My children started first grade recently.
I don’t know how people prepare for this kind of moment with their heart, sanity, and salvation all intact. These are my kids. I have held them since their first moments and born their triumphs as my own. I watched them learn to eat, walk, talk, feel, empathize, apologize, and even read. I’ve seen them learn the concept of friends and then the even harder concept of “goodbye.”
And now they enter a place devoid of either my or my wife’s direct observation? I feel like vomiting just thinking of it.
My son is a mighty feeler. I mean his ability to relate to another person and find a way to, knowing where their heart beats from, connect and participate in life with them is powerful. So on the first day, when my boy met another boy and asked him to be his friend, do you know what that little boy told my first born?
“No. You nasty.”
I have written several times on the origin and power of anger. So seldom does anger come from a healthy place for us. I knew instantly when I felt the Hulk rise up inside of my gullet upon hearing this report that anger was a secondary emotion. My heart broke to hear of my son’s rejection. In a flash of indignation, I could see myself marching into that school in a red huff, goose stepping down the hall, breathing hot breaths of anger and then… what?
In my mind I suddenly saw a weak, vulnerable six year old boy. And I knew…
When I drive in traffic and the guy in front of me takes too long to go because he’s looking at Facebook, I hear a six year old imitation of my favorite line in such situations.
“It’s the pedal on the right!”
He knows to say that because he’s heard it from me a million times. And so it is with this boy who not only rejected my son, but did so in a devaluing way. He has heard that phrase a million times.
Because of my work, I have had the opportunity to enter into the homes of people living their day the best they can. It is interesting if you are interested in the human race the way I am. On one specific visit, while I was up a ladder, having just punched a fresh hole in the dry wall thanks to a dull screw gun bit and a worn down screw, the boss was explaining, after we fixed the hole what other measures we would take to protect the house from the door. One was to make sure the door could not be swung around and knocked into the wall, since they had a four year old son.
“Yeah, my kid’s a real jerk.”
Great. Keep telling him he’s a jerk and in ten year’s that’s what he’ll be.
I was a walking train wreck in middle school. Steve Urkel was #clothinggoals for me and so I wore my pants in such a way that you could not find my belly button. I would trip over my own shadow and every joint in my body seemed to want to be in a different place. Every day when I left for school, my mom would make sure I had on pants and that I did not smell like a garbage can on pickup day.
“You’re the coolest kid I know.”
Guess what. That mattered. I survived middle school.
The words we use matter when it comes to children. Do you realize that Jesus really only gave one really violent condemnation to a specific crime during his walks with the people? It concerned children and betraying their trust. Specifically, it was about causing a believing child to stop believing. But it was very specific. That kind of dude needs to be dragged quickly to the bottom of the ocean and drowned.
Words matter. Our children don’t just learn specific words, but how to use them. They learn the rules of engagement. I will freely own up to the fact that I was the world’s happiest user of the word “crap” until I had kids. I even feel a tinge of guilt when I use the word “stupid.” I don’t think they’re bad words, per se, but I know that my children in learning words also learn how to deal with life. If something is frustrating, it can’t be written off immediately as stupid. It has to be hard. If there’s a moment of difficulty, we don’t just dismiss the tension with a well placed, “crap” because we might miss a key detail that will be necessary to prevent it from happening again.
Conversely, we teach children how to deal with their words in our reactions. In reading one of my textbooks, Boundaries, I have come across the interesting idea that my children need permission to tell me “no.”  I mean, there’s a line. But they need to know that they can. And if they can’t, they will grow up to be people who don’t feel like they have permission to say “no.”
We teach children how to love with their words by encouraging other people in their efforts, rather than accomplishments. And if an accomplishment is gained by effort, how much more the praise! We teach that “I forgive you” is very close to an accusation. We teach it’s ok to argue as long as you do it kindly.
Who am I that the highest King would ransom me? 
As adults, we must still use our words with one another knowing their impact. We are far less malleable, and so there is less of a millstone around our neck when we are careless. One care we do have to take is in tracking who we give permission to define us with their words.
The value we permit ourselves is that which we give others permission to breathe into us. The highest limit of what we believe about ourselves is the dignity we expect others to confer upon us. That’s different from being so egotistical that you cannot receive feedback. But feedback is different from individual value. You can be told you did a bad job without being told that you are a bad job.
Wherever you are in life, I hope you have people who speak value into you. If you are married, I hope he or she tells you how much you mean. I hope they give you all the evidence required to understand your value to them as a life partner. If you are employed, I hope your boss gives you all of the tools to succeed and encouragement that you are doing a great job in places you are doing so. If you have friends, I hope they trust you enough to share their lives with you and I hope they value you enough to give you hard advice that will keep you from distraction and destruction.
Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed,
I’m a child of God
Yes, I am 
Beyond human definition, there is a steadier, more patient, quieter voice than all of those screaming into our ears to tell us how awesome we are now buy a car. The voice that looked at the light and the dark, the planets, moons, and stars, animals, apples, agave, and orange sunrises and said “it is good,” speaks to us. He talks about us. He discusses us. He calls us.
He calls out to us.
He says, “you are Mine.”
I am chosen, not forsaken,
I am who You say I am.
You are for me, not against me,
I am who You say I am. 
When we allow that voice to tell us one simple truth “you are Mine,” there’s not a voice of discouragement that can tell us otherwise.
Pray for my son. I am sending him into a wide world of people who have been wounded by wounded people. Their value is the same as mine. Their creation is special like mine. But they have believed a lie and inflicted that lie upon six year old children. This one boy in particular has been told he is nasty. He has watched this invective leveled against other children. He is walking wounded sharing his wounds with others to gain company in his misery.
My boy, though, is loved by his mother and father and treasured by all who know him. He is loved by more people than he knows, and he is beginning to learn just how much more God loves him than the rest of us combined a thousand times over. We are sending him in with love and forgiveness to possibly save this child’s life. We are sending him back knowing that he might once again be wounded.
The other kid actually threw a punch at Peter the other day. Peter told me “I didn’t hit him back because I didn’t want to hurt him.”
I’m worried. I’m proud. I’m praying.
Watch your words.
As for my big guy…
Day 1… run in with the child who has heard no good words
Day 2… hit homesick hard and the teacher gave him a teddy bear to hold until he was better. When he was better he gave it back and said, “I’m better and don’t need it anymore.”
Day 3… he saw another kid having a homesick day and handed the bear off to the boy having a bad morning. Heart like a galaxy, that boy. And I’m proud.
And he knows it.
1. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012) 73.
2. Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding, “Who You Say I Am,” There Is More, Capital CMG Publishing, 2017. CCLI# 7102401.