Wednesday, November 11, 2015

7 Lessons from Max Lucado's "You Are Special"

Max Lucado's children's book You Are Special is a favorite of mine and a beautiful story with many
facets to it and much to be learned from it. It is a sad story of judgment; of pride and slavery; of sin and brokenness.  It is also a beautiful story of witness and hope - a story of intercession and prayer. Ultimately it is a story of love and the heart of God.

Below are 7 lessons from the story that I shared a few years back with a women's group at our parish. Please note that I will include the main plot line as I go, so you should be able to follow along even if you have not read the book.  I do highly recommend that you pick up a copy for yourself  - it is a story whose message is ageless and timeless.

--- 1 ---
This is a story of judgement.
The story opens with us witnessing a typical day in the life of  the wooden Wemmicks. These gangly wooden people spend all their time furiously giving each other grey dots or golden stars. The grey dots are placed on Wemmicks who are perceived to be "bad" and the golden stars are placed on those Wemmicks perceived to be "good". The judgement about who is to receive dots and who is to receive stars are made purely at the whim of other Wemmicks.

We are told that the one thing all the Wemmicks share in common is that they have all been made by the Woodcarver, Eli, who lives in his shop on a hill at the top of the town. Most of the Wemmick's hardly acknowledgement their maker's existence, as they busily go about their daily lives. The Wemmicks are far to preoccupied with passing judgments on others than on looking to their maker to find out who they really are. Their identity and self worth are derived exclusively from the dots and the stars that they wore – much to their detriment.

Sound familiar?  It doesn’t take much more than a cursory glace around our world to figure out that we live pretty much like the Wemmicks do.  Your average person is almost totally defined by what other people tell them they are and the words used to describe most people have very little to do with their true identity in the Lord.  Adjectives like funny, smart, pretty, successful, dumb, lazy, arrogant, nasty give very little thought to the reality of most people’s hearts.  And yet, they are the words that we use to define ourselves and others.

What does the Lord say about that?  In Jeremiah 1:5 the Lord tells Jeremiah these words that he speaks to all of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you – before you were born I dedicated you.”  He goes on in Jeremiah 29:11 to say “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you says the Lord; plans for your welfare not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.”


The Lord has a plan and a purpose for our lives, and we should actively seek it out. Until we encounter the Lord personally and commit ourselves to a relationship with Him, we will continue on in the rat race similar to the  Wemmick’s existence, both on the receiving and giving end of whatever "stars" and "dots" we use to measure the value of ourselves and those around us.


This is a story of sin and brokenness.
The main character in the story is a Wemmick called Punchinello. Poor Punchinello – he has had a rough life. He can't seem to do anything right. He isn't very beautiful or talented and he has nothing about him that suggests that he is anything "special" at all. In fact, he was told, and he believed, that he was a pretty bad Wemmick.  Grey dots covered his person and everytime another Wemmick saw him, they added a new dot to him, just because they assumed he deserved it. .

What are the dots?  They are our faults, real and imagined; they are the damage caused by our own sins and the sins of others; they are our wounds, our weaknesses, our brokenness, our addictions, our neuroses, our fears, our insecurities.  But they ARE not us.  St. Paul in Romans 8, starting in verse 14 boldly proclaims who we are:  “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption by which we cry Abba, Father!  The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” 

Jesus came and died to save us from our sins, from our brokenness and from our DOTS, but like Punchinello, we too need to come to the realization of the fact that we are broken and do need Him to save us and then we need to seek him.


This is a story of pride and slavery.
We might originally think that life was probably pretty good for those Wemmick’s that had stars.  After all, they got the stars from all the wonderful things that did – from all their talents and beauty.  I would submit that those Wemmicks who were proudly robed in stars weren’t much better off than those covered with dots. There are more subtle, but no less damaging forms of slavery that can take place in our lives when we have lots of stars.  The stars are earthly treasures – and having them presents a real temptation to pride and self-reliance.  In Matthew’s gospel 6:19 Jesus warns: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy and thieves break in and steal…but store up treasures in heaven.”

The stars are external to who the Wemmicks really are – they are the earthly “prize” for “doing good” and it can be really difficult for a star bearer to root their identity in the Lord as opposed to their stars.

I have experienced the slavery that this can lead to in my own life.  If I were a Wemmick – I would have a lot of stars. I don’t say that pridefully – only factually. There was a  time in my life when I didn’t go to see the Woodcarver daily, and the stars stuck. Trust me, they are just as hard to get rid of as the dots are.  I grew up as a straight A student – I was very successful in my career – people were and still do tell me what a good “job” I am doing. I have heard comments like “Oh Debbie couldn’t possibly struggle – she’s so HOOOLLLLYYY”  HA! If they only knew....The reality is that we are all in need of a Savior and his love and mercy – it's just that when we have a lot of stars we can find it very difficult to face that reality.

 A few years back I was seriously reluctant to face the areas of sin and brokenness in my life that the Lord was leading me to face.  How could I possibly live without my stars – where would my identity come from?  Would anyone love me if they knew the reality in my soul – the stuggle, the sin, the pride?    My very wise confessor told me to read Psalm 139 and really meditate on its truth. The Psalm begins like this:  “Lord you probe me and you know me – you know where I sit and where I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.  My travels and my rest you mark – with all my ways you are familiar.  Even before a word is on my tongue Lord, you know it all.”

The first time I tried to read it it went like this “ Lord, you probe me and you know me.” SLAM- I shut my Bible and stopped reading. The next time was not much better.  It took nearly 3 years for me to actually read through the whole thing without seriously cringing.  I,m not kidding. Why?  Because I was terrified of the fact that the Lord already knew my heart, mind and soul.  All I wanted him to see were the stars.  I thought by not admitting it to myself I was hiding it from Him – which is patently not true.  The psalmist says – “Where can I run from your love?”  Why would I even want to run or hide from the Lord’s love?  Because that love required a surrender – it required allowing him to remove the stars and the dots and all the other things I used to define myself and protect myself and allow him to show me his unique design for my life.  It is scary.  It isn’t easy.  It doesn’t happen over night.   But it is worth it – freedom in Christ is worth the struggle.

This is a story of witness and hope. 
Enter Lucia.  The story says – “she had no dots or stars.  It wasn’t that people didn’t try to give her stickers– it’s just that the stickers didn’t stick.”  Nothing stuck to Lucia and that was visibly evident in her demeanor.  Without Lucia having to say a word, she was immediately a witness to Punchinello. He desperately wanted what she had – or, as it were, what she didn’t have.  In her silent witness, Lucia offered Punchinello something great – she offered him the gift of hope.

When Punchinello finally asked her why the dots and the stars didn’t stick to her, she told him: “It’s easy...Every day I go see Eli!” In 1 Peter 15:16, St. Peter writes: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Lucia didn’t give a sermon to poor Punchinello.  She didn’t give him a theological discourse. She didn’t snub him because he had so many dots, nor did she try to analyze why he had so many dots.  She just simply told him why she didn’t have any stickers and gently invited him to go and find out for himself.

We have all met Lucia’s in our journeys – you can sense the presence of the Lord in them from far away.  They have a peace and a joy about them that is obvious.  We want what they have.  Likewise, we are all called to be Lucia to others –not only by the silent witness of our lives, but also by the willingness to share with others the reason for our hope.

--- 5 --- 
This is a story of intercession.
When Punchinello finally arrived at Eli’s shop, Eli said ‘Lucia told me you would be coming.”  Lucia was an intercessor.  She had interceded for Punchinello with Eli. Unlike the other Wemmicks who spent their time passing judgement on others, Lucia spent her time interceding for the Wemmicks.

Like Lucia, we too are called to intercede for our brothers and sisters who struggle under the weight of their dots and stars.  We can be especially powerful intercessors when we pray for those who struggle or suffer in ways similar to us. IN those situations, we pray from our experience and our prayer of intercession takes on a new depth and fervor.

This is a story of prayer. 
Punchinello comes to Eli as a beaten down Wemmick and the first thing he hears is something that shocks him:  Eli calls him by name.  Punchinello is literally stopped dead in his tracks by this.  For us too, it is often shocking when we first come to the realization in the depths of our heart that the Lord knows us by name. In Isaiah 43:1, the Lord says:  "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  We belong to the Lord; we are his because he both made us and redeemed us. This is our truest identity.

Punchinello cannot  even understand Eli’s words of love and hope and trust, but Eli is patient with him. The Woodcarver doesn’t browbeat him; he doesn’t demand Punchinello’s total trust immediately. He understands where Punchinello is at and reassures him saying “You will understand, but it will take time. You’ve got a lot of marks.”

When I first read the story, this was the one line that stuck me to the heart.  I had a false expectation that once I had a relationship with the Lord all my sins, my brokenness, my addictions and my struggles were going to vanish as the Lord waved his magic wand over me. Why, I wailed in my heart, doesn’t Eli just take all of Punchinello’s dots off of him!  Reflecting on the story, I am not certain that Punchinello would attain the “Teflon” factor that Lucia had if Eli had done that.  Nor do I think he would continue to go and spend time with Eli if all his dots had been removed in an instant. As tempting as it is to want the Lord to magically make things perfect in our lives, that is not the path to real, lasting spiritual growth.  Growth in our spiritual life takes time, and often takes struggle.  It is in the moments of struggle that we experience the most growth.   Yes, the Lord is sovereign and can do anything in an instant.  However, he most often he lets us work through our struggles with his grace and mercy. In the process, we come to discover Him in his greatness and in his love.

Eli goes on: “For now, just come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care”.  Eli instructs Punchinello to pray – every day; to spend time with him – every day.  We too need to spend quality time with the Lord.  It is essential for us to set aside this tiime spent in intimacy with the Lord where we are not only speaking to him, but also listening for his response. Through prayer we come to understand who God is and who we truly are.

As Catholics, we can experience this intimate prayer in a special way at Mass after we receive the Eucharist and when we pray before our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. St. John Vianney says this: "How sweet and full of comfort are the moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament! Are you in any trouble? Come and throw yourself at his feet...Do people speak badly of you? Come to him and you will find a good friend who will never fail you."

There are whole books and teachings devoted to the subject of prayer, but the  bottom line is this: if we are tired of being Punchinello and we want to be Lucia, we need to go see the Woodcarver daily and let Him tell us how much he loves us.

---7---
This is a story of love and the heart of God.
When Punchinello finally musters up the courage to face his dots,  he goes to visit Eli and he is both shocked and overwhelmed by the love that he finds in Eli.  For one thing, Eli knows his name.  More than that, Eli think Punchinello is special.  Eli was HOPING that Punchinello would come.  When we initially encounter the Lord’s love, we are often as overwhelmed as Punchinello – it can be so hard for us to believe that he loves us, dots, stars and all.  It is mind-boggling for us to believe that he WAITS for us to come and see him. When we do go to him, though, we too can experience the miracle that Punchinello experienced at the end of his first visit with Eli - a dot fell from his person. 

The journey of discovering the unconditional love of God and his divine plan for our lives is one that will take a lifetime.  In that process of discovering who God is, we come to fully discover who we are as his beloved children.  St. Augustine beautifully describes this journey saying: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romance — to seek Him the greatest of all adventures, to find Him the greatest human achievement.”

Please join me in this prayer: 

Lord Jesus, I invite you into my heart and acknowledge you as my Lord, maker and redeemer. I come, responding to your invitation: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  Lord Jesus, I am seeking to be free of all the burdens that I carry, of all of my stars and all of my dots.  

Lord, I ask you to remove my dots and to heal any scars that they may have left on me.  Jesus, I ask you to remove the dot of inferiority, the dot of insecurity, the dot of fear, the dot of unworthiness, and the dot of unforgiveness.  For those times when I have been snubbed, excluded, gossiped about, or misunderstood, I ask you to remove those dots. I beg you to remove the dots that were placed on me by those who told me that I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, or capable enough.  I ask you to take away the dots that were placed on me as I watched my dreams die due to someone else’s words or actions. In particular I ask you to remove the dots placed on me by those closest to me, dots I received through insults, put downs, criticisms and even by careless or thoughtless comments from my  husband, children, parents and friends.  Lord, I ask you to remove and pour your healing love over the dots of addictions, violence, and abuse. Finally, I ask you to remove the dots I may not even realize are there – wounds that I have received and carried for so long that I no longer recognize them as wounds.  I know that your love can heal me and I place all my trust in you.  

Lord Jesus, I now ask you to show me the damage done by the stars I wear.  I ask for your mercy and forgiveness for the times when those stars caused me to feel superior to others, to place dots on others, to criticize, condemn or wound others with my words or my actions.  I ask you to remove the stars of pride, of self-sufficiency and self-reliance that cause me to try to live independently of you.  Free me from the desire to accumulate more and more stars at the expense of living the life that you have planned for me.  I surrender the burden that the stars have given me, and I renounce any perfectionism; any unhealthy desire to be a people pleaser, and any false pretenses that I make in front of others.  I desire to live the life that you have planned for me and I place all my trust in you.  
 
I'm participating in #/WorthRevisit Wednesday's with this post. 
For more awesome #WorthRevisit posts, head over to the lovely hostesses' Allison Gingras at Reconciled to You and Elizabeth Reardon at Theology is a Verb.

Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop 
through any of the Amazon, my domestic church will receive a small commission. 
 

10 comments:

  1. This is one of the best things I have read online in a long time. Top 5 for sure! I, too, love this book and am moved every time I read it. What a lovely, heartfelt piece of writing and very timely for me as I wrestle with both the stars and dots. I would love to print this out and keep it, unless you object!

    Best,
    Kelly

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Kelly! Please do print it out and share it or keep it - I am blessed that it touched you.

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  2. Oh, I LOVE this book. You have inspired me to dig it out of the kids' bookshelf to read to them. So many books, so little time....Not sure who will learn more from reading it, me or the kids! Thanks for the inspiring post about a wonderful book. God bless!

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    1. Thanks Jaimie! It is such a great book - I notice something new every time I read it "to the kids" - I think I enjoy it more than them! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I'm so so so happy you selected this to revisit. Wow! The prayer was amazing, one i could print and laminate to put with my daily prayer cards! You hit the nail on my spirtual head :)

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  5. Thank you for breaking this all own! I definitely want to get this book now. What an amazing story!

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    1. It is really such a beautiful book - I love it!

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  6. I would love to read this story to a group of kids and then discuss it with them. Thanks for highlighting it. We have a Christmas story by Max Lucado and I've read at least one of his adult books but I had not heard of this one.

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