What makes one “real”?

I’ve just started re-reading Homosexual Saints–a collection of stories of GLBT (current and former) members of Community of Christ. One of the writers ended his story with a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit, and it struck me as being a question I can no longer ignore.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Within the last few years, I’ve come face-to-face with the reality of understanding who two people I love really are. They could no longer live as “mechanical” human beings; they had to be true to who they were–to risk that those around them loved them enough for them to be “Real.”

After many, many years of hiding themselves, they have openly acknowledged  their sexuality–a sexuality that is not readily accepted by society. What I have seen since then is the Real coming through. Loving them has brought me into another world, and I have come to know many people who are beautiful.

Unfortunately, there are others–including many in my faith tradition–who see them as ugly, because they don’t understand. They want my loved ones to change back to who they were so that they can be “real.” They want them to hide the inner core of themselves.

My loved ones don’t ask for everyone else to change. They aren’t on some kind of “recruiting” trip. They just want to be “Real.” Real does hurt sometimes, but if we are not Real–and if we don’t help others to become Real–then we are (as the Skin Horse knew) “only toys…[who will] never turn into anything else”–never become the human beings we were created to be.

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What does culture have to do with it?

I have always been grateful for the 3-1/2 years I spent living in another culture as a child. Yes, we spoke the same language (sort of!–English and American are really two different languages), but there were significant cultural differences, and it has made me more aware of how our cultures impact us.

Our cultures especially affect how we see and react to humor–and that humor can be quite different!

I can remember when All in the Family ran on TV. It was a show I loved. I think part of the reason was that Archie was such an over-the-top stereotypical portrayal of a bigot–and his family kept showing that up, even if he didn’t always see it. It was a way of pointing out the issues we were facing in America in ways that allowed some individuals to become aware of them through the humor, rather than lectures.

I can also remember being surprised as I grew older at the kind of sexual overtones that was found in so much of the British humor that my parents enjoyed. Shocked–and a little appalled–until I saw that it was again a way of making points.

I wonder, though, if some of the humor I enjoyed that many years ago would be appropriate today. I’m not sure it would. Not because the points that were being made weren’t important–they were…and are.

But I think that in today’s culture, too often that type of humor plays into reinforcing stereotypes rather than puncturing them.

Unfortunately, regardless of our culture, we seem to live in a world that views anyone who is different from ourselves in negative ways…and humor that may be intended to point out our similarities too often is seen as reinforcement of the differences.

It’s also difficult sometimes to see when humor is actually humor or when it’s a put-down. Members of a particular ethnic group or other culture can far more easily tell stories on themselves than can those outside that group.

So what does culture have to do with it? Everything! What we experience in our own culture impacts how we see others…what the purpose of humor is (and how it’s expressed)…what we are willing to expect from others.

If we lose our sense of humor, we can become harsh and rigid…but if we are not sensitive to how our humor can be seen to individuals in other cultures, we can also be seen as disrespectful. It’s a fine line to tread…but I would rather err on the side of sensitivity.

God was in this place…

For quite a while I’ve been intrigued by the biblical story that phrase comes from. It’s in Genesis 28…part of the story of the two brothers Jacob and Esau. Jacob has been a trickster and a thief (with his mother’s help!), stealing from his older brother the father’s blessing that was rightfully his. Esau is about ready to kill him, but Jacob’s mother has convinced Isaac (the father) to send Jacob off to his uncle’s in order to find a bride. So Jacob is on the road…

Night has come, and he lays down, using a stone for a pillow. While he’s asleep, he dreams that he sees a ladder reaching from heaven to earth–and he sees the angels of God ascending and descending on it. He also hears the Lord blessing him, promising to make his offspring almost innumerable–and promising that the Lord will never leave him.

When Jacob wakes up, he says “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!” And he honors the place.

I wonder sometimes…how many times do I find myself in a similar situation? Not running away from the results of being a thief/trickster…but sleeping–and not recognizing God’s presence in the place where I am.

The story has so many different levels it can be read! Is it sort of a “get-out-of-jail” free kind of story? where Jacob doesn’t have to face the consequences of his actions? I don’t think so. He still has to worry about Esau’s reaction toward him!

Is it a “doesn’t matter what you do, I’ll still be with you” kind of promise from God? Well, sort of….God did promise to always be with Jacob, but he did care about Jacob’s behavior. Jacob didn’t immediately change his behavior–but God didn’t leave him alone either.

Or is it more a challenge to look around me with eyes more open? to see the ways God is present? Is there any place where God is not?

Jacob was in a hard place. Yes, it largely grew out of his own actions, but it still was not a pleasant place to be. And yet God was there. Jacob didn’t see that until his eyes were opened.

God is also in the hard places of our world…the places we don’t want to be (or see)…the hard places we find ourselves because of our own actions. Do we sense God’s presence? Are our eyes open? Or are we too asleep?

There’s a “puzzle” I’ve seen sometimes that’s appropriate to this question:

G O D I S N O W H E R E

How do you read it?

Book Review – Blind Hope

I’ve connected with an intriguing program from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group… In order to get more information out on their books, they are providing me with a free copy in exchange for a review. So…here’s my review of the first book, Blind Hope by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher.

The subtitle of this book caught my attention…”An Unwanted Dog and the Woman She Rescued.” Usually that works the other way around!

When I first opened the book and started reading the introduction, I began to wonder what I might have let myself in for. Was this going to be another in-your-face “Jesus saves” kind of book? I’m glad to report that it’s not!

Yes, the message is definitely about the healing power in a relationship with Christ, but I found myself not wanting to put the book down. I am a dog lover myself, and following the adventures of Laurie and her (initially unwanted and unloved) rescued dog Mia as they began to learn how to trust was fascinating.

Each chapter was Laurie sharing her growing understandings of how her previous actions had put barriers between herself and Christ–and how she saw herself in Mia, as Mia was having to learn how to trust and how to listen for the voice that would lead her in safe paths.

Check out the first chapter for yourself… 

The book is an easy read, and yet it’s one that I think I will find myself going back to re-read for the insights shared.



Wedding dress shopping…

My soon-to-be-daughter-in-law invited me to come along as she went to pick out her wedding dress this past weekend (along with her mother and three of her bridesmaids). I did…and boy, have things changed!

When I went shopping many years ago, there weren’t many places to go! The major department stores–and I do mean major stores–had bridal departments, but you had to go “downtown” to find them. That meant “getting dressed”–hose, skirt and blouse, gloves….the whole shebang. Once we got there, there was a very nice saleslady who more-or-less shepherded you through the process of trying on the dresses and letting you see how you looked in the three-sided mirror.

This time…we went to a store that does nothing but specialize in wedding gowns/prom and bridesmaid dresses/mother-of-the-bride and -groom dresses. An appointment had been made–a specific time set aside for this bride. When we walked in, it was wall-to-wall whiteness and ivory….rack after rack of dresses hung in protective bags. And mirrors! Every wall surface was mirrored! Niki had selected five favorite dresses online, so the saleslady (although that’s too mundane a term…she was more like a private concierge) found those on the racks while the rest of us looked through the various styles to see if there was something else for Niki to try on.

When several had been selected, we were led over to the “show-room” area, where Niki and her helper went into the changing room while the rest of us arranged ourselves on the chairs located around the edge of the “runway” platform (also mirrored everywhere). Eventually she came out in the first dress….nice, but not quite right. Too much frou-frou at the bottom–almost hiding her. So back to the dressing room, this time to try on the dress that was her most favorite of the ones she had listed. We chatted while waiting for her to get out of the first one and into this one…and then she came out, absolutely beaming. The dress looked beautiful on her! She had brought the veil she is going to wear–her mother’s (updated), and so that went on as well. Perfect!

She decided to try on another one–and then one her mother wanted her to try, since it was a different style. Eventually here she came…a lovely dress, and it looked nice on her, but it wasn’t “IT.”

Time to try on the second one again…and yes, this was definitely IT. It could be ordered in the ivory color and size needed.

Next it was time to look for bridesmaid dresses. The three girls who were there were all different body types, so it was a good opportunity to find a style that fit for all of them. They found three dresses in sizes for each…and voila! The first one was perfect! One of them was in the color Niki wanted, so they could see how the color worked as well as the style.

Total time for picking them out? 2-1/2 hours! Certainly much easier than some of the stories the girls were talking about.

At this point, it was time for Mom to discuss payment options with the store…and the girls to get dressed back in their jeans and tops. Nothing more for me to do, so I headed on home…glad I had been part of the experience but just marveling at how much more of a focus there is on this today than there was when I got married.

Perfection is not required

I was reading a book recently that talked about the traps we can so easily find ourselves into…and one of them is the trap of perfection.

That is one that quite often traps me!

If I’m going to do something, I want it to be absolutely right…absolutely perfect. I grew up with the philosophy that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well. I internalized that to mean that it should be perfect. But that’s not what doing something well necessarily means.

It means giving my best, but if there’s a glitch or something isn’t 100% accurate, that doesn’t mean that I’ve done something wrong.

I can play the organ pretty well, but I have never played a church service or recital without something going wrong. Sometimes I’m the only one who knows it–but I either didn’t completely pull the registration I had planned on…or my finger (or foot) hit a wrong note. I can focus on the things that went wrong and let that drag me down–or use it as a learning tool to see what I need to focus on next.

When I listen to a friend of mine play the organ, there is no way that I can compare with her. She’s marvelous! And yet she also knows that every time she plays, something will happen. But that doesn’t mean she stops playing.

I’ve discovered that if I spend too much time comparing myself with someone else, I can talk myself out of doing anything! Someone else is a better writer than I am…or a better organist…or a cleaner housekeeper…or a better teacher…or…

As a woman, it’s also an easy trap to fall into wanting to look perfect. I can look in the mirror and see my flaws–hips are too big…too many extra pounds…hair doesn’t do what I want it to. The flaws seem to be magnified when I look at some of the pictures of celebrities in magazines–whose makeup looks flawless, and whose figures are incredible! But would they really look that way if I saw them in person? Or am I envious of an air-brushed, photo-touched-up picture?

So…perfection isn’t required! Doing my best is. That’s what I need to keep reminding myself!

Getting into her world…

I think I’ve mentioned before that my mother is beginning to deal with significant memory loss. She is still capable of living in her own unit in the assisted living portion of the care center where she lives–she takes her meals in the dining hall and has her own living/bedroom quarters. She is able to make her way around the area in good shape.

However, if you visit with her very long, you will have the same conversation multiple times–each time being the first for her. When we plan on taking her to events, I have to call and remind her the night before, the morning of, and when we’re on the way…and she still may not remember. Nor does she remember when I call to give her news or let her know I’ve been sick–not always, but quite often. Sometimes she hides her checkbook for safe-keeping…and we have to go through every drawer (and every item in every drawer) in order to find the current hiding place.

And I have found myself having difficulty with this, getting impatient when she doesn’t remember–or (especially) when she tells me that I hadn’t let her know. I want her to be the mother I remember–the organized woman who kept our family schedules running smoothly while my father traveled…the woman who knew where everything was kept.

But that’s not who she is now, and that’s not the world she inhabits any more. She’s in her own unique world, and I can’t drag her back into this one. Trying to do so only frustrates both of us.

A couple of days ago, my husband heard someone on NPR talking about dealing with her mother with Alzheimers and how she copes. She has come to realize that she can’t keep trying to pull her mother into this world, but she needs to enter into her world.

I like that idea…but it’s easier to say than to do!

She’s never going to come back completely into this world, though…and if I want our way on this path to bring healing rather than frustration, I need to stop trying to have my own way and figure out how to enter into her world.