Photo by Inga Shcheglova on Unsplash
By Rev. Sam Meadors
Community Coordinator, The Delta Project - 200K More Reasons
As I was looking through the books given through Giving Books for Love, one of my all-time favorites caught my eye: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Written in 1922, the book tells the tale of a stuffed toy learning about love and what it means to be Real.
“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.”
The message of the story never fails to bring tears to my eyes. In the book, the toy Velveteen Rabbit comforts a young boy as he struggles through sickness. The rabbit has his fur rubbed thin and nose kissed off in the process. After the boy recovers from scarlet fever and to prevent the spread of germs, the rabbit must be destroyed to keep the boy safe. It is only then that the rabbit cries a tear and becomes Real.
Perhaps the tears that come to my eyes are due to all of those I know who are working diligently to make sure children can thrive even in the midst of a pandemic.
Across the state this summer, many children’s ministers, pastors, and volunteers developed plans for Vacation Bible School that not only reached the children in their church but would help children throughout their community. During their Knights of North Castle VBS week at Beebe FUMC, church members, the local Headstart, and the school came together to provide books. Children who participated went home with books and the church’s Little Free Library was stocked with books to spare. Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock created an Amazon Wishlist for members to buy new books to give to Project Transformation. They even had a published member donate classroom sets of their book to use in the Delta. Many churches are preparing to return to backpack programs to feed children this fall or hosting school supply drives to support students and families. For this, I give thanks to God.
After a year of interrupted schooling and worry, I admit that I was hoping this school year would be different. The Delta variant has made us acutely aware of the need to support and protect the children in our families, schools, and churches. For many who have been trying to do their best for the children in their lives, those who cannot be vaccinated yet, it may feel a bit like the velveteen rabbit who, “longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”
You can always tell a well-loved toy by the wear and tear on it- the evidence of love. When I look at our churches, I see the evidence of love as well. In the disheveled appearance of children’s ministers making plans A through F for their back-to-school events. In tired eyes that peek over masks of mostly vaccinated congregations who put the needs of children first. In the weary trustees and reopening committees making hard decisions to protect the vulnerable. In the exhaustion of those who try to reach out in literacy, nutrition, or stability ministries even when it’s hard. In all of these and more, love of others is evident.
The story of the Velveteen Rabbit echoes the Gospel in its core message that love is transformational. Love changes us. Whether that is the love of a child or the love of God- we can’t encounter it and go back to how we were before. The Skin Horse says as much to the Velveteen Rabbit, “Once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” God’s love is beckoning to us- to enter the fray and not be afraid of the uncomfortable things that may happen. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”(John 13:34). So, may your whiskers be worn off and may you grow shabby… in love.