Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The New Year's Post I Wasn't Going to Write

My mind is tired. I just finished reading a one-of-a-kind book. It used insects to resolve the problem of evil. My brain feels like my quadriceps do when I run up stadium stairs under a winter sky. Thrilled to be moving and flexing, very aware that it hasn't flexed in awhile.

My body is also tired. This could have something to do with the dance party I had this morning. Alone. While Little Brother ate breakfast and watched, his eyes wide with wonder at my ability to hula and do the running man simultaneously. Perhaps I should take up dance lessons in the new year. Nah. That sounds exhausting.

I'm tired from reading. I'm tired from dancing. I'm also tired from this last year. It was brutally hard. In this new year, I have absolutely no desire to review last year, to reacquaint myself with the thick and heavy darkness that settled over most of my days.

I don't want to look back on a year during which I spent most of my time in bed or on the lounge chair on my patio, too sick to participate in life.

I don't want to remember the way my broken engagement followed the onset of my sickness, knocking the wind out of my soul, leaving me deflated and stunned.

I don't want to revisit the subsequent nighttime dreams that chased me, pierced me, made me dread sleep; or the mornings when I woke up and wished I could just slip back into unconsciousness.

It feels like 2011 took its claws and tore into my soul, battering it with its savage blows. It feels like my soul is scabbing over now, heaving hard from the struggle. I think reviewing my year will be like examining my scabs, and then picking them open and watching the blood gush.

There is nothing in me that wants to dream up ways to try to make 2012 better than 2011. I think making resolutions will be like slapping Band-Aids on my freshly scratched soul scabs. Band-Aids keep the ugliness from view for awhile, but they're sure to peel off in the shower. And there will be more blood.

But I have a writer's impulse. An urge I can't restrain. It kicks at my soul, struggling to get out, like a bulldog in a gunnysack. I've got to release it. I have to write about the year, to try to make sense of it.

I used to write to get good grades. Now I write to discover. To figure out who God is and what he's doing with me, with this hard life. Each tap on my keyboard is like the blow of a chisel, chipping away at dense rock, reaching for a picture that lies buried within. Eventually a recognizable shape will emerge and I will sit back in relief and murmur, "Ah, now I see."

Tap. Tap. Tap. Chip. Chip. Whack. Scrape. Pound. The chisel does its work. Its blows sound familiar. Like the blows I've been dealt this year. And suddenly I remember a story about a boy who was turned into a dragon.

This boy was mean, surly, and selfish. He bullied younger kids, and complained about as often as he breathed. You may have heard of him? His name was Eustace.* Not the kind of kid you want to share a desk with. Or go on a road trip with. Or get stuck on a boat with.

But his cousins, Edmund and Lucy, did get stuck on a boat with him, and it wasn't pretty. Thankfully for them his greed and laziness got him turned into a dragon that couldn't talk. He could breathe fire, but he couldn't complain. A definite upgrade.

For the first time in his short life Eustace was humbled, reliant on his cousins' sympathy and help. His ugly exterior matched his monstrous heart, and he didn't like what he saw. He wanted to change, to be able to continue his sea-faring adventures with his cousins. He wanted to be human.

One night a fearsome Lion appeared to Eustace. He told Eustace to follow him into the forest, where they both arrived at the edge of a large well that looked a bit like a bathing pool.

The water was still and clear and the Lion knew Eustace longed to dive into it, to bathe his aching dragon's body.

"Undress first," the Lion told Eustace.

Perhaps he wants me to cast off my dragon skin, like a shedding snake, Eustace thought. So he scratched and tore until his dragon skin fell at his feet in a heap.

Joyfully, he turned to leap into the water but stopped when saw his reflection. He was still a dragon, covered in tough skin.

Two more times he scratched, desperate to free himself from his scaly prison. Two more times he failed to free himself.

"You will have to let me undress you," the Lion said.

Though afraid of the Great Lion's claws, Eustace laid on his back and let the Lion tear into his skin, so deep it felt as if it had gone into his heart. The pain pierced sharper than any pain Eustace had ever felt.

When the Lion's work was finished he scooped Eustace up and tossed him into the pool. Eustace's pain disappeared as he swam and splashed with delight, and then he saw his reflection in the pool: he was human.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Chip. Chip. Scrape. Pound. The picture is emerging. It tells the story of a girl. Her soul is twisted and stooped, gnarled as a result of the Fall of all humans. In every stooped soul lurks a dragon.

This girl, she hated that dragon. Hated the way its beady eyes sometimes glowered or its spiny back bristled at others, the way its fiery breath tended to scorch those around her. She didn't like what it did to the people she loved. She thought it made her soul unloveable, not as valuable. So she resolved to remove her tough dragon skin. This should take awhile. About a lifetime, she thought. But I can do it. So she strove and scratched for years, desperate to rid herself of her ugliness. Until one day she was wrestled onto her back, still and helpless. Broken. Too sick, sad and exhausted to keep scratching.

Sickness, sadness: sometimes they are a sword that slices deep. But an impersonal year is not wielding them; hands are. You'll have to let me undress you, their owner whispers. These hands, they are scarred, and they cut deep, until they are covered in blood. They have been covered in blood before.

I know what it is to be wounded so that you might know what it is to be free.

There is pain worse than this. It is the pain of being stuck in the coffin of my selfishness, the prison of my anxiety; of being trapped in dragon's skin forever, while it grows bigger and fiercer. The pain of striving, striving; of trying to earn favor and value by attempting to remake myself. This striving is like eating but never tasting, reaching but never feeling. A little bit like hell.

You'll have to let me undress you.

I never expected to look back on my year and feel pleasure. The pleasure of slowly, slowly being freed from a dragonish destiny, of watching Divine Hands steadily untwist my gnarled and stooped soul. I expected to look at this year and be burdened, affronted by my deep, brittle scabs. But those scarred hands, they do more than use the sword of suffering to slay dragons. Today they have tipped my head upward, outward, and I find I'm looking at a clear, still pool. I lean in close and I see my reflection. I am human.

I think I'll spend 2012 splashing in the water.

© by scj

*Read more about Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis


  1. Tiffany Graham-WrightJanuary 3, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    Sarah, thank you for not restraining your urge to write this one. The story of Eustace as a dragon is one of my favorites, and I am truly blessed by what you wrote. Last year was really difficult for me as well, and your words go straight to my heart and bring encouragement. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Tiffany, we do share a love of Lewis' Narnia stories. :) I am thankful you are encouraged after a hard year, and hope you can spend much of 2012 splashing in the water. We can splash together. :) Thank you for sharing. And let's get coffee soon. :)

  3. Can we splash in the water together?

    Cheers to 2011 being over and Hope for 2012 to be a year of answered promises.

    I. Heart. You.

  4. Yes, yes and YES! Starting this Saturday. :) And I heart you back.

  5. another great post that really speaks to how things are for me right now. Thank you for posting. I am going to feature this on my wall if I can figure out how.

  6. Thank you for sharing. Your words have touched my long callused heart. 2012...bring it on.

  7. May I splash with you? You amaze me, but I should not be amazed given your amazing talent:) I get the tap-tapping of the keys, and I get the outpouring of grief and relief that comes with it. Love you, sweet girl.

  8. "Each tap on my keyboard is like the blow of a chisel, chipping away at dense rock, reaching for a picture that lies buried within. Eventually a recognizable shape will emerge and I will sit back in relief and murmur, 'Ah, now I see.'"

    Yes! Words that express my own experience and struggle behind the keyboard.

  9. Hmmm...my heart is very calloused as the past 5 years have been hard for me...this was a very deep-reaching post for me, and I'm so very glad you didn't refrain. You, sweet girl, are a very gifted writer. I often pray for you as God brings you to mind, and every time I do, I see a little girl about 9 years old, dressed as the angel Gabriel, singing on stage. I am so glad that little girl angel, whose had such a harrowing year, is finding joy in the journey. Even just a glimpse is a victory for Him. :)

  10. Karen,

    Praying for you as your body continues to recover. Thankful for the Healing He has already done.


  11. Aunt Peg,

    Yes! Splashing with you would be a delight. :) I think my relief from tap-tap-tapping comes from dad and you... Thankful for you. Love you.


  12. Hoops,

    What would we do without words?! We'd still be staring at grey slabs of rock, that's what. ;)


  13. Stacie,

    I am so thankful that the Redeemer God turns difficulties into mercies. Praying for you today as you venture into 2012. Thank you for your prayers. :) There's still an angel Gabriel buried somewhere deep within, she just prefers to sing in the shower. ;)


  14. Thank you so much for this blog, Sarah. It is such an encouragement for me right now.

  15. Thank you for letting me know, Jessica. I pray for continued encouragement from the Holy Spirit in the coming weeks.