Every Scribble is not Awesome

stick figures

Saved in boxes of “must keep” items are a couple of school papers from our children. Some are drawings, some are stories, some are humorous, child-answers to questions. They each tell a story of their lives at the time. They are funny and poignant. I periodically pull these out as reminders of the past, who they are and where they came from.

With five children we had a lot of art work and pictures created through the years and it always created a dilemma. What do you do with all that art work? With all the stories? With all the pictures? One mom I knew framed them and all over the house were frames with children’s artwork encased in glass. They were color-coordinated to match the colors of the ‘art’. But if you looked closely, the attractive thing about these arrangements were the frames – not the scribbles. The frames were beautiful and classy. The art work was mediocre at best. Every scribble was not worthy of framing, every scribble was not ‘awesome.’

We live in an age where everything children do is put into the category of ‘awesome.’ We want the world to know that our kids are amazing. They are smart – smarter than your kids. They are beautiful – better looking than your kids. They are talented – more talented than you can possibly imagine. Anything less and our children will suffer from serious self-esteem issues.

Or will they?

Probably not. In fact if they grow up with a realistic view of who they are in relation to the broader world they will be healthier and wiser. They don’t need to wear booty shorts that say ‘Princess’ across the butt; they don’t need to wear t—shirts that proclaim how ‘special’ they are. Our children need to know who they are in healthy ways before God and man. And sometimes that means knowing that someone is better than them.

We are told that all men are created equal. And this is absolutely true in the purely spiritual sense. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom, but on earth our children will meet kids who are better than them. Everyone cannot be the lead in a play. Everyone does not have a voice like Celine Dion. Everyone does not have sports ability equal to Olympic competitors. Everyone does not have equal talent.

Everything your child does, everything my child does is not awesome. It just isn’t. If you tell them a scribble is awesome what will you say when one of your kids draws something that shows real talent, real potential?

As I was writing this piece I picked up the book The Narcissism Epidemic and began to read it. The book is a candid look at the obsession with self in American society. It points out the real dangers of a society obsessed with self; a society that thinks everything it does is awesome. Toward the beginning of the book the authors relay a story about one of their kids in preschool. The curriculum began each day with a little song “I am special, I am special, Look at me.” The author suggested to the preschool teacher that a better song might be “I promise to listen to Dad and stop kicking him in the face when he tries to dress me.” As they discussed the pros and cons of the ‘I am special’ song the author told the teacher that these sorts of songs are linked to narcissism. The authors are careful to say that one little “I am special song’ does not a narcissist make, but a daily deluge of “you’re special, you’re awesome, you’re the best” has that potential. In their words:

“Of course, one “I am special song” is not going to turn a child into a narcissistic nightmare, just as a single raindrop won’t get a child wet. But a deluge of these “special” ‘messages could have a negative impact. Today’s culture rains enough narcissism to get everyone wet.

Parents have probably always thought their kids were amazing and special. Perhaps the difference is they didn’t expect the world to agree. They were content holding it in their own hearts and affirming their children in healthy ways that were honest and validating. Ways that produced character as opposed to narcissism.

If your kids are like my kids, everything they do is not awesome. Some of the things they do are excellent, some of the things they do are unique, some of the things they do are average. But it doesn’t really matter. I love them. A piece of art that wins an award does not make me love them more, and my guess is you feel the same. You don’t love them for what they do, you love them for who they are.

Perhaps if we figure out healthier ways of communicating this to our children we will see the death of the narcissism epidemic in my life time. Perhaps it’s too far gone and it will take another generation to kill it.

If more of us understand that everything our kids do is not awesome perhaps we have a fighting chance of changing a generation to be kinder, less self-centered, more concerned about the world. I for one want to give it a try.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/character-development-child-95769/

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Perfectionism — The Meanest Girl You’ll Ever Meet

Mean Girls

When my son Joel was six months old I got pregnant with our third child. We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan at the time and scheduled to take a trip to the town of Layyah to visit our dear friends (incidentally Robynn’s parents.) We had been tremendously busy and stressed so we cancelled the trip. Nine months later Micah Christopher Gardner was born.

The pregnancy whacked us over the head with its surprise. And then Micah was born and we and the world rejoiced over this incredibly beautiful baby boy. He was perfect. Brown eyes and a bald head, patient even from birth, our world could hardly contain our love for him.

But outside the world of our little family there were whispers of discontent. Sometimes loud, other times soft, always audible the whispers said things like “Three kids in four years? That’s ridiculous!” “What were they thinking?” “They’ll never be able to handle it!” “Don’t they know about birth control?”

The damage was slow and insidious, like a cancer that takes over in incremental but determined steps, finally resting in bone, liver, and lung.

So I made a vow. The vow went something like this: No one would ever see me out of control. No one would see me struggle. No one would be able to point the finger and say:

“She’s overwhelmed.”

“She can’t do it.”

And most of all “She has too many kids.”

My vow led to a rigid and subconscious striving for perfectionism – something I had never battled. My house would be clean. My kids would be well scrubbed and well dressed, resembling kids that could sit on top of wedding cakes smiling at the crowd. We would light candles at dinner and breakfast. We would show THEM – the whisperers. Except that we had moved on to a new place and those who whispered were no longer a part of our lives.

Vows we make can damage our souls. At heart my vow was to be perfect. But perfectionism is a fickle frenemy.

Perfectionism is the mean girl. The one with the pretty hair and the even prettier teeth. The one who you feel so inferior to, but you are overjoyed that she wants to be your friend. You spend time with her but at the end of the day, when you go home to your true self you realize you have compromised and you hate who you have become. Perfectionism is the mean girl, the ‘plastic’ that you will never be able to please.

The imperfect? The mess? The real? They are your true friends. Because you realize you can’t do it on your own, you do need help. You need help from community. You need help from God. You need someone to laugh with, cry with, confide in, voice anger with.

Like so many things in my life it took some time for me to confront the vow, to confront the lie that had grown into an ugly weed, rooted deep, and taking away the beautiful. 

I am free of this vow – it took a long time and some humble moments of soul-searching, some confrontation from people who recognized the mean girl in my life and begged me to break free. While it occasionally comes up during periods when I am over tired and insecure, for the most part I recognize it for the weed that it is and pray that the great Gardener of my soul will pull it, even if it hurts.

And I am grateful — grateful for growth, for honesty, for recognition that the mean girls in my life have to go.

So I ask you now – what are the vows you have made that take over your life, and need to be confronted for the lies that they are? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/woman-girl-bag-red-shopping-hair-68750/

How a Stranger Got me to Re-Post Paper Sam & the Power of Words

The start to my Wednesday has not been ideal. I left an unfinished cup of coffee (a delicious cup, mind you) on my counter, I rushed to the bus, my son wasn’t feeling well…but those are minor. When I got to the subway I walked toward the end of the platform, the perfect place for me to hop off and head straight for the exit at the Park Street stop. The platform wasn’t crowded and at this point most who were idly standing by were men.

And then out of nowhere came words directed solely at me. loud and surly: “Skank” “Bitch”. My eyes followed the sound of the words and a man, scruffy and unshaved, looked directly at me, his lips curling in complete hate. He repeated the words as I walked quickly away, heart pounding.

The train could not come fast enough. He was a stranger yet these vitriolic words flew out of his mouth directed at me. 

But here’s what’s startling – while I knew the minute I heard the words that he was seriously mentally ill, that while the words were directed at me, they weren’t about me – those words stayed with me. They sank in and I wanted to cry. I know that I’m neither of those words. They don’t apply to me, or any other woman – but they still worked their way into my tired heart. And so I decided to re-post a piece I did a year ago called “Paper Sam and the Power of Words”. 


The trainer pulled out a plain white piece of paper. On the paper was a simple drawing of a face: two dot eyes and a single line upturned to symbolize a smile.

Paper Sam Before Insults

“This is Sam” he said. The activity was simple. Beginning at the front of the room each person was to go back in time to the days of playgrounds and small friends. We would pass around the picture of “Paper Sam” and say something that was said to us in childhood that hurt. Before passing on the innocent piece of paper that had become Sam we were to crumple it up.

So the words and the subsequent crumpling began:

“You’re weak!” Crumple.

You’re ugly!” Crumple

“You’re so fat!” Crumple

“You have no dad!” Crumple

“You stutter!” Crumple

After 20 insults, Paper Sam was a crumpled mess. And then the activity was reversed. Paper Sam was sent around the room again, only this time we were to take Sam and repeat words that someone had said to us in our adult life that demonstrated they believed in us. After delivering those words we were to take crumpled, almost destroyed Paper Sam and smooth him out, try to remove some of the impact and take away those wrinkles.

The contrast couldn’t have been more profound:

“You can do this!”

“You are incredibly capable!”

“You are a role model for others”

“You are a real leader.”

“I encourage you to go back to school – you are so smart.”

“You are gifted with people.”

“Your family must be so proud.”

20 phrases later Paper Sam was smoother but still bore some residual scars. There was no way that all that crumpling could be undone, it was too much and too prolonged

We all know the power of words, but sometimes we are given a new way of looking at that power. Watching Paper Sam crumpled time upon time as memories of words came flooding out was poignant and powerful. We had personalized Sam – he was us and each time he took a beating we took a beating. Equally powerful were the attempts to smooth the crinkles and restore Paper Sam to his former self through words of affirmation and acts of restoration. That too was us.

Paper Sam – Restored with scars

While words of insult tear down, words of affirmation restore. While some hands crumple and crush, others gently smooth. While sin tears down, grace and redemption restore.

Where have you seen the power of words in your life for good or for ill? Tell your story in the comment section. 

The Ugly Face of Jealousy

Jealousy has a way of showing its ugly face in the most inopportune times. Often I am blithely living life in a most confident way and wham bam! The face of jealousy comes on me like an earthquake, or a tsunami, or a slap from a good friend. It doesn’t respect time or place and I feel my face growing hot with the inner questions “Why her? Why not me? Why them? How come I didn’t get that? Why do people think she’s a good speaker? mother? blogger?” And all this on a Saturday morning….or a Monday morning…or whatever morning the ugly face chooses to show itself.

It’s insidious, it’s ugly, and it’s real. It takes over my face and with my face, my identity, and with my identity – my life! And I realize that if my identity rests in who I am versus Whose I am, then it’s a losing battle. Who I am changes with life seasons and jobs – Whose I am will never change.

What about you? Is jealousy an emotion that comes and rocks your world, throwing you off-balance? How do you handle it?