Unicorns & Rainbows

I met today’s guest author about a year ago, at the gym through a mutual friend. We met again–and I hope she’d agree we struck up a friendship–the day this generous act of kindness took place. And I appreciate her post today because my adolescent boys absolutely preferred Dora to Diego when they were small and both had something of a crush on Elsa as they watched Frozen over and over. Fuchsia and sparkles are way more fun than khaki and no two people need to fit the same mold. She inspires me with her fierce love, protection, and stewardship of her most precious treasure: her children.

Create Challenge #18 – A.J. Brown

“I want an Elsa party,” said my three-year-old son.

“Sure! We can do a Frozen party for your birthday,” I replied.

“Not a FROZEN party, Mommy, an ELSA party,” he declared.

When I hear the word, “creativity,” my mind and heart instantly jump to my little boy, Cooper. Most people in town know who we are because of Cooper’s big sister, Finley, who publicly (and victoriously!) battled cancer this past year. Much of my writing over the last year has centered around Finley and her journey. However, this post is about creativity, and for that, I need to tell you about our boy. Our special, imaginative, magical, creative little boy.AJB -kids

Cooper sparkles. Literally. From the time he was old enough to dress himself, Cooper has had a fondness for sequins, glitter, and all things rainbow. And, really, why shouldn’t he? We dress our boys in navy blue and khaki, and our girls get all the glamorous stuff. Cooper has always figured, “Why should my sister have all the fun?” I mean, after all, what’s not fun about sequins? And isn’t fuschia a much more fun color than the ‘traditional’ colors we dress our boys in?

I manage a dance studio. My kids are often at work with me. Hence, Cooper has been around tutus, costumes, glitter, and lots and lots of girls since he was a newborn. Is it any surprise that he would gravitate towards what he sees around him? Probably not. Then again, plenty of boys with older sisters don’t.

When the movie Frozen came out a couple of years ago, Cooper in particular was enchanted. For the better part of two years, he’s been stripping off his preschool ‘boy’ clothes before he’s even in the door of our house, leaving a trail of discarded clothing from the garage to his room, from which he has emerged daily in full “Elsa” regalia. His Elsa dresses have been worn so much that my girlfriends and I joke that at times he looks more like homeless, crack addict Elsa than the movie character Elsa. Dirty, torn, tattered, hanging off one shoulder…he wears his Elsa dress proudly. It’s been replaced several times, but never lasts more than a few months due to the constant wear and tear.

He understands that boys don’t wear dresses and skirts to school, but that hasn’t stopped him from pilfering his sister’s “prettier” shirts. For Christmas, he got a different “Elsa” shirt for every day of the week, so that he could wear one every day if he wanted. Currently his favorite shirt is not actually an Elsa shirt, but a bright pink number with a unicorn and a rainbow on the front that says, “Be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn.” His bestie at school, a darling little girl named Sophie, has the same shirt. They like to wear them together.

He sleeps on a rainbow unicorn pillow at night, and never ever misses an opportunity to play with mommy’s makeup. He knows almost all the choreography from The Nutcracker, and goes through stretches where he will watch the DVD daily, pausing it after each number to do a costume change. He could care less about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Barbies are a hit. On his fourth birthday, he emerged from his bedroom in the morning in a black sequin jacket, black sequin fedora, tights and a single sparkly glove, announcing that he was Michael Jackson.

In the fall, the kids were fortunate enough to have their rooms redecorated by a fabulous organization called “Rooms of Hope,” which does dream bedroom makeovers for kids fighting yucky stuff like cancer. One of the best things about this organization is that they don’t forget siblings. Cooper, of course, announced that he wanted an Elsa bedroom. Not that I have any objection to that, but as their rooms likely won’t get redecorated again for several years, I wanted to steer him towards a theme that he could happily grow older with; I have a hard time imagining eight-year-old Cooper still obsessed with Frozen. After poring over Pinterest together, he decided on a safari theme. “But,” he said definitively, “it HAS to have something pink, and at least one butterfly.”

At Christmastime, we made the traditional pilgrimage to visit Santa. When it was Cooper’s turn, he was ready with his list. “Santa, I would like an Elsa shirt, an Elsa doll, an Elsa nightgown, a new Elsa dress, an Elsa car…”

“Ho ho ho,” boomed Santa. “What about sports, young man? Don’t you like sports?”

“NO, Santa,” admonished Cooper. “Only ELSA. Oh, and sparkly rainbow nail polish.” I smothered a giggle with a cough. My four-year-old had firmly put Santa Claus, apparently a silly, narrow minded old man, in his place.

The reactions to Cooper’s unconventional expression of his own creativity have been varied. Many, even within our own family, frown upon our ‘indulgence’ of his whims. I’ve been advised on many occasions to not allow him access to ‘girl’ dress up things, or to only give him ‘boy’ toys as gifts, as if this might turn the tide somehow. Well-meaning friends and relatives give gifts of trucks and action figures and ‘boy’ costumes, all of which end up donated, untouched by our boy, who could not be less interested.

AJB -CoopSo, when Cooper declared that he wanted an Elsa birthday party, of course we said yes. Elsa plates, napkins, cups, etc. were purchased. Cooper excitedly donned his favorite Elsa dress, swooping around the house singing Let It Go. The doorbell rang…our first guests had arrived. Cooper swung open the door, and the adult party guest on the other side visibly recoiled. “Is that seriously what he’s wearing for his party?” she said.

Cooper backed away, uncertain. I sent him off to the bouncy house, and turned back to our guest. “There is only one thing that matters today,” I said firmly, “and it is not you or anyone else or what they think. The ONLY thing that matters today is that little boy’s happiness, and anyone who doesn’t like how we make that happen is welcome to turn around and walk right back out that door.” Yep, mama bear has claws. No one’s going to put my cub in a corner.

I’ve done a lot of research and reading about gender creativity in the last few years. There’s a fantastic book I wish everyone who knows and loves Cooper or who knows and loves a kid like Cooper would read called, Raising My Rainbow…Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son. This book might as well have been written about us. The thing about childhood gender creativity is that it may or may not be a phase. It may or may not mean he’s gay. If it isn’t a passing phase, what IS for sure is that if he doesn’t feel totally and completely accepted at home, he’s about a thousand times more likely to suffer from depression and have problems with substance abuse. The suicide rate among kids like him who grow up in an environment that tries to change them, making them feel isolated and freakish and unaccepted, is extremely high.

What his behavior for sure means is that he’s creative, artistic, and imaginative, and I LOVE that about him. I absolutely love it. When he came out of his room on his fourth birthday, dressed to the nines like Michael Jackson, I was proud as punch. I don’t know any kid as creative as Cooper. And creativity, to me, is something to be treasured, and nurtured, and applauded.

From the day my kids were born, I’ve always believed that it’s not our job to turn our children into who we think they SHOULD be, but rather to hold their little hands as they grow into who they are MEANT to be. God has a plan for each of them, and we are just the caretakers. They are not mini versions of me and their dad; they are wonderfully unique and one of a kind, like snowflakes. Cooper may grow up to be a Broadway star, or a fashion designer, or, if his fascination with the women’s shoe department is any indication, the next Manolo Blahnik. Judging from recent observances of his solo playtime, he might also be an architect, or a scientist. Net net, I don’t care WHAT he grows up to be, as long as it’s something that makes him happy. I don’t care what gender his life partner turns out to be, as long as it’s someone with a good heart who makes him happy.

My goal is for this house, this HOME, to be a safe place for my family. A safe place where any expression of creativity (as long as it’s not physically harmful to anyone) is accepted and encouraged. A place where lip gloss, and sequins, and tutus are always welcome. When and if this phase passes, I think I’ll miss it. As his fifth birthday approaches, I can only hope that he comes out of his room in the morning wearing something fabulous and sparkly. The rest of the boys in the world can keep their navy blue and khaki. I’ll take mine in hot pink, please.

AJBrownAJ Brown is wife to Aaron, mom to Finley and Cooper, and manager of the California Academy of Performing Arts in Moraga, CA. She would also describe herself as friend, mama bear, sister, daughter and lover of wine, margaritas, tropical vacations, flip-flops, yoga pants, and moms’ nights out.

 

Give

Do you know what gift(s) God has given you to build up His Church? If not, I highly recommend taking this quick test. (There’s also a test for youth if that’s you or someone you love).

Similar to family chores, we all have a role to play in God’s family and through our God-given gifts God directs us to particular works of service.

A few initial thoughts:
*God gives gifts to His children.
*God’s best gift is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
*God intends us to use the gifts He gives us.
*Using our gifts will give glory to God and build up His Church.

It should be easy, and thankfully sometimes it is.

Prepping for this post, I had a great conversation with Tween. I asked, “What great gifts have you given and received?”

He mentioned a video game we bought him that encouraged creativity and community. And he mentioned two gifts he’d given: his well-loved but in great shape tricycle to a young friend, and “God” to his friends.

Mama’s heart skips a beat: Tween recognizes that he introduced some of his best friends to His Best Friend, Jesus.

I asked what gifts he thought God had given him to serve the church, and at first he didn’t think he had a gift, that God had skipped him or not yet come to his name on the divine list.

But as we talked, he began to realize that he has Faith, that he “knows things about God” that might not come as easily to other people (Teen took the “youth” version of the spiritual gifts test and has the gift of faith, too). And he cares deeply that his friends know Jesus. So faith and evangelism, maybe. He’s still young.

Tween decided that a great way to develop the gift of faith, to be sure he knows the Truth of God and not just his own ideas about Him, will be to keep the Bible and a headlamp next to his bed so he can read the Bible when he can’t sleep. This kid has never slept well and I can’t think of a better thing for him to do when he’s not sleeping.

Other times, evidence of the fallen world we live in, using our gifts isn’t as easy.

I’ve seen the movie “Frozen” three times, once in the theater when it first came out and twice since. It ranks up there with “The Lion King” as one of my favorite Disney movies.

New Year's Eve "Frozen Fractiles" on our windshield

New Year’s Eve “Frozen Fractals” on our windshield

The main story line centers on the relationship between sisters. But I see a story of giftedness and love, one with definite implications for God’s people.

Elsa has a gift. Fear and criticism have caused her to hide not only her gift but herself, have cut her off even from those who should be and long to be closest to her [hide the girl, the gift, and the love]. When an accidental use of her gift outs her she walks away, again, this time determined to let her gift flow free [hide the girl and the love, let the gift out]. But the gift sans love has drastic far-reaching consequences. Elsa’s gift can only be used rightly, and Elsa herself will only be free, when the girl, gift, and love intertwine.

The impossibly catchy, played-to-death song “Let It Go” says what we might like to say to our critics:

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say…
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

In other words, I no longer care what you think! I will be myself, use my gifts, see what I can do, rules-free, to hell with your fear and criticism.

But Elsa’s plan backfires, as do our attempts to hide ourselves and our gifts because of fear and criticism.

Fear and criticism can rock us straight out of comfort and onto the ground, beat up and bruised. The temptation to dust ourselves off and walk away, to hide, to stop using our gifts, can be enormous. Likewise with the temptation to stop caring, to think we’re free sans community.

But it’s not true, folks. God designed us to use our gifts, the very gifts He grace-fully bestows upon us, to build up His church and bless the world. Only when we use our gifts with love, in community, to His glory will we truly be free.

So what do we do with fear and criticism? Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer, just some thoughts:

*We need to listen, ego aside, to the reasons behind the fear and criticism. Maybe we have used our gifts inappropriately, or untimely, or without love.

*We need to develop our gifts to God’s glory. Maybe we have used them prematurely.

*We need to pray and pray some more. Did we use our gifts prayerfully, under the Spirit’s guidance? Can we together prayerfully resolve the conflict caused by fear and criticism?

*We need to seek refuge in God alone. God will direct us to the proper use of our gifts in His time and place. Maybe God is using fear and criticism to redirect us to another ministry.

*We need to seek the Spirit of peace and unity and resist our own fears and criticisms. Why should we fear someone using their God-given gift? Why would we criticize their giftedness? Sometimes we need to bite our tongues, to step on our egos and let God do His work without our meddling.

*Finally, we need to ask the Lord for courage to be the best US He has created us to be, and to use our gifts despite fear (our own and others) and criticism, because from time to time we will face both.

Justin McRoberts sang at our church yesterday and shared with us an original song, Courage to Believe. The chorus says:

Lord, give me eyes to see
Lord, give me strength to believe
You give me all I need
So give me courage to believe.

Lord, give us courage to believe that you have given us all we need to believe and to serve You!

Alright, already, on to Ephesians 4 which has some great stuff to say about gifts. I pray that God will release you to serve Him in love and grace.

Connect
Describe a significant gift you have given or received. What made that gift special?

Study
Read Ephesians 4:7-13.
Read Ephesians 1:20-23. What light can this earlier passage from the same letter shed on Eph. 4:7-8?
How would you explain to someone the significance of Christ’s ascension into heaven (vv. 8-10)?
For what purpose did Christ give the gifts mentioned in this passage (vv. 11-13)? In other words, what is Christ’s desire for His people and His Church?

Live
God gives gifts to people and He gives people as gifts to the Church. Describe some people you appreciate as gifts from God.
Paul lists other spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30. How do these gifts add to the list in Ephesians 4? Where do you see your gift(s) listed?
What “works of service” do you particularly enjoy? Which works of service would you like to try?
How have you been equipped for service? How have you equipped others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that your worshiping community will experience the unity of the Spirit as we each exercise works of service.

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

Let it Go!

Sometimes a theme pops up, seemingly out of nowhere and suddenly everywhere, and begins buzzing around my brain like a catchy song. The last few days the theme has been, “Let it Go!”

No, not the song from Frozen, although it certainly is catchy… (Oh, to sing like Idina Menzel! Hum along with me? Aw, heck, let’s belt it out, off-key as we may be! BTW, if you haven’t yet, you must see this amazing multi-language version).

And yet, maybe one of the reasons the song became so popular is that Elsa is really on to something. Let go of what others think. Let go of that “perfect” image you’ve created. Let the chaos out. Unleash all your glorious potential. Become your truest, wildest, most beautiful self.

Yesterday I saw this quote on one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Simple: “The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.” ―Steve Maraboli

I’ve been thinking about simplicity since we left for two months in Costa Rica this summer. The whole trip was complex – and simple. Just the four of us, exploring and living in a foreign country. Although everything was new and different, things were also simpler – no jobs, school, homework, extracurriculars, friends, distractions. We let go of life at home to embrace something completely different for a time, and we came home again hoping to figure out what we could let go of here in order to maintain some of the simplicity we gained there. Learning to let go is complicated, but living simply is freeing.

Wow, there’s a paragraph for you! Did you follow? It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s simple. It’s a process. It’s worth it!

Then up pops this article – 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy. Give up. Let it go. We can’t always be right or in control; blaming, critical and complaining; reminding ourselves of our real (mostly perceived) limits and defeats; focused on labels, impressions, fears, excuses, and the past; change-resistant; and still be happy. It’s quite a list, and in some ways it’s common sense, and it’s helpful. C’mon! Let all that gunk go already!

Case in point: Renee Zellweger. What did she do with her quirky, funny, beautiful face? I can’t buy the “healthy, happy lifestyle” blah-blah when her face has fundamentally altered. What must have gone through her mind, what overwhelming insecurities drove her to the plastic surgeons? And how sad must she be that her million-dollar calling-card face has become unrecognizable?

This morning I listened to a speaker challenge a group of preschool mommies to look in the mirror first thing in the morning – hair disheveled, teeth unbrushed, make up-less, and declare themselves “Beautiful!” Because, really?, who would dare tell God that He does bad work? We are His creation and He creates works of beauty. I got teary. So hard. So…impossible? No, possible, just difficult. And, poor Renee, I’m sad for her. If only she could have “Let it Go!” of the pressure to change what perhaps had been deemed less than Hollywood perfect…

How about with our kids? When Teen was only a toddler I heard a mom stressing over whether her child would get into the “right” preschool because, of course, the right preschool leads to the right elementary, middle, and high schools, and ultimately the golden snitch: the right college. When I suggested that maybe she could let go a little, that God would take care of her daughter’s life path, she bit my head off and accused me of having faith as a pastor’s wife’s prerogative. Um, no. Pretty sure God offers faith, and peace, and joy, to all who rely on Him.

School hasn’t been an easy road for either of my kids, but we’re all better off when I let go of the stress and remember that God loves them more than I do. They may not fit the mold, and that’s just as it should be. As Teen makes his way through high school, we have encountered increasing pressure to consider “What’s next?” Read: college. But that’s not the only option, folks. I have a sweet friend whose son, newly high school-minted, leaves next week for seven months abroad serving with a group that rescues child slaves. Amazing. I am so in awe of this kid’s bravery, and I can’t wait to see what God will do with his willingness to serve in this way. It’s not the cultural norm in our area, to forego the path straight from high school to college, but the cultural norm is not God. As this article says, let it go. The truly important questions:

Does your child have a compassionate soul?
Does your child have a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity?
Is your child resourceful and independent?
Is your child happy with who she is?
Can your child creatively problem-solve?
Is your child passionate about anything?
Can your child sit with himself and enjoy his own company?

I would add: Does your child know that he or she is known and loved by Jesus?

There is more than one way to lead a successful life. Parents, let it go on behalf of your children! Yes, encourage them to be the best versions of themselves, but One Way is not the Only or Best Way. Guide them to the One who will direct their paths, then let go and get out of the way (and yes, I am talking to myself here…).

Finally, this article. A professional and mom of four, the author had to set limits, to let go of some things, in order to live fully. I’m not there, but I’m proud of her for taking this step, inspired by her decision. She writes: “My task doesn’t determine my value. But I had to let go of something to grasp this freedom.” And her guiding mantra – “Do what only you can do” – is so wise. No one else can love and care for my family like I can. No one else can write my thoughts and prayers. To say “Yes!” to one thing is to say “No” to another. I must let go of those things others can do in order to truly live the life God has created for me.

Let it go!