Marriage, motherhood and her passion for childhood literacy
By Melanie Saxton
Ask anyone who knows her, and you’ll hear that lifelong Houstonian Victoria Iloff Osteen has a contagious energy. She motivates the people around her, including her husband Joel, her children Jonathan and Alexandra, those who worship at Lakewood, and the many volunteers who help with her literacy campaign.
But she wasn’t always so outgoing. “As little girl I was extremely shy. Like most kids I didn’t want to talk, especially if I could get my mom to do it for me,” Osteen recalls. She has discovered over the years that building confidence is a lifelong process. She grew up near the Johnson Space Center (her father worked for NASA) and although she was terrified of interacting with customers, her mother encouraged her to work in the family’s fine jewelry business when she was just 13. It was then that she began to understand the power of encouragement.
“I learned such a valuable lesson in those early years,” says Osteen, who believes that speaking words of faith and victory into families shapes and defines everyone. Whether cheering children on to be confident readers, confident store clerks, or confident citizens, Osteen believes that positivity drives home the message.
“I worried about the 101 ways I could embarrass myself, but my mother gently nudged me out of the nest while making sure I wouldn’t fall too far. She was always there.” In hindsight, those years were very formative for Osteen. Some of the most difficult situations can be the most valuable. “As hard as it is, I have to apply the same lessons to my children. I love them with all my heart and want to be present in their lives, and their children’s lives. It’s difficult, but much like a mother bird I have to give them their wings.”
Case in point: Alexandra will soon be 13 and Jonathan, at 16, is now driving. “I never thought I would be able to handle Jonathan’s transition to driver so calmly. It’s amazing how we receive grace for every season. I certainly didn’t have it before he was 16. But we prepared him (and ourselves), signed him up for a driver’s ed course and drove with him. We started slowly, giving him boundaries for the places he was allowed to drive.”
As a teen, Osteen enrolled at the University of Houston as a psychology major. She met Joel when he stopped by the jewelry store for a watch battery. That serendipitous meeting evolved into a marriage that is fast approaching a 25- year anniversary. For eight years they invested in real estate, renovated houses, and traveled. It prepared them for full-time parenthood. But what they were not prepared for was a dramatic change in 1999.
“Joel worked behind the scenes in television ministry and suddenly found himself in the forefront doing something he never dreamed of — public speaking. When Joel’s father passed away we had a 3-month-old daughter and 4-year-old son. Again, we were headed into a new season.”
That challenge led them to the place they are now. As a mother and an author, Osteen’s concern for literacy is natural and her initiative aims to get books into the hands of children, especially those in need. She started with an orphanage in Africa, and now in partnership with her publisher donates new books to children and holds reading events in Houston and Round the Clock Nursery in New York City.
“As women, we have the most influence over our children. Reading to them and having them read to us is the most basic thing we can do to promote literacy — one of the bedrocks of confidence,” says Osteen. “The statistics say that if a child can’t read by fourth grade, he or she faces a greater chance of juvenile delinquency. As parents, we are responsible for our children’s education far more than the school system.”
For this reason, in addition to her wildly popular book, Love Your Life: Living Happy, Healthy, and Whole, which was published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, she wrote her first book for children. When Unexpected Treasures was published in 2009, she included important lessons about sharing and being kind, woven into an adventurous tale. Next came her new series for very young children — My Happy Heart, a boxed set of three touch-and-feel books.
“I wanted to create books that kids can interact with, lifting flaps and looking for touch-and-feels as they join in the refrains… ‘Hooray for Today! Hooray for my family! Hooray for wonderful me!’” Again, Osteen feels that positive messages touch young lives as parents, grandparents, babysitters and siblings sit patiently and read with their little ones. “If you think about it, having a happy heart really is the first step to leading an inspired life,” she says.
With the date of Sept. 30 on the near horizon, Osteen is busily preparing for her 2011 Charity Fashion Event benefiting her literacy program. Lakewood Church will once again hold its annual women’s fashion show in the main auditorium at 7 p.m. The fashion show is sponsored by Dillards, and more than 60 shops will display exceptional gifts, clothing, and accessories. Proceeds from the ticket sales, which are $20 and available at the Lakewood bookstore, go directly towards putting books into the hands of children.
Osteen is pleased to see it evolve into a fun, festive fall tradition in Houston and receive such strong community support. Although Osteen won’t walk on the runway herself, well-known names like Deborah Duncan of KHOU’s Great Day Houston, Dominique Sachse and Lauren Freeman of Channel 2 and Melissa Wilson of Fox 26 will model in the show. Miss Alexandra Osteen will also model, to the delight of her proud parents.
Osteen manages to balance it all with sense of humor and an intense focus on her family and her church. “The truth is, we spend a lot of time together. We take family vacations, travel together and include the children. Jonathan plays in our band and Alexandra sings at the end of each “A Night of Hope” outreach. In fact, a few years back we were traveling so much that we had to take them out of school. Now our children are home schooled,” says Osteen, who tries to be careful about discussing them from the pulpit.
“I have to respect their feelings and privacy, but it’s hard when you’re a proud mom. The time left for me to continue to interject myself into their lives is shrinking. So I try to always tell them the truth. I tell them I’m sorry when I’m wrong and ask for forgiveness. I respect their viewpoint when it differs from mine.”
In the meantime, she’ll continue to be a joyous mom to Alexandra, Jonathan, two Shitzus and a rabbit. She’ll stand by Joel’s side on Sundays and during travels. And she’ll continue to advocate on behalf of literacy with the help of many volunteers who care as much about the cause as she does.
For more information about Victoria Osteen, her blog, and her ministries visit: