A Fish Called Winston

A young mother of two was just diagnosed this weekend with Leukemia and was rushed to the ER to begin chemotherapy; A father who had lost a daughter already way too soon would be finding out soon about his son’s passing upon coming home from work; A family friend with breast cancer;  Another friend on life support; A list of women who are in the process of being set free from their hurtful and dark pasts…

All of these demand a perspective from us to be understood as they should.

Our perspective leads us to our thoughts.  Our thoughts lead us to our behaviors.  Our behaviors lead us to our habits.  Our habits lead us to our reality that in turn feeds our perspective.


Almost two years ago next month, I purchased a gorgeous, breathtaking, turquoise-and-maroon-colored betafish from the College Station, TX PetCo.  I cried (in my typical, Kristen Bell meets a Sloth, fashion) the moment I realized he would really be mine.  I named him “Winston” after Jameis Winston in the hopes that he would be a real hoot to watch.

I told stories in my lectures to my college leadership classes inspired by my crazy fish (such as the time Winston decided he would not be an authentic fish and stole some crab legs).  He made me feel autonomous in my new life on my own so far away from my Florida family.  I had purchased him with my then boyfriend who enjoyed helping me set up his aquarium and make up funny things about his character.

Winston moved back to Florida with me, my living keepsake to remember Texas and my tribe there by.


After a long and emotionally-charged weekend, I found myself  in route to south Florida to spend some needed time with my grandparents in the Keys. As I drove Winston rode in his “traveling tank” that sat on the front passenger floorboard of my Equinox, when suddenly I was forced to slam on brakes due to an accident just in front of me.  Winston’s tank flew forward, splashing all of his water out and throwing his poor body against the lid.

I quickly scooped him up and tried to revive him with the only water-like substance I had, some melted ice from my Diet Coke cup.  I pulled off on the first exit I could, parked my vehicle by a roadside ditch, threw off my favorite strappy sandals and ran straight into the mud with Winston’s tank in tow to scoop up some rainwater.  Minutes later, I found a nearby 7eleven and bought a jug of spring water to wash out both of my panicked attempts to save my fish and provide him with something clean instead.

After calling my parents in tears (I can be such a Millennial) that I was going to lose my fish after all my stupid attempts to keep him alive, I found myself laugh-crying (another famous Val-ism I’m known for apparently) at the fact that I really wanted to pray–yes, pray–for my Winston.  With a bit of tongue-in-cheek dry humor, I called upon folks to #prayforwinston, really just drawing attention to the fact that while it’s socially acceptable to mourn over the loss of a furry dog or cat or horse it is really absurd that I would feel so much for a fishy.

I pulled up into the drive way of my Okeechobee home where my parents greeted me with sympathetic hugs.  Dad recommended I blow bubbles into Winston’s tank to give him oxygen the way his boat pump provides such for his bait fish.  With this hopeful thought I found a straw and blew bubbles on and off into his little tank for the next hour.  (I have really nice parents who were willing to refrain from videotaping this crazy stuff.)  His little body was still fluttering, his gills still moving, but he could not keep his body completely turned up without falling back on his side.

As my sweet parents lovingly supported my crazed efforts to keep Winsten alive, they proceeded to tell me about some of the folks they have been recently ministering to: A young mother of two was just diagnosed this weekend with Leukemia and was rushed to the ER to begin chemotherapy; A father who had lost a daughter already way too soon would be finding out soon about his son’s passing upon coming home from work; A family friend with breast cancer; Another friend on life support; A list of women who are in the process of being set free from their hurtful and dark pasts…


Twenty-four hours ago, I prayed for God to help me fix a mistake I made and to help me locate an object I could not find.  Today, I half-jokingly prayed for a betafish’s life. Plenty of times before, I have prayed for things that were really just plain selfish, having not looked at the bigger picture of what I was really asking for.  I have also prayed prayers for victory or for a near-flawless performance – and with these prayers I have felt the disappointment of God not coming through on my behalf.  Note: I am admitting my shameful prayers to you.

How many prayers have I prayed with a wrong perspective of myself or others?  How many times have I cried to the Lord to hear me and make my wish come true just to keep my false reality happy?  (More than I want to admit right now…)

It would be easy to wrap this up with a call for us all to never pray a selfish, stupid prayer ever again – to only lift up prayers that carry Mother Theresa’s perspective on life.


After spending the evening with the family who lost another child, my father came home this evening, saw the sadness in my eyes as I watched my fish struggle to live, and walked right back out the door to go purchase an air pump for Winston’s tank.  Let me break that down for you: My father, the Pastor who spends hours upon hours of every day ministering and loving on people with real hurts, cared enough for my petty heart to go out and buy a dadgum air pump for my dadgum betafish. 

This reminded me of a truth I really do know to be true: God, despite ourselves, understands us and cares deeply for us.  God, hearing our pettiness and self-centeredness and perspective-less prayers, still cares.  God, who runs the world and goes before us and after us in time to orchestrate His purposes, hears me cry for a fish called Winston. 

While more than anything I long to be a woman known for her perspective, a woman whose reality encompasses God’s perspective as she thinks and behaves and adopts habits shaped by truth over personal feelings, I also know I am imperfect.  I know I am not perfect and I will disappoint others and myself when I will inevitably lose perspective and the wheels fall off the bus.  

The bigger question is not how to keep the right perspective at all times but how to quickly regain it when it is lost.

 

Our perspective leads us to our thoughts. Our thoughts lead us to our behaviors. Our behaviors lead us to our habits. Our habits lead us to our reality that in turn feeds our perspective.

I now gaze into Winston’s bowl, watching him somehow fight to live despite all the trauma he experienced this afternoon.  Then, I refocus my gaze to the TV screen beyond it where Syrian children are shown finally getting a chance to play and learn without fear of dying.  And with that, I forgave myself for the nearsightedness of my first perspective because what I saw beyond it mattered too much to be ignored.

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