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Four

Today, my little nugget is four years old. Every mother says the same things: "How could this happen? Time has flown by! Where did my baby go?" etc. And those things are cliches for a reason, because they're all true. Time does fly and you simultaneously feel like those delirious baby days just happened but were also a lifetime ago. But so much has changed in the past year, even just the past few months, with Alice that her birthday feels even more significant to me this year.



She has taught me so much about so many things. Life, myself, expectations, dreams, changes. Her speech delay is something I would never have chosen for her (or myself) but I'm convinced that it was perfectly planned and timed by God to shake up our world, humble me, and make me a better mom. Would I have treasured and been delighted by every word that she says if she hadn't had a delay? Maybe, but not in the way I do now. Many people say things (well-meaningly but stupidly) like, "One day you'll wish you could get her to shut up!" and... no, no I will not. She jabbers constantly now and I am not sick of it and even when she's "using her words" to be defiant or to tell me she definitely didn't eat a crayon that has turned her teeth red, I want to hear it because we spent months and years desperately trying to know and understand what was going on in her curly little head and now (not fully, but so much better) we can. And it's amazing.

Don't get me wrong... she can be exhausting, like all kids her age. Last week she chose the charming setting of Magnolia Table in Waco to produce some epic meltdown behavior. She typically laughs and/or runs away when she's in trouble and she still weeps regularly when forced to go potty. She likes to chew up paper like a baby goat and routinely gets into my mascara and has a destructive streak that manifests itself in all kinds of ways that make me want to scream.



BUT. She is a genuine delight. Her little voice, all the more precious with each new word/phrase/sentence, is my absolute favorite sound in the world. She is a complete movie buff/enthusiast and would happily watch tv all day long if I let her. I'm convinced she's going to grow up to be the next Roger Ebert or something. She will not go to sleep for her nap without being read to (and she still naps, bless her). She is obsessed with pickles and goes through a whole jar on her own every couple of weeks. She is outgoing, bright, affectionate, hilarious, and loves her people with her whole heart. She wants to sing Do-Re-Mi every day in the car and wear rain boots every minute of the day and considers string cheese a food group. She's stubborn and opinionated, has an incredible memory, and her new favorite Disney character is Winnie the Pooh, whom she calls Pooh Pooh Bear (which I refuse to correct). She talks constantly about going to church, Daddy's school, the entire Ferguson family, going to Gigi's house or Nana's house, and making sure any activity happening is done by "our family."

Today we had the last official meeting for her speech therapy, and even though I'm thrilled and relieved that we are finally getting started at long last, I was also overwhelmed with gratitude over how well she's doing. I seriously can't believe the progress she's made in the last few months... it's crazy. If I had known on her second birthday (or third) that this is where we'd be at four, I would have probably curled up in the fetal position at the thought of so much more time and so many more struggles with this stuff. But, like I said, God knew. He knew what a self-sufficient, even smug mom I would have been, taking credit for things I didn't do. He knew how much stock I put into my own intelligence, my obsession with words, and the ugly, ugly pride I needed knocked out of me when my own daughter "fell short" of my expectations and couldn't communicate with me.

A few months ago I had to write about pride for a class and it was necessary to confront this topic (a painful thing, but one I'm grateful for). I wrote at the time:

"God didn't use this to punish me. He was (and is) using it to help me deal with my own selfishness and pride. He's humbling me and showing me that I can't rely on my own intellect or knowledge. I can only rely on Him.

I believe that God made Alice just the way she is. When He formed her, He knew exactly when and what she would have to say. He knew that her journey would be the beginning of one for her mama- one that brought me to a place where I couldn't take credit for anything. One that ignored my preferred timetable. And one that showed me that there are many, many ways to be smart and brave and funny and kind and they don't all require words."


Well, those words are showing up, but the truth remains. She was brave, smart, and funny (and more) before all the words and now it's even clearer that she is all those things. But it's that much sweeter to me to learn it this way, at this time. These four years have looked wildly different from how I would have pictured them, but I wouldn't change anything. I really wouldn't. The pain and frustration have been more formative (and transformative) for me than a smooth path that wouldn't have forced me to appreciate every little milestone. And even though that's a big part of our story, it's certainly not the whole story. She's healthy and happy and dances every day. She's great.

I love my crazy, silly, giggly, TALKATIVE (!!!) big girl and I'm ready to celebrate her today (maybe with pickles).




Three Things

You know you've been out of the blogging game for a long, long time when you open a draft for a new post and then stare blankly at the screen for half an hour (not that I just did that, but it seems likely). Seriously though, you'd think after having this blog for seven years (!!!) that I'd have learned my lesson by now that taking extended breaks only makes it nearly impossible to start up again (a life lesson that can be applied to many things, I suppose- #running). But here we are. No school work, sleeping child, etc. And since my brain is clearly taking a hiatus for the foreseeable future during this pregnancy, I'm totally copping out but stealing this idea from Michelle, whose blog I adore and whose friendship I can credit solely to the internet.

Let's party like it's a 2008 Facebook note, shall we?


Obligatory unrelated photo to break up the text. We went looking for coats at Costco and even though Alice was clearly delighted with this one that she called a bear, it did not make the cut considering the impracticality of owning a fur coat (faux or otherwise) in our torrid climate.


Three things I recently lost my mind over:
1. This performance by Jeremy Jordan. I am not even that familiar with the songs from Waitress, but I know Sara Bareilles wrote them all and she is super talented. Jeremy Jordan is way up on my list of favorite Broadway performers and I think half the views on this video are from me. Just beautiful.
2. This book. I read it this summer but I basically haven't shut up about it since and I have talked the ears off anyone unfortunate enough to be around me lately. It's just an unbelievable story.
3. The cuteness of Jonathan and Alice's new ritual of "nail salon" every week or so. He paints her fingernails and toenails and it is the most precious thing I've ever seen. She is SO proud of them and he's the best daddy ever. (If you're wondering why I don't do it, it's because my hands shake too badly to paint anyone's nails. ha!)

Three things I neglected this week:
1. Vacuuming. I feel like even as I say this, I probably vacuum more than the average, non-crazy person, but for me, it's been a lot less. Let's just say my apathy during pregnancy is higher than normal.
2. My podcasts. I'm a weirdo and when I get "behind" in certain shows it stresses me out and I don't listen at all. I know that's dumb. But only a faithful few have stayed current in my feed.
3. The closet I've been meaning to clean for weeks. It's not that bad... it really just needs to be straightened up, but every day I open the door, look inside, and close the door. Oops. Pregnancy apathy strikes again.

Three things I've tried recently:
1. This is lame and a testament to my lack of a spirit of adventure in the kitchen, but I made the same salsa recipe I've been making for years and blended it with my immersion blender. It tastes the same but I like the texture SO much better.
2. Hand lettering. Last year the course from Rad and Happy (my fave!) was on sale and Jonathan got it for me for Mother's Day. Then I promptly ignored it for over a year because of school. I recently bought a couple of calligraphy pens and started my way through it. I'm definitely not an instant success (I blame being left-handed) but I'm enjoying it!
3. Cutting caffeine. Apparently a high heart rate during pregnancy is normal, but it's made me feel pretty rotten so cutting caffeine seemed logical. My heart rate is still high and I've had headaches, so back to caffeine I run with open arms.

Three things I hate doing:
1. Dusting. It just seems so pointless. I wish I could just ignore dust, and actually I do on our lighter furniture, but our bedroom furniture is black and the dust makes me crazy, so I make myself dust once a week or so. But I hate it.
2. Talking to strangers on the phone. I would happily let Jonathan call and schedule appointments or whatever from how until I die. Alas, it's a pretty prominent feature of adulting that I can't fully avoid.
3. Driving. This only gets worse the older I get. When I'm old and rich someday (ha!) you can be sure I'll make room in the budget for a driver. Traffic, angry people, crazy other drivers (trucks! so many trucks!)... my anxiety goes through the roof.

Three things I wear all the time:
1. A small gold necklace (I have several, mostly that have an A or M. My 2004 self would be pleased).
2. Sweatshirts. The number I own is totally excessive considering where we live and its short sweatshirt season, but alas. Although I get more wear than you'd think because of the frigid AC temperatures.
3. Dresses. I have waaaay too many but that's what I'm wearing probably 70% of the time.

Three things I never wear:
1. Well, thank goodness this season is coming to a close, but from about May to September I never, ever wear jeans. Tooooo hot.
2. Cold shoulders. *and maybe neither should anyone else...ducks and hides forever*
3. Heels. Actually, I've worn heels a few times recently but it's literally one super-comfortable pair. Other than that...basically never.

Three books I'm reading/waiting to read:
1. Malcolm Gladwell's new book Talking to Strangers
2. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. I've read chunks of it but never the whole thing.
3. Another Newbery winner to check off my list.

Three things I have to do but don't feel like doing (only 3?):
1. Fold/put away the basket of laundry eyeing me rather rudely from across the room
2. Vacuum (see above)
3. Get a job (ha! That one's for real)

Three things I'm looking forward to:
1. Our trip to Connecticut next month (allll the fall things and fat babies! my two nephews, if that wasn't clear. I'm not planning on squishing random infants. But I will be eating my weight in Stew Leonard's cheese bagels and possibly throwing some leaves in the air with reckless abandon).
2. Alice's birthday (in a bittersweet way, of course). She'll be four in a few weeks and I genuinely am baffled by this. She's just a baby!
3. Speaking of babies... this is the best thing of all. NEXT WEEK we find out the gender of this little peanut! (YES, I'm pregnant. No, I didn't write a blog post to announce it. This poor kid is already just getting a footnote where his/her sister got a whole writeup. Sorry, my beloved second child.) Anyway, I'm dying to find out and start making plans (aka buying stuff, hehe) and we have just a few more days to wait!

If you made it this far, you deserve all the gold stars. I'll be back soon, I hope, if only to avoid leaving a lopsided online footprint for my two children.

Ash

Happy 60th Birthday, Dad




I’ve wanted now for quite some time
To write a poem for today
But I’m a little out of practice
And unsure of what to say

No one has your gift for words
Your flawless meter, well-rhymed rows
But if you’ll humor me, I’ll try
(Though I prefer to stick to prose)

When each us of got married
You wrote a poem for the day
They were apparently designed 
To wash our makeup all away

So now it’s payback time, Dad
For the times you made us weep
I’ve heard you say that what you sow
Eventually you’ll reap

We’ll start at the beginning
Of the story even though
It starts waaaay back in ‘59
A long, long time ago

A “little” baby boy was born 
Chubby cheeks, green eyes, dark hair
He was so cute that to 
A little girl some might compare

But he was definitely all boy
Loved to laugh and to play ball
But life threw curves that sometimes
Made it hard to laugh at all

Those early years weren’t easy
Lots of hurt, and fear, and dread
Wondering what the nights would hold
How many tears were shed

But as only God can do,
He turned their lives around
In brokenness came healing
And beauty could be found

Another story might be simpler
It might have hurt far less
But this way showed a miracle
That the Lord made from a mess

It was that faith that formed him
As each year turned the page
His many talents were revealed
From the diamond to the stage

He could play trombone AND croon 
Play baseball like a star
No matter where he went in life
Others knew he would go far

But that still small voice that called him
To join up with “God’s team”
Was silenced for a while
By the chance to chase a dream

So off he went to find out
What his mom knew all along
That even when the dream seems right
Without God, it’s all wrong

Coach Polk knew too, and helped him see
That nothing else could top
The perfect will of God for him
(And it wasn’t at shortstop)

When he ended up in Nashville
It didn’t take him long to spot
The prettiest girl on campus
Who (thank goodness) let herself be caught 

It all fell into place then
And he didn’t seem to mind
Looking back there was no sadness
For the life he’d left behind

Those two kids just couldn’t know
All the ups and downs of life
The storms, the surgeries, the vet bills
But still more fun than strife

Okay, I’ll skip ahead now
From this sentimental start
 (Plus we’re still stuck in the 80s here
Not even close to the best part)

Fast forward a little with me
A couple of decades, if you would
Now they’ve got four daughters
(I told you it got good!)

He says he never would have traded 
His four girls for a boy
I’m just a little biased
But I think we brought him joy

He taught us to appreciate
The classics, Frank and Bing
Rogers, Hammerstein, Irving, Walt
Were the songs that we would sing

Because of him we’re all stuck 
With habits hard to break
Like stopping for a drink and snack
When there’s any trip to take

He tried to reign in all the jokes
During family prayer time
But all the laughs meant punishment
Somehow never fit the crime

But when we finally all shut up
Which, honestly, was brief
He read God’s word and prayed with us
To strengthen our belief

He was our pastor and our dad
And spoiled us all for life
Cause he set the best example
Of how to treat a wife

We just thought that all men helped
Clean house and sweep the floor
And oh, the most important thing
The coffee- brew and pour!

He was our hero but he never
Treated us like dainty girls
He would just as likely wrestle us
As compliment our curls 

Through sixty years now there have been
A lot of roles and names you’ve had
Preacher, Sweetheart, Marion (I kid!),
But my favorite is Dad.

Until eleven years ago when
That first baby came
From that day on your best role yet
When Papa you became

The only thing that’s better
Than seeing you be “dad” 
Is seeing you as Papa
Even when they make you mad

By mixing up your movies
Or getting out the glue
It’s hard to frown at faces
That all look just like you 

I must admit I’m rambling now
It’s hard to find an end
To a tribute to our favorite dad,
A husband, Papa, friend

A faithful preacher all these years
Who’s freely shared God’s word
In many cities, many states
From you so many heard

Of the love that saved your family
And gave ours the chance to start
We’re thankful more than ever
For your willing, tender heart


You’re the greatest combination
Of all your favorites
Andy Griffith’s warmth and humor
All those cowboys’ strength and grit

Jimmy Stewart, Lem Siddons,
The Barney dance, and Gomer Pyle
All the westerns, sports, and musicals
Nick Saban (with a smile)

Okay, this time I’ll really wrap it up
It’s time to celebrate
With ice cream, cake, and Diet Coke
We’ll observe this special date

It’s become our joke to end with
“I hate to think of all things lost…”
But it’s true… we wouldn’t be here
If with God’s path you’d never crossed

And on your 60thbirthday, Dad,
It couldn’t be more true
We love you and we’re thankful
Every day that you are YOU


 -Ashley, your third (and favorite) child


I'm Still Here!

Y'all! I don't know what possessed me to open my blog account (it's been so long that I literally typed in the wrong URL and couldn't remember the right one!) but here I am. I'm actually sitting at Chick-fil-A which is basically my office/second home because it's where I come most often to do school work. The real reason I came tonight though was that I knew if I stayed home I would go to bed, and while I am pretty tight with the CFA employees, I don't think they want me sprawled out in my booth. (Yes, I have my own booth. I'm pretty old Baptist lady about and refuse to sit anywhere else. Give me a few more months and I may have it reserved with an engraved plaque.)


Anyway, there's no major reason for me to pop in except that I'm a little ashamed that my last post was almost a year ago. Oops! I do really miss blogging and I still love to read other blogs, but with school and a part (very part) time job and a sweet but sometimes diabolical 3-year-old, I just don't seem to have the time. I actually hate that excuse since I have as much or more time than lots of bloggers I know, so I guess I should say I don't choose to spend my time blogging when I could be reading. (I will say, if you're ever wanting a book recommendation, Instagram is where I share pretty much all of mine!)

I think the main reason I miss blogging, or regret giving it up, is that before I became a mom I picture my blog as a kind of internet diary for all my thoughts and experiences throughout motherhood. (Again, that role has kind of been commandeered by Instagram. Whoops.) But here we are, over three years into this gig as a mom and I've shared less and less, not more. I guess it's not a terrible thing since so many parents overshare about their kids on their blogs and I'm sure I'll give Alice other reasons to go to therapy but at least documenting her every move throughout potty training won't be one of them. (Side note- potty training is probably the thing I've dreaded most about parenting and it's actually not going all that badly. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, shoo away bad spirits, etc. We'll see. #notsofastGeorgeBanks)


Chick-fil-A makes everything better, even a bathroom selfie. (Right?) Also I wanted to use one of the gorgeous pictures my brother-in-law took at Christmas, but my hair was longer then and I felt like it was inauthentic. To quote Shawn Spencer, "I can't watch channel 8 anymore. Lloyd Lansing wears a toupee. It's like every newscast begins with a lie." 


But I also miss sharing my thoughts, or better yet, figuring out my thoughts as I wrote them. It still fills me with joy when someone tells me they read my blog (past tense) and enjoyed it, since I really loved coming up with fun content and telling stories and making people laugh now and then. I don't know that I'll come back to this space with any regularity, at least not until school is done (THIS SUMMER!) but I just wanted to jump on and give the ol' blog a little love. (Or life support. The Heimlich? I don't know that many medical procedures, apparently.)

If there's anything you think I should write about, suggest away and maybe I'll just tackle one of those at a time to give myself some structure (I'm an Obliger, folks. I need accountability.) There are so many things to  talk about, in my life and just in general, about that I would LOVE to hash out at some point (the enneagram! Pursuing speech therapy for Alice! All my grad school angst! My short hair! And cold shoulders- did I stay away so long that they've come and gone??), so maybe I'll be back sooner rather than later. If you've stuck around, I love and appreciate you (in a totally platonic and non-creepy way).

Happy Thursday! We're all still here together!

Ash

Alice Juliet- An Unbirthday Post

Today, Alice is two and a half. (Yes, I still celebrate her half birthday -- we call it an "un-birthday," like Alice in Wonderland, and I got her a couple dollar spot presents -- because she's a spoiled only child. šŸ˜ I haven't done one of these posts in forever, not even for her actual second birthday, which is kind of pathetic, but here we are. She has grown and changed so much over the past several months, and I just want a record (outside of Facebook, since who knows what's going on over there with all the privacy issues! ha!) of how things are right now.


No personality at all. 


I'm about to be really transparent for a minute, so buckle up. We noticed around 18 months that Alice wasn't talking as much as a lot of kids her age, so of course we kept track of her speech development for the next several months. At her two-year checkup, her doctor recommended speech therapy. That's a long story, but the short version is that we took her for an evaluation and she didn't qualify, due to her age and several other factors. We also scheduled an audiology appointment to check her hearing, which was also totally fine.

Since there were no other concerns (she follows directions, understands us, has no relational issues, etc.) we decided to wait it out, and that's where we still are. The therapist even said that her comprehension is off the charts and that she is just absorbing everything and will talk on her own terms. (That's appropriate because she pretty much lives her whole life that way!) Her progress of the last few months has been slow but steady, and she is saying more words all the time.

Here's the transparent part: the last year (specifically the last 6-9 months) has been very hard for me. Selfishly, I want my little girl to be talking and saying all the cute and funny things her cousins and little friends are saying. I know that's dumb; I know comparing her to other kids doesn't help. It's not even so much about the comparison as knowing how much I love it when she does talk and feeling like I'm missing out on more of that. (I realize I have a lifetime of her talking to look forward to, but I'm just dealing with the present moment. =) And, of course, there is the constant frustration, for her and for me and Jonathan, with a communication gap and trying to discipline her (among other things) without her being able to articulate what she wants or needs. (P.S. Saying "one day you'll wish she couldn't talk!" is not helpful and not true. Trust me. šŸ˜‰

I have cried many tears through all this and not been as trusting as I should. I've beat myself for even getting upset about it when she is perfectly healthy and other moms are dealing with much more serious problems. Still, at the end of the day, it's been stressful. I have worried myself into a tizzy over it many times. And even as she is starting to (slowly but surely) talk more, I have made it about me (as I do) and questioned how I could let this happen. I read to her, I talk to her, I give her educationally stimulating toys. Why am I such a failure?? (I know, it's irrational; welcome to my brain.)


Thinking deep thoughts


Finally, though, really just in the past month or so, I have come to terms with the situation and finally feel at peace about it- not entirely, but I'm getting there. Alice is talking, growing, learning, and she will be totally fine. (She's just now two and a half, which is too young to even be considered delayed by many doctors.) But the Lord has helped me to be okay with it and given me hope and peace for the future, and another thing I've been doing that helps is to intentionally note things about her that I like and love (beyond her adorable face). Here they are:

Things I Love about Alice:

- She loves musicals. I have talked about this many times before, but her love of old movies and musicals is still going strong, although we have now successfully incorporated a few animated movies to the mix (she's loving The Aristocats and Charlotte's Web. Clearly the girl has a preference for the Sherman Brothers). I love that she laughs at these movies, dances, gets so into them... the whole shebang. She loves it.

- Speaking of musicals... at the end of literally every song in every movie, she begins to applaud with wild enthusiasm. It's hysterical and she does it every single time, like clockwork. It never fails to delight me.

- Like her mama, she likes to clean and organize. (Granted, she' a champion mess-maker too, but at least she likes to clean them up!) She loves to help me with laundry and dishes, put her toys away, put her shoes and socks away, etc. It's so cute and fills my neat freak heart with joy.

- She is obedient. I mean, she's two, so it's not like she bats a thousand here, but for the most part, she does what we tell her to do, and more consistently than a lot of kids much older than she is.

-She is a tough girl! She definitely cries over absolutely nothing (like getting weighed at the doctor today... #staaahp) but when she falls (which she does a lot because she runs everywhere) or gets hurt in any way she hardly ever even makes a whimper- just gets right back up and goes on. She definitely didn't get that from me.

- A lot of my friends with kids this age deal with picky eaters, but Alice doesn't know the meaning of those words. Ha! She does have foods she prefers but she is good about trying new things and, inexplicably, her favorite food is sauerkraut. Who knows?

- She loves a routine. Morning, afternoon, bedtime, bath time... she knows where to go and what to do and wants to do it that way every time. Even more than when she was a baby, she thrives on a schedule.

- She is a great sleeper. Her naps are still not as consistent as I'd like, although they're much better these days since she's so busy and wears herself out, but she sleeps 12 hours just about every single night, which is possibly the greatest gift I've received in motherhood. šŸ™Œ

-And, of course, she's sweet and loving and beautiful and affectionate (at least with me) and hilarious and just a little sunshine. (Remind me of these words the next time she throws a tantrum.)



Seriously, even with her speech issues and typical two-year-old antics, she genuinely brings joy to everyone around her, even strangers. I love her so much and I don't ever want to forget how grateful I am for a healthy, happy little girl. Her doctor told us today that she's perfect. I will take his professional opinion and run with it. šŸ’—

Very Merry Un-birthday to you, my darling girl. Mama loves you to pieces!

The Greatest Showman Strikes a Deeper Chord

I wrote this article for a class, which is why it's a little more formal than the posts I usually share here. Or, in the words of Shawn Spencer, "It lacked all nuance, my signature mocking tone, and was utterly devoid of emoticons." =) 


“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ‘em out.
I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be.
This is me."
These lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, sung with a breathless intensity by Keala Settle, are the heart and soul of The Greatest Showman, a musical that, in just over a month, has become an unqualified hit, topping the Billboard 200 and iTunes charts and bringing in well over $100 million at the box office. The film tells the story of P.T. Barnum’s ascent to fame and the way his circus changed entertainment forever.
Given the beautifully written score, dazzling costumes, all-star cast, and excellent performances, the movie’s commercial success is no surprise. However, this particular film, and its soundtrack, are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the tradition of Rogers and Hammerstein and Walt Disney. The movie owes its popularity not only to the director, composers, and actors, but mainly to the word-of-mouth and social media frenzy that has spread The Greatest Showman – and its message – like wildfire. Beyond the broad appeal of stars like Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in a musical?) or Zac Efron and Zendaya, who both attract the Disney Channel demographic, there seems to be a deeper resonance that transcends its entertainment value. The film and score speak to the desires of our souls: acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption. That these elements are also found within the gospel of Christ is hardly a coincidence and can serve as a powerful reminder to believers.
As mentioned, “This Is Me” has become the movie’s theme song, inspiring hundreds of covers and earning an Oscar nomination. (Keala Settles, who plays the “Bearded Lady” Lettie Lutz in Barnum’s circus, will be performing the song at the Academy Awards.) Lettie and the rest of the circus “freaks” sing “This Is Me” after Barnum, their former champion, excludes them from a party. His rejection is merely another wound to add to the lifelong sting of shame felt by these people who are startlingly, painfully different. As Lettie comments, “Our own mothers were ashamed of us.”
The response to this particular song has been overwhelming, and not just because of its powerfully anthemic melody or Settles’s inspired performance. It is speaking to people at a spiritual level – who hasn’t felt shame for simply being themselves? To be despised, feared, or rejected for whatever is “different” is a rejection of a whole person – one who is created in God’s image. Such was the life of the circus performers; in a time in which “sameness” was valued as a moral principle, to be an “oddity” not only broke propriety, it was practically criminal. The film also portrays the relationship between Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler, an African-American acrobat performer in the show whose only “difference” is the color of her skin. Their relationship was indeed considered criminal by many at the time, and it takes a tragedy for them to overcome the prejudices keeping them apart.
The circus troupe also finds among themselves a community, a respite from those who kept them hidden away. They quickly bond by finding common ground in their very “otherness” and ultimately in the art they create together. When protesters gather with angry accusations and demands for the performers to once again go into hiding, the group rallies together to defend each other. Even when Barnum goes bankrupt and their theater is burned down by the protesters, the performers insist on finding a way to rebuild, because to accept defeat is to lose the only family they have.
Brokenness and Redemption
            Beyond Barnum’s charm and charisma, his most prominent trait is ambition. Even as a young boy, he promises his future bride:
“I think of what the world could be,
A vision of the one I see,
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take;
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”  
But what began as a lifelong quest to create a life of adventure that he and his childhood sweetheart Charity had planned slowly morphs into a relentless pursuit of approval and fame. While Barnum is not rejected for the same reasons the performers are, he still feels the sting of being considered “less than” by the merits of his birth. Class distinctions were deeply ingrained in society and rising above one’s station was no small task. Proving himself, especially to his condescending father-in-law, becomes less about monetary success and more about achieving a certain notoriety that even the city’s upper crust cannot ignore. Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” who tours with Barnum and represents that “other world” in his mind, is portrayed as his ultimate temptation, the prize to accompany his journey to fame and fortune. As she sings, “Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough… for me,” we are given a look into each character’s yearning for what they cannot have: Barnum for success, Phillip and Anne for love, and Charity Barnum for the heart of her husband.          
Fortunately, at least in this semi-fictional portrayal, Barnum ultimately refuses the opportunity for an adulterous affair (although one could argue that an emotional one had already taken place.) While he does have the good sense to return to his family, he quickly realizes just how much he had truly sacrificed for his so-called success. In the wake of the disastrous fire started by the mob of protesters, he faces both financial and personal ruin. It is his own employees that encourage him to fight for what they have created – not just a show, but a family. In one of the movie’s most compelling scenes, Barnum sings (in perhaps Hugh Jackman’s best performance in the film) of chasing “someone else’s dreams” and how -- looking at a picture of his wife and daughters -- he can now “remember who all this was for.” Naturally, the movie’s happy ending shows the family (both the circus and the Barnums) reunited, Anne and Philip happily in love, and the circus as magical as ever.
            Other recent movie adaptions of musicals, such as Sondheim’s Into the Woods or even Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, have enjoyed commercial success, but there is something about The Greatest Showman, a cult-like following that has risen up and surpassed any love for similar movies. Those who love it really love it; audiences are not just seeing the movie once, but multiple times, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat. (The fact that a “sing-a-long” version of the movie was made available in theaters only a few weeks after its original release, with audiences already singing the songs from memory, is proof of this.)  Perhaps, beyond the fact that it’s just plain fun to watch, audiences are also refreshed by a family-friendly movie, one that relies on pure entertainment value and not sex or profanity for its excitement.
Furthermore, is 2018 all that different from Barnum’s day? Compared to the 19th century, diversity and tolerance are certainly more “mainstream,” but, ironically, the very resources that connect us also have the ability to divide and alienate like never before. Technology makes it easier than ever to reject or ridicule those who are different in some way -- whether physically or ideologically, we know that “different” is usually equated with “wrong.” No wonder people are thrilled at being told otherwise.
What can we learn from this public response? The Greatest Showman’s message is inspiring, but ultimately that message is meaningful to us as Christians because its truth is found in Christ. We can unapologetically declare “this is me” -- not just as an empowering statement but as God’s handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator of the Universe. We should also be reminded that we are surrounded by people who feel marginalized or alienated and are in search of acceptance or redemption. We can offer them our compassion, our love, and ultimately the Good News of salvation.

With the ugliest of hate speech found across both political aisles, emboldened white supremacy, belated responses to widespread sexual abuse, and other political, racial, and religious tensions in America today, a movie that preaches (or sings) about positive, uplifting themes is worth celebrating. However, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because… there is no such thing.” People can offer love and acceptance that only repairs so much damage; ultimate healing is found in Jesus. The response to The Greatest Showman reminds us that people are desperately seeking fulfillment and connection, and we have a message for them that will outlast any brightly lit theater or memorable song: the gospel of Jesus Christ. With His gift of eternal life, we can truly look forward to being “home again.”