You Get a Gold Star…First

ImageWhen I was young, I went to a Christian grade school. This program was really big into publicizing each student’s level of achievement. We had “star charts” on a corkboard within our little cubicle-style desks displayed in plain view for any passerby. In you got a B or above on a test, you would get a small star on your chart next to that subject. If you scored 100% on a test, you’d get a BIG gold star. Anything less, you got an understated green dot on your chart, which meant, “Way to pass, but don’t get too excited about your bald little dot.”

Thus began my relationship with performance.

Though my parents weren’t ones to ever pressure me with school work or activities, I quickly learned to love achieving. I became one of the best students who had tons of “big” stars and at the end of the school year walked home with an armful of awards. I would study hard so I could be best. And if I underperformed on a test, I’d pretty much fall apart. It wasn’t until those memories came to mind this year that I started thinking about all of the kids that got dots and who didn’t walk home with any awards.

I’m sure the people that ran this school had good intentions. Goal-setting and public-reward programs certainly pervaded the 1980s, and don’t get me wrong, it’s good to challenge yourself and be rewarded for your efforts. But, I’m convinced that there are two dangerous roots called INFERIORITY and INSECURITY that can start growing in us even as little children. They gain power when our personal value is based on the episodes of how well—or not so well—we measure up against some set of societal standards.

Why did I even start thinking about all of this? Well, this girl who worked hard to get good grades that reinforced “worth” has a 7-year-old son with autism who does not yet speak and rarely gets “stellar” reports.

With reports and evaluations I’ve gotten from his therapy center or school that detailed all the areas of deficiency, I have felt like I had myself failed. And yet, no amount of my hard work or performance could control his ability to learn. So, I had to look at my beautiful little boy, and ask myself some real questions about a person’s value, worth and destiny.

At the same time, God was showing me who He says I am. He was revealing to me what I can do because of what Christ did—completely apart from what I can prove in my own power. This is grace. Since then, God has surprised me with how He can be trusted with our gaps. Josiah has taught me that not only is God a good gift giver, but He is also a gap filler.

As God’s child, I am being liberated by receiving what He says about me. As a parent, I am speaking and exuding value and confidence into my child more intentionally, and the smile on his face shows me he is receiving what I say about him. The movie “The Help” inspired me with a simple blessing that I speak over my son many mornings to remind him of who he IS. It goes like this…

“Josiah, you are special. You are kind. You are important. You are smart. You are 100 percent loved by Jesus, by Mommy, by Daddy. And, remember, the word of the Lord is near you; it is even in your mouth and it is in your heart (Rom. 10:8).”

This is one way our Heavenly Father models to us how to raise amazing kids—it starts by telling them that they automatically have a gold star simply because they belong to you. And then, that child can become all that you say he or she already is. Does your child need to hear that? Do you?

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us to be holy and without fault in his eyes…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.” Ephesians 1:4, 11

Mom’s Words Endure

IMG_7290 In February of 2001, I was given a most favorite treasure from my mom. Perhaps I love it so much because it is a small token of a vast spiritual inheritance my mom has been storing up, and pouring out, along the way for me. It’s a collection of poems called “To My Child,” but there’s a twist to this folksy opus. Around each tone-setting poem in the book, my mom handwrote memories, advice, prayers or blessings specifically for me. Her words are simply priceless–a mother to her daughter, and adult friend.

She wrote this at a time when the grief waves that crash on a young widow were no longer knocking her down as much–after the first year had made its lap. Pain began to give way to receiving tickets to go on sentimental journeys with room for both a tear and a turned up smile.

We had lost my dad so suddenly to a heart attack at age 55. But in the mornings she especially felt his memory close, for 35-plus years of past dawns she had gotten up to be just with him in a quiet, reserved space. They chatted as she filled his steel thermos and packed his lunch in an Igloo cooler, tallying up years of goodbye kisses before he was off to command the big yellow machines that shaped the South Dakota dirt. She sat solo now in the early mornings and jotted notes, little by little, in this book, musing on our three-kid family and what it meant to be a mom.

I received this book four years before I was a mom, and six years before I would be a mom of little boy with special needs. Autism certainly is not what any mother imagines will be in her parenting future, and no parenting books could prepare me for such a puzzling and emotionally-wavy path. As I look back at this book today, though, I realize that the words of life that my amazing mom has spoken over me all of my nearly 39 years have helped sustain me through seasons when my soul was disheveled and I’ve been out of joint. She has constantly lifted my chin. She has been a living proverb for me to look at, not because she was strong in and of herself, but because she only has ever pointed to God as her strength and her praise. No matter what came.

IMG_7292She filled that little book with things to remember about my dad, along with inside jokes and meaningful moments we shared as mom and daughter.

And then there were her gems of wonderful advice. They sparkle at me even more now that I’m a mom:

  • “Love never issues orders, love is the cheerleader of encouragement.”
  • “If you set perfection as your goal, you will be plagued by failure and self-condemnation. If you set living God’s Word as your goal, you will be surrounded by exhortation and encouragement, and thereby be perfected.”
  • “Filter the best from Mom and the best from Dad and use that as a springboard to develop your parenting. For every bad example, go to the Word and let Father God repair any damage.”
  • “If I could give you the best gifts of all, they would be of the everlasting kind. I realize as your mother, I believe I have given you the best gift–the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and how to develop a personal relationship with Him.That was only made possible by going to the Lord and saying, ‘I must decrease so you might increase in my life.'”
  • “Love flows on a river named laughter.”
  • “Daughter, you have taught me a valuable lesson: Listening without advice-giving is a large part of love. Pray, don’t say.”
  • “My special desires for you: 1. Talk to God every day about everything and anything; 2. Call wisdom your sister and understanding your kinswoman–every day; 3. The marriage relationship is the most important relationship you will ever have. Guard it; 4. Laugh every day–laughter creates the sunlight that surrounds you.”
  • “May the pathway of your life be paved with the stepping stones of the promises of God.”
  • “The tapestry of your life has been woven with prayers in the spirit, words of love and encouragement, struggles that have led to victories–and it all glistens with the brightness of the candle of the Lord that is lit within you–a light that will never extinguish and will illuminate the way set before you. Shine on, Tahni.”

That’s my mom. These might as well be counted as formal benedictions. Happy Mother’s Day to woman I greatly honor and don’t ever take for granted. She speaks life, even at times when life growls and shows its teeth at her. She has spoken the best words over me year after year, scraping me right off the floor or ceiling many times with words that anchor, always strung to THE Word. I know this is a precious inheritance I have from my mom that a lot of people don’t ever get from a parent, but in the most amazing grace, can still receive from Daddy God.

It’s funny how one of the names God is referred to is El Shaddai, “the Many Breasted One.” He is Father, sure, but He is also like a mama. He is like a nursing mother, providing all a latched-on child needs for nurture, growth and protection. He holds close. He is all sufficient. I will forever remember being held close by my mom. I will forever remember what it’s like to hold my own child close, practically entangled with another human being that could not be more yours. I also can’t forget the days when I couldn’t be everything my son needed, feeling like I could not successfully solve a thing for him no matter how I tried. It’s that vacuum that I cannot fill, though I work and wrangle to help him along in this fractured physical development, and often don’t see desired progress.

Spiritually, though, Shaddai has nurtured us in ways beyond belief. I pray that one day my boy will be able to say of me what I say of my own mother, “She dared to speak life over me, and it has been more than enough.”



Jack’s Secret to Joy

jack in the boxWhen I was a kid, I was the beneficiary of a hand-me-down toy that offers in one simple package a mixture of curiosity, anticipation, fear, and odd “do it again” giggles. It is the Jack In the Box. (I apologize upfront for those who are creeped out by clowns.)

Several months ago, I paused and tilted my head at a scripture that I had read many times before. Read over without consequence, really. But, on this particular morning, it grabbed me: “Strength and dignity clothe her, and she laughs without fear of the future” (Prov. 31:25). She laughs without fear of the future? Woah. Back up. She LAUGHS without FEAR of the FUTURE? I said, “Lord, I don’t think I do that. I don’t know if I can do that. Why? Why am I afraid to laugh like that?”

I have been curious about this kind of joy ever since. Now, I would classify myself as a happy person. I think I’m a pretty positive, glass-half-full kind of gal. I love to joke and laugh and hope. But life. But problems. But disappointments. But circumstances. But scarcity. But worry. But frustration. But bracing oneself for a let down, instead of for a popping up. Could the kind of joy talked about in the Bible have been escaping me through a lifetime of following Christ?

Let’s say life is like that Jack In the Box. What is the most prominent focus of my life–what do I give the most energy to? Is it the outside box–a polished-looking veneer with happy faces painted on all sides as if to suggest everything inside is going fine, good, awesome!?! Is the biggest part of life the metal crank that is what we term as “the grind”? Just keep turning, turning, turning day after day with a tune playing in the background but with little expectation–except for some reason you believe that one needs to keep turning that handle or she will have no worth at all. Or, could it be that just maybe we should be focused much more on the Jack who lives in the box who springs out and shows himself once in a while. Jack personifies joy. Scary joy, granted, but joy nonetheless!

I’ve been realizing that it is very American to put conditions on joy. Joy if you feel good. Joy if someone makes you feel good. Joy if you have money in the bank. Joy if you own stuff. Joy if you eat yummy stuff. Joy if you’re healthy. Joy at an event. Joy if life doesn’t suck at the moment. Joy in a bottle. On many things in the last year, I have had to ask God to show me what some of these words and ideas like “joy” really mean. The Hebrew glasses through which they viewed the world are not the goggles through which we Westerners view the world. Joy is a great example.

David says in Psalm 97:11, “Light is sown…and joy for the upright in heart [the irrepressible joy which comes from consciousness of His favor and protection] (Amplified version). Do you catch that? Joy, true joy, is sourced from a consciousness of God’s favor and protection on our lives! Might I suggest that I can lose joy altogether because I get afraid that God’s favor and protection won’t come through for me and mine. I want it to, but it’s as if I’m waiting for it most days instead of being aware of it always. This constant awareness produces inward triggers leading to outward evidence of radical joy.

Back to the Jack In the Box. What if my focus was on that springy Jack, because that is what God is so after. Do you know how a Jack In the Box works? A little science lesson shows that it is a perfect example of “potential energy.” Potential energy is stored energy–it is not causing anything to move, nor is it doing work. Catch this: instead, it stores energy that was given to it when work was done on the object.

Do you see this? Joy IS potential energy. We don’t do the winding, God does! The stored energy in the spring allows the Jack to pop to life when it is released, turning the energy of position (stored energy) into energy of motion (kinetic energy). This is the role of both the inside job and outside job of joy in our lives! More than to cause and to stew and to strive, we were designed to respond like a Jack In the Box. This is strange joy that God offers.

One Hebrew word for joy is “simchah.” It is the joy described in the above verse. Do you know that if we follow God, joy is a command? We are not to withhold it from God, ourselves or others. One Rabbi Likutey Moharan wrote, “Strengthen yourself to push aside all depression and sadness. Everyone has lots of problems and the nature of man is to be attracted to sadness. To escape these difficulties, constantly bring joy into your life–even if you have to resort to silliness.”

Strength and dignity come by being quite undignified. Joy jumps up and spins around. Joy leaps. Joy boings. Joy smiles. Joy attracts curiosity. Joy anticipates excitement and good things. Joy sings. Joy praises. Here’s to the Master’s turning and tightening of the springs in us so that we spontaneously bust out in joy more often than not!