Just because a story starts out sad doesn't mean it has to end that way.
Once upon a time, before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie. But then I zoomed down from heaven, through skylight, into Room. Whoosh-pshew! And I was kicking you from the inside. Boom, boom! And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cutt-ed the cord and said, ‘Hello, Jack!’
The movie Room is the story of Jack and Ma. When Ma (Joy) was seventeen, she was abducted and locked in a garden shed. Jack, was born out of the horrendous actions of her captor, Old Nick. The film opens on Jack’s fifth birthday, seven years after the kidnapping.
In order to protect him from the ugly truth of their plight, Ma allows Jack to believe the only real world is their tiny room and its contents. Jack narrates his understanding of the world:
There’s Room, then Outer Space, then Heaven. Plant is real but not trees. Spiders are real and one time the mosquito that was sucking my blood. But squirrels and dogs are just TV, except Lucky my dog that might be some day. Mountains are too big to be real and the sea.
As outsiders with the benefit of understanding there is a larger reality, it’s shocking to see Jack’s relative peace with his existence. But his stability lies in his mother’s love, not in his surroundings.
None of us have a vote about the family into which we’re born. Many families muddle through, managing to grow their broods to adulthood relatively unscathed. But far too many children find themselves in homes that are tenuous at best and downright dangerous at worst.
In the fall, I sat in a tiny courtroom with two little boys, their biological parents, and my friend who was their foster mom. I watched as the birth parents relinquished their parental rights. Products themselves of poverty, abuse, poor role models, and addiction—compounded by their own unfortunate choices—led them to this decision. The situation was not sustainable.
In Room, Old Nick’s threats force Ma to confront their own unsustainable life. Jack is their only hope to pull off a plan of escape, but she can’t send him out into a world he doesn’t believe exists. She comes clean about the truth of their life in the shed. He responds to the news with confusion and anger.
Jack: “I want a different story!”
Ma: “No, this is the story that you get!”
After many tears and much discussion...
Ma: “You’re going to love it.”
Ma: “The world.”
The plan is successful and the two are finally free. Even though their rescue is the best possible outcome, the new reality for Ma and Jack is overwhelming. Their simple, co-dependent world built for two is now stretched to accommodate life outside of the room. Jack’s observes:
The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen. There’s doors and... more doors. And behind all the doors, there's another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING.
On April 19, 2016, I entered the same court that sanctioned the demise of a family in the fall. But this time I got to witness the legal rescue of the same little boys. A judge signed adoption papers making my friend their new forever mom. Whoosh-pshew! A new family was born. Love in the human lost and found.
The three year-old was playful and smiling. The five year-old wore uncertainty like the Halloween mask he wore on the fall day that set this arrangement into motion.
He loves his adoptive mother and his new life with her and his brother. But like Jack, his rescue from a simple, but broken life with his biological family leaves him with a confusing mix of emotions.
His forever mommy is willing to lean into the tension of a life that includes the birth parents so the boys will know they were loved on all fronts. But still he is left in an emotional wrestling match of one—trying to sort out where his allegiances should lie.
Jack’s Ma gets pinned by her formidable re-entry opponent and tries to tap out with a handful of pills. While she is recovering in a hospital, Jack continues his acclimation with the care of his grandmother, Nancy. As he becomes stronger, he wants to offer some of his strength to his mother.
In true Samson fashion, he decides to cut his five year-old mane and send the locks of bravery to his mom.
Jack: “Do you think this will work? Can my strong be her strong too?”
Nancy: “Oh. Of course it can. We all help each other stay strong. No one is strong alone.”
My friend, the new forever mom, has spent most of her life wondering why she has experienced so much pain, disappointment, and disillusionment. Wondering what God could possibly be thinking? I have sat with her, cried with her, and listened. “Doesn’t He care? Doesn’t he see my pain? If only it had a purpose.”
It did. And He saw. He sat with her through it and then looked past it to two little boys who would need her to understand their pain. All the struggle and counseling and wrestling with a life that did not go as planned uniquely qualified her to welcome two tiny souls now battling the same questions. Her trials prepared her “for such a time as this.”
If we could choose our stories, I would guess these brothers would not have picked this scenario. But this is their story. The beautiful thing is, while there are wounds to be healed and hardships to overcome, there is hope.
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes:
Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.
Two little boys burst into the room of my friend. It was unplanned and messy. The truth was ugly and sad. But after the truth comes love. Lots of love. Together, they saved each other.