Something familiar

I’ve published a few books over the last eight or nine years, and something I’ve noticed when a person has read one of my books is her comments often circle around to what’s familiar to her. “This character reminds me so much of my grandmother!” or “That character grew up in my dad’s hometown!” These reviews lead me wonder if we always consume art—reading books and watching movies and listening to music and studying paintings—with an innate desire to make connections. Are we always looking for the familiar, ultimately searching for ourselves?

 

When our family travels and visits other cities, I often find myself glancing around the crowded airport or hotel lobby or amusement park assuming I’ll see someone I know. Maybe it’s because I live in a mid-sized city, am a member at a large church, and have four kids who’ve attended a variety of public, private, and magnet schools, and I do frequently bump into friends around town. Because of this, I operate on this notion that there’s always a friend somewhere in a sea of strangers. Whatever the reason, my mind will often begin to play tricks on me in these away-from-home spots. I’ll ask my husband, “Doesn’t she look just like our neighbor?” or “Wow! He looks exactly like your cousin!” Every so often, Brent will agree with me and say that the stranger is a doppelgänger for a person we know, but usually he doesn’t quite see eye to eye with me, making me think I’m grasping for something not quite true.

 

Part of our flawed construction is that we’re all selfish in varying degrees. We all try to make sense of situations by passing it through the lens of our own experiences and prejudices. And this attitude can make us lean toward compassion or toward narcissism. Fortunately for us, God knows we’re made this way (of course He does—He’s the One who made us!), so He gave us the ultimate example of empathy. He sent His Son to earth in human form. He let us see ourselves in the stories of the Bible, including the ones in which Jesus was sad or joyful, angry or pleased, hungry or thirsty, tired or cared for, dying or fully restored. He experienced all of this for us.

 

Philippians 2:5-8 “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The Message)

Artificial reefs

“They don’t know that it isn’t real.” This was the reply from Rodrigo, the man who took our family snorkeling on his little boat, the ship’s name painted in blue letters on the side: Flaquita. I had asked him about the artificial reefs we’d seen on the ocean floor, dome-like concrete structures covered with round holes where the fish blissfully swam in and out of.

 

We had seen a few natural reefs down there, too, but these concrete versions were all over the place, and I was curious about them. I figured Rodrigo might be able to answer my questions. Short and round and wearing a tank top and shorts, he would slide off the boat and into the water gracefully in spite of those awkward flippers. Then he would dive down deep, his back nearly resting on the sandy ocean floor so that he could take pictures of us as we mostly hovered at the surface with our snorkel staying above the water, each breath coming out forcefully and noisily. Considering the amazing length he could hold his breath, I began to wonder if he was actually part fish.

 

At the end of our underwater adventure, the six of us sat across a makeshift table constructed from a foam boogie board and ate the ceviche prepared by Rodrigo’s friend, the man who drove the boat and therefore was just referred to as Capitán. We drank sugary Mexican sodas and used homemade tortilla chips to scoop up chunks of the tender pieces of Mahi-Mahi cured in lime juice and tossed with cucumbers, red onions, and tomatoes. As we ate, I asked Rodrigo about the artificial reefs. “Do the fish like them right away, do you think? Or do they see them as something that doesn’t belong down there?”

 

“They don’t know that it isn’t real,” he answered. Maybe he thought my question was silly. They’re only fish, after all. One fish identical to the next one, their only goal to survive another day and avoid being a tasty lunch. But we humans at least claim that we crave authenticity. We scorn the pretenders, expose the counterfeit, mock the phonies. I’d like to think that if I were one of those striped beauties swimming in the clear water, I’d see those artificial reefs and know they weren’t the real thing. I’d recognize that they were out of place and go looking for the natural ones not made from concrete. Oh, no. They wouldn’t fool me!

 

With all that’s troubling around us, I think we’re all looking for shelter from something trusted and real. Real relationships. Real information. Something and somebody we can count on and understand when the craziness swimming past us in a blur seems unrecognizable and often pretty scary. The sand is shifting beneath our feet, so we crave something sturdy, something real. At that moment, it’s time to be reminded of our Great God. There’s nothing artificial about Him. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging….The Lord Almighty is with us.” (Psalm 46)