girl has got her head on straight.

Do you see it? Cinderella is content. She has found joy even in those hard circumstances. She gives out kindness (sincerely, not passive-aggressively like I’d be tempted to do) to those who don’t deserve it. She doesn’t play the victim and dwell in self-pity. She doesn’t plot to get revenge or teach them a lesson. She rarely even defends herself.

What? Most people would say. This girl needs to stand up for her rights! Liberate herself! Give those evil women what they deserve! 

Yes, that’s what our culture would tell us to do. Give them a piece of your mind! Or Make them pay for what they’ve done! I know I hear a statement like that at least once a week from a news show or a Facebook post.

But Cinderella didn’t choose that route. She chose love, forgiveness, kindness, contentment. And in choosing those things she became free.

Free? Yes, all of us have our own version of the stepmother. All of us find ourselves in situations where we are not in control and life is not what we’d choose. One persons’ “stepmother” may be cancer, another’s may be feeling trapped in a boring marriage, and still others have lost loved ones too soon and wonder why God has allowed such pain.

Cinderella, although she looked enslaved in a hopeless situation, had found freedom. See, it’s easy to fight, insult, and get revenge. What’s hard is to let all of that go and find contentment. We become truly free when we don’t let our circumstances define our happiness. We are free from our oppressors when we no longer let their words determine the course of our day. Cinderella was not the slave of the stepmother. Yes, she did what she was told, but inside she had found freedom. You see, it takes a lot more strength to be kind to someone undeserving than to get back at them. The one who forgives is stronger than the one who fights.

This mindset is similar to the one Jesus had on this earth. He was wronfully accused, physically beaten, and eventually killed. Yet he never fought back. He didn’t defend himself. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “When they heaped abuse on Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats, but entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” Jesus was able to continue living in peace, still handing out love and forgiveness as if no one was mistreating him. Why? Because he trusted that his father had it all under control. He knew righteous judgment would be poured out eventually on those who deserved it and never repented. He knew Good would win.

I had a chance to put this into practice during my divorce in 2012. I knew my husband would do everything he could to tear me down in and out of court. I was scared. Scared of him and scared of what he might say or do. Every time he sent me a hateful text message or email I had to bite my fingers so that I wouldn’t text back hateful things. I was scared to death of court and how he might lie about me, but I had to claim this verse and trust God to handle it. I had to let Him be my defense. Every time I engaged my ex in the argument or defended myself I was under his power. Trusting God to defend me brought me true freedom and peace.

The apostle Paul wrote Philippians while starving in a sewage-filled jail cell. He wrote, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4)

So this, to me, is what Cinderella represents. Contentment in the storm. Grace under fire. Freedom in an impossible situation. Thisis what I want. Paul’s “peace that passes all understanding” that only God gives.

Now, don’t I like the fact that Cinderella gets saved by the prince and taken to live in the palace? You better believe I love that part! But my Prince is coming for me eventually. And until then He’s walking by me each day and giving me his strength and peace to make it through the rest of this life.

After all, I sometimes wonder if all these fairy tales are really meant to point us to Him. To the real “happily ever after” that he has planned.