Lessons learned from Dragons.

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

I am an avid lover of stories. Books, yes, but more so, the stories. Even ones that aren’t in books. Don’t we all love a good story told around a campfire, or the old, old stories in books that are so old that there’s no cover art, just the title and the author’s name on the spine. So what makes these stories so great? What makes them so intriguing and engaging, so timeless? Why is there so much shared substance between stories from all over the place? Why are the same stories recycles countless times, but still read and adored by thousands, or even millions, of people around the world?

We love them because they tell us something.

They start with someone who’s just like us: an imperfect human being with imperfect desires and actions, and an imperfect life. So we’re attracted to this person because here’s something of ourselves that we see in them.

And the story goes on to tell of this person’s actions, and the actions of those around them. And at some point, there comes to be tension, pain, anguish, anger, hurt.

Our favorite stories are ones full of darkness, betrayal, and tragedy. The ones full of giants, monsters, and dragons, and despair and hopelessness.

Why?

Because these stories mirror our own lives. We too face darkness, betrayal and tragedy. We too face our own giants, monsters, and dragons that fill us with hopeless despair. But we love these stories because they show us somebody, maybe a fictional somebody but still someone, who’s faced these things before.

Even more than that, they show us someone who fought their dragon, who fought back the clouds of hopelessness that hung heavily over them, and fought until the dragon was dead, and the sun shone. Until they won.

And for some reason, the sun is always brighter after the darkness passes.

And those are the stories that we attach ourselves to. Those are the ones we tell and retell. Those are the ones we tell our friends to pick up. They’re the ones that stick around for years and years, because they tell people something.

What do they tell?

They tell us that every dragon has to die. Every cloud will pass, every giant will be slain, every mountain crushed. They tell us that when there is darkness, fighting it is always right even when the battle seems lost.

And they tell us that ordinary people, like ourselves, were the ones who killed the dragon. They tell us that we too can defeat the dragon that’s staring us down. We can be heroes too.

“How many brave or chivalrous deeds have come about through a young boy’s fascination with childhood stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the round table? Or how many injustices were attacked by those who learned right and wrong from Robin Hood?”

-Charles de Lint, The Little Country

What is a story that you love(d)? Was it a childhood story, or one you read later in life? Why did you love it? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter (@MrsAlenaeous).

So many things before skinny.

It’s a cliche. It’s something we hear so often that it rings hollow:

Be yourself.

We hear it day in, and day out. We hear it in many forms: You are uniquely you. God created you to be unique. You can’t be anyone but yourself. Just be you. Be who you were born to be.

But what does any of that mean?

I guess what they’re trying to say is: Don’t spend so much time wishing that you were someone else. Not so much telling you not to be someone else.

But much of the time, we look at ourselves, or at least I know I do, and wish that we could change almost everything about us. Skin, hair, facial features, weight, body shape and build, eye color. The problem is, it’s mostly things that might be unchangeable, or things that, even if they were changed, you wouldn’t be happy with anyway. Like, no matter how skinny you get, you don’t like that little pouf on your stomach; and no matter how many times you cut and dye your hair, it never looks as good as hers; and no matter what kind of makeup you apply, it never quite brings out your eyes the way it does for her.

But if you tell anyone, the voices come nagging: You’re so beautiful, just be yourself. You’re a beautiful snowflake. You’re a unique butterfly.

Or whatever… I don’t know exactly what all of them are. Unique snowflake? Beautiful butterfly?

Sure, we’re all unique. But I think that we’re all hammered with this message of uniqueness and never told why or how that’s important, or at least never told how to discover its importance. What are people expecting you to glean from it?

Maybe they simply do just want you to know you’re beautiful. But would it help if they attached something like, “Your smile lights up the room?” Or maybe, “You’re the most kind, caring person that I know, and a wonderful friend.” Those things are beautiful, after all.

I think we don’t really know what beauty is, or else we’re so over-saturated in worldly images of beauty (skinny, flawless skin, red lips, doe-y eyes, long eye-lashes), that we forget what godly beauty is (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness, being so full of God that you don’t need to flaunt it). We forget that a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised, and we forget that beauty is fleeting.

I see so many girls and women tortured by their appearance, not confident in who they were made to be, not confident that they are made in the image of God, and so convinced that in order to be acceptable, loved, and cherished, that they first must fit into this unrealistic mold that we’ve set out for women. This size zero mold, that only has room for so much thigh and tummy fat, that only has room for perfect cat-eyes and long eye-lashes, and wants to get rid of freckles and acne for a “flawless finish.”

I honestly fear for any daughters I may have, and for sons, who might grow up thinking, this is beautiful. But I’d rather my daughters be so many other things before skinny. I’d rather my sons value so many other qualities in a woman above their body weight and outer appearance. Things like godliness. Does she run hard after Jesus, so hard that in order to catch her he has to run equally hard next to her for the rest of his life? Wisdom. Is she just book-smart, or does she know how to apply it? Is she foolish and childish and petty? Joy. Is she constantly down on herself and the world around her? Can he help her to see the world as a brighter place, or could she help him to do so? Does she laugh easily, laugh at the future and not worry? Peace. Is she a peace-keeper, or is she quarrelsome? Does she enjoy fighting and bickering, and start fights, or does she quiet them? Strength. If she does have to fight (for her husband, her children, her God) is she willing, and able? Or does she back down from all conflict, afraid, cowering? Respectful. Does she respect her man, or does she undermine him and tear him down? Does she build him up, or criticize and nag?

And so many others. Now don’t get me wrong. Health is important. But constantly comparing yourself to others who may not even be real, is not healthy.

And of course, we have to realize that none of us do these things perfectly. But that’s where chasing Jesus comes in. If you’re doing that, then you are free to be you, even with all of your flaws and failures, and you are undeniably beautiful, inside and out, because He created you and He lives in you. Even with acne, stretch marks, freckles, frizzy hair, weird toes, and a crooked nose.

So I think what’s missing from the cliched phrase telling us to be who we are is a simple addition at the end:

Be yourself in Him.

 

What are some things that you’d rather your daughter (or yourself) be before skinny (or before another trait that the world emphasizes)? Leave thoughts in the comments or on Twitter (#thingstobebeforeskinny).

Some thoughts on marriage:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

2Timothy 2:22

When he first pops the question and you get your ring, everything is all about that white dress and what shoes you’ll wear, and should you get a tiara or a veil, or just do your hair, and nothing seems more exciting than marrying that special man in your life. Absolutely nothing. You will get to spend the rest of your life with someone you love, who loves you, and everything is fairy-tale perfect. You get to be a princess for a day, and its like the Cinderella story, but skip over the step-sisters and losing the Prince, and go straight to the Happily Ever After from the ball.

It’s magical, and wonderful, and glorious, and other than losing tons of weight right before the wedding due to stress, which causes your perfectly fitted dress to be not-so-perfectly fitted (ahem, this isn’t personal experience or anything), you’re perfectly overjoyed to get in the getaway car and drive away with your new hubby.

And then you get home. It’s been about a week, and the honeymoon is done. And you quickly realize that he’s not that list of all the things you love about him. The man you married is, gasp, a human being. He has flaws and he doesn’t always love you the right way. He doesn’t communicate emotions well (and neither do you). He’s a man with a man’s desires and outlook on the world, but also desires and an outlook that’s unique to him, so you can’t just put him in a box labelled “The Mind of Men” and call it good. And you’re a woman with a woman’s outlook and desires, and you want different things than he does, but neither of you knows how to say it because you haven’t learned to yet. And just as he doesn’t always love you perfectly, you struggle to respect him perfectly.

Marriage is hard.

And suddenly you realize what everyone really meant when they told you, “He’ll do things you don’t like.” “He’ll irritate you.” “You will fight.” “You won’t always get along.” “Marriage is sanctifying for both of you.” And your response in your head was something like: “Yeah, but it can’t be that hard.”

And you realize that you both married strangersNo matter how long you’ve known each other, how long you’ve dated, there will always be things about your new spouse that you didn’t know. Things that irk you, rub you the wrong way, or hurt you because you both have different brains that work beautifully and uniquely and are different.

And you wonder, how do I do this thing?

Marriage really is sanctifying. Learning how to be a husband or wife is hard. Because it requires you to take a look at yourself and realize how sinful you are. Marriage brings out sin you didn’t even know you had, and sin that you may not have known that your spouse has. Marriage is hard, particularly in a culture that tells you that when you’re not happy you should just give up; a culture that tells young people to stay kids as long as possible, resulting in this generation’s problem of “kidults,” fully mature human beings who still act like they are 16 at age 26, 27, 30; a culture that tells you not to do anything that makes you unhappy, and do anything that makes you even remotely feel good; that tells you not to do anything that might cause you to have to sacrifice your own needs, wants, and desires unless you get something better out of it; a culture that says you don’t need to make anybody feel good except yourself. And then this same culture wonders why its adults can’t grow up, why they are selfish, and why they feel so entitled, why they suck as parents.

Marriage is counter-cultural. It is counter-cultural first and foremost because it is a picture of the Gospel, and the Gospel is as counter-cultural as you can get. But also, because it forces you to be the opposite of all of the aforementioned things if you want it to work. It makes you grow up, it makes you selfless, and it teaches you that other people will not always make you happy, but loving them anyway is worth it. A long-lasting marriage that defies all odds and stays together due to Christ-centeredness is something rarely seen or heard of anymore. So, know that when you get married, as a Christian, you will be going against the grain. You will be different. People will tell you so, they will talk about you, they will think you’re weird. They will act like your lifestyle is somehow inferior because you chose to sacrifice your independence and  on the altar of love, to become dependent, to become one with someone else, fusing two souls. Marriage is one person laying down their life for another.

But isn’t that just the picture of the Gospel that marriage is supposed to portray?