One more week and the kids would be out of school for the summer. My husband and I were sipping coffee (I had tea) while looking through summer camp information when the phone rang. The number was familiar - very familiar - it was the school. Those nine digits, seemingly benign to anyone else pierced me like the “life flashing before you” drama we see in movies when someone is about to die.
I prepared myself for the word "suspension" or worse yet, "expulsion." It amazes me how with no effort at all, our brain pulls from the past to assume the future.
I picked up the phone and uttered a sheepish hello. There was a slight clearing of the throat followed by, “Good morning this is Mrs. Frolich, don’t worry, everything is fine, I’m just calling with a dilemma and hope you can help." I’m sure she could feel my unexpected joy as I chirped, “Sure, let me put you on speakerphone so my husband can brainstorm with us!”
She drew in another deep breath and unloaded her burden, “Well, each week we are to pick a child to highlight and recognize; it can be anything, best manners, excellent speller, friend to all… it’s up to us to find what to celebrate. The problem is, next week is the last week of school and Nicole has not been a highlight student yet and quite honestly, I’m at a loss for anything to celebrate in her.”
There are no words to describe the array of emotions that came over me, but anger was at the top. I wanted to drive to the school and scoop up my little girl and protect her from this woman who looked upon her with such judgement and disgust. I felt betrayed by her and the system to whom I had entrusted my tender and tattered seed.
I pulled back every wanting to lash out and with restrained staccato words I said, “I can’t believe you have spent a full year with my daughter and you cannot see one redeeming quality in her. I will get you a list this afternoon.”
As I made the list, all the wonderful things I loved about my girl flowed like water over silken paper, but so too did the awareness that I had judged my daughter when the school number flashed over the phone. I wanted to protect my child from this woman who could not find one nice thing to say about her, but my first response was not redeeming either. I realized my daughter would forever be judged by a jury of people who kept lists of her past behavior; people who would expect the worse, even when she made efforts to change.
I needed to be different.
We met with the principal and Mrs. Frolich after school and expressed our disappointment in Mrs. Frolich’s ability to see a singular positive thing in our child. Without accusation we raised the question of what Nicole must have felt the entire year knowing her teacher saw her as so unworthy. Choosing grace, we came only with a desire to bring awareness and no expectation of a response. It was a good thing, as we were not disappointed when there were no apologies or responses.
Together taking turns, out loud, we read 32 attributes we saw in Nicole, all worthy of celebration.
Broken children, no, broken people are difficult to love and even more difficult to believe in. When we endure the same patterns of behavior over and over again, our natural human response is to anticipate the negative and to judge.
But these are the very people God calls us to see and love with His redeeming grace?
When our humanity fails us; when judgement, intolerance, or marginalization sweeps through our mind, we are called to reach beyond ourselves and our limited thinking. We are called to refocus and look through the eyes of love.