"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)

Monday, September 9, 2013

TIFFology 300: Preparations, Remembrances and Things Left Unsaid

Cue the lights.  Play the music.

TIFF is back.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that this is one of my favourite times of the year.  I rabidly follow the development of the entire festival throughout the year, even keeping track of other festivals to see what may/may not make the final cut.  In many ways to me, it's like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning -- oh sure, you know what you asked for but you don't really know what you're going to get.

And yet...

This year, there's a little bit of a chill in the background.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm more than excited about it and have no less that 8 potential screenings scheduled.  (More on that later...)  Still, this year, I confess that the memories of last year linger in the shadows.  For most of you (both? ;) ) that read this when posted, you may have noticed that TIFFology took a break last year unexpectedly.  Given that last year's TIFF experience was forever linked with the loss of our unborn child, writing simply became too difficult.


There is one post that began and was never completed and, finally, I feel it appropriate to share it with you.  The following was written shortly after last year's TIFF experience.  I remember writing this piece was actually really cathartic in my dealing with my feelings.  (And, that may be why I never published it...)  It remains unfinished and unedited but I will add more upon its conclusion.


Bear with me.

I admit that this is year's entry is going to start off really intensely.  The truth is that I simply cannot separate my TIFF experience this year from the hell that our family endured at the same time.  It shaped my week--my life--in a way that is impossible not to bring into this discussion as it will most certainly also shape my reflections.  So, before the reflections officially begin, I feel it appropriate to begin with the story and let the rest follow.

On Thursday morning, we got the news.

After a routine check-up with her midwife, my pregnant wife was told that they could not find the baby's heartbeat.

At first, I wasn't worried.  At all.  The truth is, we were only 15 weeks along and, as such, it's not uncommon.  In fact, I continued to make plans for my week, especially those involving TIFF.  I had purchased several tickets for this year's festival and had even enrolled in a theology course connected with the festival.  (Hmmm.  What a good idea.  Wish I'd thought of it...)  We had an appointment for an ultrasound first thing in the morning and I spent the rest of the day reassuring my wife that everything would be fine.  After all, why wouldn't it?  We had no indication of problems prior to this.

I was wrong.

At Friday's ultrasound, we were informed that the baby had died sometime over the past week and that we would have to wait until Sunday to officially lose him.

As you can imagine, we were (are?) crushed by this.  I won't forget that Sunday.  It was quite literally the worst day of my life.  To lose a child in this fashion is a pain that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.  It is essentially like losing a person that you love deeply, yet have never met.  Never truly having had to experience grieving personally, these feelings were (again... are?) overwhelming and difficult to process.

And yet, we were (and are) at peace.

We both felt it.  Strongly.  Too strong for words, really.  I can't explain that feeling other than to suggest that it was the strength of the prayers of others.  Here we were in the depth of the valley of the shadow of death and yet we felt as though things would be alright.

That we weren't alone.

It's true to say that we did have an incredible amount of support from our dear friends--to whom we continue to thank for their sacrifices, phone calls, gifts, Facebook messages, etc--but this knowledge of the presence of an Other had nothing to do with them.  We were simply aware that there was a God-centred light in the midst of the darkest hell we'd ever encountered.  Somehow, we knew that the world wasn't going to end--even though it could have been perceived as such...

And, in the midst of this, lies TIFF.

I confess that, to be honest, my passion for TIFF really seemed trivial in a time like this.  After all, family tragedy is much more important than seeing a whack of films in one week.  As things started to shake down, I did the only humane thing I could do:  I withdrew from my course and began selling my screening tickets.  I simply didn't believe that I should be able to participate in this activity.

In fact, were it not for the encouragement of my grace-filled my wife, I would not have attended any screenings at all.

Without question, writing out these feelings was really helpful for me.  It was important to gain a little perspective and I really did feel a sense of peace at the time.  It's interesting because, in some ways, I'm only now reflecting on the last year and realizing how damaged I truly was.  What's more, this only became more accentuated six months later when my beautiful wife and I suffered our second miscarriage.  (Trust me.  It would be really interesting to read a blog post during that time.  The second miscarriage really sent me into a downward spiral emotionally and spiritually.)

The pain of losing children (even those you've never met) is an unspeakable tragedy and I pray you never have to go through it.  Looking back, I can see how much I was clinging to my own abilities and whims.  I wanted to believe in some ways that I could control my life and that, if I worked hard enough, I could prevent this from happening again.  Shades of Anakin Skywalker in Episode II, I suppose.  (And, yes, I'm sorry that I just quoted the prequels...)

Today, I finally accepted that I can't.

Stripped of my trust in myself, I realize that all I am left with is Christ.  I believe that He weeps with me.  I believe that He walks with me.  I believe He is present with me.

I also believe that He doesn't owe me anything.

That's hard to admit... but it's true.  I cannot find safety in monuments to myself and, although I wholeheartedly believe in God's protection, I also believe that everybody suffers.  To be honest, I don't think I ever really accepted that.  As stupid as it sounds, suffering was something that happened to other people.

Now, I know otherwise.

I thank God that I have such an incredible wife and son for the incredible gifts that they are.  (Not to mention my family and church family as well.)  They are loving, patient and, more often than not, smarter than I am.  They truly are God's gift to me... and I know there will be more hard times ahead.  Still, in the midst of that, I also believe that God is actively engaged in our lives and that, although it doesn't always seem like it, He takes no pleasure in our suffering.  I am becoming more interested in seeking His voice again, despite the fact I might not always like what I find.

And that brings me back to TIFF.

To be honest, this year's TIFF experience could have been tainted by last year's trauma.  Let's face it.  Last year's pain is intrinsically linked to the festival in every possible way and could easily cause this year's experience to be haunted by the past.  Instead, however, I have remembered what it is that I am most passionate about the festival in the first place.

The truth is that the thing I enjoy most about TIFF is always the God-consciousness, community and conversations.  Over the years, God has provided opportunities to grapple with tough issues with people I respect--and, honestly, there's nothing I like better.  (Seriously.  I'm giddy just thinking about it.)  TIFF provides opportunity to wrestle with God's truth in ways that other things do not.  I can't explain it but it does... and I love it.  There's a dance between art and Scripture that takes place during this time.  On top of that, throw in a healthy community of others and I'm hooked.

In short, God is present at TIFF... and He let's me join in.

I never really know what I'm going to experience at TIFF.  This year's line up for me includes:
The Grand Seduction
Admittedly, this is an inflated number of films this year (easily my most) and anything can happen throughout the week.  Still, I am psyched to once again meet with God in unexpected ways.  After all, He's in town this weekend on the red carpet.

And, after a long and painful year, I think I'm finally ready to dance again.