Raul’s Gift

I’m not in the classroom every day. And, boy, do I miss it. Those rotten kids have a knack for weaseling their way into my heart. Teaching is so hard, but I miss knowing what’s really going on in our students’ lives.

I’m thankful for the work I have now, though. By helping with sponsorship, I’ve been able to peek into classrooms. And I feel like a proud grandma observing all her sweet grandchildren growing up so quickly.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Miss Mery’s classroom, excited to find our 1st grader, Raul. His sponsor family had sent down a small sack of goodies for him, and I was eager to pass along a hug and spend a moment catching up with him. I scanned the room full of brown, little faces until I finally locked eyes with Raul.

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.  When I called his name, Raul dropped his head and averted his eyes. Uh-oh, I thought. Somebody’s not having a good day. I put on my best smile and called his name again. He slowly stood up and begrudgingly shuffled towards the door to meet me.

Suddenly, someone yelled out in front of the entire class. “You want Raul?! He doesn’t deserve a gift! He went to the office for fighting this morning! In fact, why don’t you just keep him for the rest of the day? We don’t want him back in here.” By the time the barrage of hateful words had ceased, Raul was by my side, eyes glued ashamedly to the floor.

He doesn’t deserve a gift. I was angry that someone would make such a spiteful comment about Raul in front of his other peers. The “mama bear” in me wanted to protect him. But instead of saying what I really wanted to, I calmly replied, “Well, I’ll be sure to talk to him. It’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t deserve a gift. The words kept ringing through my mind as we silently walked out of the classroom. How am I going to smooth this over? I wondered. We looked for a spot to sit down.

There were some folding chairs in the breezeway. As we set them up on the sidewalk, I was at a loss for what to say. Maybe I can remind him how important and loved he is. Or maybe I’ll tell him just to ignore the mean comments. Perhaps we can talk about how to “rise above” the hatefulness and “be the better person.” 

But on a whim, I decided to take a different approach.

“Buddy, did their words back there hurt your feelings?” Raul barely nodded. “They weren’t saying nice things, were they? But you know what? One thing they said was actually true.”

Raul just looked straight ahead, not making eye contact, but still listening. “Remember how they said that you don’t deserve this gift? They’re actually right! Do you know what it means for somebody to give you a gift? A gift is something that’s especially for you without any expectation of payment. You don’t have to buy a gift, do you? A gift is something that’s free. And if you’ll listen for just a minute, I want to tell you about Someone who gave the biggest and best gift that’s ever been given….”

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Sometimes I feel a literal ache in my heart when I think of how these precious little babes are running headlong into an eternity without God. What will happen if their lives aren’t supernaturally intercepted? God’s great wrath, which is so heavily hanging over their heads, will have to be satisfied. There is a darkness waiting for them that I refuse to dwell on.

Pray with me, please. Pray that our teachers would seek out moments to share God’s great love-gift with their students. Pray that they would be so filled up with Jesus that His grace just spills out through their every word and action.

And pray that our students’ eyes would be opened to the truth. Pray that their working minds would fully understand and that their hearts would not delay in accepting the precious gift of eternal life that’s so freely waiting for them.

Tearing down the bricks with His perfect love

IMG_5925cropAs I dragged a cussing, kicking, screaming Katherine out my classroom door this past week, my heart broke. Again. I wanted to stop class and just hold her close, show her that she’s loved so dearly. But I couldn’t. There were 25 other little boys and girls waiting for attention and direction. Even more than that, I knew Katherine wouldn’t accept my words or hugs or love. Not right then. Not with all that hate and hurt boiling over. So I left her outside with Toni and walked back into the room, feeling frustrated and defeated.

A few weeks ago, I watched as Arisleyda tried to reach out to Katherine in line before school. Arisleyda welcomed her to class and tried to hug her tight. But Katherine recoiled like an angry snake, took three steps backwards, and refused to make eye contact with Arisleyda for most of the day.

Why does this smart, independent, beautiful girl so staunchly reject the love of others? Why does she use that sweet mouth to hurl such dirty and hateful words at her teachers and her classmates? Why does she continue to add bricks to the wall of animosity she builds around herself? Why doesn’t she understand that spurning others isn’t the answer for protection and safety?

Katherine’s not the only one rejecting love. There are so many hurting babes in my class this year. Estaylin, Brayan, Carla. The list could go on. They’re all building up their own “hate walls” as quickly as they can stack the bricks. They’re sabotaging themselves from experiencing True Love, and they don’t even realize it.

As a whole, I’ve felt crushed and discouraged this year. How can I possibly love all of them? How can I conceivably be consistent and fair and patient when all they do is lie and fight and curse and steal from each other? I don’t have enough time and energy and strength to handle the issues these five-year-olds are bringing to school.

But then, as He often does, my Jesus gently reminded me of a very important truth. When I actually stopped to listen, that truth resounded so loudly and obviously in mind. And I wondered why I had forgotten yet again to live by it.

The Truth ironically came from the mouths of my precious, rotten little students. Desiree and Arisleyda were repeating the Bible verse before story time. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. Could the most well-known Bible verse in all of history really be the answer to tearing down the walls these children have constructed over the few short years of their lives?

“For God so loved that world that He gave His one and only Son…”

Duh. Of course I don’t have enough time and energy and strength and patience to love these kids perfectly. God first loved them. Not me. He sent His only begotten Son to die. Not meHis precious blood paid the price, and His perfect love is the only gift that can tear down the walls.

This simple truth seems to be the theme of so many of my posts. Christ is the answer. It sounds so cliché. But He’s the answer for the sin problem that controls the lives of these children and their parents. He’s the answer for me when I feel like I can’t go on another day dealing with the ungratefulness and whining and selfishness I see in my students. He is the answer.

So, for this moment, I’m going to rest in the truth. I’ll do my best this week to “take every thought captive”, to share Christ’s perfect love with my broken sweethearts, and to rely wholly on Him for strength in the middle of the storm.

Here’s to another week of watching Him tear down the bricks.

An Eventful Christmas

What an excitement-filled Christmas! I cooked my first turkey, Noah gashed his head open, and Leyton threw his brand new train cars in the toilet after a tiny tiff with his brother.

We are so thankful for the time to relax, laugh, and celebrate together. We’ve loved watching the boys come to a fuller understanding of what Christmas is truly about. (Well, Leyton is still learning. But we’ve all got room to grow, right?) Noah is starting to repeat the Christmas story. The other day, we headed to the Capital to pick up some packages from our family. Noah asked where we were going, and we told him that there was another gift or two coming for him. He said, “Mom, we don’t need a LOT of presents.” Love my growing boys.

I still don’t feel quite right not being in the same room enjoying the hours with friends and family, but I remember that God has so richly blessed me. He’s been teaching me lots about feelings and how they play into my walk with Him. As much as it’s not about the gifts, neither is it necessarily about the other comforts or traditions or “normal” that I associate with Christmas. I’ve been contemplating on Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37 recently. To follow Christ means I have to be willing to give up those things (like family) that I hold so dear – even when it hurts, even when I don’t like it, even when I feel like I “deserve” to have our parents and siblings close by. I’m thankful that He walks with me through the hard times (and that He gave us Skype so everyone doesn’t seem so very far away.)

More than anything, I’m thankful that God sent His precious Son to this world as a little babe. Talk about an eventful Christmas! What did that first night look like for Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds? It’s incredible to think that Christ willingly laid down His throne to be born in a humble manger. Why? So that He could one day take a heavy trip to an old, rugged cross to pay a sin debt. For my boys. For my students. For my family. For me. What good news! What a Savior!

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