Charity in Narnia

In his essay “Charity,” (chapter 9, book 3 of Mere Christianity) C.S. Lewis describes the act of charity as Christian love in action. He depicts this virtue in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe through the characters of Mr. Tumnus, Lucy, and Aslan.

Mr. Tumnus is the first to demonstrate this kind of love by sacrificing his future for Lucy, whom he only meets that day. “She’ll turn me into stone and I shall be only a statue….I hadn’t known what Humans were like before I met you. Of course I can’t give you up to the Witch; not now that I know you. But we must be off at once” (20).  Had it not been for Mr. Tumnus, Lucy would not arrive back to her own realm in one piece.

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When Lucy returns to Narnia with her siblings, all four of them perform a similar act of charity. “We can’t just go home, not after this. It is all on my account that the poor Faun has got into this trouble. He hid me from the Witch and showed me the way back. That’s what it means by comforting the Queen’s enemies and fraternizing with Humans. We simply must try to rescue him” (59). Upon the discovery that Mr. Tumnus has been taken by the witch, they decide to stay in Narnia and do their best to rescue him rather than return home. This sacrifice of all four children, though three of the four didn’t know the faun they were putting themselves for, is a result of Mr. Tumnus’s sacrifice for themselves. It’s a fantasy spin on the classic proverb, “what goes around comes around;” the most efficient way to create a ripple effect of love is to spread love.

While these two acts begin the ripple effect of Narnian and Christian sacrifice, it is best depicted by the Christ-like death of Aslan. “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed on the traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward” (163). By dying a traitor’s death in place of Edmund, Aslan forgives him of his treachery and redeems his place on the throne in Cair Paravel.

None of these sacrifices would be feasible without the others. These acts work together to instill the great virtue of sacrifice in Mr. Tumnus and the four children, in addition to other characters, such as the mice who are so grateful for Aslan’s sacrifice that they nibble off the ropes confining their natural predator. The Lion, The Witch and, The Wardrobe confirms Lewis’s belief that unconditional love is not an emotion, but an action that gives without asking for return.

Agape

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The Greek language has four words for love: storge, the bond of empathy and family; philia, friendship; eros, a romantic bond; and my personal favorite, agape. Agape means unconditional love. In other words, it is the love that God feels for us. Every story in the Bible is a product of agape. Agape is the reason God forgave Gomer every time she returned to her sinful life. Agape is why Ruth followed Naomi into the foreign land of Israel. Agape is how Jesus died and was resurrected to redeem us.

Of all four types of love, none are as pure as agape. Did the type of love Paul described in 1 Corinthians sound impossible to you? Of course it did. It’s impossible to be patient, kind, and selfless all of the time. Unconditional love is difficult for humans because it is our nature to love conditionally. There are those whom we love so much we would do anything for…but there are also people we do not want to love. Jesus called us to love those who have wronged us. It’s hard to love everyone because, in our flawed eyes, not everyone is worthy of our love. Why should we love our enemies when they do not love us?

To me, this is why the story of Jesus Christ is so perfect. He didn’t die for the sinless, He died to forgive those who sinned against Him. Why is God’s love so perfect? Because God is love. If we loved like that, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

There is one more Greek word that, while is not included in the four loves, is a beautiful demonstration of philia. That word is Koinonia, which means the fellowship that binds Christians. A good example of koinonia is a church community. I’ve found that fellowship among Christians is a window to Christ. My Bible study at college is called Koinonia. We study God’s word together, pray together, and live together. Through my koinonia with them, I am able to understand agape more clearly.

I encourage you to think about the agape God feels for you. Jesus’s two greatest commandments are to love God and to love one another. It is impossible to love as perfectly as God does, but if you love God, then loving others gets a little easier.

A Glimpse of Eden

For my Gigi. Happy grandparents day!

My grandmother spent most of her time on her knees. She prayed and she gardened. She spent most of the year serving in various ministries of the church, and her summers tending to a garden in the backyard of a cottage nestled in the Pocono Mountains. On one side of this tiny brown house were the translucent waters of Lake Waynewood. On the other grew what I could only compare to the Garden of Eden.

St. Francis was the patron saint of animals and ecology. He was known for baptizing animals and preaching to birds. My uncle says that the birds tweeted about him to one another and that’s how Twitter started.
Among a myriad of flora and fauna, a statue of St. Francis preached to bird resting on his index finger. One rhododendron bush and a patch of daisies down the stone path, a resin cherub attempted flight. She told me that he was a guardian angel protecting the cottage, and that I had one protecting me as well. Growing up in a Protestant home, I didn’t always understand the doctrine of my Catholic grandmother. However, I appreciated the sentiment of being protected by angels, and I hoped it was true.

Sometimes she would pour sunflower seeds into the palm of my hand. I would sit in the mulch for hours on end waiting for creatures to join me for a snack. The squirrels and birds steered clear, but every once in a while a chipmunk would nestle into my arms and chew on the seeds. I’m sure he wasn’t always the same chipmunk, but I named him Chippie. I felt like Snow White, whose gentle demeanor engendered a magnetic attraction for wildlife. When I got older, my family adopted a puppy. We named her Daisy, which suited her as she spent many afternoons sunbathing among her namesake. As the saying goes, her bark was worse than her bite. Unfortunately her bark was enough to scare the chipmunks away. Although I still see chipmunks darting across the yard, they never stop by to say hello.

For eighteen years I watched my octogenarian grandmother on her knees, praying and gardening. Her knees are weak now, but from her I have learned that there is more to worship than singing or lifting your arms. Sometimes worship is spending hours in the dirt preserving God’s creation, or maybe trying to create something yourself. Unfortunately, she never taught me how to garden, and being planted in God’s word wasn’t something my grandmother could teach me. That was something I needed to seek out for myself.

Her Mother’s Robe

Her mother’s robe drags across the floor, but she continues sashaying around the room. She grabs a handful of satin fabric in order to maneuver from the closet to the vanity. Spinning around to face the mirror, she stumbles in a pair of Michael Kors that make her feet look microscopic. The name Michael Kors means nothing to her, but she loves them anyway. Blonde knots poke out of her waist-length locks, but she ignores the brush sitting on the vanity and goes straight for the accessories. The lanyard she made at camp fits with her Nike shorts like puzzle pieces. The robe and heels look out of place on her, and not just because of the size. Despite the askew outfit, her smile is fit for a model, her innocence molded into paparazzi-ready dimples. She struts around the runway once more, the stage a baby blue bedroom with a myriad of puppy posters as her endearing fans. A stuffed orca critiques her fashion from the edge of the bed. He doesn’t react, but she blows him a kiss anyway.

Someday she won’t want to play model anymore. Someday beauty won’t be a game to show her babysitter. She’ll care about someone’s opinion, and it won’t be a plush whale. But that’s not today. She hangs her mother’s robe back in the closet. She’ll wear it again in a few years when it fits her.

Transforming Young Lives

What is Young Life?

Last week you read about my first Young Life club – the weirdness and wonderfulness of it all. Young Life became a crucial part of my high school experience; I went to camp, participated in “Campaigners” (Bible study), and I became a leader for WyldLife, the middle school group, my senior year of high school and had the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful girls. The most meaningful part of working with kids ages eleven to fourteen is witnessing their unique combination of elementary school innocence and high school independence. This early stage of adolescence is awkward at best and devastating at worst, but the girls I led had the sweetest hearts and the biggest dreams. One of my proudest moments as a leader was when two of the eighth grade girls I’d become very close with told me they were going to a vocational high school to become special education and English teachers. I am an aspiring teacher as well, and the fact that I might have been a role model to these girls is incredible.

Me with my WyldLife girls at Saranac Village Young Life Camp in Upstate New York
Me with my WyldLife girls at Saranac Village Young Life Camp in Upstate New York

The Mission of YoungLives

I was introduced to YoungLives (Young Life for teens who are pregnant or mothers) by my leader Anne Rocha. Anne has dealt with teenage pregnancy in both her personal and professional life. Anne was eighteen when her sixteen-year-old sister Mary became pregnant. Mary went to a counseling clinic called First Choice in Plainfield, NJ. Anne volunteered at First Choice her senior year of high school while her sister was pregnant, which inspired her to study nursing at Biola University in La Mirada, CA.

Anne and I went to a YoungLives luncheon at the Young Life Leadership Summit in New York City on Jan. 24, 2015. We met YoungLives leaders, mentors, and teen moms from all over the northeast. One of the mothers, Destiny, spoke to us about growing up in a sexually abusive home and becoming pregnant during a physically abusive relationship at a young age. She and her YoungLives mentor worked hard to make sure she was financially secure and was able to be the best mom she could be. Destiny is living proof that YoungLives is making a difference in the lives of girls and their children.

As a smaller program within the Young Life ministry, YoungLives is made to be specifically accessible to teen moms and reaches 13,919 pregnant teens or teen moms every year. I fell in love with this ministry and hosted a spa night as a Mother’s Day party for Young Lives Plainfield.

Teen Pregnancy and Parenting

Pregnancy is a recurring topic in both middle and high school health classes. As of Jan. 1, 2015, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. I remember learning about both abstinence and contraception starting in the eighth grade. However, we did not discuss the options available for teen moms in greater depth until eleventh grade. By then, a lot of girls have already had to face this decision. While it makes sense for teenagers to avoid pregnancy, that does not mean that teen parenting should be ostracized. There is a stereotype that teen moms are reckless girls who are too naïve to deal with the consequences of their mistakes. This is a pigeonhole that is perpetuated by the taboo of teen parents in society. Sixty two percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, while seven percent of girls become pregnant. Unfortunately, twelve percent of girls in grades 9-12 reported to being sexually abused. Rape can often result in pregnancy, and these girls should be supported by their peers, not condemned. Also, teen moms are doing an honorable thing by keeping their child. Many girls put their children up for adoption in order to offer their baby a better life, which also allows a couple to raise a child if they cannot on their own. If the mom wants to raise the child herself, she is rearranging her entire life for her son or daughter and should be commended for accepting such a big responsibility at such a young age. For example, Dr. Nicole Better Fitzhugh gave birth to her daughter at the age of seventeen. She raised three children as a single mother, earned a doctorate degree in higher education from George Mason University, gone through a divorce, survived breast cancer, and wrote two books while she was at it. Dr. Better’s triumph defies all odds and stereotypes.

This little cutie came to Young Lives with her mommy!
This little cutie came to Young Lives spa night with her mommy!

Although I had no experience with teen moms before my involvement with YoungLives, I felt an immediate connection to the work YoungLives does. I think that being a girl around the same age as the moms helped me see eye-to-eye with them because adolescence, specifically for girls, is more difficult than it is made out to be. I think that after spending so much time with WyldLife girls and being a teenager myself, I’ve realized that adolescence is a disorienting time for girls. Everyone has problems that we hide under façades, but through this they develop character and find out who they are. Pregnant girls do not have this advantage. They must make decisions that will impact not only them, but their baby, for the rest of their lives. Lucy Hayward Droege, director of YoungLives in Plainfield NJ, said to a group of teen moms, “We don’t put these events together for you because we feel sorry for you. We don’t. We just plain love you.” After spending time with and talking to a few of the girls, I don’t feel sorry for them either. They are brave beyond their years and mothers to beautiful children.

After four years of being involved with Young Life, I have made a lot of memories and friends that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Whether it was getting pied in the face at WyldLife club or having the best week of my life at Saranac Village Young Life Camp, this community is what made high school special for me. Now I’m off to a Young Life barbecue at college. Young Life has given so much to me, and nothing would make me happier than giving back to that community.

The Substitute Teacher’s Anchovy Cult

“Mom, this sounds like a cult,” I complained as she parked our car in a vacant lot downtown.

“It’s a youth group. Mr. Lloyd runs it.”

Right. Mr. Lloyd, a substitute teacher who met my mom via dog park.

“What kind of youth group meets in The Children’s Place?”

“It’s in the basement.”

“Why not their church?”

“It’s not associated with a church.”

“So it’s not a religious thing?”

Her eyebrows squeezed together. “I’m not sure. Just give it a try.”

Droplets of sweat leaked from my clenched fist as a approached the crowd. A group of at least twenty teenagers huddled in a pack on a sidewalk. I recognized the group as Young Life, which was what I was here for, at least according to my mom. But the individual faces were a jumble of unfamiliar upperclassmen. I recognized a sophomore from my Child Development class and two classmates from middle school. The rest were heaped into a pile of my brain labeled uncategorized.

Two much older girls, maybe college age, bounced at the opportunity to introduce themselves. “I’m Tanya,” the first one greeted. She had luscious locks cascading down her shoulders like a blonde Niagara Falls. “This is Melissa. We’re leaders.” She beckoned to her friend, a shorter women with athletic attire and brunette curls.

“Hi,” I squeaked, uncertainty spilling out with a single syllable. Just as the word managed to escape my quivering lips, Mr. Lloydmy mom’s friendopened the door.

The brunette girl danced her way ahead. Everyone else somehow managed to flood through the narrow doorway in a single squeeze.

The basement wasn’t the cryptic cellar my mind painted it to be. It appeared to serve the purpose of a meeting room, with folded tables and stacks of chairs. It could barely fit the whole of Young Life dancing around to 90s music that I had never heard before, but everyone else somehow knew the lyrics to. They waved to me and introduced themselves. Their names went through one ear and out the other, but at least they expressed an interest in interacting with me.

Just as I was getting the hang of how to communicate with these strange but friendly people, an unexpected silence swept across the room. Mr. Lloyd heaved a rectangular table in front of the audience as if we were on a game show. He assembled an assortment of ingredients: anchovies, chocolate, oranges, and a scoop of soil. The myriad of items surrounded a blender that looked older than me. My stomach churned at the thought of what this substitute teacher/dog owner/possible cult leader would do next.

I felt my face blanche watching him place each ingredient into the blender with exaggerated hand motions. His recipe screamed “Stay away!” but his Cheshire-cat grin invited me to join in on the weirdest initiation I had ever received. The kids surrounding me shrieked in disgust, but continued to cheer him on. Applause erupted, loud enough to drown out the buzz of the blender. A group of jocks in the back of the room made a fuss daring one another to drink the brown mesh.

A beefy upperclassman with maroon curls and a freckled face swaggered through the cross-legged congregation. He downed the smoothie in a single gulp.

Just before I had to dash into the bathroom and hug a toilet, the brunette leader from before leaned over my shoulder. She whispered, “He replaced it with an Oreo milkshake under the table.”

I exhaled, giggling at the boy holding the blender over his head like a trophy. The “cult initiation” turned out to be a few teenagers goofing around.

Mr. Lloyd returned to center stage, this time bearing an easel and Bible. I leaned forward, curious as to what type of message could follow an anchovy smoothie. Before focusing my senses in on the scribbles consuming the easel, I allowed my eyes to glaze across the basement. The girl next to me checked the time on her cell phone. A duo in front of me exchanged hushed whispers. The group of jocks panted, still sweating profusely from jumping and dancing. I laughed internally at the thought of a room full of teenagers with the attention span and motive to pay attention to a sermon, especially after an hour of pandemonium. I leaned back.

“It’s awesome to see everyone again!” Mr. Lloyd exclaimed, to which the crowd responded with an outburst of cheers. My face paled. Was I the only newcomer in the room?

I didn’t have enough time to worry as he launched into the next part of his talk. “The purpose of Young Life is to create a close community that holds together when nothing else in high school does. Your friends will change, your interests will change, and your life will change. But Young Life is always going to be a place for you, and the friends you make here will be friends forever, even if you only see them once a week.”

Everyone nodded with enthusiasm at every word. My interest piqued. This place might be weird, but it seemed worth it.

“There’s also a spiritual element. Some of you might be religious, some of you might not. Both of those are okay. Here, we want faith to be something you can be honest about and not have to worry about logistics of it. God is a friend, not a boss.”

My mind wandered during his speech, but not due to boredom. This group seemed so passionate in every aspect of the night, whether it was chugging a blender of raw fish or discussing God. I’d never witnessed such a beautiful amount of zeal in my entire life.

Finally, teenagers began ascended up the stairs and onto the sidewalk one by one. I retrieved my phone from my pocket. Although the night did take a turn for the better, I was more than ready to curl up in my bean bag with my Biology homework and some type of drink sans anchovies.

“Are you coming to Five Guys?” one of the girls asked me.

I glanced up in confusion. She was the first of the other teenagers in the group to speak to me directly, let alone invite me somewhere.

When I didn’t answer right away, she piped up again. “We always go to Five Guys and buy a huge order of Cajun fries while we wait for our rides.”

She was the only other girl in my grade here, and I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to make a new friend. “Alright,” I agreed, ignoring the automatic reluctance clutching at my instinct. Biology could wait another half an hour or so.

“You’re Erica’s daughter, right?” Mr. Lloyd asked.

I swallowed my fry. “Yes. My name’s Kelly. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Lloyd.”

He laughed. “You can call me Jim.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but a hoard of upperclassmen interrogated me about anything they could ask in a thirty-second span. What school do you go to? Are you enjoying freshman year? Who brought me to Young Life?

A wave of relief surged through me when my mom’s car pulled up in front of the curb. It was time for that Biology book.

The brunette leader I met earlier rushed toward me. Her curls bounced behind her in a shoulder-length ponytail. “Will we see you next week?”

I didn’t think. “Yes.”