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  • Writer's pictureKristen Cole

Velveteen: On Being Real


We can all likely recall the childhood story of the Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams. The story that tells of a rabbit, delivered on Christmas morning, shiny and new and loved, so very loved by the little boy…at first…until, that is, when new shiny toys arrived, one by one, slowly but surely pushing him out of his place on the bed, then the bookshelf, then the cupboard, where the doors were shut, hiding him from view.

The toys even had voices in the story, as they touted significance, expense, replicas of noteworthy icons…and criticized the rabbit, made of a knock off velvet, who began believing that that is just what he was, a knock off, a not-good-enough, a last year’s model, a second fiddle, a second or even third class bunny…

Then, there was the skin horse…the one who had lived in the nursery, longer than all others. He was old, tattered, bald in places and without even all of the hairs necessary to be termed a tail. He was wise…for he understood “nursery magic”, something described in the book as “very strange and wonderful…an ability to understand what it is to be real.”

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “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.” And, “Once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The story goes on to tell about how the rabbit longed to be real, but he didn’t want all of the accompanying hurt that the skin horse described that went along with becoming real.

He didn’t want this kind of real… the kind of real where I am briskly walking down the hall to the bathroom, dressed like I belong there with my “smart casual.” I am in a public place of significance, of hierarchy and prestige, of many hundreds of shelves jam-packed with better-than-me models… tears brimming, don’t make eye contact…don’t let them see that I am real…that I hurt, that I am not that one of thick skin, but instead my skin is thin and my heart very real. And it is broken. It is broken by words that hurt and that bite, that scathe, that tear and that cripple.

Being real hurts. It bleeds. Being real means that you allow yourself to feel. It means you open yourself to love. It means you risk caring. Being real does hurt.

There was one boy in the story, who took hold of the rabbit, who noticed his soft, thin, fragile fur. He looked at his green eyes, the shape of his eye brows, the line of his hair and he noticed the rabbit’s beauty. The boy loved the rabbit, built forts with and for the rabbit, snuggled the rabbit close, counted the rabbit a prize among all other toys, told the rabbit what he had always wanted to hear…that he was real and that he was loved.

That boy, who loved the rabbit… is like the one, the one who stopped me on that bustly well-traveled hall… she stopped the cycling of the rusted bicycle chains of my mind from churning out the busted thoughts that accompany broken simple machines…she, one who I had seen previously, praying for others, speaking truth, telling them that they are real. Real because they are loved…not by men, always, but by God. She stepped out of her place in the hierarchy and she entered the throne of grace with me, as my sister, my friend, my fellow tattered rabbit.

Feeling and being real here on this earth is just as the wise old horse described, “It hurts”…it’s the second part of his wisdom that I have trouble applying…”but when you are real, you don’t mind that it hurts…”

I really pondered why I was having trouble with this application. Of course, I want to think of myself as being real. Being real is something that should make us stop to think…not just funnies to add to the emoji/meem scroll on social media…or you know the “keep it real” slogans, flippant tossing out of words, invitations to “just be real” even from passerbyers. I want my realness to mean something different.

I think about Jesus on that cross. That was real and that hurt…that kind of real shakes me to my core, the Jesus kind of real…he took it for me and did not mind the hurt…not only did he not mind the hurt, he carried his own cross up that hill in preparation for that hurt. That is who is fighting for me, who is able to understand the hurt in a way like no other.

We all know that the Velveteen Rabbit is not the Gospel, but I do believe that the idea of being real and of not minding the hurt when you are real can teach us valuable insights about our faith.

The woman who stopped me in the above story that I shared, led me to this Scripture:

Luke 10:18-20: Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

In becoming real, there are assaults all around, snakes and scorpions, waiting to attack and bite, and scar…but God has given us power over hurt, over the enemy, over darkness.

When we are real with God, we have his power over the hurt…over the enemy, over darkness. We have his power over the hurt! Did you hear that? We can liken the skin horse’s knowledge of “when we are real we don’t mind the hurt” to having faith in God, that He has given us His power over the hurt of being real.

We only don’t mind the hurt when we are trusting that God is taking care of it, that He is going to battle for us, that He is rescuing us from the snakes and the scorpions that attempt to pull us down into the mire…God’s power is in YOU! He is what makes us real, He is what helps that hurt of this world be softened…and the only way we can not feel the hurt of being real…being really real, is to trust that He is doing what He said he would do. He is fighting for us, He has given us all of the weapons we need. We only need to trust and to let go of that wrestle in each of us to endure the pain of the hurt alone…because we believe we are strong and we believe we are in control.

I’d rather have the strength described in Ephesians 3:16-18…that even starts out by calling me out, calling me out for thinking I can handle this on my own! “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

These are the weapons that God gives us…and they are of truth, peace, faith and salvation. I would venture to say that all of these words describe the kind of real I want to be. But I have to apply them…and the way to do that is to stay in His word, for that is the weapon of protection…from minding the hurt of the world, that surely will come.

Nothing makes me feel more real that when I read the Beatitudes, from Matthew 5:3-12, especially the Message Version. I think you could substitute “real” for “blessed” in all of these…but Jesus chose to say…blessed. Try reading it with “real” inserted…

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

In my words, my simple, second fiddle words, you are blessed when you are real. You have the protection, weapons and love of our Heavenly Father. He takes the hurt of the world and he flips it on its head. His loving guidance in our lives and light shining through us is all the real that we need, the kind of real we don’t mind hurting for…because the hurting was done on the cross, and that was and is the best kind of real.

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