[Warning – this post contains spoilers for the 2016 movie Arrival and the brand new memoir Redeeming Ruth.]
Is it better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all?
I finally watched Arrival, the award-winning, thought-provoking alien movie, starring Amy Adams as a linguist who saves the world.
In the beginning of the movie there’s a montage of Louise (Amy Adams’ character) and Hannah, her cherished child who becomes very ill and dies. Later we find out Louise is remembering/forseeing her child, and her fate, before she even becomes pregnant. She chooses the relationship that will create her daughter, and to bear and love her fully, even though she knows the the suffering and loss that lies ahead.
I had just finished Meadow Rue Merrill’s powerful new book, Redeeming Ruth:Everything Life Takes, Love Restores. I couldn’t help weaving both stories together as I watched Arrival.
Redeeming Ruth is a fresh, clear, beautifully written memoir about adoption, courage, special needs, provision, faith, hope, and suffering.
One day a beautiful toddler with cerebral palsy is placed into Ruth’s arms at church. This orphan was sent to the States for medical treatment, and possibly adoption. Meadow and her family fall in love with Ruth, long to spend more time with her, begin to take care of her, and then begin a lengthy, costly, adventure (including a long, perilous trip to Uganda) to finally adopt her.
Doors close and open. Financial gifts come at just the right time. Favor is granted. Ruth learns to hear and communicate. It’s beautiful and victorious, over and over again. As a devoted adoption advocate I was cheering the Merrill Family every step of the way. I wanted the love and courage they poured out.
From the beginning, though, we know Redeeming Ruth is going to be a hard story. The subtitle “Everything Life Takes, Love Restores” makes that clear. We read in the prologue that Ruth is gone and Meadow is grieving. We know we’ll be getting the whole story of her joy and suffering.
That is Louise’s story in Arrival, too. The heptapods, the aliens visiting from the future, reveal her future to her. She chooses it anyway, knowing the life of her daughter, and the love she already has for her, is worth it. We see Louise’s powerful, silent acceptance to proceed in spite of what will one day come. That’s the only version of grief we are shown in the movie.
In Redeeming Ruth, we are shown the full reality of the grief that comes from loving so fully. We get glimpses of Meadow’s deep sorrow at the beginning of every chapter through dreams, memories, and songs. When we later read the story of Ruth’s death it’s awful. We witness Meadow’s raw and real grief–the anger, second-guessing, self-blame, and despair. We understand, and we join in, because we’ve fallen in love with Ruth now, too.
One key difference between Arrival and Redeeming Ruth is the deep foundation of love, joy, and coming-soon redemption. When I finished the book I immediately thought, with grateful tears, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful story of life, hope, provision, and love. Thank you for Ruth’s life. Thank you for entrusting the Merrill family with her.” We can tell that Meadow, her husband, and kids are living with an uncommon gratefulness and abiding sense of God’s goodness because of Ruth.
When I finished Arrival I was agitated with sorrow. The foundation wasn’t joy or redemption, but fear and perhaps too much knowledge. Was it worth it? Would Louise be okay? How could she be?
I watched Arrival, contrasting it with Redeeming Ruth, on Good Friday, as it so happens. The strong parallels kept me up late, long after the movie ended, braiding together the beauty of the movie, book, and Jesus’ death. Just like Louise in Arrival, Jesus knew that suffering and death were coming. He knew the past, present and future all at the same time. Just like Meadow in Redeeming Ruth, Jesus knew that death is not the end of the story. He knew that suffering is never in vain.
One of my kids is suffering through an incredibly difficult season. It’s heartbreaking. I thought about it all through Arrival and Redeeming Ruth. Aliens didn’t reveal my child’s life story and struggle in advance. I didn’t choose or expect a child that would endure so much struggle. I’m unprepared and overwhelmed. I often wonder how much more we all can take. I beg God to take this suffering away.
But sitting alone in the dark, late on Good Friday, I found my resolve, my faith again. I considered with deep admiration the courage of Louise, Meadow, and Jesus. I slowly prayed, with whispered conviction,
“I see the suffering, God. I see that it might not end for a long time. But I will keep going. Because of love. The love You have for me. The love You have for my kid. The love I have for my kid. The love they have for me. I see You in all this, Lord. I trust You to redeem it all. Have mercy. Thank you. Amen.”
Note: I received an advanced copy of Redeeming Ruth from Hendrickson in exchange for an honest review.
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.