Thank You, Cinderella
Cinderella has been on my mind and heart for, oh, four or five months now. My 15 year old character Taya wrote an essay based on her story and last night my girls and I watched three Princess movies. While I actually like Rapunzel’s sparkling personality the best, Cinderella still makes the biggest impression on me. There are just so many valuable lessons to be learned from her, from treating those who are less fortunate with kindness to treating authority figures respectfully even when they have horribly wounded you to, of course, believing in dreams.
Way past midnight, I was awake listening to a few of my pastor’s recorded sermons. Well, actually, it was only two sermons because I listened to this entire one twice. It made me cry. Taken from the story in Luke in which the apostles heal a lame man, Pastor Dan basically says that, as Christians, we are called to help and love one another–not judge, condemn or criticize. After all, he says, your doctor will tell you that you have AIDS not because he’s mad at you but because he wants to save your life. Likewise, Jesus — and genuine followers and elders of the church — may tell you when you’re headed down a dead-end street… But only so that Jesus can save you from sin. In its entirety, it is a moving sermon and it prompted me into reading half the book of Luke somewhere around 3 am last night.
Between this and Cinderella, I started thinking about dreams a lot. The ones I have had in the past, and the ones I secretly safeguard today. To be perfectly honest with you and even though it probably will surprise a lot of folks, I’m pretty scared spitless of dreams. It is easier for me to recreate an entire Mayberry-like existence for my girls than voice a true heart-dream. Today alone, we have made homemade mozzarella cheese, played basketball with my fractured foot and turned our entire house into a dog competition for the sake of two stuffed dogs. Our month is full of trips to Chattanooga and Beech Bend, Spring Hill and a variety of creeks, parks and museums. Give me a few mason jars, and we’ll catch fireflies. We’ve watched the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, we’ve milked goats, we’ve picked strawberries and blueberries; we’ve gone to see a movie at the drive-in theater. We’ve climbed trees and swam in mermaid tails. Truly, it is not difficult for me to schedule a day, a week, a month of truly magical adventures. Sure, some claim I’m spoiling them–but I think they are wrong. I hope, and believe, I’m teaching them to dream. The one thing I can’t do well on my own, I am trying to give them: the ability to claim dreams. To voice, rather than fear, them.
While it is not my greatest fear, failing makes the short list of my most terrifying thoughts. I have lived my entire life trying to meet and exceed expectations, trying to be .. Well, good. Not perfect, not even great, just good. I shudder at the mere thought of arguing. I break out in hives at the idea of being reprimanded. But my heart threatens to stop at the idea of giving something my all — and failing. Past relationships in which I gave 200% of everything I had but which were ultimately destined to fail still haunt me, for instance. I chalk them up to lessons learned, fate, better things still to come… Yet, I hide at playgrounds and in classrooms–places I feel safe and confident. I make zero attempts to meet anyone not connected to my children’s lives in one way or another. I used to have online profiles but I have not logged in to any of them in practically centuries. And, I am the Queen at Postponing. I have been invited to dinner a couple of times recently by a few rather scary looking creatures otherwise known as Good Guys from church. Each time, I smile apologetically and use my fantastical imagination to invent reasons why I can’t accept such a dinner invite.
I don’t grieve over this possible loss very much.
In the sermon my pastor gave, he says that, throughout history, there have been a few exceptional people who have been given the gift of not needing romantic and/or sexual relationships in order to truly be fulfilled. I’m probably not really one of those lucky few–but, truly, I don’t long for sex. It has been a really long time since I’ve been in such a situation and I don’t mind. Honestly. Now, of course, I do sometimes gravely wish to be held close. Sometimes, I wish even harder to have someone to talk to. Sometimes, I see happy couples and wonder what it would be like to really, from my gut, believe another person might choose me every day. But, overall, I’m unusually content to be alone. I like the freedom. I like the independence. I like the control (read: bingo). So, while I do admittedly sometimes see a beautiful white dress and wedding rings in my head, it isn’t what I’d call a “heart-wish.”
A heart-wish is the soul’s deepest dream, the dream that squeezes your heart because it’s not come true. The dream you can’t bear to voice because, if you do, it might jinx it. The dream you secretly wonder if you’ve earned, if you’re good enough for.
If Cinderella’s fairy godmother had given her an epiphany instead of a dress, Cinderella might have realized that she was the legitimate heir to her house and all its belongings. She could have boldly taken her stepmother to court, or just thrown her out. She really didn’t need that charming Prince. Or did she?
You see, I like Cinderella because she smiled a lot. The scene in which she runs to cry in the garden breaks my heart every single time because she had tried so, so hard to be happy. She wasn’t trying to hurt anybody—she just wanted to feel a real smile as opposed to a learned one. Society teaches us that sad children often develop bad defenses—drugs, alcohol, violence, gangs. The truth, though, is that, a lot of times, the sad children learn to survive by making themselves as unnoticeable as possible. If you smile, if you obey, if you please, then one day, something magical will happen and transform your sadness into joy. You earn happiness–not through violence but through giving and quiet strength. The trouble is that sometimes you want something so badly you can’t breathe and, if that dream is stolen, your heart slowly rips into pieces. That’s what happened to Cinderella, there in the garden. She was broken. And incapable of getting up without help. Boldly demanding her inheritance was not feasible for Cinderella because she had never really, truly believed in herself—but, until that night in the garden, she did believe in a dream: the one of happiness. That night in the garden, she felt like giving up. She was in danger of losing her hope. But then she did something truly extraordinary: when the Fairy Godmother offered her a helping hand, Cinderella accepted it. She accepted the hand up.
I admire Cinderella for that reason. She’s sensitive, vulnerable and kind—but strong enough to give her dream a voice. Me, on the other hand, I hide my heart-dream beneath a mountain of smiles and creativity, hoping that if I just make the most of every minute, if I dwell on the things I have instead of the things I want, if I just be happy… Magic will float to my doorstep in much the same way as the Fairy Godmother floated to Cinderella. I never ask for help, never admit to needing anything. And, unlike Cinderella, I live in fear of my heart-wish. Fear that things such as it only happen to the lucky, the brave or the good.
Only happy people have their heart-dreams come true. Right? That’s what I’ve always thought. I thought if I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t trying hard enough. If I wasn’t happy, it was my fault. If I wanted something done, I had to just do it, all by myself. Happy people deserve good things to happen to them. Dreams, then, were kind of like on a points system: if you went all week without having to ask for help, you would earn 5 points. Once you reached so many points, you would be eligible to win certain dreams.
Of course, that’s perfect nonsense.
The lame man asked for help, and was able to go “walking, leaping and praising God.” If he had been quiet, he would have missed his dream. Cinderella could have given up in the garden, but she didn’t. Not completely, for if she had of completely lost all hope, the Fairy Godmother wouldn’t have come at all. Cinderella wasn’t happy at all, she was broken-hearted, defeated, lonely and just plain sad. But when the Godmother came, she remembered her dream and believed in it enough to chase it.
I only have one real heart-wish. I’m afraid of saying it because I’m afraid Of losing it before I ever had it. I’m afraid of asking for it for fear of being told no. I’m afraid of chasing it for fear of failing. Maybe I’m not worthy. Maybe I’m too this or not enough of that… We are our own best enemy.
Dreams are not only for kids. Dreams are not silly or a waste of time: they are precious and represent hope. Pastor Dan says in his message that just because you’re struggling does not mean God is not in you. Just because you might fail, does not mean you’re unworthy. Just because you’re secretly a little sad does not mean you’re not a Christian. It was the reassurance I needed. It reminded me that dreams, if they are to come true, need faith and a helping hand. And so… Tonight, I followed Cinderella! I’ve stepped out on a limb, trusting that God cares about more than making sure we’re fed, housed and clean: He wants us heart-happy.
My mailbox tonight has a stamped envelope, addressed to God, containing a description of my secret heart-wish, the one so deeply buried I rarely think of it. Mailing a letter to God may be silly; He already knows what it says and some Postmaster is likely to be exasperated with me for clogging up his work day with such frivolity. Or maybe not. Maybe some Postmaster will see God’s name and feel a little wistful, maybe understand a little that some woman named Tiffini was trying to show faith in the things like dreams. Maybe it’s silly. I could have just prayed out loud and He’d have heard me. But writing is my shuttle to peace; it is my way of acknowledging the dream’s presence. It is my way of actively expressing a small piece of hope. Maybe it will encourage me to be more motivated into actually chasing the private dream.
After all, “no matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, your dreams will come true.