Sunday, July 24, 2016

Film Review - 10 Cloverfield Lane

Hi friends and readers of this long-neglected blog! The following is a short film review I did for a class on film and theology! (SUCH fun!) 

When I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane a few dates ago with my husband, I was expecting a thriller with possibly some monster overtones after all, J.J. Abrams, the powerhouse behind the 2013 cult monster hit Cloverfield, is one of the producers. What I wasn’t expecting was a tale of empowerment, and a subtle exploration of what it means to be saved.

 The movie opens with Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hastily packing belongings while intentionally leaving behind her engagement ring. She frantically drives along increasingly obscure roads, only to black out from an accident and wake up a prisoner, her injured leg chained to a stone wall in a bleak underground room. Michelle is soon introduced to the bunker’s owner, Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that there has been “an attack.” The world outside the bunker has been saturated with poison gas, but he has saved her life. There is no one coming to look for her.

The audience finds themselves identifying with Michelle as she seeks to distinguish real threats in the bunker from those imagined. The film’s sound design and score are written largely from her perspective and the camera follows her as she makes discoveries about her environment. We quickly discover that although Howard makes himself out to be the good guy, he is clearly one of the monsters of this film. Like many abusers, he casts himself as the heroic savior, even as he gaslights, manipulates, and tries to control everything from Michelle’s emotions to her very thoughts. 

Michelle’s empowerment is a clear theme throughout this movie as she comes to grips with the reality of Howard’s predatory nature as well as her own innate ability to resist. This culminates at the end of the film where Michelle is once again in her car, but instead of running from danger, she deliberately turns into its path, willing and able to resist. 

In the wake of Michelle’s empowerment and liberation from her predators, I found myself thinking about what it means to be “saved.” Howard tells Michelle that he is saving her. And for a short while, Michelle thinks that perhaps he is. But in the end, he is only another predator. Like Michelle, we may find ourselves under the control of something that purports to be “saving us” when it actually holds us hostage. This can be as insidious as a coping mechanism which turns into an addiction, or a fear-based dogma that imprisons even as it proffers fake feelings of safety. The good news is that we are not powerless against these perpetrators. Instead, somewhere inside us is the ability to conform to an alternative narrative, one that liberates and gives agency to those trapped in darkness. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hello again.

I hate saying goodbye.

This might come from living a highly mobile life from an early age, or perhaps it's because I value stability and continuity -- two things that many of us in today's global society lack. Maybe it's because many of the goodbyes we've said happened too soon and we weren't ready or prepared for them.

-A year ago I lost both grandmothers within a few months of each other.
I was not ready to say goodbye.
-Last month our home was robbed and jewelry, mementos, electronics, and DVDs were taken.
I was not ready to say goodbye.
-Five years ago this fall our toddler son died of cancer.
I was not ready to say goodbye.
-Five years before that my husband lost his dad to a rare disease.
We were not ready to say goodbye.

This is why I avoid goodbyes. They remind me of the big things I've lost that I wasn't ready to part with.

A few years ago I read a book entitled Praying Our Goodbyes. The basic gist of it is that with each new transition in our lives there is something we lose as well as something that can be gained. Each goodbye contains within it the seeds of something new and fresh. Basically, with each "goodbye" there is a "hello." Many of us are really good at seeing the loss in each life transition. (Sometimes that's all I can see!) But how do we reframe our lives to see the coming newness? How do we train ourselves to see the possibility and the gift within each closed door? Each of us experience many "goodbyes" over the course of our lifetime, and most of the time we aren't prepared for what we lose. Perhaps there is no sure way of preparing ourselves. But what we can prepare ourselves for is the "hello."

Here are a few of my "hello's" in no particular order:

Andre, our third child. He's pretty amazing.
Graduate school in a new city.
Friends in the child-loss community all around the world.
Deep friendships with people who aren't afraid to talk about their $#%t.
A strong inner life.
Knowing my own mind.
Unexpected joy.
Growing fearlessness.

What about you? What has been the "hello" within your goodbyes? What might you be called to view with new eyes?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Simply defined, a lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.

Much like this blog.

There was a lot to work through the year after Vincent died.  I couldn't not write about the messy process of grieving, raging, remembering, forgiving.

In the last four years my grief has become less visible, less obviously messy.  I don't randomly burst into tears.  I can rather successfully navigate new circumstances without being overwhelmed.  I seem put together.  Although it may seem to have abated, the truth is I'm grieving more now on the inside. The weight of grief is still there.  It never leaves.  Each day carries with it a sense of loss - I see it in the gap between my youngest and eldest child, when I tell new friends how many children I have (two is the proper answer), when I see toddlers taking first steps with their mom, when I hear my son's name spoken in passing by a stranger.  If you talked to me now, four years later, you might think everything's OK.

But it isn't.

How could it be, after I watched my son die a slow death, shriveling every day as life-giving fluids left his body, his stomach swollen with tumors, mouth parched for water.  Death came too soon, too violently, too wrong.  It was unjust, unfair, untimely and I am undone.

On that note, here's a prayer.

Ironic God,
You who watch over the sparrows,
number the hair on my head
How can you stand by
while people die every day, praying, hoping, bargaining, beseeching.
Where are your ears?
Don't you care?
Can't you heal?
How will you fix this?
What kind of joy makes up for sorrow?
Tell me, I want to know.
Or better yet, show me.

-I'll come up with a more faith-filled litany later but for now this lament is all I have.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


It's that time of year again where this blog suddenly springs to life, documenting yet another day of grief.  November 20.  Apparently it comes every year.  Much like the last two anniversaries of Vincent's passing, this one has brought a resurgence of anxiety, insomnia, online shopping, anger and stress.  Will anything this terrible happen to our family again?  What if we lose another child or they get a life-threatening illness?  Will Andre make it to his second birthday and beyond? Is that a lump I feel in his abdomen?  Is this a sore throat or a vocal nodule?  How will we ever afford to buy a house here on Oahu?  What if we get bed bugs? Is this dry skin or inflammatory breast cancer?

Aaaaaaand repeat from the beginning.

But unlike the last two years, I have gained new ground in this whole grief-work thing. More than ever, I remember him, the sweet Vincent Wing Seun Stringer. And I mourn the loss of him. This has taken a while, but my grief-work is now more about Vincent than about me.  At least most of the time.

Earlier this year we found some occupational therapy papers stuffed in a closet, documenting the progress and regress Vincent made during the course of treatment.  A line jumped out at me- "He has a sense of humor." Yes, he did. He loved to laugh and make others laugh with him. His favorite place to be was home or the beach. He loved his family and stuffed cat (well, pretty much any cat.) His life was brief, but cherished. And the hollow spot I feel in my heart is there, same as always.

But today is not about me.  Today is about you, Vincent.

May you enjoy the great vastness of what Is and may we one day explore it together.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Arrival (posted 11 months late)

He's here. And he's beautiful.  Andre Wing Yee Stringer, born on 11/23/12 after 6 hours of induced labor.  He's a champion nurser, a phenomenal sleeper, and a smiley charmer.

For the last month I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. For him to scream all night long.  For him to stop eating, or perhaps begin vomiting everywhere.  But nothing super terrible has happened.  He's doing good. We're doing well.  He fits in to our family dynamics perfectly - in fact, I can't imagine life without him.

In the words of Jean Valjean from the musical Les Miserables, "How was I to know that so much hope was held inside me? ... How was I to know at last that happiness can come so fast?"

Suddenly, something wonderful has begun.  Our family feels complete.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Almost exactly two years ago I was posting on our caringbridge site, documenting each stage of our terminally ill 18-month old son's death from liver cancer.  On a date I'll never forget, November 11, 2010, we made the decision to leave the hospital and go home with hospice - Vincent's feeding tube was removed and he was given a running cocktail of morphine and other drugs to ease the pain from his tumors.

Then we waited.  Although he had been given approximately 48 hours to live, Vincent tenaciously hung on to life for another 11 days as family flew in from out of town, forming a bedside vigil of sorts, taking turns watching him every minute of the day and night.

Each morning Theo would bound into our bedroom, the site of everything hospice-related, asking "Is Vincent still here?"  Yes, his baby brother Vincent was still here, laborously breathing, mostly unconscious, but still with us.  We would hold him, sing to him, pray with him, and release him to Jesus.  "You can leave for the bright happy place whenever you want" we'd say.  Every night we'd emotionally prepare ourselves for his death.  When it didn't come, we'd brace ourselves for another day of waiting, relieved that he was still here with us, wishing it wasn't the end.

Fast forward two years.  Again we're waiting.  But this time we're waiting for a new life to be born.  And of course, this sort of waiting is infinitely easier than the other kind.  It's infinitely less sad.  But as our November 11 due date has come and gone and as Vincent's anniversary of passing looms closer, I'm again finding myself in limbo, anticipating an irreversible event to take place that I cannot control.  Waiting.  Again.

What am I waiting for?  I'm waiting for this new child to be born, to see his little face, touch the hands and feet that have been squirming inside of me for so long.  I'm waiting to observe the 2nd year anniversary of Vincent's passing, waiting to remember that awful and wonderful day when he was finally happy.  I'm waiting for the day that our family will be whole again, for the day I'll be with all my children, for the day I'll be able to hold a healthy Vincent in my arms.

I'm waiting.  Waiting isn't always bad.  But it is hard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Hardest Post (Or "It's a Boy!")

OK, here goes the post that's been the most difficult for me to write.  You may wonder why, after documenting our precious boy's losing fight against cancer, or venting over precious memories stolen, or struggling with issues related to loss, grief and faith, this post in particular would prove tricky to articulate.

Well, here it is.  We're pregnant.  With another boy.  Due date 11/11/12.

If you're good at math you'll quickly realize that I'm already 35 weeks pregnant.  And this is the first time I'm publicly announcing it online.  These days my body is doing all the talking for me (no hiding the belly now!) and it's time for my voice to catch up, to join the celebration, to do the speaking.

Why has this been so hard?  Perhaps it's because I've been giving bad news for so long I'm afraid to voice good news - subconsciously worried that I'll have to change my tune later.  Or perhaps it's simply because I'm in denial.  Denial that I'm giving birth to another son within days of the last one's anniversary of passing.

Perhaps it's because I'm so happy I don't know what to say.  Or feeling confused.  Or all of the above.

Suffice it to say we're glad.  Looking forward to this little guy's birth.  Theo's beside himself with joy to  have another brother.  He's already planning where the little guy is going to sit in the car, what we're going to do when we have our next baby, and what to call both of them.  (What can I say, he's a forward-thinking planner!)

We've had our moments.  Theo has done a fair share of crying over the past few months.  At the very beginning of this pregnancy he voiced his sadness over not getting to keep Vincent, saying he wanted Vincent to come back instead of this new baby.  A few months ago he began praying that this baby would "stay" and "not go to heaven for a long, long time."  Now he kisses my belly each night and laughs when the baby kicks back. "He likes me, mom!"  I'm sure that like his parents, his feelings over having a new family member are confusing.  But confusing or not, I desperately want this to work, to last.  And because of that it's hard to celebrate what already is.  That there is new life here, in this family.  That God has blessed us with another child.  That Theo and Vincent have, indeed, another brother.

Several weeks ago something clicked in my brain and I began preparing ourselves for this little guy's birth - getting clothes from friends, readying a crib, making a few badly needed purchases.  All of Vincent's things were either given away or made into memory blankets. His car seat is long gone, sent to the trash carrying irremovable toxic chemo substances. Initially we were hoping for a girl - me so that I could feel better about having to buy baby things yet again, Dan so that he could have some mental separation between what happened to our last child and what could happen to this one.  But now we're glad.  It's another boy.  We have three boys now.  What could be better than that?