It was a whopping 57 degrees this past Sunday morning and pure panic had set in my kids. What on earth would they wear to church? We live in balmy South Florida…we don’t own close-toed shoes, we barely have sweaters, and it had been years since I had bought any of my children jackets. The normal “church morning madness” took on a whole new persona as kids literally scavenged to find something warm to wear.
Crickie came up with a casual but adorable ensemble that included skinny jeans, one of her brothers blue button downs, and a white crew neck sweater I must have bought well over a decade ago. She had her hair up in her signature messy bun and bright pink lip gloss to finish the look. She got into the van figuring that her shoes were somewhere under a heap of dirty towels from swim practice.
Crickie, at six years old, is one of the most adorable, most generous, kind-hearted, sassy-smarted kids I have ever met. If she goes with Daddy on a special date, she’ll bring home candy for everybody–and even give away her own little treats. She brings me notes every day with spare change taped to it for The House That Love Built. She doesn’t know how to walk somewhere– only run. And she sleeps with a picture of the Olympic Trials pool with some sweepstakes that was being offered in August of 2016 under her pillow. Adorable. Determined. Sweet as can be. I may be a little biased but she is just…precious.
We made it to church barely on time. My little darling Crickie, between exasperated tears, came to me in crisis. She couldn’t find ANY of her sandals, only found one of her running shoes, and was basically going to have to go barefooted into church. I’ll admit, my first response was less than holy. I was frustrated. I clambered back into the van and found an old pair of Ransom’s loafers. The soles were floppy and falling off, the threads were torn. They belonged in the trash but today they had a job to do. I emerged with them in my hands and Crickie went from tears to horror. No way she was wearing those into Sunday School.
I explained that there were no other choices, she couldn’t go all free spirit hippie/shoe-less today because it was quite literally the coldest day of the year for South Florida. She put them on and walked silently into church. Her frustration hanging like a cloud of exclamation points and sad emojis above her messy-bunned head. There was nothing I could do.
When church was over and I picked her up, the usual joy and chatter about Jesus was missing. Ransom immediately reported that a lot of kids had made fun of Crickie for her shoes and she just shook her head “uh-huh” as tears rolled silently down her face. I scooped her up and wanted to cry myself.
I hate it when my kids cry.
I hate it when their feelings are hurt.
It makes me so angry I can hardly see straight. I had to remember that this was church not a battlefield and I couldn’t go Rambo right now. These kids were just in first, second, or maybe even third grade.
And instantly I had a memory.
I grew up in a tiny Texas town outside of Houston. There were actual hitching posts at my school for kids that rode their horses. Most of us had a simple but comfortable household income and we enjoyed every aspect of life that a small town can give a kid.
But there was this one boy I’ll never forget.
He was tall. Gangly. Skinny…in a way that, looking back, was probably marked by hunger. His teeth protruded from his face. His clothes were threadbare and his pants never fit because he had grown and there wasn’t money to buy new. He wore glasses taped in the middle and missing one ear-side. His hair was continuously unkempt. And no one wanted to sit next to him in class because…he didn’t really smell very good.
He was mocked continuously. His awkward responses didn’t help. I hated that he was made fun of but I hated myself even more that I never stood up for him. I didn’t understand financial strain. I didn’t understand coming from a broken home. I didn’t understand what hunger felt like. So much as a kid I just didn’t get and even today, over 30 years later, I still remember this boy and how I wish I could go back in time and speak up for him. Befriend him. Encourage him.
So I told Crickie the story of Justin. Her tears stopped and her hurt feelings changed. I told her it was wrong of those kids to make fun of her and that, in life, she’s is going to have to learn to have a strong back to be able to take people’s hurtful words and maintain a soft heart. I explained that she was made fun of because she couldn’t find shoes…imagine what it would feel like if there legitimately were no shoes for her to wear. We agreed that the best thing she could do about today was forgive the mean kids, purpose to learn how to rise above those who mock others, and choose to look for and be a defender of kids who get made fun of. I told her that she wouldn’t want to live with my regret of never having spoken up for someone.
And Justin, if by God’s good grace you read this…please forgive me. I’m so sorry for how relentlessly you were made fun of. I’m deeply regretful for how hard so many of us made your childhood. I’ve never forgotten you and I’ve said more than just a few prayers begging God to watch over you. You’ve been the impetus for the way I teach my children to treat others on the downside of adversity, and now…hopefully you will be for thousands more families as well.