The other day I was subbing in 3rd grade. After lunch that day we were reading an African folk tale called "Fly Eagle, Fly." It was about a man who found a baby eagle that had been blown from its nest during a storm. He took the baby eagle home and raised it with his chickens. As a result the eagle grew up thinking it was a chicken. One day one of his friends came over and saw the eagle. He said that the eagle belonged in the sky not on the ground. The man informed his friend that he was a chicken not an eagle. The friend did not believe him and made several attempts to help the eagle fly like it was supposed to. However, each time, the eagle would just flutter back down and start pecking with the chickens. The friend then came early one morning to the man's house and told him to grab the eagle and follow him. The friend carried the eagle back to where the man had originally found the it up in the mountains. There, on the edge of the cliff, they waited for the sun to come up. As the sun began to rise over the mountains, the friend held the eagle up as he had before and told the eagle to fly. The eagle spread it's wings and as the warm sun hit him and the wind came up under his wings, the eagle floated off up into the sky never to return to the ground again.
After we read the story we talked about the lesson that could be learned from it. Some of the kids mentioned that if you are treated a certain way then that is how you become. Others mentioned that if you believe something you should keep trying. I decided to add to their answers.
Earlier in the day, there had been some squabbles going on. Some kids were being left out, some were not being very nice, etc. There had been a lot of tattling and hurt feelings on all sides. So, I told them about one of my brothers, who growing up had not been the nicest person in the world to me (he has since apologized and all is well between us). Every day he would call me ugly and dumb along with other things. I told the kids that this is what I heard every day. Then I asked them what they thought I believed after a few years of hearing this. One little girl raised her hand and said, "That you were dumb and ugly." I told her she was absolutely right! I did believe those things! I explained to them that if we hear negative things about ourselves all the time we start to believe those things. I told them if we hear positive things about ourselves every day then we believe the positive things. I pointed out that how we treat each other can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves so we need to be really careful how we treat each other and we need to make sure that we treat each other with kindness. Some of them really got it. However, there was one hand in the back that went up. I called on him and he asked, "Did he say you were fat too?"
Ouch! Some were shocked that he said that. I did my best to ignore it. I told him no (even though he had called me fat) and we moved on. It stung though, I must admit. I am very aware of my weight and my lack of thinness right now. Children can be brutally honest sometimes and this was one of those times. Last fall I wrote a post called, "It didn't work for her." Same class, different kid, same sting.
I came home that day a little sad. There are times when I wish so much that people could see beyond the outside of me, of others, and see who we really are! I am not my weight! I know I have posted about this before but I feel so strongly about it. I think part of it is because I have three daughters and three sons that are going to grow up and also face this, whether it is weight or brand of clothes or type of car or athletic ability or what ever. It comes in so many forms.
I am a mother of six beautiful, healthy children. My body carried those babies, protected them and gave birth to them. In between child five and six, I had a miscarriage. For some reason, my body was not able to carry that child. My heart hurt for quite a while after that but it healed along with my body. My body was able to care for all my babies day after day and night after night. My body was able to hold them when they needed held, to carry them when they were too tired to carry themselves, to rock them to sleep and comfort them when they were sick or frightened or hurt. My body is able to run and play with my children, to go on bike rides and walks and picnics in the park. My body is strong. I have packed up boxes, loaded up trucks and moved across country with this body. I have run 5ks and 10ks with this body. I have cheered my kids on from the sidelines and helped coach them with this body. I have run along beside them when they are tired and ready to give up. I have climbed mountains with this body and rolled down hills in the summer grass. I have walked the streets of Ireland with this body, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen. This body, that others call fat, has done more than most people will ever know. It has stood strong when faced with challenges. It has slumped and shaken during times of sadness and despair. It has endured through challenge after challenge. It has scars that tell stories about where it has been and what it has done.
We are all different. We come in all shapes and sizes. We all have different abilities and interests. We are all unique individuals with so much to share and contribute to the world. However, when we are taught to be chickens instead of eagles, we can not do what we were meant to do. It took me years to realize I was not dumb and ugly. I went for years too scared to speak up and share my thoughts and ideas and myself with those around me. I was too afraid because I knew I was dumb and ugly. It affected me in so many ways. There are still days I struggle with it. Even after I have learned to fly like the eagle, there are still days I look down at the chickens and second guess myself. It is hard sometimes to not revert back to that. A question as simple as, "Did he say you were fat too?" can knock me out of the sky if I am not careful. But, just as the eagle in the story, I have been able to look to the Son to find out who I really am.
Through His warmth and light I have been able to spread my wings and fly. Yes, there are days I falter, but I know I can always turn to Him and find strength. I know that His Spirit can always lift we and allow me to soar.
My hope is that I can teach my children to fly like the eagle. That they will have the knowledge they need of who they are, so that when some one does question their ability to fly, they will be able to just soar higher and overcome it. I hope I can surround them with enough love and confidence that they will never look down at the chicken and second guess themselves, that the words people use to hurt each other - like dumb and ugly and fat - won't break them and cause them to fall. I hope that as they look to the Son, that His rays will warm them and His Spirit will lift them up and help them fly high above the hurt that can come through judging and name calling.
Once again, I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simple life lessons learned in the third grade classroom. Simple reminders that I am not alone and that He is aware of me. Fly Eagle, Fly.