Being a GrandMarnie is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’d like to think that time spent together is fun to my grandkids and helpful to their parents, when the reality is that I’m the one who most benefits.

Recently my one-year-old grandson and I were rolling a beach ball back and forth. (Well, he mostly was somehow sending it over his head behind him, which was precious, of course.) Before long I said in the sing-song voice that you use with littles, “Oh, good job, Nolan!” He immediately clapped his little hands in delight and beamed at me.

The simple gesture brought quick, surprising tears. This child clearly has had loving people clapping for him, such that he knew exactly what hand motions communicated encouragement and affirmation. “Yes, Nolan!” I cried to him. “You have cheerleaders in your life and you deserve every one of them!”

If his parents were listening down the hall, they probably thought I was crazy as I sat in the floor with their child, tears streaming down my cheeks, and delivered an impromptu monolog. I talked about how powerful it is to have someone to cheer for you – how much people ache for that encouragement, how long and desperately I had wanted to be seen and valued and chosen.

I told this big little guy about the people who loved and affirmed him, then I told him about those who did that for me. Soon I stopped talking out loud, but I continued to think about the process of learning to cheer for myself, to honor myself, to make choices that affirmed my best self. I prayed that process would be easier for this little boy, that it would be natural to him rather than something that he learned through painful challenges.

My primary cheerleaders came to mind: dear ones who began reminding me of my relational worth when I was too depleted to believe it for myself. I thought, too, of the cheerleaders from 30 years ago who fought with and for me as I processed years of trauma and the ways I had coped with it to survive.

I remembered the power of a loving God who cheers for beloved children in what, for me, is a feminine image of a MamaGod “delighting over them with singing” the scripture says. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Then I thought about the gift of cheering for others, which blesses the encourager as much as the one being cheered. Recently two different people mentioned how encouraging I was, which I found very surprising. For a lifetime I’ve battled a vicious inner critic that causes me to berate myself and judge others. When I was able to hear how what I thought was being helpful came across as criticism, I started working harder on talking less and smiling more (thank you, Hamilton) instead of offering advice.

And as I’ve seen how painful it is for a dear friend to feel unappreciated and unaffirmed, I’ve made a point to watch for ways to tell others that their gifts are noticed and valued. Apparently, a little encouragement can make a heartful of difference. It does for me.

All humans need someone to cheer for them, yet sometimes those voices are silent or aren’t enough to quench the thirst for a cheerleader. The solution, I’ve learned, is to cultivate a solid imago dei, the God image within, who is always available to cheer you on.

Marnie C. Ferree