- Dax Bushway
Maggie had been sick for about a year. She wasn’t getting much better and she was about to go through some major treatments. Being the oldest sibling, I took on a great deal of responsibility when Maggie was in the hospital. My parents saw this and wanted to do something to let me know they loved me and knew about my sacrifice. I had been spending a few days at my best friend’s house and when my parents came to pick me up, they gave me a present, some new books. Reading was one of my favorite things and this present was the greatest comfort my parents could have provided. Harry Potter, Redwall, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, and A Wrinkle in Time all stood ready to provide refuge from the sorrow I lived in.
My literary journey didn’t start as a refuge, however. My parents tell me I was always an inquisitive child and couldn’t wait to learn. I remember practicing phonics with my mom, going through simple readers, and getting my certificate that said I had completed “Sing, Spell, Read, and Write.” When my mom and dad signed my certificate, I felt I had really achieved something. Now I had the tools to conquer the books I saw my parents reading. When I wasn’t doing school reading, I was reading history books, encyclopedias, and abridged classics. Through these new tools, I entered into the worlds of Oliver Twist, George Washington, and Black Beauty. This wasn’t reading just for the sake of reading; I began to enter into the great conversation of thoughts and ideas. Though I was only a child, my reading helped develop my sense of morality, mercy, and justice. But more than being presented with ethical situations, I began seeing God’s greater story in the books I read. Oliver Twist wasn’t simply a story about an orphan; it really showed how we are lost people God pursues and saves. Pinocchio became a prodigal son story instead of simply being about how children shouldn’t lie. The books I read strengthened my still young faith.
About a month after I turned nine, my younger sister Maggie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Suddenly my innocent life was filled with terror and uncertainty. My three little sisters and I were all homeschooled, so there was no real escape from Maggie’s sickness. Day after day I watched Maggie vomit from the chemo and my parents weep with sorrow. Watching TV, playing with friends, or staying at other family’s houses felt like drugs; they temporarily relieved my pain, but eventually it wore off and I had to return to reality. I began turning to the things I loved most: stories. When I wasn’t helping my mom take care of my sisters, I was reading, listening to Adventures in Odyssey, or listening to Radio Theatre. These stories were balms for my soul. One of my favorite stories to listen to was The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Hearing the tribulation of Narnia, the utter hopelessness of the Narnians plite, and the triumphant victory of Aslan over the Calormenes reminded me Jesus would return one day and do away with my suffering. These stories were a refuge for me, and in them God gave me hope.
The night my parents gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was wary of even picking it up. It was a time when most Christians thought Harry and everything to do with him was evil. I let the book sit on my shelf for months, scared of what might happen to me if my eyes were exposed to such material. After a while, I started reading the books and I couldn’t stop. Every minute I wasn’t doing schoolwork I read Harry Potter. At first, the reading was simply an escape; instead of thinking about whether Maggie would live or not, I could focus on Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort. Soon, my faith started making its way into my reading. No longer was I simply reading to find a refuge; God was reaching through these stories and reminding me about Him and His character. No longer was the story simply about children casting spells at each other; God had a greater plan at work. As Harry gained victory against Voldemort, I was reminded that Jesus, in the last days, would have victory over sin and death. When Harry died and rose again to defeat dark magic once and for all, God showed how He accomplished this once and for all on the cross. I saw a lot of “dark magic” in my life, but God constantly reminded me that He owned the victory.
God wasn’t content to let me read books that simply echoed His story. Ultimately, all the reading I sought refuge in drove me back to God’s story. I realized there was only one source of true comfort and peace: the story of Jesus dying on the cross, atoning for my sins, and defeating the horrors of the Fall. The day I started high school, Maggie was flown to St. Louis Children’s hospital where the doctors hoped to stop her uncontrollable seizing. This marked the beginning of a dark time in my heart. I had to come to grips with what I truly believed about God. Were all those stories true, or had I simply been fooled into thinking God cared? As required by school, I read The Lord of the Rings my freshmen year. Perhaps the most poignant element of this immense story is Aragorn defeating the forces of Mount Doom and returning to his rightful throne in Gondor. Though I couldn’t bring myself to read God’s Word, God still reached out to me through this story. He reminded me that He sits on the throne and is sovereign over all the suffering in our lives. Eventually, my God healed my spirit so I could once again read His Word. The stories sustained me through that incredibly difficult time.
I haven’t yet, and I don’t think I ever will, grow out of my love for stories. Through all the suffering I have experienced, God has taught me He is unfolding one grand story of redemption, and I am but one character in this great tale. I can’t help but look at everything I read, be it textbooks, theology, political speeches, or novels through the lenses of redemption. For me, literature is more than simply entertainment; it is God communicating to me His truth. Perhaps God uses stories, as C.S. Lewis once said, to “steal past those watchful dragons” (Lewis). I’m always amazed after I finish a book and I realize all God was telling me through it. God is a good shepherd, and sometimes His staff looks more like books than it does a cane.
Lewis, C.S. “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.” 1956. Wedgewood Circle. Web. 6 February 2013
Rodriguez, Richard. “Scholarship Boy.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Stuart Grenne and April Lidinsky . 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012: 15-22. Print.
This article was published in Pikes Peak Community College’s Academic Journal