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The Beast Under My Skin

There’s a character from The X-men, known simply as “Beast.” His name is actually Hank McCoy, and he was a public high school teacher before his beastly form took over and he had to take up residence at the Institute – a private school for teenage mutants. My oldest son, Sam, has several episodes from the cartoon version of this comic on DVD. (Yes, you can blame my husband for turning him into a comic book nerd at such a tender age). One of the episodes tells how Hank was permanently transformed into Beast. When he was just a teenager, he discovered his mutant power: a beast type person with incredible, hulk-like strength and power would emerge whenever Hank found himself in a tense or frustrating situation. When Hank’s rage subsided, he would resume his normal body.

These outbursts of course troubled Hank, so he learned to control them by reciting Shakespeare. When Hank grew up, he became a science teacher, and developed a serum which eliminated the outbursts altogether. Several years later, Hank develops immunity to the serum and is out of practice meditating on poetry. In the climactic scene of this episode, Professor X and some other X-men are trying to bring Hank back after the beast has taken over. One of them quotes a passage from Hamlet as the rest tell him, “This isn’t you. You’re stronger than the beast. You have to take control.” Ultimately he comes to his senses, but his physical body is irreversibly transformed into the Beast.

Why am I telling this story in the Rabbit Room? Because I am a regular person who sometimes morphs into a raging monster and finds herself in dire need of an intervention, just like the one in that final scene; and I have the distinct feeling I am not alone.

I can totally see the shocked looks on all of your faces, but let’s pretend there are no church people watching or listening and I’ll share an example.

There are days. When I’m exhausted from being up all night with my baby boy who refuses to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time, and my oldest son brings home notes from his school teacher that make me feel like I’m raising a delinquent, and the little, middle, girl child (which is incidentally who I was) is playing alone in the corner cutting up tiny pieces of paper–and oh yeah, it’s dinner time and I don’t have anything cooking.

Yeah, those days are not very nice around this house. And the volcano usually bursts a few minutes before my husband walks in the door.That’s when I have to get alone and give myself a little pep talk. These are only feelings, Janna. This is not the real you. You love your kids. You don’t really want to trade lives with the blonde in the jaguar who sped past you in the Wal-Mart parking lot this morning. You’re just really tired. Tomorrow will be a better day … I promise.And it usually is, especially when I reach out to other friends in my life who say even more things I need to hear. But since we’re being brutally honest, I’ve been know to have beastly moments on good days too. Days when I’ve had plenty of sleep, and my kids are well and playing nicely, but still need me enough that I don’t get to sit at the keyboard for an hour or so; that’s when the me-monster shows up, and my skin starts to feel a little furry yet again.

It would certainly be nice if there really were a serum I could drink to make my beast disappear forever. I believe the apostle Paul was also hoping for a permanent cure when he kept asking God about that little thorn. I can’t speak for Paul’s answer, but what I’ve been learning is that “daily” can mean hourly, and “bread” is not just about physical nutrition. My spirit and soul need just as much food, every day, as my body does.

So, like Hank, I am learning other practices to keep my beast at bay. I do not know any Shakespearean passages by heart, but I intentionally try to fill my life with artistry and beauty. Yes, prayer and scripture make the healthiest breakfasts, but sometimes it’s the song I hear in the afternoon that waters those seeds and helps them take root. Also, reading a good book, even if it’s only minutes at a time in the bathroom, goes a long way on a rough day. And soaking in the sunshine or the view from my back porch is like conditioning for a marathon. I’m not sure where the finish line is in this race of life, but I hope when I cross it, my transformation will be more than physical.


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