Childhood cancer is perhaps the most difficult of all life's struggles. Hal and I experienced this reality when our congregation walked with one of our families through the loss of their beloved young teenage daughter a few years ago. We and our church family will never be the same. The depth of shared love and sorrow is difficult to express for any who have not loved or cried so deeply. The power of this film is in its ability to communicate deep human experiences in ways that can powerfully impact the viewers. That is the gift of Gary Wheeler's film "The Heart of Christmas."
Based on a true story written by Lance W. Dreesen, the young boy with leukemia is Dax Locke (Christopher and Nicholas Shone). Told as a tale within a tale, the Locke family journey is the catalyst for transforming the family of Megan (Candace Cameron Bure) and Walt (Burgess Jenkins) who have lost their relational and spiritual focus in the hectic strivings of modern life. Coming upon a home being decorated for Christmas on Halloween, Megan is directed to the Locke blog to understand why the entire neighborhood is supporting Dax and his parents Austin (Eric Jay Beck) and Julie (Jeanne Neilson). It is the reading of this enacted story that reminds all of us to cherish every moment of life.
Without being preachy or religious, the journey of both families is clearly grounded in faith: faith that death is not the end of life and that even when those we love die at an excruciatingly young age, we will in fact be reunited in a far better place. This truth is expressed in the rooms of St. Jude's Hospital by a young girl who expresses, in the matter-of-fact manner seen so often in such children, that she will care for Dax when he "earns his wings" and they are angels together with God.
The second message is one of love. Facing life alone is one of the most unnecessary pains that many people choose. Overwhelmed and isolated, Julie enters into a community of mothers at St. Jude's where they provide authentic understanding and meaningful hugs that nourish her soul. The same support is expressed from the community when they realize that Dax will not live through Christmas and the entire neighborhood decorates their homes and sings the carols of Christ's birth to Dax and his family months before December 25. This supportive care changes all of them as both receivers and givers of love are nourished.
There is no deeper sorrow than losing a child. Such a loss never makes sense. Attempts to explain such losses are not what the soul requires, but rather joining in the journey of suffering with shared love. Theological and philosophical discussions about evil and the tragedies of the human condition are necessary, but though the answers are intellectually possible, they do not provide the comfort needed in the anguish of loss. As the name implies, it is the "heart" of Christ's presence that is most needed by all of us in facing our sorrows and fulfilling our joys. "The Heart of Christmas" portrays that truth.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When you lose someone who has lived a long life, the mind is able to convince the heart that their death makes sense. But when a child dies long before they have really lived, the non-sense of such a premature loss does not make sense to the mind or heart. Have you ever experienced a non-sense loss that still haunts your heart and mind? How have you received supportive love and care?
2. The secondary tale of a hectic family that does not realize the precious gifts that we are to each other implies that their lives change because of reading this blog. The problem is that loss of spiritual and relational focus creeps upon a family and needs continual tending. How do you keep your spiritual focus so that each day you live a deeper life of love and care?
3. The researchers who are working to heal cancer need our support. The Locke family is attempting to raise $1.7 million to fund St. Jude's hospital for one day. What causes are you supporting to help ease the pain and loss of your fellow human beings?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.