Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Gospel of Little Orphan Annie

When I was in 5th grade, I was obsessed with the movie Annie. Just in case you've never heard of it, it is a musical about a little orphan girl during the Great Depression. She lives in an orphanage, run by a gin-guzzling old maid named Miss Hannagan (played excellently by Carol Burnett), who sings an entire number about how she hates little girls. A stroke of luck lands Annie as the guest of Mr. Warbucks, a cold-hearted, stern multi-millionaire bachelor who seemingly cares nothing about anyone or anything, save his own fortune. His publicist Grace thinks it will be a good media stunt to host an orphan for a few weeks at Christmas time, to show Mr. Warbucks "softer side." So Annie enters Mr. Warbucks' life.

Annie is plucky and sweet and tenacious. She doesn't really believe she is an orphan (despite all evidence to the contrary) because she was left as a baby with a note that said her parents would come back for her, and the note was accompanied by one half of a heart-shaped locket. The other half of the locket, the note said, would be the sign that they really were her parents. Annie has unfailing optimism, showcased in the well-known song "Tomorrow."

At first Mr. Warbucks is annoyed by Annie. But he begins to see that she draws something out of him that makes him feel alive again. He then wants to adopt Annie, but she refuses. She doesn't believe she is really an orphan. Her parents are somewhere out there, looking for her.

In the end, she learns she really is an orphan, but that she doesn't have to be. There's someone out there who loves her and wants to call her his own. When the scene fades to black, Annie has a family and a home, and Daddy Warbucks has found his heart again.

My kids recently discovered the 1999 version of Annie made by Disney. (Did you know there was such a thing? This one has Kathy Bates as Miss Hannagan and the dude from Alias as Daddy Warbucks. Weird.) They have been watching it over and over and have been singing the lyrics non-stop. Non.Stop.

It's been a strange time-warp experience for me. I'm watching the movie with them and--all of the sudden--I'm ten again. I remember what it felt like to love this story and have it break my heart all at the same time. I remember how lonely I felt back then. I wasn't an orphan, but I was a pretty sad kid who felt alone most of the time. I didn't have anything resembling the resiliency of Annie. I didn't know I was special; I didn't believe I was worthy of love and belonging like she does. I've felt the cold shivers of my own isolation run through me, just like I was a girl again.

As the kids were watching the movie again the other morning, I remembered what Jesus said in John 14:18. "I will not leave you as orphans."

And it hit me. Why Annie had mattered so much to me as a little girl and why it spoke to my kids and why it could still make me cry as I heard the songs. One bit of one song particularly haunts me...
It's a hard-knock life for us-
No one cares for you a smidge
When you're in an orphanage!
It's a hard knock life...

In so much of this life, we behave like we are orphans. We live as though we don't have a God who has promised that He would not leave us as orphans. We wander around thinking that we have to do things all on our own. We believe we aren't worthy of love and belonging. We've stopped trusting that somewhere out there is a table with a seat saved just for us. We live out of the perception that no one cares for us a smidge.

And sometimes we think that God is like Daddy Warbucks...aloof, only concerned with His own affairs, someone we have to charm to find His affection. This is also a miscalculation.

No, Jesus sees us wandering around in the dust and mud of our lives. He enters into our mess and sees us as we are. He tells us that God wants to meet our every need. He tells us that we are part of His family and that there's room for us in His home. He says He will not leave us as orphans and tells us that God's plan all along has been to adopt us as sons and daughters out of His great love. This is the gospel--the Good News-- that God looks at us and calls us "child."

Once Annie sees that she has Daddy Warbucks' heart, she doesn't turn back. She presses into that reality. She trusts her new identity as Annie Warbucks, beloved daughter of the mighty and powerful Oliver Warbucks. What might happen if we looked at our own story and really believed Jesus as he says, "I will not leave you as an orphan"? What if we stepped boldly into our identities as beloved children of God? What if we stopped forgetting who we really are in Christ?

Because that is a story of triumph over tragedy and hope over despair. It's the story of belonging and life together and a love that overcomes. This is the story we were made for, friends, to live with assurance that we are deeply loved, welcomed and accepted by our Father.

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