Teacher Appreciation

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week at my sons’ school. Recently, I asked some teacher-friends what parents can do to encourage them and make them feel appreciated. So, parents, here are 5 ways you can make your child’s teacher feel loved and appreciated ~~

IMG_5218 Silas and his beloved third-grade teacher. She made the transition to public school a non-issue for him. He stops by her room to give her hugs every day.

1. Donate classroom supplies. Often, teachers purchase classroom supplies with their own money. You can help alleviate this extra financial concern by donating things like Clorox wipes, tissues, pencils, baggies, glue sticks. Donating needed items reinforces the idea that you and the teacher are partners, working together to educate the children.

2. Volunteer. Whether your schedule allows you to volunteer for one field trip or field day or whether you have time to come in once a month or once a week, volunteer. Offer to make copies or help with school picture day or read with a struggling student. Come during your lunch hour and eat with your child for 20 minutes and help in the classroom for 20 minutes. Again — when you volunteer, your actions tell the teacher that you’re partners. And when you spend 20 minutes making copies, that is 20 minutes earlier your child’s teacher can go home or one lunch period he can sit and eat lunch or 20 minutes she can spend working on the mounds of paperwork she has to submit to the office.

3. Coordinate teacher luncheons. Something magical happens when a teacher walks into the teacher’s lounge and finds tables full of food thoughtfully provided by parents. I’ve seen it. That food is a tangible expression of love and thankfulness. And when the tables are overflowing with food, the teachers are overwhelmed in the best way. They feel loved.

4. Send letters or email messages of commendation to the principal or superintendent. When your child’s teacher makes a remarkable impact on your child, share the good news. Teaching can be a very lonely, thankless job, and teachers can feel like their entire job performance is distilled down to median test scores. I don’t know any teachers who chose education so that they could train students to fall within the right sections of test results bar graphs. Teachers want to connect with children and make a difference in their lives. When they succeed in this goal, tell their bosses. Everyone enjoys being acknowledged for doing his job well.

5. Give gifts and write notes. Whether it’s a gift card to a teacher supply store, a mug of her favorite coffee, a gift card to his favorite restaurant or a couple homemade cookies, teachers enjoy little tokens of appreciation. And the teachers I know especially appreciate thank-you notes or stories of how you see that teacher influencing your child. Sometimes, teachers hear from the unhappy parents far more than they hear from the grateful parents. So a little bit of encouragement can go a long way in reminding teachers that they are making differences in the lives of their students.

Even if it’s not Teacher Appreciation Week at your child’s school, purpose to show your child’s teacher some love this week.

Putting Children In Boxes

jackinbox Can we all agree that this is the only kind of box we should put our kids in?

Yesterday, I told you Caleb’s story.  Today, let’s talk about putting children in boxes. I’m talking about this tendency some of us have to expect cookie cutter children, as if schools and homes are an assembly line cranking out children who all learn the same and test the same and perform the same, children who are “well-rounded” and look great on traditional college applications.

The problem with that — well, gosh, there are too many problems with that. That entire notion is a problem! The beauty of it all is that we are each so distinctive! I am constantly amazed at the uniqueness of each of my six children. All raised by the same parents with the same guidelines and influences, yet each so individual and different. If you have more than one child, or if you come from a family with more than one child, you’ve seen it too.

We are fortunate. The teachers my children have had in public school have taught to various learning styles and seem to appreciate each child’s distinctiveness. But I know that kids still feel pressure to get the right scores and make the right grades and fit into the mold. And sometimes parents feel the pressure too, so parents try to push the children to make all A’s or fall on the right side of the bell curve. I know better. At my core, I value individuality and recognize different types of intelligences. I appreciate that our world needs all sorts of people with all sorts of skills and passions and personalities. And still, sometimes I get sucked in to the idea that all my children should be making the Honor Roll and scoring well on the state’s standardized test. I have lapses into Freaked-Out-Land in which I become a crazy momma who frantically obsesses about whether my high school children are in enough clubs and making the right grades and building the right resume to get into college.

For the LOVE! Can we just all stop already? Can we agree that not every kid can score in the top tenth percentile because – HELLOOOO! –  then that wouldn’t be the top tenth percentile any more? Can we agree that the kids who are really smart at taking tests and writing papers might not be so smart at fixing a dishwasher or playing guitar or creating delicious cupcakes? And all of those things are important in this life. And the cupcake part might even be the most important. Amen? Can we agree that not everyone’s child will get into an Ivy League school, and that’s OK? And can we agree that the kids who do get into an Ivy League school don’t have any more value than the kids who go to community college?

And, you know what, adults? That means we’re going to have to stop saying in hallowed, hushed, adoring tones, “Johnny got into Harvard.” And it means we’re going to have to stop with all the extra rationalizing and apologizing when a kid goes to community college, “Well, Bobby is going to Neighborhood Community College for a year or two. He’s really smart; he just didn’t apply himself the first two years of high school. I don’t think he realized that all his grades actually counted. But he made the honor roll his last two years, and he’s going to get into a top college after a year of Neighborhood Community College.” No, stop it. Harvard Johnny is no more worthy of a parent’s pride and adoration than Community College Bobby. 

And then, after all of the grown-ups agree on this, can we all tell our children these truths? And can we keep telling them and keep telling them until they believe it? Until they know in the center of their very being that whatever sort of ways they are smart –and they ARE! – those ways are just as important and valuable and beautiful as the ways other people are smart. 

When report cards come home and students are in the middle of standardized tests and the valedictorian is announced, can we promise each other that we’ll pause and take a deep breath  and remember that these things do not define our children? And they certainly don’t define us as parents. Can we promise not to elevate these sorts of things to a higher place than they deserve? Even if our children make straight A’s and ace the tests and have the highest gpa. We can be proud of their hard work and the character that work has formed in them and grateful for the gifts and talents they’ve been given, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that their grades and scores and accolades make them better than in the ways that are truly important in life. And let’s be realistic, those things don’t really even make them smarter than. Because there are so many ways to be smart.

Please know that I am saying this not only as the mom of children whose intelligences are not best measured by big tests and report card grades, but also as the mom of children for whom schools are made. I am not in one camp or the other, friends. I am not trying to devalue anyone’s children and their gifts. I am just asking us all to keep perspective.

If your child fits in the box that is school, that’s OK. Praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts. And if your child does not fit into the box that is school, that’s OK too. Help those children find their talents and gifts, help them figure out what types of intelligence they have. Then praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts too. And let’s celebrate all the children’s distinctiveness and help them be thankful that we’re not all the same. Because how boring would that be?

Giving Our Children Time To BECOME

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This boy will soon celebrate 13 years of being alive. And we will celebrate because when he was a toddler and a preschooler, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep him alive for 13 years.

He was such a curious boy, always climbing and investigating and touching and tasting and experimenting. And I was a little distracted some of the time, what with carrying and birthing and nurturing and keeping alive his little brothers – 3 of them before he was 4 1/2. For a few years, that Curiosity killed the cat saying played on repeat in my brain, a taunting refrain. Especially when Caleb got really quiet. Because with kids, quiet equals trouble.

As a toddler, he figured out how to climb out of cribs and unfasten himself from car seats or high chairs. He could open that child-proof door handle thingy faster than I could! As a preschooler, he enjoyed sneaking into the kitchen and mixing together different foods to see what happened. Cracking eggs seemed to be his favorite. Experimenting with tubes of food coloring ran a close second. He devised elaborate string or yarn booby traps all over the house. And he became obsessed with creating a Duplo block boat that would float, so he was often overflowing the bathroom sink during his trial and error sessions. I suspect Caleb sneaked out of his bed and watched segments of Will It Float on David Letterman because he was often tossing items into the sink or bathtub or toilet to check their floatability — paperback novels, toy cars, toothbrushes, hairbrushes.

Clearly this genius child had the mind of an engineer or scientist! At least, that’s how I consoled myself when his shenanigans threatened his life and my sanity — when he drank some medicine or stuck his finger in an outlet or climbed onto the top of the fridge or climbed onto the top of his crib and free-fell off (again and again and again).

When it came time to learn his ABCs, Caleb the genius wasn’t all that interested. His big sisters and I sang the ABC song to him. We did alphabet puzzles and games and coloring sheets. We watched videos. I pointed out letters and sounds in signs and books. Caleb could not have cared less about learning his letters. Nobody in the history of the world has cared about anything less than Caleb cared about the alphabet. He had some powdered drink mix to snort and a bookshelf to scale. Letters schmetters. Whatev.

Perhaps he will be motivated to learn at least the letters in his name. Every kid loves his own name. I was a teacher. I would teach this kid to write his name. In big block letters, I wrote C A L E B then I wrote it again over and over in dotted-line letters for him to trace. He half-heartedly traced a letter or two before covering the page in elaborate drawings. He would draw detailed pictures of a house with an underground tunnel connecting it to a neighboring house or of fire-breathing dragons chasing a blue-jean-wearing boy. When he would bring the pictures to show me, he would tell me these incredible stories depicted by his illustrations. But absolutely none of his pictures had an artist’s signature in the bottom corner because this boy had zero interest in learning to write his own name. No matter how many times I wrote his name in dotted-lined letters.

Then one day months later, he ran into the room where I was drying my hair. He tossed a Sunday School paper in front of me. In every bit of white space on that paper was scrawled C A L E B. “Who wrote this?” I shut off the hair dryer. “I did, Momma!” He beamed. “How did you know? Who helped you?” “Uhhh, you did. Lots of weeks ago. You showed me.” Duh. Of course I had. But he hadn’t practiced. He barely seemed to pay attention. But there it was in front of me – C A L E B. C A L E B. C A L E B.  All over the page. Every letter perfectly formed in little boy manuscript.

He learned his ABCs the same way. All that time of not caring, then one day – BAM! he knew them all. Counting to 20, days of the week, months of the year, short vowels, long vowels — Caleb learned all of it in the same maddening way. Weeks and months of disinterest and none of it sinking in, then BOOM! perfect mastery.

I homeschooled him in kindergarten and the first half of first grade. Because I knew his style, I didn’t push him to master reading and gain fluency. I figured I’d just consistently and repetitively teach him and read with him, then when it clicked he could move straight from those teensy Bob Books to Robinson Crusoe or something. And that plan may have worked if we hadn’t enrolled him in a small Christian school.

Four days into the second semester of first grade, Caleb’s first four days of traditional school in a classroom setting, a teacher told me Caleb was super sweet and a joy to teach, “but he’s really so far behind the other children in reading. We may want to move him back to kindergarten.” From that moment on, the phrases “you’re behind the others . . . you need to catch up” became the refrain of Caleb’s school day. His self-confidence balloon burst. Deflated and defeated, he began to say, “I can’t read. . . . I’m behind everyone else. . . . I’m just not made for school.” My momma heart ached. And the momma bear in me rose up. My husband and I went to the school to tutor him during reading class, and I practiced sight word lists and phonics with him at home. I countered every “I’m behind everyone else” and “I can’t read.” with “You are becoming a good reader.” Over and over and over, I repeated this truth to him, “You are becoming a good reader.” And I prayed for peace as we waited and worked during the Becoming

By the end of second grade, all of Caleb’s self-confidence was gone, replaced by a vicious anxiety. He cried easily, picked at his skin until it bled, hoarded food, had trouble sleeping and regularly complained that everyone was mean to him and nobody liked him. He often declared he would quit school and travel the world. Using an array of tests and assessments and some hours of observation, an educational psychologist evaluated Caleb and presented us with a 12-page booklet of results and recommendations. As it turned out, I had been right — my little boy was practically a genius, but the chasm between his IQ and his academic achievement in language skills was vast.

Between my ears and my brain something magical happens to break down a word into individual sounds. This helps me spell words, and it helps me read new words. Sound it out. That’s what teachers had told me when I was little, and it’s what Caleb’s teachers and I had been encouraging him to do. Except that magical thing wasn’t happening between Caleb’s ears and his brain. He could break words into syllables, but that’s it. He wasn’t hearing individual sounds within a word. Sound it out meant nothing to him. Nothing except frustration and piled on anxiety. So we had to change the way we were teaching Caleb to read. The Sound it out way would not work.

The school was not willing to accommodate a different learning style. I highlighted a few ideas in the educational psychologist’s booklet of recommendations that could be implemented at school and asked during one of our many conferences if they would consider making those few adjustments. None were implemented. Their solution was that Caleb should repeat second grade, even though he was mastering the math and social studies and science. But teaching him the same material a second time using the same technique that didn’t work with his brain did not seem like a logical solution to me. That would be like repeating the English sentence slowly and more loudly to a person who doesn’t understand a word of English. What’s that Albert Einstein quote? — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

So we made plans to homeschool Caleb for third grade. I researched various learning styles. I read about learning differences and disabilities. I bought a book written by a man who had overcome his dyslexia to become a professor and author. After reading it cover to cover, I showed Caleb — “Look! Some day, you will be able not only to READ a book like this, you will be able to WRITE a book like this if you want! If this man could do it, so can you!” My teacher-friends shared creative teaching ideas with me. Friends and family members who parent children with learning differences brainstormed ideas with me and pointed me to excellent resources. After reading about and researching strengths-based education, I evaluated Caleb’s strengths and learning styles and developed a plan to teach specifically to his strengths.

I got this vision in my head. I believe God placed it there. I saw Caleb standing in a cap and gown, graduating from college, telling everyone, “All my teachers told me I was behind and couldn’t read. I was ready to quit. But my mom believed in me. She told me I was becoming a good reader. She gave me time to become a good reader in my own way. She believed in me when nobody at school did.” That vision motivated me to become Caleb’s biggest cheerleader. That vision fueled hope within me. We would overcome this little speed bump.

That next school year, Caleb and I worked hard. He did jumping jacks while spelling words and reciting phoneme sounds. We tossed a ball back and forth while breaking words into syllables and sounds. He formed words out of clay, then built pictures of the words with the clay. He formed letters and words with beans or beads. He spelled words out with letter tiles. He hopped across the room while drilling sight word flashcards. Out on the basketball court, we wrote words in sidewalk chalk. He began to read articles and books about things that really interested him — hammerhead sharks, creepy bugs, magic tricks. He discovered the genius that is spell-check and proclaimed it to be his life-long friend! We learned some basic spelling rules, like “every syllable must have a vowel,” then checked every written word against that rule until it became second-nature. Over and over, I told Caleb, “You are becoming a good reader now.” 

And he was becoming a good reader. Each week, we saw more evidence of the Becoming As his strengths were acknowledged and his reading skills blossomed, his anxiety began to shrink. We replaced lying thoughts, “I can’t read. . . . I’m not a good student. . . . Everyone is mean to me. . . . I am not as good as other people.” with truthful thoughts, “I can read. . . . I can do hard things. . . Everyone has challenges. . . . Sometimes people are mean, but sometimes they are kind. . . .” 

Education isn’t a competition. There is time for everyone to learn his own way. That year of homeschooling removed Caleb from the perception of a learning race, where children can be behind other children.

That same year, Caleb and I discovered parkour. Have you seen this? YouTube it. In parkour, people run up ramps and jump over railings and leap from building to building. They run up the sides of buildings and then do backflips. If there is an obstacle on a sidewalk or trail, these guys will jump on it or over it or use it to launch a flip of some sort. Caleb became obsessed with parkour, and every trip to the playground or park involved parkour practice. And -LIGHTBULB! – I realized that education can’t be a race because some people approach it like a marathon, straight ahead, steady paces, arms pumping at their side; but others approach it like parkour, leaping rocks, running up handrails, jumping from one platform to the next. And you just cannot compare marathon running with parkour. It’s apples and oranges, people.

Once we tapped into Caleb’s strengths and rebuilt his confidence, reading began to click with him. He asked for a big book of magic tricks for his birthday in the spring of third grade. The day after his birthday, he was performing magic tricks for us. He had read and understood the step-by-step instructions all on his own. He also asked for a biography of Ronald Reagan. Within a week, we were hearing all sorts of details about President Reagan’s life. Caleb was becoming a great reader.

At the beginning of this school year, Caleb’s middle school English teacher told me Caleb is always reading a book as soon as he finishes his work. “Has he always been an avid reader?” She wondered.

No, but he has always been becoming one. Even when it seemed everyone else was saying otherwise.

Celebrating Accomplishment Without Fueling Unhealthy Competition

Competition. I’ve been thinking a lot about competition lately.

Since my children entered public school, especially public high school, I’ve been reminded how much school can be about competition. In academics and sports and clubs and social order, young people are constantly thrust into competition. Earning the highest gpa, making the team, starting in the game, getting the role, being first-chair, eating at the right table, wearing the right clothes, being asked to the dance, having enough Twitter followers and Instagram likes . . . 

The competition may culminate in high school, but it all starts pretty early. I recently had lunch at school with Griffin, who is in second grade. He and his friends were lifting their pants legs to show each other their name-brand socks. Soon, they were discussing who owns Nike Elite socks and how much they cost (around $14 a pair). Though the teachers go out of their way not to make the reading and math groupings obviously about skill level, the children know. Griffin knows he is in a reading group with the kids who go with the gifted teacher. He knows that some of the children who go to the reading specialist are in another group. Because we’ve talked about this a lot in our home, Griffin knows that someone’s true value isn’t measured by reading groups or report cards or the types of socks a child wears. But he still works hard to earn good marks on his report card and to successfully do the work in his reading and math groups, and he consistently asks for a pair of Nike Elite socks.

Though we do talk often about how life is not a competition and how our worth is not rooted in grades or paychecks or name-brand clothing or the score at the end of the game, I confess that sometimes I get sucked in too. I am really proud of my child when she scores the most goals of the game. I’m pleased when he outruns everyone else on the field. I’m proud when his dive form is better than the kid who usually out-dives him. And sometimes I’m just honestly proud of my child’s accomplishments in a healthy way. But sometimes I fall into a comparison trap and delight in my child’s being better than, smarter than, stronger than, more talented than. And I am so not pleased with this in myself. It’s ugly.

So I am trying to be more aware of this in myself. Instead of saying, “You are a better striker than _____” or “Your handstand dive was better than ____’s tonight,” I want to say, “You are running even faster this season than you did last!” or “Your form on that dive gets better each week!” I want to teach each child by example that the only person she should compare herself to is herself.

I want to encourage my children to set goals and praise them for meeting those goals. I want to encourage them to work hard to improve their own skills and then praise them for improvement. And I really want to stop comparing them to their classmates and teammates.

There will always be competition, and many healthy character-building lessons can come from competition — in the winning and the losing. Someone will be valedictorian. Some team will win the championship. Someone will win the election for class president. Someone will score the most baskets or goals or win the gold medal. But my children will learn those important lessons even when I choose not to focus on comparisons and competing.

The sense of constantly competing, of constantly trying to be better than, can be overwhelming for kids. Our attitudes and words as parents can fuel that or temper it. Unfortunately, in the past, I’ve fueled that too often. From now on, I want to temper it.

At my core, I believe each child has different strengths and talents and passions. I believe the lessons learned and character built from losing the game and not being the best are often the things that make us stronger, more resilient, more compassionate people. I believe that a child’s heart and character are far more important than his abilities and performance.

So I want to make sure those beliefs shape my attitude and spill over through my words. If I speak these truths enough, my children can withstand the competition-fueled world of school knowing their real value isn’t tied to any of that.

 

Profound Love or Deep Hurt

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Andy Stanley says there are two categories of people who influence us and form us into the people we become, “those who hurt you deeply and those who loved you profoundly.”

In the past ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, speaking and writing about how we can make a positive impact on the world, or at least on our own little corner of the world. I’ve also attempted to use my own strengths for good – to practice what I preach. I’ve thought about our strengths and passions and great delight and the world’s deep needs and how those things intersect. And I wasn’t wrong.

But then I go and hear this thought by Andy Stanley and everything within me says, Of course! Yes! Of course, that’s true! Yes, yes, yes! 

We are influenced and shaped by the people who hurt us to the core and by the people who love us from their core. I have made the most impact on the people I have deeply hurt and the people I have profoundly loved. I’m sure of it.

As I’ve thought about this for the last few days, I’ve lamented, mourned over, the times I have left my mark with deep hurt. I don’t want to influence others by the damage I leave in my wake. I want my legacy to be one of love.

If we want to positively influence this world, if we want to make a real impact, we must do everything with profound love. Radical, unconditional love. Yes, our strengths and passions and deep delights are involved. Yes, we can consider the needs around us and match our giftedness with those needs. But in order to most fully influence, to really leave our mark, love must be the undergirding force.

There are some things in my community I’m trying to change. There are some people I’m hoping to influence. I’m praying love will be my guiding force. If I’m going to shape my world, I aim to shape it with profound love.

If they’d had Facebook, would Paul have unfriended Barnabas? (or Disagreements Among Christians)

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is — Sometimes Christians disagree with each other. As if you could spend any time on the internet and not realize that! Right?

We can read the exact same passage of scripture and pray over it and wrestle with it and come away with two (or three or four . . .) very different meanings. And I don’t claim to know how that happens. And the peacemaker middle children everywhere would probably much rather have God spell everything out exactly so there is nothing gray anywhere, then we’d all just get along already.

It’s not only our understanding of scripture that differs but our perspective and preferences and approach to life can also be quite diverse. Some of that can be chalked up to being at various points along the path of spiritual maturity, but some of it is simply because God doesn’t have one specific mold he presses His people from. We come from different places. We have different personalities. We have different passions and interests. We come at scripture from different backgrounds and with different mindsets.

Disagreements among Christians aren’t new. Believers have disagreed with each other ever since being a Christian became a thing. In the book of Acts in the Bible we can read about the very first followers of Jesus disagreeing with each other. You know, I love that the Bible isn’t a PR-spin for God showing the good and hiding the bad, but a book about real people with real quirks and warts and three-dimensional personalities. Sometimes those real people didn’t see eye to eye – which is refreshing and encouraging because I don’t always see eye to eye with every other Christian.

Early on, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they thought the Church should reflect the Jewishness of Jesus (and themselves). These believers wanted new converts to be circumcised. Other believers reminded them that God was more concerned with a person’s heart than with his . . . you know. Some early believers wanted everyone to follow Jewish dietary laws. Others believed all food was fair game, so to speak, and people could eat what they wanted with freedom and a clear conscience.

Two early Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas, even had a big argument about whether Mark could come with them on a mission trip. Paul thought Mark was an unreliable quitter; Barnabas wanted to show him mercy and give him a second chance. They had such a “sharp disagreement” that Paul took Silas and went one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went another. And the Bible doesn’t say who was right and who was wrong. It really doesn’t even seem to matter to God. He used Paul and his team and Barnabas and his team and got twice the work done in the same amount of time. Because God has that amazing way of using everything to bring good.

Sometimes, like in the case of the dietary laws and the circumcision issue, the early Church leaders met and talked it out and prayed it out and formed a compromise so as to protect and honor everyone’s backgrounds and preferences as much as possible. Sometimes God used men like Paul to encourage the people not to worry about who is right and who is wrong, but to focus on respecting each other and loving each other. He even advised the early believers who were right to give up their rights in order to better love others. It seems that being right about the nonessentials isn’t nearly as important to God as loving each other.

Paul, on authority from God, instructed those first Christians to stop judging each other in matters nonessential to the faith, to make every effort to get along, to be patient with the weaknesses and failures of others. He encouraged the believers to accept each other just as Christ accepted each of them. (Read Romans, chapters 13, 14, 15 for more on this.)

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I get caught up in debates. I want to be right, and I want to convince you that I am right. But when I read how those early Church leaders handled conflict and I read Paul’s advice, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to remember that just as I am living out my beliefs to God, other Christians are living out their beliefs to God. We will all stand before God and answer for ourselves.

In the meantime, my job is to love my neighbor as myself and dress myself with Jesus — put on Jesus every day so it’s like I’m wearing Jesus, completely encapsulated in Jesus.

My job is to love, doing no harm to my neighbor. God’s job is to be God – to judge and to shake it all out for good.

Failure, Success, My Over-Critical Brain, and God

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Today I have been thinking about success.

I tend to be a bit critical. Sometimes of others. But I am most critical of myself. At the risk of sounding like a complete loon I will tell you — after I lead a small group or speak to a large group or participate in a Bible study or lead a children’s program or attend a meeting or (for the LOVE!) have a normal, everyday conversation, I replay every detail in my mind and analyze it all. I chastise myself for wording this thought the wrong way or for blurting out something without thinking it through. I beat myself up for talking too much, for saying that sarcastic comment, for making that joke that someone could have taken the wrong way.

I have a pretty finite idea of what success looks like. Success = top performance. Success = perfection. Imperfections, mistakes, putting my foot in my mouth — all of that = failure. And as I drive home from wherever or lie down to sleep at night, my brain whirs with the replay of failures. I don’t want to be a satan-behind-every-rock kinda girl, but I really believe this is part of what he does to debilitate us. The Bible calls him our accuser. He shoots fiery darts of accusations at us. Some of those whispers in my head telling me how I came up short again, how I flubbed this one up — some of those whispers are from my own overanalytical, neurotic self. But some of those whispers certainly come from the enemy who wants to paralyze me with fear of more failure.

And so I must recognize those whisper-thoughts as the lies and hatefulness that they are. The Bible calls this taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. 

In the quiet moments, in the aftermath of my interactions with others, when those whisper-thoughts are attacking me, I have to breathe a deep breath. Then when my brain has enough oxygen to fully function, I have to remember that my definition of success is just plain wrong.

My math is a bit fuzzy. You see, real success does not equal perfection. Real success allows for failure and growth and authenticity and vulnerability. Real success allows for merciful moments of redemption amidst the flaws and failure — because that is when we often see God’s hand at work. Real success is not about my saying all the right things and being in control. Real success isn’t about me at all. Real success is all about allowing for God’s plan to prevail. 

God’s kingdom is a sort of upside-down kingdom. His math isn’t exactly like our math. The definitions in His language aren’t the same as our definitions. God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which the first are last and the last are first. The lowly are exalted and the high and mighty are humbled and made low. Our weaknesses are exactly the best places for His strengths to show up and show off.

You see, when we’re doing life with God, our failures don’t negate success; our failures become opportunities for God to work. His speciality is making good from everything. He promises He will! When we love Him, He works everything out for our good and His glory.

So I don’t have to do the slow-motion replay after every conversation and interaction. When the critical whispers in my head start aiming their fiery dart-words at me, I can capture those thoughts and breathe truth onto them, extinguishing them. True success is about God’s working in every situation to bring good for us and glory for Himself. And any failure of mine isn’t big enough to stop God from doing His thing. That’s the truth!