I read recently that in the 6th Episode of the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford’s character, Hans Solo, was actually supposed to die. The original script included his death during a raid on an Imperial base. But, reportedly George Lucas was worried what killing off one of the main characters would do to sales, merchandising, and the massive franchise Star Wars had become.
So, instead what did we see? An alternate ending – one that the audience could be much more comfortable with. One that left us feeling good and hopeful – one that kept us coming back for more. We saw the Ewoks and a “teddy bear luau” .
Alternate endings are prevalent in the film and television industry. Some endings are simply left on the cutting room floor only to go down in movie trivia history. While other deleted scenes are included in the actual release of the film letting the audience choose the ending they like best.
Usually I don’t want a choice. I like to know how a story ends and there should only be one ending. But every once and a while, a movie takes me on a journey that leads me to believe an expected ending is coming. But when it doesn’t end the way I anticipated, I am left feeling unsatisfied and confused. The movie leaves me in a place that does not feel quite right. It’s not where I thought the story was going- not the ending I would have chosen.
My mind wanders with “what if’s” and I begin to create my own alternate ending in my head. I come up with a conclusion that I like much better and that leaves things neatly wrapped up and resolved.
In the past few weeks I have found myself desperately longing for an alternate ending to real life – not a movie – but my real life story. It’s a story I have been telling nearly as long as I can remember. I guess you could say, in some ways, it’s the story of my life.
You see more than 25 years ago I met a special little boy on the streets of Brazil. His name was Nildo. He was a street child. His father had abandoned him and his mother could not afford to care for him. He slept on a bench and had no clothes or shoes. He was dirty and hungry.
Meeting this young boy changed my life. It taught me an important lesson – I may not be able to save all the hurting children in the world, but I could make a difference for one. And years later, I have never forgotten.
He grew into a fine young man, helping other children and even starting a family of his own. He was able to come to the states for a visit where we were able to see each other again and reconnect. His story has literally touched and inspired thousands around the world. And to say his life changed mine would be an understatement.
(I write about Nildo in my book, Awake and you can watch a short video about his story here.)
A few weeks ago I received some tragic news. It was unexpected and a total surprise. The story of my life, Nildo, was gone. My inspiration, my motivation, and my success story to prove the work that I do is important – it had disappeared in what seemed like an instant.
In our connected world today there is no time for grief – no time to process things privately. We are expected to instantly post, comment, “like” and have 140 characters to wrap it all up in.
But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. I needed time. I needed to ask God all the questions a good Christian girl is not supposed to ask. I needed to ask “why?”
I was stuck in the first two stages of grief … denial and anger. And the anger was winning.
I couldn’t talk about it. Instead I fumed inside. The lyrics to a Dixie Chicks song played over and over again in my head – “I’m not ready to make nice – I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as … ” Well, you get the point.
Yes, I was mad. Because, this wasn’t part of my story. This was not the story I had created. This was not the story I had been telling people all these years. This was not the story I had just filmed for a special online conference that aired just days after Nildo’s death.
No, this was not my story. My story had a happy ending, one I could explain and tie to a practical inspirational truth. My story made sense.
This story – this reality I was being forced to consider – felt like some alternate ending to a movie I didn’t even want to see.
My story gave people the ending they craved. It kept them coming back for more. It gave them hope. And, it neatly wrapped up an important truth. If we reach out and do our part, lives can be changed. Nildo was that shining example of a life transformed. He was inspiration to look past the masses and zero in on the one child, the one person God has put in your path. He helped us “see the one”.
That is what I thought his story was all about. That is what I thought my story was all about. And that is how I thought God wanted to use his story.
So, the tragic news stopped me in my tracks.
These past weeks I have been mourning the loss of his life. That little boy I met so many years ago that grew to be such a loving and caring young man. I have been mourning the loss of a father and husband who leaves behind a wife and three small children, one born just days after his death. That little girl will never know her father and what an incredible man he was. I have been morning the loss of a friend – a son.
But I have also been mourning the loss of the story – my story.
I am realizing now more than ever before that Nildo’s story was never my story to begin with. I was just a small part of his story. A big beautiful story but one that I cannot write all the chapters in. There is no alternate ending to choose from, just one tragic end to a life beautifully lived.
And here’s the question I have started asking myself: How much are we willing to risk to let God write our stories? Am I really brave enough to let God write my story … my whole story – with no alternate endings to choose from?
You see, we get into trouble when we start to think we can save the world. Yes, we can make a difference, but we cannot save. And, we cannot write all the chapters in the story.
We are all just supporting roles – up for Best Supporting Actor, or Actress. But make no mistake, there is only one writer and only one person up for the Oscar for Best screenplay. This is God’s story and he is writing it His way – one changed life at a time.
If I am honest, I am still angry. But, my anger is a righteous one. As Bill Hybels calls it – it is a “Holy Discontent”. One that longs for a world where children are never abandoned and forgotten. One that longs for a world where children don’t have to live with those scars and fight those fears the rest of their lives. For a world that allows full healing and recovery on this side of heaven. A world where love does win … I long for a new world.
And maybe this is what living out an authentic faith truly means … Maybe this is what we are supposed to do, supposed to think about. Maybe that longing is what drives us, pushes us, and inspires us to keep going against all odds.
That desire to restore hope and bring God’s kingdom to life here on earth … not in the future, but now in our time. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the end, that is what hope is all about, and what our lives should be all about.
Hope restored to a hurting world.
The one thing I know is this:
He lived and because he lived – I lived. I have lived a life that would have been very different without meeting him.
Because he lived his story touched thousands – hundreds of thousands – inspiring them to get involved.
He lived and became a son, brother and true friend loved by many.
My one comfort is that this child who bore the scars of abandonment, fear, loneliness, and pain now rests in the arms of a loving God – truly rescued once and for all.
Right now Nildo’s death feels like the end to a spectacular story. But I have to believe God is not finished yet. And personally I am not ready for this movie to be over. I don’t want to see the words “the end” appear on the big screen.
There might not be any alternate endings to choose from, but I do believe this is just one chapter in a never-ending story … a story that God is writing everyday.
So, goodbye sweet Nildo. How could I ever forget you? Because of you, I am forever Awake to the needs of the world. You changed my life and I truly am the lucky one.
To give a gift in Nildo’s memory to help support his family click here.