I could see it in her eyes as she walked toward me -- her spirit ragged, raw, utterly crushed.
She dropped a paper in my lap, her head hanging low.
Her math test declaring in bold, undeniable black and white what she could barely whisper past trembling lips: "I failed, Mom."
I opened my arms wide and invited her in with my silence and full attention.
Sometimes all the words and feelings inside take volume and effort to get them out - and words can be walls that dam in what needs to rush out and re-route in the Light.
So arms and heart open I prayed as she flopped down on the bed, fell into me and sobbed:
"It hurts, Mom! It hurts so bad! I did everything I could -- I studied and studied and studied and I tried my best and I still failed -- horribly! -- 38%?? That's pitiful! I tried my best... oh I tried my best!... AND I FAILED."
I rock her gently and let the tears wash out the first wave of quaking heartbreak. I pray and wait.
She calms a little and lays her head in my lap, turns her face up towards mine, eyes full to their rims and energy drained to aching exhaustion.
I brush aside clinging curls, soaked from the tears streaming straight back, and speak directly into this beautiful spirit - this woman-child I am so pleased with:
"You are not a failure, Selah. From my perspective - you did an excellent job..."
"You gave all you had - your best effort - I know you did. I saw you studying on your own, you asked me for help several times and even when I couldn't help you and I saw you keep trying on your own - you gave all you had, and that is what matters most, so I am giving you marks for excellence and success, not a mark of failure."
She motioned weakly to the number, showing how far from the perfect standard she was: "Giving my all wasn't enough."
The tears come in a fresh wave and this time they're in my eyes, too.
"No, Selah. No. Giving your all is always enough. Giving your all, the best you have to give, is always the standard for success - not the physical results. Not the evidence we can see with our eyes. We are not supposed to judge success by circumstances."
I stroke her cheek and say it straight: "You've got to remember: You are not the only factor in this equation."
She's blinking tears back, and I see her thinking about that truth: You are not the only factor in this equation.
I ask her: "Remember how you asked me to help you with the concepts you couldn't understand? I am your co-teacher. You are not meant, or expected, to be able to do all this on your own. Because we've been moving, and we need a family car, and lots of other big changes and time-urgent decisions are on top of my daily responsibilities I haven't been able to help you for a couple of weeks now, and that's not your fault! I am the other factor in this equation..."
And as those words left my mouth, the heaviest temptation to despair began pressing in on me "yes - it's me that is failing. It's my fault she has this grade..."
I look around the room. Clothes in piles everywhere, boxes half packed and stacked and I think about the dinner I haven't planned. All that isn't done, and all that isn't done well, begins to snowball in my mind and I close my eyes and pray to remember to breathe.
My oldest daughter is still crying in my arms and an overwhelmed scream is clawing its way up my throat and a strangling feeling is suffocating me.
I'm failing. I. am. failing... And I am causing my daughter to fail, too. I'm giving my best - my everything - and it's not enough. It's not nearly enough. I'm failing...
Then the Spirit speaks - and His wave that washes over me is gentle.
It is a wave of Light. A wave that pushes me up and delivers my next breath.
No, Daughter. You are not failing. You are also not the only factor in *your* equation.
I open my mouth and speak to my daughter the words He is bringing to my mind:
"Remember the story of widow who gave everything she had? She only had a fraction of a penny to give - by the standards of the world that is pitiful. That is essentially nothing. But what did Jesus say about her offering? He said 'I tell you the truth - she gave more than all the others, because she gave all she had.' The widow was not the only factor in her situation, either. The physical amount she could give was impacted by her unavoidable circumstances, too."
She is quieting, soaking in the comfort of Truth. And the Truth asks me "Elise, were you giving your all, your best, at those times she asked you for help with her work?"
I nod slowly, sincerely, and soak in the comfort of His judgment.
I say to my child: "You gave all you had. And that is what God sees. That is what I see. And we say to you: WELL DONE."
I give her a squeeze and feel His embrace: "God cares about our character much more than the physical results. What matters most is that we are faithful - that is what pleases God. Faithfulness is why He says 'well done!'. The results will vary - it's our faithfulness that pleases Him."
And He's still leading so I share the Way: "God is the unseen factor in all equations. He is the Maker of time and eternity and He is working behind the scenes. Behind the seen. Behind and beyond what we can see..."
I raise my arms and she watches as I demonstrate the picture He's giving me: "We see only the surface of what's happening in time: the second-hand of a clock as it staggers a slow and jagged tick through the hours. But the Clock Maker knows all the gears that are turning simultaneously behind what we can see. He is orchestrating so much more than we are aware of or can understand how it all works together."
She sits up and takes a deep breath. Some of the heaviness is lifting in the Light.
I hold her hand. "We've got to remind each other that what God is working out in us each day is transforming us to His glorious character. And character is far more important than results, than our circumstances, than what we can see."
She nods, takes another deep breath and lifts her chin a little. She looks at me, "So now what do we do?"
I take another deep breath and lift my chin a little. I look at Him, and nod "We keep giving our all regardless of the results. We remember that it is faithfulness that pleases Him, and that developing His character is the most important thing in any circumstance. We trust Him with all the 'turning gears' we can't see."
She nods. I swing my legs off the bed as I say it: "We keep putting our feet on the floor and taking the next step."
She holds my hand, and we do.
P.S. Anytime I share a story that includes Selah I like to include a note that she gave permission for me to share a part of her story. The internet is public and permanent and I think it's important for older children to be approving of what is shared about them.
P.P.S. Selah and I kept giving her schooling our all and the next week she made a 46%, and we CELEBRATED our efforts and cheered each other on. The next week we kept being faithful and because our circumstances eased up a bit we were able to devote more time and she got an *80%* on her test. And we CELEBRATED our efforts to embrace becoming like the Faithful One and not giving up.
Keep being faithful, friend, though results will vary.
Don't look at the numbers. Look at His face.
He sees your heart. He treasures your all.
And He is saying to you today: WELL DONE.
*Repost from the archives. Original post date was March 24th, 2015.
God is still teaching me these truths. Our memories are essential. Thank You, Lord, for reminding me of what You've previously said to me.