I’m reminiscing quite a bit these days. This is likely the result of my new role as caretaker for our grandson one day per week. Danny is a little guy who enjoys two daily naps. During these hiatuses from one another, Danny retreats to Dreamland and I retreat to Memory Lane. While I straighten up from playtime, retrieve misplaced diapers and bottles and recoup my energy, I recall the days when I did this job twenty-four/seven. Memories of my own sons evoke frequent smiles as I wonder how I managed while working. During the drive to and from Danny’s house, I pass the school where I once taught. I learned a great deal from the students and parents I met there. The other day, Charley and one of those lessons came to mind…
When I picked up Charley for our daily reading lesson, she ran ahead to my classroom. She bolted across the room into the storage closet and slammed the door. She threw herself onto the floor and began to cry, “I’m bad! I’m bad! I’m bad, bad, bad…” That day, I had retrieved Charley from the nurse’s office rather than her classroom. Charley was a lively and playful little girl who often acted long before she considered the consequences. During P.E. class, Charley had slapped a classmate on the back and knocked him into a brick wall. Charley intended to congratulate her friend for winning a relay race. Unfortunately for both children, Charley had forgotten the many reminders she’d been given not to touch others, especially as forcefully as she hit James. Her mistake cost James a tooth and brought her a great deal of trouble. I happened by just after the incident and offered to take James to the nurse and to talk to Charley. As I walked Charley to my classroom, she pulled her hand out of mine and ran ahead. She wanted to hide from everything and everyone. When I opened the closet door, I coaxed Charley out to talk about her troubles. This little seven-year-old had analyzed everything and determined that there was nothing to talk about. “I’m just bad, Teacher!” As she wiped away her tears, she proceeded to report to me all of the “bad” things she had done that week at home and at school. “Mommy’s mad. Daddy’s mad. Now you’re mad, too. James is all bloody and I’m bad! I hope he stopped bleeding. I hope he can get a new tooth!”
There was no consoling poor Charley though I explained that everyone knew she didn’t mean to hurt James. Poor Charley never meant to hurt anyone with her antics. She suffered from recently diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Unfortunately, while her body responded to her dietary changes and her medication, life continued to be difficult for her. That day, her life was more than she could bear. As tears trailed down her cheeks and I was about to give up and join in with tears of my own, James, his mother and the school nurse arrived. James ran to Charley, tooth in hand, to show her his precious prize. This tooth had been a stubborn adversary which needed to come out. James had been wiggling it in vain for days. He also wasn’t bleeding any more. He wanted to let Charley know that he was okay. James’ mother could not have been kinder to the little girl. She told Charley that she was glad that Charley and James were friends. She sealed her forgiveness with a warm hug. Charley’s tears finally disappeared and her wonderful smile returned. She looked at me and said, “I guess I’m not bad, Teacher. I’m not bad! Can James and me go back to gym class?”
In today’s readings, Isaiah (6:1-2, 3-8), Paul (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) and Simon Peter (Luke 5:1-11), share Charley’s despair as they acknowledge their weaknesses and sinfulness. In each case, God responds with affirmation, forgiveness, unconditional love and an invitation to serve. God’s people needed Isaiah, Paul and Peter for the particular gifts which only they possessed. Just as James’ mom freed poor Charley from her guilt and feelings of uselessness with that wonderful hug, God embraced Isaiah, Paul and Peter in order to free them to do God’s work in this world of ours. Over and over again, God does the same for you and me.
How often we find ourselves in Charley’s shoes, laden with guilt over things which we never intended to say or to do! We fret over missteps and missed opportunities. Regret threatens to paralyze us and we cannot move on. It is then that God reminds us that James’ mother doesn’t hold the patent for wonderfully soothing hugs. It is then that we find ourselves in the forgiving embrace of God. It is then that, like Charley, we get back to gym class or to the tasks at hand. It is then that we share what only you and I have to give.
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