The Lord changed my life through a Disney movie.
I’ll never forget the week in August 2011 – I was a Baby Ruth at Pine Cove. I think all of the influential things I’m involved in require extensive explanation – Ignite, Plan II, Orange Jackets, Baby Ruths – all total enigmas. Plan II is legitimately a degree in thinking – a major doubted by many, respected by the few who know what it is, and nebulous even to those in it. Orange Jackets – basically a support group for over-committed, hyper-motivated women on campus. Ignite – it’s a Christian retreat for incoming freshman: life-changing, community-finding, and replete with mystery terms like “rendezvous” (large-group prayer meetings) and “split-splits” (meetings with the smaller factions of Ignite staff known as “camps”).
Baby Ruths is another one of those mysterious experiences that played a critical role in the way the Lord molded me from a rebellious, cocky high school girl into a woman replete with flaws, yet aware of the power of grace. My oft-rehearsed elevator pitch about the program goes something like this:
Casual acquaintance: “So what’s Baby Ruths? Candy? Baseball slugger?”
Me: “It’s a five-week discipleship program at Pine Cove, designed to teach girls the summer after they graduated from high school what it means to serve and live as women of faith. There’s a version for guys called ‘young guns.’ We learn to live in community, submission and trust.”
Unexpecting individual: “Why in the world would you volunteer to do intense manual labor for five weeks??”
Me: “Oh my lanta you have no idea! God changed my life through this program. I lived with five other girls and an older college girl – our ‘Mama Ruth’ – for five weeks. We did dishes every day. We had no idea what would happen next – every moment was a mystery! One week we were instructed to pack up a trashbag, then shipped off to another one of Pine Cove’s seven camps in Tyler where we spent four days sweating, working, and trying to figure out what in the world was happening. We refined one another – being honest and open and vulnerable with our sisters in Christ who endured the same struggles we did. We heard our strengths and our flaws. We learned to worship through service, as we did not rest during the day. Cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes for every meal, working in the store, disinfecting doorknobs, deep cleaning the kitchen, cutting grass with scissors, scrubbing trashcans – our bodies and hearts were worn out. But it’s not about getting the work done – it’s about the work getting us done. We did bible study twice a week, and spent hours in between in the word together, studying the lives of women in scripture and gleaning wisdom and life lessons from them. We met with incredible women who opened their hearts and homes to us. We took intense personality tests – learning about how the Lord made us and how we operate. When one of our Baby Ruth sisters’ mother passed away a few months ago, we dropped everything and met in Dallas for the funeral. We write each other at camp – even three years after doing this program together. I forged life-long friendships and God took my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh, feeble and week, yet fed by His spirit and growing in wisdom and desire.”
Sweet – now how does this relate to a Disney movie?
Solid question. So week five of baby ruths, our Mama Ruth – whom we called mom – took us into the wilderness and told us to make a tent. After what we had endured, we expected nothing less than sleeping in the woods under a ghetto-rigged tarp about as stable as a marshmallow bridge over a campfire. But lo and behold – we actually got to sleep in our beds that night, after the least physically and emotionally-exhausting experience of the program – watching a movie.
WHAT. We get to like somewhat enjoy ourselves?? No.
But yes. We sat down in the nursery at Pine Cove woods – a bunch of teenage girls sprawled out on foam mats and squeaky toys – and watched “Tangled.” We were casually instructed to think about how the movie might be applicable to our lives. But I think we were too focused on the popcorn they provided to notice. When the movie ended, we were still convinced we were sleeping in our tarp death-trap, but not before a Woods counselor told us about an allegory buried in the movie that would open my eyes to the life-saving truth about my identity. So here it is. The “Tangled” gospel. *spoiler alert: if you’ve seen the movie, keep reading. If not, pull yourself together and curl up on the couch for a ninety-minute Disney dream replete with sing-along-worthy songs and classic animated charm*
Rapunzel’s mother is plagued by sickness during pregnancy, remedied only by the healing power of a magical flower. So Rapunzel is born with thick blond hair, a trait admired by all. She enters the world under the influence of something external, unavoidable, that renders her different from her parents, yet different in a way that everyone thinks is good. But this “gift” – her hair – draws the attention of Mother Gothel, who desperately wants to salvage her aging misery by gleaning youth from Rapunzel’s hair which holds the healing remnants of the flower. So within moments after her birth, Rapunzel is whisked away to a tower where she is isolated from the beauty around her, forced to live with a woman who regularly feeds her lies about her identity.
Every year, though, she sees the lanterns. She has no idea what they are, but she knows they’re for her. She has an inexplicable longing to see these lights, but no way to escape this tower that has robbed her of freedom for eighteen years. She can only reach these lights through the unexpected and uninitiated entry of Flynn Rider into her life. With Flynn’s guidance, she can see the lights. Through Flynn, she can finally leave the tower and experience the life and beauty that surrounds her. She spends an unbelievable day in the city, dancing in community, and leaves with a small purple flag with the characteristic emblem of the sun to remind her of their escapade. And she sees the light. And at last the fog is lifted. Beauty enshrouds her, but right before Flynn seals their relationship with a kiss, Mother Gothel intervenes.
She is not about to let Rapunzel escape her hold. She plants a little lie in Rapunzel’s heart that Flynn doesn’t love her and does not want what’s best for her. Through deception, she sacrifices Flynn to her wicked ways, in hopes that Rapunzel’s broken heart will keep her locked in her tower of deceit and slavery forever. But death has no hold on Flynn. He is rescued and immediately runs to rescue Rapunzel, who has discovered who she is. The daughter of a king. The image of the sun has resonated in her heart since birth, drawn all over her walls, reflected in the flag she kept from the kingdom visit.
He finds her trapped, physically bound, in the tower, and upon entry Mother Gothel drives her weapon into his heart. Rapunzel is willing to give up her freedom for him – offering to take on the yolk of slavery to Mother Gothel in order to free her beloved prince from the bonds of death. Flynn, however, is willing to give up his life for her – slicing off her massive burden of hair in order to keep her alive as he readily embraces death. In this moment – when they are both ready to give up their lives for one another – they’re both saved. Rapunzel’s hair once again resembles that of her parents, turning brown and normal-length, and by defeating the power of this magical flower, preserved in Rapunzel’s hair, Mother Gothel loses everything, including her life. Rapunzel returns home, married to the man who saved her.
Now read this again. Or don’t. But think about it this way – Rapunzel is us. Mother Gothel – satan. Flynn – Jesus.
We are sons and daughters of a King whose benevolence surpasses understanding. We were created perfect in His image, but sin rendered us filthy from birth. Just as Rapunzel was blond because of the flower, although her natural hair was brown like that of her parents. Sin – something we view as so attractive, like Rapunzel’s hair. But sin is a burden – a blond, shiny weight that can momentarily bring us youth and happiness, all the while accelerating the decay of our hearts.
We are trapped in lies. Satan continually tells us that we’re not good enough, that we’re nobodies, that we can’t handle the freedom that surrounds us. He plays off of fear, legalism, and deceit. But God, our perfect daddy, isn’t about to let His kids suffer in this prison. He sends us lanterns – individualized messages of His love for us. For me, he gives me science, showing his majesty in the nerdy realm of enzymes and pathways. He speaks His love for me in music, shows me His peace as I run, affirms my identity through my community, refines my character through my struggles. He wrote us a love letter – the ultimate lantern – which is now bound in a top-selling story of romance, battle, life, death and wisdom (also known as the Bible – shorter name, easier to remember! J).
We can’t access Him on our own. We’re trapped in sin. But through Jesus – symbolized by Flynn – we can experience glimpses of the glorious freedom of Christ. We can dip our toes in the cool water of His mercy and grace, lay in the lush grass of Psalm 121, and dance with His people – our brothers and sisters. He’s planted within our hearts the image not of the sun, but of the Son. Like the mobile that told baby Rapunzel who she was, the image of the sun that appeared in all of her art, we have an insatiable longing plaguing our hearts since birth. It won’t go away. Only God can fill that void. That’s why it’s there – to draw us to Him.
We are weighed down by sin, but once we are willing to take off the yolk of perfectionism and doubt and replace it with the light and glorious yolk of slavery to the God of freedom and love, we can experience life. Because God already took on that burden of death. He took it on the cross. He cut off our heavy burden of sin, so that we could once again resemble him. He beat death. He beat Satan. Once we accept Christ’s burden, Satan has no hold on us. Once Rapunzel’s hair was gone, she became an image-bearer of her parents. Mother Gothel was immediately reduced to the decrepit product of a life of masked sin and destruction.
The movie reveals something new every time I was it. The chameleon – not speaking, always present, offering silent guidance. Holy spirit anyone? She and Flynn are almost drown a river, crawling ashore to a new relationship of vulnerability and trust. So…what’s up baptism?
And that’s the “Tangled” gospel. That night I lay in my bunk at Pine Cove towers and cried. Now I’m not a crier – “Lassie Come Home” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” managed to evoke a couple tears, but that’s about it. After the movie, I was the waterworks, flooded with emotion as I realized how God has used an animated ditsy blond to show me that I was His princess. I’m twenty-one years old, but I relish this. I am valued, beloved, freed, not because of anything I did, but because of everything He did. Flynn returned to Rapunzel, time after time. Jesus returns to me, indefinitely, chasing after me even before I knew who He was.
That summer changed my life. I realized that I was created in beauty, viewed as perfect by the Lord of Lords because when God looks at me He doesn’t see a broken college student, He sees His daughter, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, adopted into His eternal family.
Rapunzel? She’s my hero. Because she’s ridiculous – she swings on vines and paints and sings. She doesn’t deserve squat. And neither do I. But her story reminds me of the gospel. So I named my car after her. Sweet Rapunzel, 2011 Toyota Corolla, rockstar on rockstar. To keep me aware that I’m the daughter of the King, endlessly valued, eternally beautiful, rescued from death, destined to life with my Daddy.