The movie theater was dark.
My mom and one cousin sat on my left and another cousin or two sat on my right. I was just four years old, but I will remember the next moments for the rest of my life. A little fish dove off of the gray ship into the ocean and suddenly everything was full of color. Bubbles rose through the ocean as the movie came alive, and so did my heart. Something in my tiny chest swelled and created a tidal wave that still overtakes me to this day. I can’t escape this. I can’t out swim it and it will not leave me alone. This moment, during winter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at a now shut down movie theater, while watching a mermaid and her friends swim about on a screen, surrounded by my family, I found my purpose.
The Little Mermaid entranced and enchanted me from those first bubbles rising on the screen. It could be chalked up to being my first experience or remembrance of a movie in a theater (it wasn’t my first movie; I’d been in theaters before, so my mother told me) and that I was so young. But, in turn, I say, to remember a moment that clearly at only four years old, to remember how I felt and the exact moment that I was changed– that’s something. Here’s the crazy thing, The Little Mermaid isn’t even in my top ten favorite movies! But it is the one that lit the spark.
There’s quite a bit of the Divine in moments like these
Perhaps being four years old allowed me the innocence and trust and hunger to listen. Maybe it was just coincidence and luck. Maybe it’s a construct I made up in my head after the fact to deal with and make sense of a passion I found in myself. Any of these explanations may be true, I don’t have a real way of knowing, but none of these exclude God at work. He gave me the desires and purpose and He made the people who made the movie that made me recognize those within myself. Maybe He didn’t come down in the exact moment in that theater and strike me with a lightning bolt but He most definitely did give me the grace to be open.
I’m not the only one who found their purpose watching The Little Mermaid in some dark movie theater in 1989. Lin-Manuel Miranda also credits this movie as sparking his passion for musical theater. And look what we received because he allowed himself to be sparked! I can’t say that I’ll ever create anything as memorable and inspiring and lasting as Lin and Howard Ashman and Walt Disney. It would be my greatest pleasure in this life to achieve that, to leave something good and beautiful behind.
I am the bush and God is the flame
I’m completely consumed with stories and telling them– I always have been and I’ve always found a way to tell them. Hopefully, I’ll always find ways to tell the stories. It’s what I’m created for. To some God gave the big tasks of changing the world. To others He gave the ability of a hidden life of goodness. To me He gave the task of telling the stories of His people. He didn’t say to make sure they’re heard wide and far, He just said to tell them. May I always be open enough to grace to not fuck it up.
God is that consuming flame. He is the never-ending story. He is all of the stories! The need to explicitly mention Him or tell only the stories directly involving Him has never crossed my mind. He is the Author, the Storyteller, the Creator; you can always recall the Author by recalling His creation. We were precious enough for Him to create, so we are precious enough to have our stories told. May I always be open to His grace enough to not fuck it up.
I sat in that dark theater almost 32 years ago now and the feeling has not left me. As I look back on that little girl, the girl who would then keep her preschool class enraptured while telling a story, who started using a typewriter before she could spell, whose notebook margins were always scrawled with the beginnings of stories or character names or poetry, and I think, “How could such a small person know what she is meant for?” I’ve used this question to figure out if I’m delirious or if I’m missing out on something else. The answer I receive is always the feeling I had in that movie theater.
God does not place desires on our hearts that we aren’t, in some way, supposed to achieve. He places these desires at all different times throughout our lives, and sometimes they even change. My desire to tell stories has not changed. It has been one thing in my life that has always remained constant. I can count on it, no matter how I’m feeling or what I’m doing. Why God would place such a strong desire on the heart of a four-year-old is something I cannot answer. The older I get, though, the more I realize the answer doesn’t matter. What matters is that I remain open to this calling and fulfill it as my life allows. That four-year-old Theresa knew her calling is a blessing that 35-year-old Theresa leans on when in doubt. Please, Lord, don’t let me fuck it up.
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