My cousin and friend. I pray you are moved to prayer by this honest and very vulnerable post.
If you and I sat down right now and started swapping stories from our school years, I could quickly tick off for you the scenes I wish I could relive, redo, and just plain FIX.
In all those years of bony elbows, homework, braces, recess, and sports, sometimes, by the grace of God, I did what Jesus would have done, albeit imperfectly. Sometimes I did the opposite, metaphorically clawing and slapping my way towards the top of the pile.
But more often than not, I fell somewhere in the middle. I was nice to the outcast, but I didn't befriend him/her at lunch. I didn't engage in bad behavior, but I didn't always stand up for the victim.
April (not her real name) is a story from my childhood that encompasses all these things.
April was very poor, incredibly smelly, not book-smart, and obese. But she was sweet. I will never know how, but she was kind, full of smiles, and generally upbeat.
Unfortunately, April took a lot of crap. My school district was pretty rural and tame. People in that area do a decent job of loving each other and teaching their kids to do the same. But no matter how "nice" a school district is, some misfortunate kids are just overly ripe for the picking, and April certainly was.
During my 5th grade year, God prompted me to sit with April every day after school on our bus ride across town to the elementary school (where my mom picked me up and April caught another bus home). Heaven help me on the days I got the window seat – I had a hard time breathing with April so close and no aisle-air available for my lungs. Over time though, April began to trust me and count me as a friend. We didn't interact much during school, aside from a wave and a hi, but that short daily bus ride led to great conversations (often about God) and even the ability to be companionably silent on the bumpy ride across town.
One day, as we 5th graders filed off the bus on our way to family vans and familiar bus drivers, April trudged up the short, steep hill leading to the elementary side-door. I was stepping off the bus behind another boy, Colin (again, not his real name). Colin chose that moment, surrounded by his snickering buddies, to yell out, "Watch out, everybody! If April falls down, she'll rake up all the leaves on the whole hill!"
I said nothing.
…I said nothing. And I regret it to this day.
I saw April's face. She heard him. Her eyes drooped in sadness, and she just continued up the hill, never turning around to acknowledge the jab. My heart broke in that moment, and in my disbelief at what had just happened, I was enraged at Colin. How could he say that?! Did he have no heart at all? Was it worth the little half-hearted chuckles of a few of our peers?
If I had said something, Colin would have shut his trap quickly. Of that I am certain. But I didn't. I continued to sit with April for the rest of the year, but I don't remember that situation ever coming up in our conversations.
Sadly, this is about as far as my friendship with April progressed. We were always in separate classes, at separate lunch tables, and in separate activities. I sort of lost track of her in high school, which is entirely my fault since our high school wasn't that big.
When I remember April, my heart is heavy. I'm facebook friends with her, and nothing I've seen on facebook has lifted that heaviness. Her life still seems…sad, lonely, messed up. These may not be accurate assumptions, since I'm making them in that shallow way you assess someone's life through facebook. Nevertheless, April serves as a reminder to me of all the Christ-driven opportunities I missed throughout school to fully (not half-heartedly) love, cherish, and encourage the kids who needed it most. If I had loved April like Christ does, would something about her life be better, even today? I'll never know.
BUT…I will certainly tell my future kids the story of April and other outcasts in my class. I pray God gives my kids a heart of deep compassion and a willingness to shield the down-and-out from bullies and snooty kids. Let's pray the example of Jesus over our children:
Lord, you touched the leper (Mark 1:41). Touched him. To be honest, I might have to psych myself up to do that. Give my kids a compassion like yours that extends to those the world deems "gross".
You sought out those who were physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick (Mark 2:17). You didn't worry too much if this offended the people who "deserved" your attention (the rich, the upper-class, the "good" people). Give my kids a desire to seek out those who need their help and attention, and let them stand up under the peer pressure that says they should only associate with the "best".
Jesus, you chatted with people everyone else avoided, like the Samaritan woman. You gave her dignity when she had none left (John 4:39). Give my kids a desire to restore those who have fallen and/or been beaten down. May they make the effort, rather than being apathetic or judgmental.
Above all, may my kids see all these things in me too. Amen, Lord.