This is my dear friend, Natalie. One April day of freshman year, my roommate, Rosie, invited me to come to dinner with her high school friends, Ally & Natalie, at Paradise Bakery. We're classy. And it was love at first sight/salad spill with those two. Grateful that no matter where we are in life/the world, we've been able to stay in touch whether it was skyping while she was in Chile or the amazing Christmas cards she and Mark have sent out the last two years (seriously amazing/laugh until you cry sort of stuff).
Grateful for your example of love and kindness in my life, Nat, and your advice and testimony when I've needed it. Love you dearly!
I have worked the past several years as an elementary school teacher. My first teaching position was in a small, low-income town in northeastern Connecticut. The effects of poverty were rampant in the community as well as in the lives of my students. Besides being extremely below level academically, many of my students’ most basic needs were not being met at home, and as a result there were a wide variety of behavior issues in my classroom. The physical and emotional trauma that my 9 year old students had to deal with on a day-to-day basis was heartbreaking and difficult for me to comprehend. After just a few days, I wanted to quit. BAD. The task of giving these kids what they needed was far too daunting for a young and inexperienced person like myself. Most days, I would come home feeling overwhelmed, tired, and disrespected. I’d think to myself “I CAN’T DO THIS, and I DON’T NEED THIS.” Over and over again, my friends, family, and husband, Mark, would have to talk me down, and convince me to keep going back to work.
I had one student in particular who was extremely difficult. His name was Michael. It’s hard for me to explain Michael to you. Michael had a really hard home life. He was neglected in pretty much every way possible. He’d come to school hungry, with dirty clothes, and smelling terrible. He often didn’t receive the medication that he needed to be able to function at school, and as a result his relationships with his peers suffered. Michael could be a really sweet kid at times, but he was very sensitive and had a very volatile personality. Most school days would start with Michael screaming at me and slamming a door because something I had said or done had made him unhappy. He was impossible to reason with and his anger would often escalate to violence. I was often concerned with my own safety as well as the safety of the other students in the classroom. When I shared my concern with my principal, her response was simply: “Sorry, it’s just going to be a hard year.”
It didn’t take long before I reached the end of my rope. I had exhausted any and every behavior intervention plan I could think of, but nothing worked. Around this same time, I was reading a book about how people throughout history have confronted aggression and anger with love. It gave many examples of non-violent resistance overcoming violence by assertively, not passively, showing love. I decided to try this with Michael. In the coming days and weeks when Michael would lash out, I would try to calmly express how much I cared for his well-being and success. I would constantly try to point out anything positive that Michael said or did, and tell him how special and capable he was. I will tell you that this was in no way easy for me. Sometimes it would take every ounce of my energy to think of something nice to say to Michael. But the results were tangible and immediate. I have never seen a person change so drastically in such a short period of time. His entire demeanor changed. His peers even started to take notice and treat him with more kindness, which further added to his self-esteem and success. In this short stretch of time, nothing changed for Michael in his life situation--except for how he was treated. Watching how Michael reacted when he was treated with sincere kindness is perhaps the greatest testament to me of the power of pure, Christ-like love.
I get emotional just thinking about Michael. He taught me the profound lesson that every one of my actions will affect the people around me for better or for worse. In the beginning, I truly had to force the words out because it was hard for me to feel any kind of charity for a person who had treated me so poorly and caused me so much grief. But with time, that forced charity evolved into pure concern, and by the end of the year I could truly say that I loved Michael. Through the process of charity (and love), we were both able to heal.