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Me Before You (Movie Review)

It begins with tragedy, and weaves its way quickly into a well-written, even more well-acted love story, full of humor and bright hope.  A young man, Will, extremely wealthy and a bit of an adrenaline junkie, suffers a life-altering injury.  But when his family hires Louisa, a quirky young woman to care for him, her optimism and insistent pursuit of genuine connection with him results in laughter and memory-making: dawning joy in the life of one who’s apparently lost hope.  She comes to love him, and self-sacrifice becomes a welcomed part of her every day; she relentlessly works in and with and despite the difficulties caused by Will’s paralysis, finding personal joy in bringing it to him.  In return, the icy wall of isolation around him appears to melt, and he brings her new experiences both intellectual and artistic, enriching her world as well.

 

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(Click for image title attribute) By Source, Fair use, Link

Will, though, we discover, has made an “informed” decision well before Louisa’s life-giving love enters the picture, and although he has “blessed” his family with six months to come to terms with his decision, he plans an assisted suicide.  As the movie takes a hard turn, we discover that in the name of love, his committed caregiver-turned-true-love is being asked to let go of her desires and expectations, accept his decision, and move on.

 

At the end of the movie, as I could sense the direction it was taking, I felt first a lump in my throat, then a sharp sense of betrayal, and finally, gripping the armrests to keep myself planted in my seat, only for the sake of not embarrassing my fellow movie-goers, I experienced anger and felt nothing less than manipulated.  I had a dawning certainty that this team of artists had created one more production with the message that ultimately, life is meaningless if it does not meet our shallow, short-term or even deep, long-term expectations.  Furthermore, if we lose hope in the midst of that temporary difficulty we have not only the right, but the responsibility, to participate in ending it when we deem it all hopeless.

 

Admittedly, the movie (and I will assume, the author of the original book), did a fabulous job of creating characters who were likeable and genuine.  The suffering of the paralyzed young male lead is not overplayed, and the sunny optimism of his beautiful caregiver is inspiring.  I found myself with tears streaming as Louisa curled at the foot of Will’s bed, exhausted after a day of watching over a suffering friend, and glad to give of herself.  When the two share a kiss, I held my breath of the beauty of a gentle physical expression of a commitment that has been months, and moments, in the making.

 

However, the assumption that “true love” means not just accepting, but also aiding another in devaluing his or her own life, assisting in self-inflicted murder, and glibly moving on, is at the least offensive and at its worst, damaging to unsuspecting young audiences to this promoted “romance;” spoiler alert – this is where the movie is headed.

 

There are three elements I want to address in this story for the sake of discussion.  First, the life of a person who is unable to accomplish all of its former feats is devalued, both by himself and ultimately, by those who claim to love him.  Throughout the movie we see hints at the struggle for physical well-being that is an everyday one for Will and his caregivers.  Everyday tasks are difficult, and adventures outside his home even more so.  (Although, ironically, Will, unlike many who suffer such injuries, has apparent access to any luxury he could ask, making his life aeons easier than some in his situation.)  We know that he suffers a weakened immune system and ongoing pain.  Forget the fact that he is apparently smart and witty, and fully able to immerse himself in relationship.  Life is hard for him, so it’s ultimately worthless.  That’s the message we’re sold.  I bristle at the the thought of such a devaluing of human life.  I think of my friends Mike and Dana, who have a beautiful romance and an influential life, loving deeply through marriage and paralysis, never shying from honesty about the hardships, but always offering hope to others through their commitment to the hard work that is the definition of love.  To say that Mike’s life wasn’t worth living, or their marriage wasn’t worth fighting for, is an ignorant offense.  Powerfully written words from an eleven-year-old professional wheelchair athlete further cement the offensiveness of this assertion.  At the end of her “letter to Hollywood,” Ella Frech says “…while you were thinking that living with a wheelchair would make you want to kill yourselves, I was busy becoming a pro skater, and learning how to do drop ins, wheelies, and ride the rail at the skate park.”

 

Second, love is equated with sex.  In several places, the characters refer to sex as either a casual encounter to be joked about, or alternatively as an expected and necessary component of a (non-married) romance.  God designed sex to be a powerful expression of love, and it reflects many aspects of His relationship to His people, within the context of marriage between one man and one woman.  But sex is not the end-all, nor the central focus, nor the most important part of marriage.  To assert, as this movie does, that a relationship (potentially) without it is not worth pursuing, is to minimize a thousand other aspects of love that are illustrated in countless minutes, hours, days and years in a marriage built on honor, integrity, hard work and beautiful, powerful life experiences.

 

Third, and perhaps most ridiculously, self-inflicted (or other-inflicted) death, is painted, literally, in white and light and the rosy glow of a sunset, in a setting of white linens and lovely furnishings, as an evening breeze blows through open windows, and loved ones gaze on.  Regardless of what you may believe about the afterlife (and dear one, let’s talk on this if you’re not sure…), death is not pretty.  It is messy, it is pain-filled, and it is inelegant.  It is so utterly the opposite of this scene, even at its most peaceful, that it is laughable.  If realizing this isn’t enough, watching Louisa later glibly sip her coffee at a Parisian cafe, demurely smiling as she reads how her love’s suicide provided funds for her to adventure and “be free,” as if his money was worth more in his death than their shared joy in life, is the most degrading and frankly, idiotic statement I have seen in a movie.  Forget the fact that Will could have blessed her with adventures untold while living life alongside her.  Forget the fact that his hopelessness probably signals that Will will spend eternity in suffering.  (For if you know Christ, you know that with Him all things are possible, and apart from Him is sure hopelessness and eternal death.  I’m happy to share more on this for those who don’t know…)  In Louisa’s easy acceptance, we somehow are expected to overlook the utter selfishness of his act of desertion in favor of his imagined escape of temporary suffering and hardship, and possibly even swallow this as some misplaced example of heroism.

 

I found myself fighting every urge in my brain to stand and shout to the dark theatre, “Don’t you see how STUPID this is?  This is NOT LOVE!!!”  Love stays.  Love fights.  Love enters into hardship and walks alongside, it moves past temporary and so-called-satisfaction of flesh, and gives of self.  It says life is worth fighting for, and I will fight for you and with you.  As the lights rose in the room, shaking, I turned to my daughter and she could see the anger in my eyes, the frustration at the lies so beautifully told.  “Fifty bucks says you write a blog post, momma.”  Baby-girl, a late night of deep discussion later, and a morning before you’re awake, you’re on.  It had to be said.

 

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Miss the Mark {Five Minute Friday}

In high school, my two best friends came at a time when I had been broken and beaten down, and had newly moved to a new state and found a fresh start.  But I was in a strange school, a strange church, and I had strange new things to learn about what love, and truth, and “safe,” meant.  These two swept in and captured my young girl’s heart, bringing laughter and prayer and encouragement, not to mention a tripled wardrobe, and Friday night dates for shared fettuccine, with salad and breadsticks.  We attended each other’s youth groups, started a Bible study in our school, and sang together – barefoot – but that’s another story.  We drove to the beach, sunroof open and our favorite a cappella music blaring, and we ate ice cream and we cried when our hearts were broken.

 

Sometimes, though, because our lives were so interwoven, the hurts we knew were caused by each other.  Sometimes, in our effort to be all that our young hearts and minds already sensed we were called to, we would miss the mark of the heart of it all.  We agonized over right and wrong and we held each other to a higher standard than the rest of the world (I am good at pushing, even when I can never live up to those standards), and many times, I remember my sweet mama saying, “Honey, you need to learn to accept, and to give, grace.”

 

Flash forward, and I’m a mama with a girl (and four boys) of my own.  I have high standards.  I know that the stakes are life and death, and I don’t want to waste a moment.  I’m sharpening arrows (well, I’m presenting them to their maker to be sharpened), and I have high hopes those arrows will fly straight and find the hearts of those who so desperately need love.  As our world grows darker, I have a growing sense of urgency for those who have answers to step up and be light.  It’s easy, though, for me to trample headlong right over hearts and forget again the grace.

 

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I don’t want to ever miss the mark.  I was created to offer truth in love.  To embrace the never-ending, never-wavering pursuit of my Papa, and to offer it right back out to those around me.  It’s not cheap grace we receive or give; it cost the Creator everything.  It requires of those who yield to it, everything.  But that everything is not an effort to grasp that love, nor a tool to win or earn it.  That everything is a response that can be the only fitting one, to ultimate grace.  Grace says, “you are enough, because I made you enough.”  Grace says, “run after me, because I am all.”  Grace says, “yes, die to self, but gain LIFE.”  I want to say hard things, but say them for the good of another.

 

Those heart-friends and I shared a favorite song all those years ago, and its refrain still plays in my head:

 

To Love God, love people
That’s the center of the mark

In this life some things
Are bound to change
But one thing remains the same
We all need love

Time goes on, it moves like a hurricane
And through all the wind and rain
We all need love

As this world just keeps on turnin’
round and round
There are treasures to be found
If we just let compassion lead the way
Draw back your bow, let love go
Shoot straight for the heart
With all of your might, set your sight
Take aim from the start
To love God, love people
That’s the center of the mark

Every day, through what is and is to come
When all has been said and done
We all need love

So Jesus came, a gift from the heart of God
He gave us His life because We all need love

And the love that death could not
keep in the grave
Is alive in us today
So we must live to show the world the way

For the world is the target
And the arrow is the cross
As we set out on this journey
Lets obey the call from the heart of God
Let us Love at any cost

Songwriters: KOCH, DONALD A/KOCH, DONALD A/HARRIS, MARK
Center Of The Mark lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
Is there a way you’re being challenged today, to live out a lesson that maybe you “learned” ages ago, or maybe is brand-new to you?
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{On Fridays I try to keep up with a wonderful group of writers who challenge themselves to free-write for five minutes on a shared topic. Click to Kate’s page Five Minute Friday to see what others are saying!}

Daydreaming and Key West

When we were first married,my parents called us one night and offered to run away with us for the weekend, to kick off our sandals and relax in the Florida Keys.  Today I’m dreaming of that trip, and celebrating some of the magic of Key West.

A favorite destination for Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, and many more, Key West is known for its palm lined streets and fish that is fresh enough to draw any committed culinary traveler. With a distinct mixture of cultures, the island is not only home to a strong seafood scene, but an enticing fusion of cuisines. After watching the sunset onto the Gulf of Mexico, Key West has a vibrant nightlife to keep you dancing till the sun comes back up.

 

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The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions . The southernmost, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to a temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood set to a beautiful backdrop. Bringing together a multitude of cultures that have made Key West home during its history, Key West’s food scene has delicious flavors, like African and Cuban, that are difficult to find anywhere else in the US (and as a fairly-new-northerner, I can attest to this!).

When our family moved to the east coast, we were awed by the connection the fishermen have to the area, and as a result, the deep connection between fresh seafood and chefs and home cooks.  (I still melt when I think of this scallop recipe we created with the gems our friend walked to us from the dock.)

Paul Menta of Three Hands Fish in Key West is a guide to the restaurant and seafood landscape; as a professional chef and community advocate and a pro kite surfer, Paul is full of insight into the secret dining spots of Key West. A Philly native, he began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing.  His most recent venture, Three Hands Fish is a community supported fish market in Key West. Its members, chefs and homecooks, have access to the freshest fish, shrimp, stone crabs, and lobster that come in on the docks. As Paul describes it, the first hand is the hand of the fisherman, the second the market, and the third is when the fish makes it into the hands of the individual or restaurant. Paul is proud of his market as it brings local, traceable seafood to the people with plenty of variety to avoid over fishing a specific species. Key West has seafood unlike anywhere in the world and the crucial ingredient is the water. The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. Like those who won our hearts in New Jersey, Key West fishermen have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling overproducing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem.

“Not only are visitors able to jump on the boat for themselves and go fishing in some of the clearest waters, but they are able to sit back and relax, knowing they can find the same fresh fish in local restaurants,” says Paul.

Paul suggests visiting The Stoned Crab restaurant, serving straight-off-the-dock seafood. They have Key West’s famous stone crab, and their fresh recipes are served with an unbeatable view of the water. Settled in a resort built in 1956, the restaurant keeps alive the tradition of the fishermen bringing their catches straight to their dock. For gorgeous accomodations, Paul recommends Ibis Bay Resort, which is home to The Stoned Crab and also has a retro feel, serving stone crab, lobster, Key West shrimp, and more local fish they catch themselves.



If we were headed to Key West tomorrow, I’d have to go for a ride on a private charter to catch the freshest fish for myself. Paul recommends Lucky Fleet, chartered by Captain Moe, to lead us on our adventure and help guide us in hooking the best seasonable seafood. Moe has been fishing the waters around Key West for over 30 years.  I’m not an experienced deep sea fisher, but we’re assured we’re in good hands with Captain Moe for a great adventure, not just a boat ride, whether we’re looking for sailfish to tuna or grouper.

 

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After our cruise, I’d be to take a class at Isle Cook, where Paul will teach us how to cook local recipes and healthy meals with seafood.

“Being a chef and commercial fisherman I can tell you there is no better teacher of how to use, care for, store, cook and eat a product than a fishermen. They have ideas and techniques that most chefs would die for….but they have to ask…..so we spread the word to them,” says Paul.  I have to agree with him; I’ve learned my best tips for new foods to conquer, by working alongside the fishermen and chefs who know where their food is sourced.

I’d especially plan to try local specialties; native to Key West are the Hogfish, Mangrove Snapper, and Lion Fish. Paul’s favorite? The Hogfish. This fish is caught by spear fishing, which is a fun challenge to try (would I dare? Would you?). Speared yourself or not, Paul suggests serving the fish whole and affectionately calls it the Key West Turkey, stuffed with lobster, onions, and herbs. (Ok, next recipe to develop…)

 

Of course, we’d order Key West’s famous Key Lime pie… or I’d make this yummy spin I created for a beach picnic with a friend…

 

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As Florida natives, we loved Key West’s conch fritters, native to the Caribbean, but Paul prefers to make grouper fritters. Fisherman of Key West are able to catch the grouper right off the coast, so this is a true local specialty.

Similar to the conch fritter, the grouper is mixed with onions carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning by Key West Spice Company that is made of celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is simple, but fresh grouper doesn’t need an overpowering of flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them inside of a sandwich or as an appetizer by the water.  Paul’s recipe is below.  I’ll be working on my own recipe to share, both gluten and grain-free; stay tuned!

 

Key West

 

This post is sponsored by Honest Cooking. Photos provided by Honest Cooking; personal anecdotes and dreaming are all my own!  Who’s ready to kick off their shoes and head to the Keys with me?

 

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