I was 14 years old, buried in a heap of fractions when one of my best friends bounded into second period math.
“I want arms like Linda Hamilton!” she said. My friend Jaime went to the movies weekly with her dad and seemed to know what was trending long before the rest of us. Months later the film migrated from the Silver Screen to the TV screen—and that’s when I got to witness firsthand the Sarah Connor of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I’ve loved her--arms and all, ever since.
“I called Linda. She didn’t want to be the little waitress she played the first time. She said, ‘I want to be crazy.’ ” James Cameron, producer, director and co-writer of the film said of Hamilton regarding the second installment. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already on board—Cameron wasn’t interested in recasting the role knowing the story centered around the relationship of Sarah and her son. And that’s the first reason why she rocks.
She was a committed mother. Literally.
In 1984 a human soldier, Kyle Reese, is sent from the future to protect a young Sarah from a cyborg assassin who has been sent to kill her because her son John (not yet conceived) will lead the human resistance against the self-aware machines. The scripted future plays out as Kyle and Sarah spend one night together. Months later, John Connor is born.
Sarah loves her boy fiercely but she’s not packing healthy lunches and taking him to T-ball. Instead, she’s preparing him for war. Weapons training, computer hacking, engine repair and constant preaching that one day he’s going to be a great military leader. John finds the whole story incredulous. When Sarah’s deep convictions land her in Pescadero State Hospital and John in foster care—she remains unapologetic. John is resentful.
As a mother I am in awe of her determination not to raise a nice boy, but a leader who would save the world. Her parenting strategy was singular and had glaring deficits—but her eyes were fixed on future glory.
She was more concerned about people’s lives than their opinions.
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, a war against the machines.”
Sarah saw Hell and it changed everything.
With this new perspective, she was like a prophet warning of impending doom if change didn’t occur. The police didn’t believe her. Neither did Dr. Silberman and his cronies, or the orderly who sexually assaulted her while in restraints (the one she later beat senseless with a broken mop handle). Even her beloved son doubted her story. She paid for her beliefs by being ridiculed, incarcerated and separated from John.
But Sarah wasn’t looking for converts, fans or likes. She was trying to save three billion lives.
This was a woman of conviction and passion. She knew what she believed and if she had to go down, she’d go down fighting.
She was resourceful, focused and forgiving.
It’s been said when people really want to do something, they find a way and when they don’t, they find an excuse. Sarah Connor had no time to whine. She used 6 months of confinement in a California State mental hospital to build a physique that would match her mental acuity. (Remember the chin-up scene?) She used a syringe of rat poison as a hostage-taking weapon. She sought no comfort in food or drink or shopping or sex because personal comfort was unwanted if the world was ending. She wasn’t a woman who delighted in distraction—but extreme focus.
Despite originally being her enemy, Connor partnered with the “800 Series” Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to defeat the nearly indomitable T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Forgiveness is a weapon as powerful as any and by collaborating with Schwarzenegger’s character, she was able to accomplish a goal she couldn’t have alone.
She discovered the value of human life.
Anyone who’s felt passion’s flame also knows the blinding quality of its light. In pursuit of something noble and good, we’re often blinded and can become what we abhor.
It occurs to Sarah that Judgment Day could be avoided if she murders Miles Dyson, the Cyberdyne Systems engineer who further develops the technology that becomes Skynet and initiates the holocaust. Kill him, save everyone else.
If you could go back into time and put a bullet in the body of a young Adolf Hitler before he had the chance to kill two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, would you? Would his murder, in cold blood, be justified?
Sarah Connor ultimately says, no.
Imagine a balance scale with all the people who are or would be on one side and a single person on the other. Imagine the big group of people are victims and the lone wolf is a potential killer. The scales remain balanced.
It seems that fatally condemning someone before their violent acts have been committed or murdering one to save many—doesn’t work in Connor’s mind and heart. But that’s not to say she didn’t try.
First, she used a CAR-15 laser-sighted sniper rifle to take Dyson out. When that failed, she charged his house with a .45 caliber side-arm and shot him at close range, in the shoulder. Seeing the terror in the man’s eyes as his wife and son looked on reminded Sarah of her humanity. Life matters. She is not a terminator.
In 1999, The Matrix gave us freedom-fighter Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). In 1997 Demi Moore famously shaved her head and got jacked in G.I. Jane but back in 1991, a character like Sarah Connor had never been seen. Her power wasn’t in her beauty—but her convictions. She didn’t sacrifice it all for love of a man—but love of humanity.
She was flawed. And aggressive, untrusting, struggling with both legal and mental health issues, yet she didn’t seek her solution in a glass of wine, greater self-care, a vacation or a quick tryst. She didn’t ‘Netflix and chill’ or compare her life to peers on social media. She didn’t spend energy hating her body or complaining about loneliness or bemoaning the state of her affairs. She gave her life to something greater.
And she’s coming back!
A new story to tell.
Schwarzenegger, Eastwood, Willis, Stallone and others have had epic action-hero moments in their silver years—but I can’t recall a 63-year-old woman given the same honor. Hamilton and Cameron are changing the paradigm—again.
Linda Hamilton sat out three Terminator reboots: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genysis (2015), though since James Cameron wasn’t an integral part of any, I’m not sure they should be considered part of the cannon.
Hamilton never thought she’d return to the franchise, preferring instead of a “quiet, normal life” beyond the borders of Tinsel Town. But she “saw an opportunity” and there was a “deeper story to tell, at (her) age.”
Terminator: Dark Fate opens November 2019. In the trailer we see frighteningly advanced terminator pursuing a young woman and a girl. All appears lost, until an 80-Series Toyota Land Cruiser (with an aftermarket brush guard) squeals to a halt and an armed and determined Sarah Connor steps out.
She's dressed for the occasion: all black fatigues accessorized with a Serbu Super Shorty shotgun and leg-mounted holster, a few grenades, a small revolver and the absolutely necessary LAW rocket launcher. In the war against machines, it works every time.
She’s a “bad grandma with a shotgun,” Cameron says of his muscled muse.
To be clear, the world doesn’t need more literal Sarah Connors. Her lack of interpersonal skills, singular focus and legal woes would bury her positive attributes but as an icon, the Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton legacy is profound.
She isn’t a superhero with Amazon blood coursing through her veins. She wasn’t born with Mystique’s shapeshifting abilities or Black Widow’s super-human strength. Sarah Connor was extraordinary, precisely because she was ordinary. Even her name belies her normalcy. Yet this common waitress, when given a revelatory vision of the future and against insurmountable odds—becomes the woman she was destined to be. And saves the world.
The sound of sobbing overflowed from the backseat, spilling into the atmosphere. My own eyes had become fountains as a host of emotions, many never previously encountered, coursed down my cheeks. I’m not even sure how my husband got us home that day—his heart like a team of wild horses had long since gotten away.
Our family laughed loudly on Space Mountain at Disney World. We belt out song lyrics in our living room. We pray together. Laugh together. Work to solve problems and a thousand other things families do. But this was the first time we wept together.
It wasn’t the loss of a family pet or the passing of a beloved grandparent that had gripped our hearts. In some ways, it wasn’t a loss at all. We had all participated in a miracle. A big one and a bunch of smaller ones. And when you encounter God’s Spirit in such a way—something has got to give.
We were driving away from a tiny rented row house. Not the kind of home you would see featured on HGTV. The kitchen was only the size of a large closet. The living room, family room, bedroom were one. The hot water tended to run cold. And yet in this modest space lived a woman, a champion who fought for life and clarity and freedom. And won.
We were there to deliver the prize: Her daughter.
Many people outside the world of foster care assume bonding with and then returning a child to their birth family is a heartache too great to bear and fear of farewell likely keeps families from serving in this capacity.
The War Between Fear & Love
John, “the apostle of love” writes perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I remind myself often that the opposite is also true: fear casts out love.
I’ve never said goodbye to a child we’ve cared for without tears in my eyes—even when their leaving is the result of answered prayers; even when they’re leaving at our request. The emotional impact reverberates through us all—child, biological family, foster family and our extensions (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, friends, co-workers, etc.) who have walked portions of the journey with us. Regardless, I can say with confidence, loving is always worth the cost. Always.
But this isn’t a story of overcoming and reunifying. It’s a story of transformation. And not from the perspective of the bio or foster parents or the child in foster care, but of the foster siblings. And the renovation of hearts who have only experienced the good things in life.
You Have Been Loved, to Love
We have three biological children. They were loved before they were born. I imagined them long before they came to life—and I named them. Prayed for them. Called them forward.
They were more than we could have hoped for. And like every parent who adores their children we offered them opportunities to develop. Our home was filled with melodies as little fingers plunked the piano and tiny voices begged not to have to practice. The deep romantic swell of the cello was there too. And the beat of drums. There was gymnastics and seasons of traveling to competitions. Then musical theater and every Disney ballad sung on and off key throughout the house. School work. Homework. Housework. Church. Chores. Choices. The stuff of life.
We had done a great job of building them up and loving them strong. But we hadn’t yet made space for them to practice doing the same—to love others strong, build others up. As parents, the call was clear. It was time for us turn around and go back.
For us, that meant a ministry of foster care. It meant our kids would be friends with the kids of doctors, pastors and entrepreneurs but also addicts, felons and those on state assistance. It meant that they would study well in school knowing that we’re not primarily seeking A’s but to develop abilities to serve others.
Our kids would have to share time, attention and resources sacrificially. Practically, this looked like sharing their bedrooms, toys and time with us. Getting up a little earlier or going to bed a little later to help manage a house that at times was exploding with children and the needs of children. They answered difficult and sometimes insensitive questions from peers who didn’t understand why our family looked different or what foster care really means.
And we’ve witnessed heart-expanding beauty. Like the time our hours-new foster daughter accompanied me to the gym to watch practice and our daughter’s entire gymnastics team (who had been anticipating our new arrival) stopped practice to smile, wave and introduce themselves. Or watching our teenage son scoop up his two-year-old foster sister and play silly games with her just to make her giggle. Or hearing our children call non-biological “placements” who came to our home as strangers, brother, sister. This is inclusion. This is love.
In varying degrees, we’ve watched our biological children move from being self-focused, peer-pleasing receivers to compassionate givers, leaders, who have the capacity to make decisions, walk independently and have a deeper understanding of their purpose in the world.
They’ve developed resiliency, empathy, responsibility while being able to witness, not experience the first-hand effects of society’s most devouring beasts. Drug and alcohol abuse. Unsafe sexual practices. Homelessness. Domestic Violence. Poverty. I’ve seen this miracle repeated in the homes of our friends who foster also.
Our biological children have become better humans because of foster care.
Honestly, my husband and I don’t know how to raise compassionate, grateful, Christ-loving human beings who live sacrificially and love fully. But we can create space for these attributes to flourish.
When our daughters were learning back-handsprings and stride-circles in gymnastics or our son was learning scales on the cello—it wasn’t the occasional comment or demand “You should really do it like this” that helped them learn. It was practice in the gym or on the instrument. It was time. It required their attention, effort, dedication and passion. And for us parents, it required commitment and money.
So why do we think merely telling our children to be grateful or demanding they act with compassion will do anything to transform their hearts? It’s impossible. That’s not how people learn. That’s not how we change. Furthermore, we do a disservice to our kids when we make their lives as cushy and comfortable as possible because that’s not an accurate portrayal of life. Life is harsh and for some, extremely so.
Creating space where parents and children are compelled to practice soul-skills is where power is forged. That’s where transformation and growth flourishes. It’s the garden where love blooms.
It’s difficult. Messy. Loud. Frustrating. Uncertain. Frightening. And necessary.
Weeping with my family after returning their sister, our daughter of eleven months, to her mother was a pivotal moment in our family’s history, legacy. We all loved that child, according to our roles in her life and she changed us. Made us better. Many years later and my soul is still bearing fruit from our time together.
There are many ways to rescue. It may be formal or informal, for a season or a few, but let me encourage you parents—the ones who love their biological children, and have given them everything possible, to allow them to receive what you cannot give. Consider becoming a foster family. The gains and losses will transform the hearts of those you love best in the couple of ways I mentioned and 10,000 others that time will reveal. Consider making space for your children to learn what you cannot teach—lessons the soul and heart must experience for itself. Consider creating space for one more.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "