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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Fish Don't Climb Trees

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

—Albert Einstein

“Mom—don’t forget about Albert Einstein.” This was Felipe’s comment, during a FaceTime call, my very first (overwhelming) week of subbing. And he was right.

The image of God is an amazing thing. I see it in the faces of all of these students. Children. Each one uniquely created. Beautiful. Gifted. Each an undisputed, valuable part of the Body of Christ.

I wish I could tell you their names. I can't, of course, because of confidentiality. Instead I'll tell you a bit about who they are, and the remarkable things I’ve discovered so far. Their quirks and their brilliance. How one student struggles to hold a pencil, but can talk in detail about the chemistry of compounds used for some mind-blowing scientific process. How another, with diagnosed learning challenges, is witty and bright and so creative. How this one is quiet, with the mind of a thoughtful theologian.

An artist.

A builder.


More than one natural leader.

Pigtailed children and adult-sized tweens, side-by-side, learning lessons together. Each a unique sort of genius; each with obvious God-given gifts.

I am here for a season, and I’m learning, too. Teaching upper-elementary math for the first time ever. (Dad was the go-to in the Anderson clan when it came to numbers.) And me—a writer—but deer-in-headlights, trying to remember if I ever learned the rules for perfect progressive tense?? Not to mention Science—Prokaryotes in the first week’s lesson—and I can honestly say I had no clue.

Thank goodness for Kyle. (My assistant, not my husband, who shares the same name.) If ever there was evidence of God’s deliberate distribution of genius—here it is. Like Ernie and Bert. Calvin and Hobbes. Frodo and Sam. Or whatever iconic duo you can imagine. We are them.

I have, at times, felt painfully stupid. Like a fish trying to climb a tree. So aware of my own limitations, I nearly lose sight of the gifts He’s given. Until I remember, He certainly has me here for a reason. We are in this together. No one person the sole possessor of all the stuff. But together—kids and grownups, students and teachers—forming this wonderful, beautiful, masterpiece, body. WE are the image of God.

I am learning. Learning not only about bacteria and landforms and adverbs of manner—but learning about myself, too. Acknowledging my lack of interest in certain subjects, my love of others. Just like them. In a few shorts weeks my time here will come to an end, and I will again be asking the question, “God, what do you want me to do now?”

This morning, before I started writing, I Google-searched a personality assessment. My soon-to-be-therapist friend mentioned it while we were running together this weekend. It turns out Erin and I are the same “rarest Myers-Briggs personality type.” Which is how I discovered something rather amazing…

INFJs combine preferences for intuition and feeling. These preferences yield amazingly accurate insights about people. Your mind picks up on minutiae in other people’s facial expressions and body language, pieces it together, and gives you lucid insights into what those people are actually thinking and feeling.

My own unique genius—and the gift I can give this classroom of students.

Before semester’s end I will have done my best to brush up on gerunds and participles, binomials and the kingdom of fungi. And I will thank God every single day for His provision of a very knowledgeable assistant teacher. But I will do this, too…

I will study children. I will see them, and I will learn them. I will look in their eyes, and I will see their genius. I will remind them of their Creator God who uniquely designed them. And I will pray they believe.

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