“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” Matthew 5:14-16, King James Version
“Watch your big head, it might not fit through the door,” my father said when he slid back the door to the van. A sharp stab of pain went through me. Was he making fun of me? Then I glanced at his beaming face, noting the warmth and amusement in his eyes, and the hurt immediately disappeared. My father was proud of me, but unaccustomed to giving praise; he could only make a joke.
My parents didn’t attend school functions. My father, a casualty of World War II, had a difficult enough time attending the tight confines of the pews at church; he wasn’t about to set foot into a darkened auditorium for the many plays and speech contests I participated in. My mother didn’t drive, and she rarely went anywhere without her stoic life’s partner. So my siblings and I had gotten used to having parents who did not attend the various art shows, plays, or even awards nights we were a part of. That was why I was astounded during my attempt to hitch a ride with a fellow Thespian to be informed by my mother that I should put the phone down because they were taking me to an awards program! Even when I’d had the lead in The Wizard of Oz I hadn’t expected them to go. Why were they both attending something as insignificant as an awards ceremony? As it turned out, the little awards night would be anything but small for me. I would find out later that my drama coach had called my parents on the phone to plead for their presence because he would personally be awarding me with several awards, including the prestigious and coveted “Honor Thespian,” an award he had never before bestowed upon a sophomore. I didn’t walk across that stage just once or twice that night, but several times, and my parents were there to see it. I left with an armful of awards, ribbons, and medals, along with a dozen yellow roses, proud parents on either side of me. I couldn’t have been happier than if I’d won the Miss American pageant.
I was 16 years old when my father told me I had talent for both speaking and writing, and I should always use both for good, not evil. It was my father who asked me to always use my maiden name in my writing so everyone would know I was related to him, long before I dared imagine ever writing for publication or even getting married. I would remember those words later, when Homeschooling From Scratch was published in 1996, too late for him to see. My mother often said something similar, in her admonitions to her children to use their talents. She wrote these words in a Memory book I cherish since her death in 2010:
“Our main purpose on earth is to save our soul and try to do the will of God in all things. That also means using the talents that God gives us, and using them for good.”
When I picked up yesterday’s Dubuque Telegraph Herald newspaper from my porch, and noted my own smiling face on the front page, I felt two distinctly opposing emotions: joy and despair. While I was delighted by the advertisement of my new column displayed on the front page, there was that pang of sadness because neither of my parents was here to share in my coup. Even fifteen months after the loss, I still reached for the phone to call my mother.
As a Christian, I struggle with the sin of pride. I have worked very hard in my writing to get to the point where I am now. I am a late bloomer, with my greatest successes in both the writing and public speaking arenas coming to me just in the year following the death of my greatest muse, my mother. The writing profession as a business requires a certain amount of self-promotion, and in fact, the most successful writers and speakers in today’s world are those who have learned the art of “tooting their own horn,” something that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Posting links to our books, our articles and our workshops seems uncomfortably self-serving, and yet it is the best way to advertise the product we must sell in order to make a living; the products of our words and talents. On the one hand, the Bible tells us in Matthew 5:14-16 not to hide our light under a basket, yet Proverbs 16:18 informs us that that pride goeth before a fall.
My husband David is very proud of my first couponing column; he went out and bought three extra newspapers to send to siblings who would not see it otherwise. My own siblings lauded praise upon my accomplishments on our family website. The praise and adulation pleases at the same time it humbles me. “I’m just using my God-given talents like our Father in heaven desires and our parents encouraged in us,” I want to protest.
It’s a fine line to walk; keeping humble in serving our Lord, and still taking pride in our talents. I think I can handle it. Yesterday, in the very moment that I reached for the phone and realized that my mother was not there to call, the words of my earthly father echoed in my head,
“Watch your big head, it might not fit through the door.”