Are We Damaged Human Beings or Luminous Creatures Made of Stardust?

Rural Iowa. A family wedding. Late night dancing. Children with sore feet. An isolated stretch of highway carries us back to our motel through cornfields and darkness.

Suddenly my wife asks me to pull over, tells the kids to get out of the car, and whispers, “You have to see the sky.” Raised within reach of Chicago’s light pollution, my kids had never seen the night sky unveiled.

We get out of the car. We stand beneath a canopy of diamonds.

Have you ever stared up into the black, star-pregnant expanse? Have you ever looked up into the vastness of a universe hurtling away from you at an unfathomable speed? Have you ever gazed upon the light of stars a billion years old?

In a cornfield in Iowa, I look up. And I feel inconsequential, unanchored, like pollen in the breeze.

I feel small.

My oldest son stands next to me, unusually silent. I wonder if he is feeling small, too. But then he looks up, and with awe in his voice he says, “Daddy, did you know humans are made of molecules from the first stars? Daddy, did you know we are stardust?”

Why Small is Only the Beginning

I think the heavens give us what we need.

As adults, we need to feel small again—it is a good and necessary experience. When we swell up with ego, feeling small shrinks us down to our actual size. When we think the world revolves around us, feeling small puts us in our proper orbit. Humility is a good thing—perhaps the best of things—and a night sky can humble an adult in a heartbeat.

But for children, who exist in a perpetual state of smallness and humility, a night sky is an entirely different kind of reminder: we are creatures composed of a brilliant light.

I think all of us need to stand in the middle of a cornfield in rural Iowa with a third grader and be reminded we are small-messy creatures and transcendent beings with the heavens in our blood.

I think we need it, because for most of us, the voice of shame has been whispering its pious rebuke at the edge of our tattered hearts for years. And it goes something like this:

“You are small and broken. Be aware of that alone. Stardust in your bones? Don’t be ridiculous—that’s a bunch of poetic nonsense, the fanciful musings of a child, romantic naiveté, the magical calculations of a bunch of physicists. Quit being arrogant and start getting real—who do you think you are to imagine you are more than small and damaged?”

When shame has convinced us that our smallness and brokenness is incompatible with our goodness and beauty and transcendence, we need more than a night sky to embrace the full, wondrous reality of who we are.

We need proof.

Which is why I’m going to tell you about my neighborhood.

Where Small and Magnificent Meet

In my neighborhood, I know a young boy who loves to read. He’s putting down his books this summer and strapping on a pair of running shoes. Instead of racking up pages, he’s going to rack up miles and raise money for his favorite charity.

That is smallness.

And stardust.

In my neighborhood, I know a family who annually hosts a lemonade stand one week a year to raise money for Blood:Water Mission. Last week, they raised thousands of dollars to give clean drinking water to people they have never met.

That is smallness.

And stardust.

In my neighborhood, I know a couple who had their hearts cracked open by orphans on the other side of the globe. They quit thinking of the orphans as “those kids,” and they decided to think of one of them as “my kid.” They will adopt him this summer.

That is smallness.

And stardust.

In my neighborhood, I know a woman with three children and a busy family. For the last decade, one night a week, she has sat up through the dark hours attending to a disabled boy who is not her own, so his parents could get some rest.

That is smallness.

And stardust.

In my neighborhood, I know a young girl who shouldn’t be alive. In infancy, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and for months her parents were more familiar with the hospital than their own home. Last autumn, her family organized their annual 5K race to raise funds for research into the disease. Hundreds of people ran. One of the runners was their daughter.

That is smallness.

And stardust.

My neighborhood is just an ordinary neighborhood filled with ordinary people. Yet, at the same time, I live in a neighborhood that is, quite simply, a constellation of stars. A neighborhood of people who know they are small. And who act like they are made of stardust.

To put it simply, I live in a neighborhood of people who have been animated by grace.

Animated by Grace

Grace is ridiculous.

In one breath, it gives us a vision of our smallness and our brokenness. It gives us the freedom and courage to touch all the ways we are so fallibly human.

While in the very next breath, it gives us a vision of our magnificence and our transcendence. It gives us the freedom to know we are glorious and good and beautiful.

People who live within the freedom of this kind of grace become free to love themselves, to love each other, and to bear witness to a world that is both broken and absolutely radiant with beauty.

And you don’t have to travel to rural Iowa or to my neighborhood to be touched by grace and to become aware of your smallness and your stardust.

Because you, too, live in a neighborhood of shooting stars.

Because you, too, are both messy smallness and brilliant stardust.

Because you, too, can be animated by grace, right where you are.

I think we live in a world in which the whisper of grace is getting louder and our shame cannot withstand it and it is transforming everything within its embrace.

I think the whisper of grace is getting louder and I think it’s coming for you. And when it finds you, I think you will be the adult stargazer and the child stargazer, all at the same time.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.