You get a gold star

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
– Maya Angelou

heart of gold stickers

It happened Monday at the dentist’s office. A grown-up Natalie came out from behind the front desk to hug me. I’d been her Bible class teacher when she was a little girl.

I’m sure back then I thought I was a good one. I prepared my lessons in advance. I had all the cut-outs ready to be glued in class. I greeted each child by name.

If the child had perfect attendance all quarter, I gave her a special certificate. If she correctly recited her memory verse each Sunday, she could put a sticker on our publicly-displayed poster board taped to the class wall. If she knew the right answers about our Bible story, praise was hers for the morning.

Oh, how little I knew.

What 4-year-old should be held responsible for getting their family to church every week? Are they really the ones in charge of memorizing their scriptures at home or boning up on Bible trivia for next week’s lesson?

When I think back to what I rewarded, it’s not with pleasure. I was teaching literal box-checking. I was wrong.

But . . .

There was something else I didn’t know about back then. Back then, grace was only a girl’s name, not a concept I was familiar with. I only knew of hard work and earned grades and reward by merit.

So when Natalie started telling her story on Monday about my class 25 years ago, I was ready for a deserved blow.

Instead, she gave me a priceless gift.

She handed me grace.

She said she loved having me as a teacher because—this is how she remembered it—even when she flubbed up her memory verse, I’d still give her a gold star. That’s what stuck—that I was generous instead of stingy with the shiny, sparkly stickers. And for that, she loved me.

I wanted to cry.

I didn’t remember the story that way, but Grace did. Grace had been with me when I wasn’t even looking.

Doing only what I knew how to do back then, I was not alone. Grace taught beside me. Grace teaches me still.

Grace was there then. He is here now. And he’s plastering a whole packet of gold stars onto my heart. 

* * *

I wish I could give you each a gold sticker today, just for being you. Now that I know better, I want to do better. Where have you seen Grace lately?

Watch the 4-minute video of “The Powerful Lesson Maya Angelou Taught Oprah” about doing better when you know better.

26 thoughts on “You get a gold star

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s a sweet compliment that I’ll treasure, Linda. I do want to be a grace giver. I definitely love being a grace receiver! 🙂 Blessings to you.

  1. Dianna

    Lisa, this brought tears to my eyes. I can SO identify with you when it comes to how you taught your Sunday School class before you knew and understood about grace. I truly have walked there myself. Grace comes to visit me through my husband so frequently. You know how it goes…times that I want something that is just going to cause him more work when he already has a full plate…and yet, he just smiles and says, “yeah…we can do that.” or the times I flub up something that is going to cause him much more time to correct it. This could be a very long list, but you get the idea by now, I am sure. ~grin~ Thanks so much for sharing here about how Grace is teaching you, my friend.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you understand too, Dianna. There is so much I still have to learn about grace, and often my grace comes through Jeff likes yours does from your sweet husband. When I wake up in the morning to a clean kitchen instead of a dirty one, I know Grace has been there. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It really was a God-send because I’d been thinking already about how I used to teach. I love when God gifts us with something specially wrapped just for us, at just the right time. He is a good God indeed!

  2. Gentle Joy

    This is beautiful!!! What a blessing it is when they pick up on the good things… and not the bad… and how gracious God is in filtering how they see our actions. I see this with my children also… and feel humbled and so blessed………by God’s grace. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I hope the Lord transforms the memories of my own children and blocks out the bad. 🙂 I’ve often wondered why we don’t remember much detail from our childhoods, but maybe that’s grace at work.

  3. Susan M.

    Thank you for sharing this–and for your very kind words on my latest two blog posts as well. You are truly a treasure of encouragement! If I could, I would give YOU a gold star! Thank you for allowing yourself to be used by Him.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I feel like I did just get a gold star from you, Susan. 🙂

      I appreciate how diligent you’ve been with our memory challenges. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Thank you!

  4. Pamela

    Oh, I am so with you here — It’s exactly how I taught, too. I love the “she handed me grace.” God takes all our beginnings (sincere efforts) and turns them into grace in the hearts of our students. So much encouragement here for me today. Thank you, Lisa. ~Pamela

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad this encouraged you, Pamela. We all have made so many mistakes along the way; it’s wonderful when God gives us tangible evidence of how he’s redeeming them.

  5. Mia

    Dear Lisa
    Oh, it is so difficult for us to come to terms with the fact that things in our Pappa’s Kingdom don’t work at all like the ways of the world. We learn from early childhood that we get rewarded only for being and doing good. It takes time for us to “unlearn” this and to learn to receive all we are from Jesus who lives in us!
    Blessings XX

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re so right, Mia. I am still unlearning things all the time. God’s upside-down economy is definitely contrary to what we learn in the world but it’s so much better!

  6. Sherrey Meyer

    Lisa, I think we had the same lesson plan when teaching Sunday School classes to little ones back in the day. I recently ran into one of my former students, now a college student. Her hug was a sufficient greeting, but she continued with an introduction to her boyfriend and a comment that went something like, “This is one of my best friends, Sherrey. She was my Sunday School teacher from 2nd grade through 6th. I loved being in her class because she always took the bad things and made them better.” Guess neither of us knew we were spreading Grace back then. Thanks for a similar trip down memory lane. Caught up with you at #TellHisStory.

  7. Beverley

    The leaders of the women’s group at church had an idea at the beginning of the year to place a large outline of a church building on a wall and then gave the following instructions to the women – if you feel you have reached your goal with your scripture reading please come and place a sticker on the church. I never felt like i had to do it but it was a nice reminder to me to keep going and to read daily, which was my own goal.

    I took a smaller church outline and put it on my classroom wall and i said to my class of 6-8 years old children that if they felt they had read their scriptures every day that week they could come and place a sticker on the chart. I explained it did not matter if they read one verse, one line, one page, one chapter, if they read a scripture story from the children’s picture books or even if they read with an adult. If they felt they had done what they had set out to do they could come a place a sticker. I also told them it was not a race and it was not about how many stickers each person got. It was between them and their Heavenly Father.

    You know i didn’t think they would get it, but the 8 year old children took off first but now the younger ones also want to join in. All we can do is follow the Spirit and do as directed and see what happens.

    I still remember my youth Sunday school teacher!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you shared this approach here, Beverley. It still gives an outlet for those who like visual accountability (which I still do, for the record) but without the competitive or perfection mindsets. Wise words: “All we can do is follow the Spirit and do as directed and see what happens.”

  8. Betty Draper

    Lisa, How sweet of God to bring little now grown up Grace to encourage you. You like many of us were only teaching out of what you had been taught. In fact you are still doing it…the difference is you have been taught more my your teacher, Jesus. Thank God you are not the same teacher you were back then and thank God you won’t be the same teacher next year. We can give out what we know…praise Him for His never ending grace in our life that helps us be learners as well as teacher. Love this post too for I have felt exactly as you did and still do at times. The enemy of our soul hates post such as this…hates it when we are honest, humble, teachable and seeking the Lord. You just put him in his place with the fact you have not quit. Bless you.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Such encouraging words, Betty–thank you very much, friend. This truth speaks volumes: “Thank God you are not the same teacher you were back then and thank God you won’t be the same teacher next year.” I am thanking God for that very thing right now! Still so much room to grow. Grace, come.

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