I sat there holding my daughter, my arms wrapped tight around her as she slept, her body hot with a fever from an infection. My wife slept unsoundly on the pullout sofa across the room. The only sound was machines pumping my little girl full of fluids and vaccines. As I prayed for her over and over, I found myself wanting to escape to somewhere. Anywhere.
~ ~ ~
You might remember I shared a powerful moment with my best friend, Carver, after my daughter was in the hospital last year. Well, I haven’t yet shared what that time in the hospital was actually about.
For one, it requires sharing more about my daughter, which I typically don’t do to protect her. But it also requires me to open up about my obsession with Supernatural fanfiction.
In other words, during one of my hardest experiences as a parent, I had to use fantasy as an escape to cope with reality.
One afternoon last December, my daughter suffered a terrible accident that gave her second-degree burns over 20% of her body. My wife had been out running errands; my daughter was in my care when the accident happened.
Recounting the story of what happened to doctors, nurses, pastors, and concerned friends, I had to tell over and over again of my failure to protect my daughter. I never cried while telling it. I didn’t let myself really connect with what was I saying.
Each time, I recited facts with little emotion because I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself if I allowed any emotion to come through.
My family spent two weeks in the hospital an hour from our home. We were in the same small room 24/7. Breaks came when we needed something from the local Ronald McDonald House or the few times I made the run an hour back home for something.
Because of my daughter’s severe burns, she couldn’t sleep in the bed alone. Basically covered head-to-foot in gauze. She also contracted a UTI while in the hospital.
One night, a few days into this ordeal, completely wiped in every way possible from the experience, I found myself praying to no avail. I felt no comfort. I felt no peace. My reality was so stark that I could find no joy around me.
However, I couldn’t let myself be weak. I had a wife struggling with our circumstances, and she needed me. I had a daughter fighting unimaginable pain who needed me. Someone had to be able to collect all of the information from the doctors, make the decisions that came our way, and relay information to our prayer-partners.
In those early hours of the morning, I found myself needing some sort of break. Sleep was useless.
Conversations weren’t helpful. And even faith seemed to fall short.
Somehow, I had to escape my world.
So, I opened up my phone and went to a collection of Supernatural fanfiction that I’d heard about. I opened up a story that promised mindless entertainment. Around midnight, I began reading this short novel of 70,000 words, thinking I would read a chapter or two and take a break.
I read the whole thing in two hours.
Afterward, I found a strange feeling. My reality had not changed. I was still holding my daughter tight to my chest as she slept through the power of morphine.
However, I felt a spark of joy. Something I had not encountered in days.
I clicked to the next story — this one, another short-ish novel of 100,000 words. Another two hours, and I was through with it. Afterwards, I felt that spark again, only stronger.
At this point, my shift was over and my wife took our daughter in her arms. I crashed on the pullout sofa where my wife had been and immediately passed out.
I actually slept better than I’d done up to that point.
The fanfiction was light, sappy, and unrealistic, with a happy ending for all. The stories took me to a world where everything always worked out the way it was supposed to. People who did bad things were punished, good people were rewarded, and accidents never destroyed the hero’s life.
This is why it helped me. My daughter had been injured by an accident — something that had no one to blame or fault. And in that time, I needed to know that it was all going to be all right. I needed to know that it would work out.
I needed hope. And I needed to restore my faith in that hope.
The “Hallmark Special” nature of the stories I read strengthened my faith. Seeing random stories end with hope being fulfilled was a reminder that hope in God does not disappoint.
Every night from then on, taking my daughter in my arms, I’d pull up a new story to read. These stories didn’t change my reality. They simply reminded me that hope in God is not foolish.
After two weeks, my family returned home. My daughter recovered rapidly — the doctors were surprised at how quickly her skin healed. After a few months of followups, we bid farewell to the doctor’s office for the final time.
Honestly, it was a little bit like one of my fanfiction stories. The accident didn’t destroy my daughter, my wife, or myself. And after all was said and done, God used it to draw us closer to Him.
Fanfiction is not for everyone. But for me in that hospital room — it actually rescued me. And I praise God for using it to build my faith and strengthen my hope in Him.
Have you used any form of fantasy, healthy or otherwise, to escape a hard reality? How did you rediscover grounding in reality?
Hi Dean; even more, bless you Dean. Thanks for being a dad who always wants to protect his daughter (even when that may not be possible). Thanks for being a husband who always wants to support his wife (even when you, too, are exhausted). Thanks for being authentic (by the way, you are also an excellent writer). And, I’m happy you had a happy ending (and, thank God [literally] we gay Christians will eventually experience our own happy ending). I too am a gay Christian in a mixed-orientation marriage; I too have a daughter (whom I try to protect) and wife (who died last year). Bless you for being such a great role model. In Christ, Mike.
What a great comment Mike! And condolences on the loss of your wife, brother.
Thanks so much, dear Brother, for your kindness. My wife of 41 years was indeed precious. I cannot wait for her to give me “the guided tour” when I reach heaven! 🙂 But for now, I am very grateful for the Brotherhood of YOB. Thank you for being there for me. In Christ, Mike.
Thank you so much, Mike. I appreciate you sharing your story. I am sorry that you have lost your wife but I am glad you know you will be able to see her again in heaven. That will be quite the joyous reunion one day!
That’s sooo good that your daughter and your family and you came out of it ok. I’ve found the hardest place to be is with someone you love who’s suffering and you can’t do anything, and you’d change places with them in a flash and you can’t and you feel so helpless. In their suffering prayers never seem like enough. I’ve been thru enough of these, with wins and losses, to learn that you live thru suffering. Not just that you make it thru, but you find what’s real that matters cause you find what you need in God.
That’s my grounding, something real from God. A fav verse is “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope thru the power of the Holy Spirit.” Real joy & peace, real hope. I like watching movies like Star Wars & Star Trek & Lord of the Rings & pretty much all the Marvel films, they’re a healthier escape than porn, but if I want to move forward I need what’s real from God.
I am thankful as well that everyone ended up being ok. And yes, fantasy is a far healthier escape to feeding my lust. I’m a huge fan of Star Wars and the Marvel films myself. Sometimes I connect the lines to Truth in Scripture in those works even though the authors didn’t intend it. Even in fantasy, God’s Truth can still be proclaimed. It’s a way to connect the fantasy to the foundation we have in Christ as you mentioned.
“Even in fantasy, God’s Truth can still be proclaimed.” True that. Fiction can point to Truth. I forgot to include the Matrix trilogy, it’s violent but there’s parallels to the gospel story. I didn’t mean for my comment to exclude fantasy, more that there are things that move the soul but not the spirit.
I hope this doesn’t get me banned 🙂 but after you wrote about Supernatural awhile ago I watched a bunch of episodes. And you were right, the two lead guys are awesome but the show has a zombie/Xfiles/Exorcist vibe that gets to me in less than entertaining ways and I had to pass. Any chance the two leads have been in something else together?
Finding hope in anything but Jesus feels like a non-Sunday School answer. But he absolutely gives us those simple pleasures to enjoy. A view of the mountains. A hot cup of tea before bed. And fanfiction stories. Thanks for this reminder to enjoy those things on this side of Paradise as we await the time to enjoy him more fully on the other side.
Yeah and as someone in ministry, I know I’m supposed to demonstrate “perfect faith,” or others may expect. But in the real moments of life — when things aren’t so good and Paradise feels an eternity away– God provides actual help in ways people might not expect. I honestly believe God provided that escape for me. He knew what I needed and used it to give me His peace. Thank you for your encouragement in this, brother.
I’m coming in late to this post and this discussion, but I have to comment because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: people tend to imagine that God is only with us in churchy/religious things, and not in thing like viewing mountains and drinking tea (to use your examples). But in fact is God with us in those times as well, and we can even do them for him.
“Whether therefore ye eat or drink or whatever ye do, do everything for the glory of God.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:31
I’m reminded of something Tolkein said about fantasy, in response to the criticism that fantasy is just for people trying to escape the real world. His response is that, yes, it’s escapism, but that’s not a bad thing: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to
get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks
about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has
not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.
I love fantasy too. Good fantasy helps me lift my eyes up to higher things, “set [my mind] on things that are above, not things that are on earth.” It’s helped me through some dark times by helping me to imagine how much more there is to the world than what I see and experience; how much more meaning and importance there might be in my life than I now realize.
I love that quote from Tolkien. I am a huge fan of his works, even having read the Silmarillion a few times. It’s so true how fantasy can offer a unique freedom when you feel trapped. And like you, I love how it helps me see past what is around to me so much more in life. Thank you for sharing how it’s impacted you, Ryan.