I stinking love A Tale of Two Cities.
Like most high school juniors, I was pretty skeptical when Mrs. Lindsey trotted it out and told us that we were in for four or five weeks of Dickens. We were warned that it was written in the 1800’s, which is a long time ago. We were also warned that it was British, which meant that it would be like Pride and Prejudice in that I wouldn’t understand it and girls would have to pretend to like it or else face ostracism from their faux-romantic peers.
But Mrs. Lindsey did us right. Instead of ramming it down our throats, she made every effort to engage my class in reading the book the way it was originally written: as a serial novel, published in weekly installments. She gave us handouts that filled in obscure historical details. She told us the history of the French Revolution, which I was sadly ignorant of up ’til that point. And she tried like mad to get us to connect all the cool literary dots in that book: themes and images like the myriad Jacques vs. the elite Monsignors, Madame Defarge’s mysterious knitting, the “golden thread” that represents Lucie and her connection to each of the major male characters in turn, and the parallel character arcs of Darnay and Carton.
I ended up loving it way more than I thought possible. Seeing the unity of the story, how plot threads dodged all over the map and finally got resolved and tied characters to each other in new and unexpected ways and made you feel super-bittersweet and pensive and introspective but ultimately all full inside when it finished… It got me from loving books to loving literature. It paved the way for me to be an English major. It set me up to devour modern hyper-plotted serials like Lost.
(None of the above sound particularly useful, I’ll admit.)
But the best part of the book I think is its dogged determination to advocate redemption. And that deeply affects me, because it bolsters and affirms my belief in redemption as a neccesary reality for humans. And it reflects the uber-truth of redemption that God is right now working in our race. The whole first act of the book is titled “Recalled to Life.” And the whole drama of human existence is the same, as God does that for our wildly flailing, ultimately needy souls.
Brownwood High was not worthy of Connie Lindsey.
Anyway, metaphor over.
My personal recalling to life, I think, finished yesterday.
See, I got some good advice after my spiritual eulogy a couple weeks ago: God is probably trying to do some fine detail work in my soul, and I just need to stay still for Him and let Him chisel me and listen closely until I knew He had something to say to me for sure.
So I pretty much shut down whatever superfluous or personally-motivated thing I’ve been interested in for the past few months. I didn’t make contact with my PC host family. I put aside a personal creative project I’d been working on over the holiday break. I tried to concentrate on just being all in at the Forge, listening to and absorbing whatever came my way.
Last week was great progress for me toward spiritual vitality. Practicing God’s presence and beginning to love the Gospel again were invigorating.
But last night, I had a conversation with my host family dad, a PC guy named Phil, that snapped me back to full attention. He asked me how my skill was coming.
Now, the Forge requires us to work on and develop a skill that we didn’t previously possess when we came in the program. I like making pictures, but I don’t want to starve for a living. So I chose graphic design. I just haven’t reported in to the media guys to work on my project for a while.
So I confessed that to Phil. He then asked me what I was doing with his nephew.
Now his nephew… His nephew was one of my first campers ever. And he was the only one who I’ve managed to keep in contact with over the years. Only thing is, this young guy doesn’t have much of a positive male influence in his life outside of Phil. And Phil has five nuclear kids of his own to pour into. And a job. And etc etc.
But I have plenty of free time, AND a relationship with the kid, AND I’m in a freaking discipleship program. I’M supposed to be learning how to disciple while I GET discipled, right?
So Phil then asked for my help to pour into his nephew. And after we talked a little more about other stuff regarding my Forge experience and what I was learning, he said in the most non-threatening and positively motivating of terms,
“I am here for you. To be a resource, to be a refuge, whatever you need. But you can’t wait for me to come to you anymore. You have to come to me.”
And then it clicked. Phil is Pine Cove’s director of Marketing, and Pine Cove has a stellar media department under his supervision that I can be learning from. His wife oversees a homeschool collective, and I’m interested in becoming a teacher. His older daughter and I have started to become friends, but I haven’t made the effort to hang out with her recently. His nephew is hungry for mentorship, and I’ve got the time and the relationship background with him.
And most of all, I realized that as Phil was calling me out for essentially brushing off a host family that was EAGER to spend time with me and invest in me, he was doing so in this really weird way. I didn’t feel like I was getting downed on. I felt excited. Like Phil was saying, “I know you’re great, and you can be doing better than this. So what are you waiting for? God has called you to hang out with my family this year, so TAKE ADVANTAGE. Come!”
He was motivating me. And it was working. He wanted to invest in me. He wanted me to take the opportunity to spend time with his family. He was opening his life to me, and I realized I needed to stop holding back…
So as we parted, I drove home with ridiculous excitement banging around in my guts.
I spent all last semester getting my adult sense of identity settled. I spent the past two weeks trying to come back to spiritual life. And now, it’s like God’s inviting me through Phil’s family to exercise most of my major passions and to be invested in, but this time, for HIS glory.
That kind of stuff makes me feel alive again.
And that’s a far, far better thing than I’ve had before.