The Dignity and Grace of Aven Salei On Her 14th Birthday

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Every day when I pray for my children I ask the Lord to use them for His glory. To let them shine the light of His love and grace in their lives and stay humble so that others would see the glory of God and not their own personal glory. I was so proud to have been able to witness that from my daughter, Aven, on March 5, 2017, her 14th birthday.

This is Aven’s third year to compete on a gymnastics team. We have never had any complications before with registration for meets, but a few weeks ago we had a call that there had been a problem with Aven’s registration for an upcoming meet. She had two choices, she could compete in a different meet within two days or she could compete at the meet she was supposed to, only she would have to compete on a level lower. Instead of competing as Platinum, she would compete as Gold.

Aven had been very sick all that week and we knew that she was not well enough to compete in two days, but she wanted to know if she did the competition as Gold, would she have to change her routines on bars, beam, vault and floor. She was assured by the coach that she would not, so she agreed to do the meet as a Gold, which would be on her 14th birthday.

The next week when she returned to the gym train, she learned that the coach had been wrong, she would have to make changes to all of her routines, but she took it in stride and didn’t complain about it at all, just did what she was told she had to do. I was very proud of her for that. Especially since she had worked on these routines since the fall season.

When the day of the meet arrived, Aven was very excited, as always. Her first event was for the floor, which is her favorite. Even though she had to make changes to her skills in the routine, she shined with joy and performed it all beautifully, better than she had ever done before. So when the score of a 9.7 came upon the scoreboard we were thrilled–and so was she! Since she had not placed in any of the meets this season, this was an incredible blessing! Plus, it was the highest score she had ever received so far in her gymnastics career!

Just a few seconds after the score came up, we noticed it was flashing and had been lowered to a 9.6. My husband, Josh, and I, who are still trying to learn all the rules of the gymnastics world, asked a friend what was wrong. At first they weren’t sure, but then they realized that because Aven’s routine was designed for the Platinum level it was too long. The Gold level routines had to be shorter and the coaches, though they were the ones who made the skill changes needed in her routine for her to compete,  had neglected to make this very important alteration.

Now, Josh and I are not the kind of parents that keep our focus upon winning all the time. Sure it is wonderful when one of our three does well and excels in their sport to victory, but what we praise them for the most is how hard they tried, how hard they worked and if they displayed good sportsmanlike conduct. So win or lose, we are proud of our children. Since Aven had never had a first place in gymnastics thus far, we were not only proud of her and her hard work, but we were thrilled for her to have a first place experience, especially since she is always so happy for others when they receive one.

All of her life Aven has been a person that celebrates other peoples accomplishments. It is one of the qualities I cherish about her. I haven’t seen her jealous,or feel insecure because someone else does well. She is always so proud of others when they achieve a goal, win first place or just do really well. Because of her giving heart towards others when they succeed, and because she had never had a first place yet for gymnastics, Josh and I were so blessed to see her have a moment like that for herself.

As the night went on and Aven rotated to her other events, one by one, other girls  from other teams scored higher than a 9.6 on the floor. There was one that tied with her, then another that was 9.615, and another that tied with that. Then came a 9.625. I knew that she would not receive that first place and for her, my heart was heavy. But then, after the meet was over, Aven happily came bouncing up, telling us that she still got the 9.7 because one of the coaches had contested what happened and explained the situation to them about her level being Platinum and the error that occurred with her registration.

Josh and I were relieved to see her so happy and excited. We had resolved that she just would not receive first place and were still just as proud of her as could be. So to learn that she was going to win was a great blessing for us! I then ran into one of the coaches and thanked her for all that she had done for Aven and the other girls of the team. The coach was very excited and was told me how proud she was that Aven received a 9.6 that night, her highest score yet. I was very confused and my heart grew heavy again.

I learned that the coach didn’t contest Aven’s score in time and they hadn’t told her about it. She still thought it was all okay and she was going to receive a first place award. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get to her to tell her and help prepare her. I felt totally helpless and knew that in just a moment, my girl’s heart was going to take a hit.

When it came time to announce the awards for the floor, I held my breath and watched as her beautiful, bright and happy face slowly melted into an expression of confusion and disappointment… and there was nothing I could do.

They didn’t call her name for second place or even third place. With each place that passed, her eyes lost their sparkle and her smile dimmed. I knew her heart was hurting. They didn’t change her score at all, but what I think was worse, they didn’t tell her. She still thought she had her wonderful score, a score she truly did earn by her performance and first place medal. Instead, she only received the 9.6 and ended up tying for 4th place with another girl.

Josh and I were crushed for her and all we wanted to do was hug her and tell her how much we loved her and how proud we were of her. But then, we both were blessed to witness the dignity and grace of our wonderful girl. When they called her name, Aven stood tall by the 4th place marker, reached down and took the hand of the girl she tied with and lifted the girl’s hand into the air, smiling as if she had just won a gold medal. She thanked the girl who brought her medal and sincerely congratulated others. Then she sat down quietly with the rest of her team and for every other girl who won that night, she clapped and cheered happily, celebrating their victories with dignity and grace.

We were very happy to learn that she had tied for second place on the vault, which was a great accomplishment and seemed to help her a little bit. But we knew the floor was her favorite event and winning a first place medal for that was a dream of Aven’s. It was so hard to see it taken away from her. I told Josh it was like her own “La La Land” moment, we thought she won… for a little while.

When the awards ceremony was over she hugged all of her teammates and thanked her coaches. Not a single unkind or frustrated word was spoken by her. Nothing but joyful remarks to others of congratulations. Her daddy and I couldn’t have been more proud.

It wasn’t until we reached the privacy of the car and the safety of our arms that she broke down and cried. This was a hard ending to her 14th birthday. She wasn’t angry and she didn’t blame anyone. She was just very, very sad and disappointed.

Josh and I did everything we could to comfort her, but we knew this was something that we could not fix. We just had to be there for her as she went through it and reassure her that we, and Jesus, were going through it with her and were there to comfort her.

The rest of the evening I prayed for Aven’s heart and kept thinking of the beautiful example she had set that night. Even though she had earned the highest score she ever had and it had been taken because of other’s errors, she displayed a beautiful attitude, kept her dignity and was a bright and shining light of the grace that comes from our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It was then I realized, this was exactly what I had been praying for!  Every day when I would ask the Lord to allow my children to be used for His glory, I wasn’t thinking about how that would come or what it would look like, but after seeing it, I knew that God had used Aven as a beautiful example of His love and light in her life– and boy did she let it shine!

Still… no one else there knew what had happened or paid attention to Aven on the 4th place marker to recognize it. The dignity and grace that Aven displayed was something that Josh and I alone were able to witness because we were the ones who knew what happened. So, I decided to write about it and share it in this blog so that everyone who would take the time to read it would not only see how deeply touched Josh and I were by our daughter’s actions, we hope that it will also deeply touch the hearts of others.

I also hope that by writing this, it might help Aven’s heart to heal over her experience and to see how God can take something hard and painful and still use it for something good and beautiful. From the beginning to the end, starting with the error of her registration Aven handled everything with dignity and grace. None of it was her fault, but she moved forward beautifully. No complaining. No anger. Nothing but quiet obedience and acceptance.

Even though she didn’t receive the official for first place on floor at the event, in our hearts she was always be the first place recipient. Just as I had prayed and will always pray for my children, Aven displayed a wonderful example of Matthew 5:16 She let her light shine before men, that they could see her good works and glorify her Father in heaven. Well done my baby. Well done indeed.

(In the photo above, Aven is the girl in pink on the right hand side)