Redemption Arc

I’m a sucker for vampire stories. (I also hang out with a lot of people who make terrible puns; I am ashamed of myself.) Here’s the thing that I love most about Dracula as a text: it calls for a wider scope of empathy. I reference that lesson – one of my last lessons in AP lit before the world shut down in March 2020 – on a regular basis. Rereading that post this morning preparing to write today’s, I realised the timing was between to major events in my own personal life that shook me up in how I view other people and extend empathy.

Since I’ve already written about Dracula and Buffy so many times, I’m going to give my thoughts through the framework of The Vampire Diaries. I’m also going to recommend that none of you watch this terrible show with terrible people. My alternative title for today’s post was “Write Better Stories” because of my goal in reflecting on this series. The Vampire Diaries is a cast full of horrible people doing horrible things and trying to better themselves and constantly failing. The series is actually a love story between two brothers who happen to fall in love with the same girl (twice), but in order to keep it a weekly drama, there are a host of other things happening to distract from the brotherly love.

There’s the common theme I love in the vampire genre though: they strive for a redemption arc in people who do terrible things. To middling success. And this is where Jesus matters in my story. My worldview holds that people are messed up and we need Jesus to transform us. I cannot make myself a better person, but I can invite the Holy Spirit to transform me, sanctify me, make me more Christlike in my attitudes and behaviours. The set up for the redemption arc in The Vampire Diaries is there’s a “good brother” and a “bad brother” through season one, but as the show develops, you learn the “good brother” is actually the one who forced the “bad brother” to become a vampire in the first place. This “good brother” also spent the 1920s as a mass murderer ripping people’s bodies apart with no self-control. The “bad brother” also killed a lot of people but showed more restraint for the most part – he then admits somewhere in season three that he wants to keep people’s expectations of him low so he won’t disappoint them when he messes up. While I actually find that sentiment deeply relatable, I also recognise the flaw of setting the bar low for yourself.

When I read through the Sermon on the Mount, there’s this impossibly high standard of living. I want to live like Jesus, but I can only do that with the power of Jesus working in me. I don’t live out of my own strength each day when I choose to be a better person. I choose to let the Holy Spirit transform me to make this Christlike lifestyle more attainable. I constantly tell my students that I’m less of a jerk now than I was two years ago. When I look back at that Dracula post, I think about the two kids I referenced who’d lied to me. I still pray for them both regularly, and I still see hope for a redemption arc in their stories. I have a lot more compassion for them and speak with more grace than in that initial conversation with Denise.* Actually, one did own up to his lie and apologise to me, but the other one still has an alarm on my phone as a daily reminder to pray for him. His story isn’t over.

I do recognise that a redemption arc does not necessitate the same proximity or relationship with these people again. A redemption arc means that all of us move closer to Jesus. My story has a redemption arc in the mistakes I’ve made. Some of them I’ve had the chance to own in apologies to the people I’ve hurt; other times I see growth in the change of behaviour in subsequent similar situations.

One more worldview point on this redemption arc matrix is that the Bible talks about how we have free will and choices in how we behave. So while we can’t fix ourselves and do need the Holy Spirit for transformation, we also have autonomy in our choices to live like Jesus. I think about this a lot in the context of my physical recovery. This one might feel like a hard turn, but bear with me as I flesh it out. See, I consistently ask people to pray for my miraculous healing, but I also don’t just sit around and wait for it to happen. I work hard to take care of my body in the condition it’s in – and push for improvements. This past two weeks at physio, Anja has helped me onto the floor on a yoga mat to do different stretches. It is a struggle for me to get on the floor; it has been for going on nine years now… but I still do what I can and find out what new function might be available. Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling sort of stagnated in my improvements, but I still get on the floor with Anja because I don’t want to lose that ability that I do have. Could God miraculously give me that ability back easily? Sure. Has it happened yet? Nope.

My body is in process of redemption. There’s the natural breakdown of ageing battling the natural regeneration and healing my body was made to do. As I get myself out of bed each morning, I consider how easy it once was to swing my feet out of bed and stand up. Then I slowly put my feet on the floor after checking my feet for blisters or sores. His mercies are new every morning. What does that mean when I still can’t move my feet? This Jesus thing is weird; I trust that God knows better than I do. There’s a bigger picture of redemption that I’m missing.

I’ll keep my eyes open for the stories of transformation. Maybe it’s a person listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or maybe it’s just having a cup of coffee with Jesus while I look at the snow covered hillside out my front window.

*I actually have a lot more compassion and grace for Denise than I did two and a half years ago. See, I told you The Vampire Diaries was a love story between two brothers, and that’s the framework for today’s post. My story has a lot of characters come and go, but my sister is the one constant in my life. She once asked me if we’d be friends if we weren’t sisters, and I told her no. She cried; I was confused. For those of you who know us, we are very, very different people. For those of you who know us well, you know we’ve fought to get along because we love each other, because we are sisters. I would do – have done – a lot for any of my kids, but it pales in comparison to what I’d do for my sister. We are still very different people and still fight to get along, but she’s the best love story redemption arc in my life as we both grow closer to Jesus and find we’re closer to each other. It’s a story in progress, but it’s the only one I know the end of because giving up isn’t an option for either of us.

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