To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.

The joy of kindness…

My Jumping Jellybean settled in for the evening inside her bedroom, I lie down on the double bed that serves as center piece, for evening stories and prayers.  Tonight’s Bible verse is this: “…always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (I Thess. 5:18b).”  That pretty much sums it up.  At all costs, we are to be kind…to everyone.  So, I ask Littlest One if anyone had been kind to her today.  She thought about it for a moment, and then she said, “You were kind when you gave me popcorn.”

Ah, the popcorn.  She has a habit lately of not eating her supper meal.  I have tried packaging it, and re-offering it to her when she is hungry, but what was left tonight on her plate was a pile of peas.  Not sure where the rest went because usually there is a three-course meal left over by the time supper comes to an end. Tonight, all I noticed was the peas.  She knows the rules: “no finish supper, no eat snacks.”  This stings a little more on Friday nights when movies are accompanied by treats.  When everyone sat down to watch The Muppets, and I came out with steaming bowls of salty, butter-infused popcorn, her mouth was watering.  I passed a bowl to her two older sisters, and then I brought a third over to her.  She looked at me with surprise.  “But I never finished supper!” she said, the question hanging over us both like a small rain cloud.

And isn’t that what grace is all about? Getting what we don’t deserve?   She got it tonight- grace, in a dish served up as a bowl of popcorn.  Grace was served, both literally and physically.  I can offer it to her because it has been offered to me in packages that come in as many different shapes and sizes as there are hues in a picturesque landscape.  I receive that which I give to her.

Grace.

So, when she gave this as an example of kindness at bedtime, it made me ask this question to bring home the message of my albeit small, goodwill gesture toward her:

“So, what did you do to show kindness today?”  She thought for a moment, as if searching her soul.  Silence.  Until she came up with this, her shoulders shrugged non-chalently: “I guess I will try to do it tomorrow.”

Honesty counts for something, in my books.

A little kindness goes a long way.  Showing grace in spite of how we feel, in spite of the day we are having, and in spite of how others are treating us, that is the essence of kindness.  Our kindness can ignite a spark of kindness in another person.  The flame will catch on, it will burn bright and long.   A blaze of kindness can be the result of one word or phrase.  A movement of kindness can be the launch pad for change.  Change, done in positive ways, can make this world a better place.

It only takes a little effort for kindness to weave its magic.  That is the beauty of a word fitly spoken.

So often, kindness goes by the wayside in our house.  It is easier to speak (shout?) words in haste, without thought to the receiver, than it is to take the extra moment or two, re-phrase our words into kindly offered gestures of love, gratitude and goodwill.  I love it when a child says thank-you: those words are a bequest I personally elevate to the highest of offerings.  I love it more when I see my own children say those simple words, ‘thank you,’ without my prompting.  I count memories of those times when gratitude was the first response among many other shining moments of parenthood.  These moments of appreciation are times that light the path for weary parent travellers.

I am training my kindergarten students to offer up thanks for even little tokens of kindness, and they present these words often without prior encouragement from me.  My husband shared with me this story: recently, at a large-scale event he and another teacher had organized on behalf of the students in their classes, one boy came up to him after the occasion had ended, and said, “Thank- you Mr. Gard for organizing this event for us.  It was a lot of fun.”  Such a brief little string of words, and yet so powerful.  There is power in those two little words: thank you.  Power to shape another’s day, power to change the course of someone’s path, power to shift moods, salvage relationships, mend broken pieces of our lives.  Power for change.

I sometimes miss the thoughtfulness, the kind-heartedness, the consideration that comes across my path. I am too often looking for the negative, the selfishness, the thoughtlessness.  Those moments when kindness has not been shown, and I have been offended.  However, when I truly allow myself to see others the way God sees people, I realize that we are all, or we CAN be, beautiful examples of grace in action.  Each and every day, I am the receiver of kindly gestures.  A word of appreciation, a smile, an encouraging note, a question asked expectant for an unrushed answer, a hug, a kiss, a glance, a wink.  All are, in their big and small ways, gestures of kindness.  And they are simple ways to start a movement towards change.  Even very small changes.

Because for great things to happen, we always have to start with the smallest of actions.  Every marathon runner has to take their first step, every successful vocalist must sing their first note, and every famous orator was urged to speak their first word.

So must we, take small steps toward change.  We must show kindness TO EVERYONE so as to make this world a better place.

And that change in our attitude and behavior starts with kindness.

The Joy of Plan B

There is a book sitting on the bench in my upstairs hallway that I plan to read a little before shutting my eyes tonight, that is if I can get up to bed earlier than my usual 12:30 a.m.  Written by author Tim Kimmel, it is called In Praise of Plan B- Moving from “What is” to “What Can Be”.  Intriguing?  I thought so.

I’m an “A” kind of girl.  I loved getting an A on a report or test (who didn’t?), I consider myself a type A personality and I like things to be A-okay in almost every department of my life or I feel unsettled.  Even anxious.  Take relationships, for instance.  If I sense there is a problem, usually that is enough to rattle my cage and affect everything else going on in my life at that given moment.  Or, if the equilibrium of home and work are off, I move from an A to an F.  My son loves to use the word “fail” now to describe things in his life (as in, “that shot on goal was a fail”; that, and the word “random”).  So, I am usually either an A for awesome or an F for fail when it comes to emotions.  It is part hardwiring and part personality.  I’m trying to deal with it.

When I came across this particular book last Friday evening, a book about the reality that life is not often lived out as we planned, I could see that I was in for a thought adjustment.  So, here I am trying to process my feelings and bring some order to the “random” ideas floating around inside my head.  I want to read this book because I have lived most of my adult years believing that Plan A is best.  As in, the dreams I have long held as ideal in my head, for happiness, success and soul connections, are not always the reality that I live out.  Of course, I have always known that life is not a bed of roses, but I have wished for it to be so.  After all, it is for some people, is it not?  Sometimes Plan A works out.  Why can’t I be included in this latter group of people.

And so, I continue to follow after mirages of water on dry, cracked pavement, always believing that my lofty dreams and aspirations, created to satisfy a deep-seated hunger for more, are just around the corner.  But this I know.  To follow after things that do not satisfy for the long haul of living is a joy killer.  To want Plan A, but lose joy means this: that I have not really found what I was looking for.  For behind the search for happiness, success and soul connections, there is a desire to experience a fullness of joy.  To feel fully the peace and contentment that real joy brings.  This is difficult for most of us to achieve when we are doggedly pursuing a life that seemingly has it all, or as it is better known, Plan A.  We cannot have everything, even if Hollywood and others would like to sell that idea to us in shiny packaging.

My experience, having followed the outline for Plan A most of my life, is this: there is always another “i” to dot or “t” to cross on the blueprint of Plan A.  Moreover, you feel you have finally reached the pinnacle, only to find there is another hill to climb.  Plan A is the unending journey that leads all too often to nowhere.    How wonderful for the few that unlock the puzzles that Plan A has hidden within its agenda.  But for the rest of us, the disappointment is enough to rob you of what is most precious.  Joy in the living the everyday moments right now.

I have found joy in writing this blog, and it is my desire that this journey of mine, to find and live out joy in my life, will be shared by others looking for the same thing.  We are everyday people living out ordinary lives.  But the desire to live out those lives in continual joy is an extraordinary undertaking.  It is impossible to do this without being able to find the truest source for joy, a place where the soul stirs and hungers to know all that is Good and True.

My faith has been my foundation in this search.  I have found that I am always brought back to this place.  Am I in control or is there One who holds me in the palm of His Hand?  And if so, do I trust that He is able to carry me from the lofty, at times unrealistic goals of Plan A and move me to a better place than I thought possible?  I will never know until I let go and trust that the Designer of all that is good and perfect has my best in mind.

I try to keep my mind and heart open to the possibilities that await me in this new and foreign Plan B.

Jeremiah, that weeping prophet said in his letter to the Jews in exile, those looking for a better plan than the one they were living: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  To know that there is more to life than this, to believe that anything is possible, and to enjoy the moment I am living right here and now- this is the better plan.

Even if that means following Plan B instead of my original A.